EXCLUSIVE: Three release dates were scratched. None of the minimum guarantee was paid by the company that acquired domestic distribution rights for the Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor film I Love You Phillip Morris. Now, financier Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp has removed the film from Consolidated Pictures Group. I’m told a new deal is in the works for Newmarket Films to release the picture this fall.
Consolidated Pictures Group was just getting off the ground when it acquired the Carrey film in May, 2009, following the film’s Sundance premiere and before it was shown at Cannes. Insiders said CPG is being dropped because it failed to meet any of the financial obligations of a deal that included a $3 million minimum guarantee. The fear was it didn’t have the funds to pay for a P&A of $8 million. Sources said EuropaCorp delivered a finished film 90 days ago, sent CPG a warning letter in mid-March, and finally informed the company that the deal was being rescinded for breach of contract on April 1. CPG was started by Merv Davis, Timothy Patrick Cavanaugh, Randall Miller, Jody Savin and James Mancuso.
Nearly two weeks after that letter, stories got planted that CPG would move the release to July 30 in a limited run that would expand August 6. CPG first set the film for a Feb. 12 release, changed it to March 26 and then April 30, before scratching that date. EuropaCorp lawyers want CPG to cease and desist, including the cancellation of a screening it planned in Malibu.
CPG’s Cavanaugh denied the company had lost the picture: “We’re the distributors right now, we have a contract and we’re asking Europa to deliver certain things. We’ve hired legal counsel, and if we need to go to arbitration, we will. We plan to distribute this film,” he said.
Why would an unproven entity like CPG even get near a film involving the likes of Besson, Carrey and McGregor? Insiders said the sellers were impressed by the way CPG principals mobilized financing for the Alan Rickman-Chris Pine starrer Bottle Shock, which was directed by Miller. CPG was the most enthusiastic bidder. It made the biggest offer for an edgy fact-based film that had Carrey playing a married conman who falls in love with his cellmate (McGregor), and commits all kinds of misdeeds to be with him. It was directed by first timers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, writers of the raucous comedy Bad Santa. So bidders weren’t exactly lining up. The fact that CPG was a newcomer actually gave EuropaCorp an escape hatch, as the deal included deadlines and provisions that had to be met, or else the financier could repay any advances and reclaim the film, sources said. Even though I’ve heard that vendors were getting stiffed or given the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” excuses for not being paid by CPG, the company didn’t actually have to come up with any real money until the finished film was delivered 90 days ago. Deadlines were missed, an alternate pay schedule was worked out and still no money on the minimum guarantee was paid.
As the situation grew messier, Besson’s company, Carrey and other participants sought a way out from CAA and WME, which brokered the original distribution deal together. This was compounded by the fact that EuropaCorp and E1 has been distributing the film in territories like France and England (the $13 million film has so far grossed around $8 million overseas), while the domestic release kept getting pushed back. What will be interesting is whether a CPG-brokered deal for Canadian distribution rights with Alliance that apparently included an advance will remain intact, or a domestic DVD deal with Fox that would be triggered only by the multi-million dollar P&A spend that EuropaCorp feared CPG would not be able to make. Clearly, all of this will play out in arbitration or in a courtroom.
Perhaps the final straw was the recent spate of postponement press reports, which questioned whether there was something wrong with the film. I Love You Phillips Morris has actually gotten good reviews. Rottentomatoes.com clocked the film’s reviews as 83% favorable, with the site describing the consensus: “This fact-based romantic comedy has its flaws, but they’re mostly overcome by its consistently sweet, funny tone and one of the best performances of Jim Carrey’s career.”
Newmarket principal Chris Ball didn’t return a call, but sources said that if EuropaCorp gets its way, that company will be the one to bring I Love You Phillip Morris to theaters. Newmarket, which was acquired by Exclusive Media Group in late 2009, most recently acquired domestic distribution to the Natalie Portman-Rainn Wilson-starrer Hesher, which premiered at Sundance.