EXCLUSIVE: Netflix has come out on top in a red-hot auction for the film version of J.D. Vance’s lauded bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, which Ron Howard is directing and The Shape Of Water co-writer Vanessa Taylor is adapting.
Netflix will fully finance the pic to the tune of $45M. There were multiple high net worth backers in the mix and many other admirers but Netflix’s offer blew rivals away, I understand. By almost double. Not all of the $45M will go on production. A fair whack of that will go on fees. I gather there is a theatrical allowance here which could see the release potentially play out Roma-style. CAA brokered the pact, which is not part of this week’s Sundance deal-making.
Howard is directing and producing with his Imagine Entertainment partner Brian Grazer and the company’s Karen Lunder. Julie Oh is exec producer. The idea is to shoot later this year but cast has yet to be set.
Imagine won the book rights in another heated auction back in 2017. Vance’s memoir (Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, to give it its full title), a bestseller for 74 weeks, is a critically revered account of growing up in the Rust Belt and a personal analysis of the white underclass, race and privilege in America. Vance, raised poor among working-class “hillbillies,” explores his childhood and family struggles as they navigate drug addiction, and social and economic challenges. Supported by his larger-than-life grandmother, he developed a deep appreciation for education that laid the foundation for him to rise out of poverty and its cultural restraints. The film has inevitably become a passion project for Howard and it is rounding into good shape now.
Multi-Oscar winner Howard is currently in post-production on Luciano Pavarotti doc Pavarotti for White Horse Pictures. Oscar nominee Taylor, a writer and co-producer on Game of Thrones, also penned Divergent and Hope Springs.
At a time when questions abound in the indie film financing space, Netflix continues to surge and is coming off a record Oscar nominations haul and record viewership for movie Bird Box. The streaming giant remains a boon for those in business with them but also a challenge for financiers unable to compete at their level.
While a deal of this size is unlikely to go down at either Sundance or the EFM, it comes as a reminder that when Netflix gets hot for something, there’s little that can hold it back.