EXCLUSIVE: Not all the indie films coveted by buyers are in Sundance. A spirited auction is going on right now for Janis, a package for the long-awaited film about iconic ’60s singer Janis Joplin. Martha Marcy May Marlene helmer Sean Durkin is directing, and Manchester By The Sea star Michelle Williams is now firmly set to play the singer.
From what I hear, Amazon is squarely in the mix and hopes to stay in business with Williams as its Sundance 2016 acquisition Manchester closes in on $40 million domestic, with Williams and Casey Affleck front-runners going into the Oscar nominations. Sources said Amazon isn’t alone, with an offer for North American rights from A24; FilmNation is vying for international sales rights, and Netflix is also circling. The auction will be decided in the next 10 days, and shooting will begin in the spring. Start Media will finance the equity portion of the film. Peter Newman is producing with Durkin’s Borderline Films partners, along with Uncommon Productions and Seven Hills Productions.
This will finally conclude a 21-year odyssey to make the film, which started at TriStar. And which, at one time or another, had actresses attached including Lili Taylor, Pink, Williams, Zoey Deschanel and Nina Arianda along with a host of directors. There was also a rival project that cooled but once had names like Amy Adams, Renee Zellweger, Brittany Murphy and Evan Rachel Wood in the mix.
Janis is being done in partnership with the Joplin family, and has exclusive rights to 24 songs including “Me And Bobby McGee” and “Mercedes Benz.” There are also exclusive rights to the remaining members of her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and people in her life that included Dick Cavett, on whose show Joplin made memorable appearances.
Williams was first attached about four years ago, before things slid. Recently, an open casting call was arranged, and while many known actresses declined to audition, Williams showed up and proved to the filmmaker she had the vocal grit to pull off the vocals. Anyone who saw that scene in Manchester By The Sea has no doubt that Williams has the acting chops. Stay tuned.