The Deadline Team of Nikki Finke, Pete Hammond, and Mike Fleming have spent recent days interviewing the studio moguls to gauge their perspective on this very close Oscar race:
DEADLINE’s Nikki Finke: You had the most Oscar nominations this year.
BRAD GREY: So every year for the last five years we have been very fortunate in that we have had a Best Picture nominee at Paramount. I certainly didn’t imagine that we would have two this year, and I’m thrilled that we do. But we were certainly hoping that we’d be in the race again. We’ve been supporting these pictures and there’s evidence by the box office that it’s been in a very profound way. I think they are both wildly deserving so it’s really nice that the Academy has recognized them.
DEADLINE: But how do you explain the most nominations of all studios?
GREY: I don’t know how you account for that, other than the fact that we are in business with great artists, great filmmakers, and really try to greenlight pictures that will have great emotion as well as great storytelling and great entertainment value. And what we look to do is to make pictures that will be commercially successful and/or critically successful, and hopefully both. We were fortunate in that the Coens really hit a bullseye with True Grit. They produced and directed a picture that is a family film for Christmas which is going to be their greatest financial success in their careers. And the picture will do over a quarter of a billion dollars around the world, which is a huge number. And critically people have responded, and audiences have responded. So we are thrilled with that and we are supporting them through this Oscar race and campaign. To my mind, we’ve already won. The Fighter is the same situation as far as I’m concerned. It’s a touching beautiful story directed by David O. Russell and I think it’s David’s best work. I love the fact that this will reinvent David and give David a greater opportunity in the future. And it is frankly all a testament to Mark Walberg’s passion because we were working with Mark for years on this project. And at first it was to be Mark and Brad Pitt, and then it was to be Mark and Matt Damon. And poor Mark kept training and retraining as people kept coming in and falling out. And then thankfully Christian Bale came in and did a stunning job with him under David’s direction. And the folks at Relativity stepped up, and our group did an extraordinary job of marketing of what in essence people were calling a boxing movie.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about True Grit first. There already was a classic movie and John Wayne won an Oscar for it from a 42-year-old novel. How do you say yes to a remake of that? And to a western?
GREY: Well, it’s my responsibility to decide what gets greenlit at our company. And for me it’s a very easy call when the economics are right to back Joel and Ethan in anything. There is very little that Joel and Ethan could come to me with that I wouldn’t support at the right price point because I am a huge admirer of theirs. And having grown up in the business representing talent and nurturing talent and surrounding myself with the best in talent, I consider them among that group. And so I just think we are fortunate to be in business with them. So now you get to True Grit, and they had a take on how to make the book something special and to really take those characters and turn it into what would be the most commercial work that they have done because it didn’t lend itself to great violence.
DEADLINE: And that kid, Hailee Steinfeld…
GREY: She’s amazing. And they found her after looking at so many different actresses. And Jeff Bridges was extraordinary as Rooster Cogburn. So you take these two characters and you surround them with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and everybody else, and I would bet on the Coen brothers every day. So that’s the show part. The business part was they made the picture at a very reasonable price.
DEADLINE: The budget was under $40 million, really?
GREY: Yes, we’re going to do very well, and they deserve it, and they will do very well. And we made a deal with them, as we have with so many others, where we kind of recalibrated how we make these talent deals so that once we recoup our money, everybody gets to share and everybody deserves to share. So the Coens will have the biggest payday of their career, but they have truly earned it. So that’s how you make True Grit: you bet on Joel and Ethan. And then you add to that the fact that Scott Rudin is, to my mind, one of the great producers that the industry has. So that’s a hell of a combination.
DEADLINE: Were you worried that Rudin would have divided loyalties because he also had The Social Network in the hunt for Oscars?
GREY: I just don’t think you can think that way. In the words of my dear friend and my hero Ron Meyer, he once told me when he was an agent that he had a conflict of interest the day he signed his second client. Scott is a producer who is prolific and making pictures at the same time at other studios and Scott happens to have an embarrassment of riches this year and so we share that.
DEADLINE: Many people were surprised True Grit became a Christmas family film.
GREY: I went to New York to sit with Joel and Ethan in October, and they were just cutting and very very nervous. And we had a Christmas date to hit because we saw it as a big family movie. And obviously that’s a different mindset than they are used to. Joel was saying, ‘Well, I know we can get this done, I know we can get this done’, and Ethan was saying, ‘Brad, please don’t make us make this date, please don’t make us make this date.’ And then I said to both of them: ‘Look, guys, if you can make the date, it will be well worth your while because the audiences will respond over Christmas. If you can’t, we will do our best to market and distribute this after Christmas, but you will regret it. So do your best.’ And they called me a week later and said, ‘We’re going to make the date’, and they did.
DEADLINE: Now on The Fighter, Paramount was developing it and then pulled out. Relativity comes in and cuts the budget by half. Why didn’t Paramount just cut the budget?
GREY: I think that is somewhat inaccurate. We supported Mark Wahlberg and tried to develop it for years with him. But it wasn’t coming together, and certainly wasn’t coming together at the price point that it was finally made at. And so we talked to Mark specifically about lowering the budget. But for any number of reasons, and I certainly can’t even tell you at this point why, it just never got there. But we didn’t want to derail Mark’s passion project, so we said ‘Try to figure this out.’ Relativity then stepped up at the price point that they were comfortable with. We made a deal that we’re very comfortable with. And then I really think to Mark’s credit he got it all done and then I couldn’t be more proud of our group at how they marketed and handled this film. Under Rob Moore’s guidance. I think our senior executive team at this point throughout the company is the gold standard. It’s taken some time, I’m going on six years here now, but I think we have the best there is in the business.
DEADLINE: What do you think about this awards season and this Oscar race generally?
GREY: God bless him, Harvey Weinstein made a picture that is deserving of all the attention it’s getting, I think. And I think those performances are extraordinary. But I think they are all really great pictures in their own way. With 10 pictures, that’s a big number. But all of those pictures have earned a slot this year in my opinion. Now, when we talk about the pictures that have done the most in terms of box office or in getting the most noise, David Fincher’s picture is fantastic and I am a huge admirer of his. You’ve got to remember I did The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with him last year and I think that he’s one of the best directors that I’ve ever dealt with and I think he’s an artist. And so there’s nobody on that list from David to The King’s Speech to any of these folks that aren’t deserving. I just think that ours are more deserving.
DEADLINE: Talk to me about Oscar campaigning.
GREY: We were marketing our movies to make money, we weren’t marketing our movies to get nominations. We’ve been very measured frankly. We were selling our movies because they were current in theaters, and that was good timing and we were fortunate with that. I’m sure that the Academy voters knew that. But in terms of the campaigning and where we are today, we’re going to support both pictures in the Oscar campaign financially and every other which way because it’s a great part of our business. It’s obviously part of the culture of our business, but even more for us on an economic basis it makes complete sense. We are in theaters around the world. So you’re going to see us aggressive in the campaign and I think it will be to the benefit of the box office at the same time.
DEADLINE: You used to care about the Emmy, and now it’s the Oscar. What’s the difference?
GREY: Well, the Oscar seems like it’s easier to hold. You don’t have that ball and there’s nothing sharp on it… You know I love television having spent so many years in it. I think the Emmy obviously is very prestigious and is the gold standard obviously in terms of television. But the Oscars go beyond that. I believe children, when they’re growing up, dream of holding that Oscar. I think that has always been separate and apart from all of the other awards just in terms of prestige and in terms of grace and elegance. And I think that’s probably because movies just have more import around the world culturally, entertainment-wise, financially.
DEADLINE: What about some of the bad behavior that goes on like badmouthing others’ pictures.
GREY: I hope you take my word here: we don’t do it and we won’t do it and that’s it.
DEADLINE: So why do people do it? Because there is so much money and prestige on the line?
GREY: Well, any time there is a lot of money or ego involved, people tend to behave badly. So I suppose that would be a reason. But you’re not going to see it coming out of Paramount. And I only have admiration for all the other folks in the Oscar race this year. They all deserve it.