EXCLUSIVE: Is Casino Jack ever going to see the light of day? The feature drama about the rise and fall of D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff certainly seems to have a lot going for it. Kevin Spacey in the starring role, cooperation from Abramoff — who allowed Spacey and director George Hickenlooper to visit him in jail– and an 8-figure distribution deal by upstart independent distributor Metropolitan.
What a turn of events for the film, and Abramoff! The ex-lobbyist has been sprung and works for a kosher Baltimore pizzeria. He might be up to his eyeballs in dough, but a lack of money due from Metropolitan has prompted the makers of Casino Jack to reclaim the film. They say Metropolitan has defaulted, and CAA is showing it to distributors again. They hope to make a new deal that will keep plans intact for an October opening to exploit what the filmmakers believe is an awards-caliber performance by Spacey.
The Casino Jack development parallels the Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor film I Love You Phillip Morris. In April, Deadline revealed that Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp reclaimed that film from upstart distribution company Consolidated Pictures Group, after CPG was late with funds and canceled three release dates on a movie that has already been released around the world. While CPG denied it was let go, I’m told EuropaCorp—which sued CPG—will close a new deal shortly.
Metropolitan owner, Romar Entertainment’s James Schramm, vehemently denied he has defaulted, or that he will lose custody of Casino Jack. He acknowledged things have gotten hairy enough that he cut off communication with CAA, Hickenlooper, and just about everyone else screaming to get paid. Schramm said Friday that he has been in constant contact with the only person who matters–the film’s financing producer, and that everything is okay. He wouldn’t say who that was. I suspect it is Gary Howsam, the Rollercoaster Entertainment chief. Howsam confirmed to me over the weekend that the deal with Metropolitan has been rescinded.
“Rollercoaster Entertainment is proud of the picture and the amazing work by George Hickenlooper, Kevin Spacey and the entire cast and crew,” Howsam relayed in a statement via e-mail. “Though Rollercoaster had previously entered into a distribution agreement with Metropolitan, that agreement has been terminated according to its terms.”
When we spoke this morning, Schramm–whose Metropolitan acquired the film last March for a low-seven figure minimum guarantee and a promise to spend $9 million in P&A–wasn’t letting go.
“We still have the rights to Casino Jack,” Schramm said. “We are still planning to release it in theaters across the country as well as DVD. Gary’s attorney had a conversation with our investor at the time we were showing proof of funds. After that conversation, our investor was a little concerned regarding the business practices of Gary and his attorney and was unclear on their motives. Therefore, our investor is taking as much time as he needs to make sure the long form contract is acceptable for us to move forward.” That conversation took place just over a month ago, said Schramm, who added he can’t move until the investor does.
When established distributors clash with sellers, the beefs go to arbitration. Because Metropolitan is new to the game, I’m told the contract contains language permitting sellers to reclaim films when deadlines are missed, a mechanism designed to keep films from getting stranded indefinitely and damaging their chance of being re-sold. That clause is the reason I Love You Phillip Morris is now in play for a new deal.
While it would be easy to point to both films as the byproduct of a fractured indie distribution marketplace, sellers are more optimistic than they have been in years. The reason: the influx of monied newcomers lining up to supply P&A and distribution. Whatever the final outcome on Casino Jack and I Love You Phillip Morris, sellers acknowledge it is more important than ever for film financiers to choose carefully, and sometimes the biggest offer isn’t the best one.
Casino Jack covers Abramoff’s descent from GOP true believer to fatcat lobbyist who profited protecting the interests of such unsavory types as Asian slave labor-sweat shop owners, murderous third world “freedom fighters,” Russian gangsters, Indian casino operators and drug companies. Abramoff and pols who fed at the money trough were brought down in scandal, and he was convicted in 2006 of fraud, corruption and conspiracy involving his work on behalf of the Indian casino operators. and drew a three and one-half year sentence. Abramoff isn’t spinning pizzas, by the way, he’s reportedly lending his business acumen to the eatery’s owner.
Casino Jack is scheduled to be screened tomorrow at Santa Monica’s Aero Theater, and several minutes of footage are making the rounds online.