It was only a matter of time before Jordan Peele signed a flashy first-look deal with a major studio. Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out” has taken in $195 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of roughly $5 million, and his deft handling of racial issues within the horror-thriller genre has put him in a class of storytelling all by himself. “Get Out” distributor Universal Pictures now has a two-year overall production deal with Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, giving the studio the rights to his untitled social thriller that he will write, direct and produce.
Everything about the pact between Universal and Monkeypaw looks like a win-win. As a part of the arrangement, Peele will be able to continue his collaboration with “Get Out” producer Jason Blum on micro-budget projects and also produce films that provide a platform to underrepresented artists. The deal also establishes another partnership between an acclaimed African-American director and a major studio at a time when Hollywood is still working to fix its diversity problem. Ryan Coogler just wrapped production on “Black Panther” for Marvel, while Ava DuVernay finished shooting the $100 million “A Wrinkle in Time” for Disney in March.
While Peele has more than earned his opportunity to work on a much larger scale, it’s always a gamble when indie filmmakers take the studio plunge. His next film will have a budget around five times that of “Get Out,” THR reports. That’s still nowhere near a $100 million Marvel movie, but a certain amount of cautiousness is always in order when raising the stakes so much for a filmmaker’s sophomore effort.
For every up-and-coming filmmaker who has successfully transitioned from indies to studio movies, there is a director who made the leap to the studio world, only to stumble and return to low budget films, or never be heard from again. Josh Trank’s 2012 feature debut “Chronicle” propelled him into the director’s chair for Twentieth Century Fox’s “Fantastic Four,” but the movie was a box office bomb, and Trank’s next film is being made outside the studio system.
There are also filmmakers who have made commercially successful studio films but have decided to return to the indie world. After Mark and Jay Duplass made “Cyrus” for Fox Searchlight and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” for Paramount Vantage, the brothers reversed course to make lower budget movies again.
“You’re taught — consciously or sub-consciously — to make an indie so you can get through that terrible process and get to Hollywood,” Duplass said in a previous interview. “I realized when I got there, oh no, I think I’m better over here.” Though shooting on smaller budgets means Duplass has to do things like hang lights and help carry equipment himself, he said he doesn’t mind the manual labor. “That makes me happy because it makes me feel connected to where I came from,” he said.
Even if Universal gives Peele more creative control on his upcoming social thriller than most studios tend to offer up-and-coming directors, it’s unlikely he’ll have the same kind of free reign he had on “Get Out.” Blumhouse’s recipe for horror films involves giving directors full creative control and keeping budgets low enough to take the kinds of risks that terrify studio executives. Not only was the film made without studio involvement — Peele was able to choose the entire creative team around him, a perk that comes with working with Blumhouse.
Will Universal offer the same level of autonomy on a movie five times the size of “Get Out,” or will the studio force compromises on Peele that could water down his distinct voice? The answer remains to be seen, but films with as much bite as “Get Out” don’t tend to come from major studios. There’s every reason to believe Peele will deliver another commercial hit — he’s an incredibly assured filmmaker who’s honed his craft during the past decade on award-winning shows like “Key and Peele” — but he would still be wise to proceed with caution.