By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire September 11, 2005 at 11:38AM
Fox Searchlight and Paramount Classics are at odds over which company has acquired the rights to Jason Reitman's debut feature "Thank You For Smoking". The film was apparently acquired in a pact that closed Saturday night here in Toronto, however it remains unclear who will be releasing the new film, with Fox and Paramount each separately telling indieWIRE that they have the rights to the movie.
In one of the more perplexing industry situations ever to emerge surrounding a film at a festival, Fox Searchlight Pictures issued a press release at 2 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon announcing that the company had acquired all worldwide rights to Reitman's "Thank You For Smoking", yet Paramount Classics co-presidents Ruth Vitale and David Dinerstein, in a joint conversation with indieWIRE just after that Fox news release was issued, announced that Paramount Classics had acquired the film. When asked about the just-issued Fox announcement, Vitale and Dinerstein reasserted that Paramount had the deal for the film.
"Thank You For Smoking" producer David O. Sacks declined to speak about the situation on Sunday, but his spokesman reiterated, "Everything in the Fox Searchlight release is accurate and that is all he has to say about it for right now." Fox Searchlight agreed with Sacks' statement, restating that Fox has a deal for the movie and a company spokesperson said, "The producers believe we are distributing the film, we have a signed deal. We are very excited about the fact that we have been able to secure the deal."
Despite the Searchlight announcement and the subsequent statements from Fox and Sacks, Paramount Classics co-president Ruth Vitale maintained that her company had the rights to the movie, when contacted again by indieWIRE. Contradicting Sacks and Fox, she said emphatically that Saturday she personally came to an agreement with the film's rep Cassian Elwes and Sacks' attorney David Bloomfield.
"We made a deal yesterday and we are very happy that we own the movie," Ruth Vitale told indieWIRE later Sunday afternoon, "We're delighted that we own the movie and we are looking forward to working with Jason Reitman, he is a talented young filmmaker."
"Thank You For Smoking," starring Aaron Eckhart, was produced by David O. Sacks' Room 9 Entertainment and ContentFilm and is the story of a Big Tobacco spokesman (Eckhart) who works to defend the rights of smokers and cigarette makers. It debuted Friday night here in Toronto; the cast includes Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, JK Simmons and Robert Duvall.
Cassian Elwes of WMA Independent, who is selling the film for Sacks and Room 9 Entertainment, did not return multiple messages from indieWIRE Sunday seeking comment. According to an insider account, Elwes and the "Thank You For Smoking" team met with buyers -- including Paramount Classics, Fox Searchlight, and Focus Features -- Saturday evening at the Four Seasons here in Toronto.
While Paramount maintains that it reached an agreement at 9:45 PM Saturday night by topping a Fox offer for the film, Fox stands by Sunday's announcement, saying that it has the deal for the movie. Buzz on the festival party circuit Saturday night was that Paramount had acquired the movie, with multiple sources pegging the pact at about $6.5 million. Paramount was said to be celebrating the deal Saturday as lawyers ironed out the finer points of the deal. Industry insiders, buzzing considerably about the situation Sunday afternoon, speculated that Elwes and Sacks probably re-opened discussions with Fox Searchlight despite a handshake agreement with Paramount. While an observer told indieWIRE that in such a case Paramount would technically have a deal, the insider added that securing delivery of the film from the producer could prove difficult in that situation.
Late Sunday afternoon both Fox Searchlight and Paramount Classics each continued to maintain that they have a deal for the movie in multiple conversations with indieWIRE, despite being told that the other company was claiming ownership. Given the stalemate, some wondered if the situation would lead to a lawsuit.
None of those involved would speculate about what might happen next, but an insider close to the situation quipped Sunday, "Its going to get interesting."