EXCLUSIVE: The auction ended late Friday night and I’ve been putting together what happened ever since. Certainly you’ll recall the big cool quotient around Machete, that famously fake trailer by Robert Rodriguez from Grindhouse. It was considered the single best thing about that Weinstein Co double-feature flop that also included Quentin Tarantino’s pic. Rodriguez’ fake trailer hinted at a good story (Mexican day laborer is set up, double-crossed, and left for dead — then starts everyone’s worst nightmare) and carried an even better catchphrase (“They just fucked with the wrong Mexican.”) Machete‘s YouTube video alone has 1.4 million views, which wasn’t lost on Hollywood. The result was 6 studios all very interested in domestic distribution rights to Rodriguez’ latest — Sony, Lionsgate, Warner Bros, Fox, Paramount, and The Weinstein Co.
Rodriguez had made the fake trailer into a real movie outside the studio system. With help from Rick Schwartz’s Overnight Productions, Rodriquez indie financed Machete with $20 million from selling international rights to Sony and making some other global sales and another $5 million he borrowed. Rodriguez not only wrote and produced the pic but he also co-directed it with Ethan Maniquis. It stars an eclectic cast to put it mildly of Robert De Niro, Lost‘s Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, and Danny Trejo. With the picture now in the editing room, Rodriguez and his longtime agent WME’s Robert Newman (who’s been there from the start of the writer-director’s career) decided to look for domestic distribution.
All six interested studios screened about 15 to 30 minutes of footage. Newman’s proposal was for $9 million upfront, no P&A commitment but the guarantee of a wide release, and a big backend gross participation for Rodriguez. (I’m told in the 10%-12% neighborhood.) Both Fox and Paramount said yes, and then, in an unusual move, Newman went back to the two studios and asked for more gross percentage and an overall production deal for Rodriguez.
Paramount balked, so did Fox. But Fox reminded everyone that it was already very much in the Robert Rodriguez business making Predators, and Tom Rothman really wanted him to have a home there, and Rodriguez and Rothman get along well, so a deal was clinched.
Which leads me to one of the most interesting aspects of this behind-the-scenes. Since The Weinstein Co had first-look on Machete, why didn’t it do the deal? After all, when Harvey and Bob started their successor company to Miramax, they did it on the back of their longtime relationships with Tarantino and Rodriguez. And they’re making Spy Kids 4 with Robert. “I really don’t know why. That’s for Harvey to answer,” one insider tells me. Rival studios are speculating TWC couldnt come up with the $9M. Yet a Weinstein Co insider claims it could have scooped up the pic for just $3.5M but didn’t because “we saw the footage and it’s not very good at all.” Sounds like sour grapes amid the indie studio’s layoffs, pic pushbacks, money woes. (Weinstein Co Gets “New Lease On Life”?)