EXCLUSIVE: On the basis of a script and four-minute promo reel, Netflix has won an auction and acquired world rights to The Starling, the Ted Melfi-directed drama that stars Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Kline, Chris O’Dowd and Timothy Olyphant. Sources said the deal is in the $20 million range and while that might not be the most ever paid for a film based on script and sizzle reel, The Starling has wet its beak in an exceptional manner, especially in a market like this one. It might portend a run on finished films that haven’t yet locked distributors.
In the Matt Harris-scripted drama, McCarthy and O’Dowd play a married couple trying to rebuild their relationship after suffering a tragedy. While her husband heads off to deal with his grief in recovery, Lily Maynard tries to heal in the real world, one that becomes surreal when she grows a beautiful garden in their backyard, only to find herself repeatedly attacked by a starling that has built a nearby nest. She turns to a psychiatrist-turned-veterinarian with baggage all his own (Kline) who tries to help Lily with her bird problem and ends up making a larger impact on her life. Word was distribs in the chase included 101 Studios, Lionsgate and Sony 3000, whose leader Elizabeth Gabler made the Melfi-directed Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures at Fox 2000.
Deal closed Friday and it points to Netflix’s appetite at a moment when its stock value is soaring. The problem is that production is shut, and there’s no telling when it will be revived. Netflix’s big challenge is to find fresh product to stream for the rest of the year, and The Starling is well positioned to fill that need. It completed principal photography and is in post production. It’s unclear when The Starling will take wing, but I expect it will nest in awards season. McCarthy has branched beyond her comic origins and was Oscar nominated for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Principal financier is Dylan Sellers and Chris Parker’s Limelight, in their second outing. Their first, Palm Springs, set a Sundance Film Festival record in January when Neon/Hulu paid $22 million to acquire it. Their partners in financing The Starling are Entertainment One and Boies/Schiller Film Group. The producers are Sellers, Parker, Melfi and Kimberly Quinn. Zack Schiller and David Boies of Boies/Schiller are exec producing along with Alex Dong, eOne’s Zev Foreman & Jen Gordon, and Gabriela Revilla Lugo,
Melfi directed Hidden Figures and teamed with McCarthy and O’Dowd in 2014’s St Vincent. Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), Skyler Gisondo (Booksmart), Loretta Devine (Grey’s Anatomy), Laura Harrier (BlacKkKlansman), Rosalind Chao (Just Like Heaven) and Kimberly Quinn (Hidden Figures) round out The Starling‘s cast.
Melfi, who has set his script Fruit Loops to direct at Paramount and produce with Chernin Entertainment, also has been developing for Netflix Huck, a project he wrote to direct based on a comic book by Mark Millar. He’ll produce that with Neal Moritz and Toby Jaffe.
The Starling deal was brokered by UTA Independent Film Group and CAA Media Finance.