Lord of the Blings: Peter Jackson Scores $100 Million Deal
That's a one with eight zeroes after it, just for the record: Peter Jackson, who first burst onto the international scene with Heavenly Creatures 13 years ago, has secured a deal with Dreamworks to produce and direct the adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestseller The Lovely Bones. This is a great object lesson in how movies are made: Jackson could afford to produce the movie himself, but instead he and his partner created a marketable product: an adapted script, a plan, and known-quantity director who's famous for way-outside-the-box filmmaking. Rule one of filmmaking: never put up your own cash for your own project. Rule two: allow for proper marketing, which Jackson built into his plan: at least $40 million. That sounds like a lot (because it is), but the film is a tough sell in terms of subject matter: a small story about a girl who's raped and murdered, and the effect her death had on her family and friends. On the other hand, Jackson's last foray into dark, personal subject matter (the aforementioned Creatures) made Kate Winslet a household name.
As the bidding progressed, there was bartering over everything from how profit would be defined to whether Jackson could keep the rights to the movie in certain foreign territories. Several studios concluded that the deal was simply too rich.
Contenders included—from low to high, as near as we can figure from various sources—Universal, Warner, DreamWorks, and Sony Pictures. Disney and Fox didn't nibble; Warner and Universal soon dropped out over money. We're told that Sony—never a studio to scrimp—came in with by far the biggest offer. It was the only studio to offer not just the full "ask" and 25 percent of the gross but an upfront payment of millions in cash (insurance for Jackson if the payout from his profit participation didn't turn out to be as big as hoped). Having dug deep and come up empty, Sony Chairwoman Amy Pascal apparently expressed her disappointment to Kamins in the most vocal terms.
So, how does one win this kind of bidding war? DreamWorks prevailed in part because it was willing to pay up and in part because Jackson and Steven Spielberg had already been working for more than a year on what they hope will be a series of films based on Belgian comic-strip hero Tintin. But it wasn't just about relationships. Jackson worked with Universal co-Chairman David Linde for 15 years and it was Linde who bought Heavenly Creatures as a Miramax executive years ago. If Universal had anted up, that relationship might have trumped DreamWorks. On the other hand, Jackson and Universal hit a rough patch when Universal pulled the plug on a previous project, Halo, so maybe not.