EXCLUSIVE: Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures has acquired and will finance Bitterroot, a drama that is being produced by Gore Verbinski’s Blind Wink banner and Scott Aversano. The film will likely mark the feature directorial debut of Chris Milk, an inventive helmer of music videos. The script is by Michael Gilio. Blink Wink’s Verbinski and Jonathan Krauss will produce with Aversano and his Aversano Films banner.
The film has long been a passion project for Verbinski, who originally set it up at Universal with the intention of directing it. He’s preoccupied with The Lone Ranger and decided to produce instead. Bitterroot, which was set up under the title Black Hole (the script made the Black List) is the story of an aging rancher in Montana who gets swindled out of his life savings in a bank scam. When nobody seems to be accountable, the rancher saddles up his horse, puts on his duster, grabs his guns and trots off to Bitterroot to get his money back. The Occupy Wall Street movement and general frustration over the lack of corporate accountability stemming from the 2008 financial meltdown gives the film a timely man against the system premise.
The intriguing part of this is Milk getting his feature shot. There has been an influx of imaginative video and commercial directors debuting on big features, and Milk is as accomplished as any of them. He first got on the radar with a commercial for the Nintendo 64 vidgame Battle Tanx that started with the Snuggle Fabric Softener bear doing its spiel about soft towels, only to be chased by a tank that crashes through the laundry room wall. The bear is then shot at, set ablaze, separated from its arm and finally flattened by the tank. The ad sold a lot of video games, until Unilever lawyers put a stop to the subversive spot.
Milk’s subsequent videos have added visual flourishes and interactive elements. That includes The Johnny Cash Project, a tribute video to the late singer made up of a moving collage of drawings provided by fans. Milk’s video for the Arcade Fire song We Used To Wait (done for Google Chrome) invited viewers to plug in the address of where they grew up. Through Google Maps, visuals of each viewer’s childhood neighborhood were interspersed into the coming-of-age video and lent a personal touch. Milk, who was recently nominated for MTV’s Digital Genius Award, has also done vids for U2, Kanye West, Green Day, Gnarls Barkley and Chemical Brothers. He is repped by WME and Anonymous Content and Gilio by UTA.