A high-stakes transatlantic battle over who has the right to determine the nature, and value, of Nicole Kidman’s Grace Kelly movie “Grace of Monaco” is brewing ahead of the picture opening the Cannes Film Festival later this month, imperiling both a previously closed distribution deal and casting a shadow over one of the most glamorous nights on the film calendar.
At issue is a veritable troika of prized Hollywood commodities: leverage, pride and distribution fees.
According to several people with knowledge of the situation who declined to talk about it publicly because of the confidential and sensitive nature of discussions, Weinstein remains upset with issues that began with, but are no longer specifically related to, his re-cutting for U.S. audiences a new version of the film in lieu of a version preferred by French director Olivier Dahan and producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam.
Weinstein and his executives are seeking a re-negotiation of an agreed-upon rights fee with the film's financier, Indian producer Uday Chopra’s Yash Raj Films, from $5 million to $3 million, citing broken promises on the part of the French filmmakers and added costs incurred by a new cut Weinstein has made for potential U.S. release.
Weinstein also is looking for an apology from Dahan over comments made to a French newspaper in November in which Dahan was quoted as calling Weinstein’s actions “blackmail.” Without those elements, Weinstein could wind up walking away from the film, casting hopes for a U.S. release in doubt.
Though it remains on its most basic level a business disagreement, the underlying issue in the matter of the two cuts is who has the right to dictate how a period of French-American cultural history is remembered.
The battle began last spring when Weinstein, the film’s American distributor but not its producer, did not like the cut delivered by Dahan, a French director best known for the 2007 Edith Piaf biopic, “La Vie en Rose,” deeming it grim and overly melodramatic. Weinstein then sent notes to Le Pogam and Dahan for a new cut while, soon after, beginning work on his own lighter version of the film that he believed would be more in line with the script the company had initially come aboard; Weinstein had Dahan's blessing for the new version, as the two communicated mainly through Le Pogam.
In October, Weinstein, having worked out a new version with a team of editors over a number of weeks, showed that new cut of the movie to several Hollywood insiders. But when Dahan was sent that version soon after, he blew up and took to the press, telling French newspaper Liberacion in November: "When you confront an American distributor like Weinstein, not to name names, there is not much you can do. Either you say, 'Go figure it out with your pile of … ' or you brace yourself so the blackmail isn't as violent.”
Le Pogam and Dahan in the meantime worked out their own new version of the film that incorporated some of Weinstein’s suggestions but retained much of what Dahan originally had in what’s come to be known as “the French version.” (Dahan’s original director’s cut was far darker than either cut and is no longer in play.)
According to those familiar with the Weinstein and French versions, the two cuts deviate only in about five minutes' worth of scenes--but those are crucial scenes, and even the tone within the overlapping scenes spell big differences in the overall feel of the film.
The Weinstein version is a more Capra-esque fairy tale in which an American actress travels to the principality and, despite some struggles, reinvents herself as the princess of Monaco. It also contains a fair amount of romance.
The French version, set to be released in France via Le Pogam partners Gaumont and TF1, is a darker, more tragic story in which Kelly battles with a petulant Prince Rainier soon after arriving in Monaco and is seen suffering in several moments of the film, as the fairy-tale aspects are muted in favor of melodrama. (One person who has seen the Weinstein cut said it is the better fit for mainstream U.S. audiences and would stand the greater chance of success here, while the French one seems to be more in line with European arthouse sensibilities.)
Weinstein and Le Pogam then worked out an unusual deal in which Weinstein could release his version in the U.S. while Le Pogam and Gaumont would take their version to French theaters, the pair finalizing that agreement by the beginning of 2014. The rights sale between Weinstein Co. and Chopra's YRF for a $5 million U.S. purchase price, meanwhile, was closed at about the same time. Tensions seemed to subside.
But the battle flared up in a big way later in January. That's when Weinstein first took the film off its March release date, angering the French filmmakers, who had agreed to a U.S. rollout on that date to help seed a European release later in the spring. Things then grew even more heated when, shortly after, Cannes announced "Grace" as its opening night film. According to two people familiar with the latter development, Weinstein and his executives were blindsided by the news and furious at Le Pogam and his French partners, who with the news that Cannes would open the festival with the French version had undermined Weinstein’s claim that the cut needed work, and also seemed to be embarking on a release plan in which the film would roll out in Europe irrespective of Weinstein's plans for the U.S.
In the months following, Weinstein told YRF that he was prepared to walk away entirely--or, at most, pay $3 million with little to no backend incentives to release the film in the U.S. That remains the company's position, with YRF seeking the original $5 million or, if it lowers the price, significant backend that Weinstein is not prepared to offer.
Weinstein has apparently also remained displeased with Dahan’s comments to Liberacion, and in recent days company executives have sought, via YRF, an apology from the director. Such a document would do more than assuage bruised feelings; it would help restore Weinstein’s leverage with filmmakers who might otherwise be reluctant to work with him because of Dahan’s very public comments.
Neither Le Pogam, the Weinstein Co. nor a Los Angeles-based YRF executive would comment on the record about the "Grace" situation.
The dispute will not affect the movie’s Cannes screening. Le Pogam and Gaumont have the right to show, and plan on showing, the French version at the festival. (At a news conference announcing the slate last month, Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux suggested the festival was fully behind the French version and even seemed to sound a bell for directorial autonomy over distributor intervention when he said that, though there were “heated discussions before the film was finished,” the version to be shown on opening night would be “the only version that the director intended to make.”)
But if Weinstein and YRF cannot come to an agreement ahead of the May 14 Cannes premiere, it could leave the film in limbo in the U.S. Other distributors would be wary of touching it for fear they could become entangled in legal action from the Weinstein Co., which could allege that YRF breached its deal. And the Weinstein Co. itself wouldn’t release it without an agreement over the fee.
It all adds up to a highly unusual situation in which the same high-profile movie could have fundamentally different versions come out in different countries--or, just as surreal, could miss the U.S. entirely.
In the meantime, all of this could prove awkward for one of Hollywood’s biggest stars: On one of the most celebrated film nights of the year, Kidman would be part of a glitzy red-carpet celebration in Cannes that might not include her frequent professional collaborator Harvey Weinstein (with Weinstein releasing two other Kidman films this year alone).
In fact, it’s not even clear that an agreement between Weinstein and YRF--or, for that matter, the far-flung possibility of a red-carpet kiss-and-make-up photo-op between Weinstein and the French filmmakers--would remove the awkwardness, since Weinstein would end up being a part of the Cannes celebrations for a cut he explicitly didn’t want.
The controversy has been marked by cultural differences and a lack of communication. For instance, despite the perception of a nasty public faceoff, Dahan and Weinstein have never met at any point during the making or editing of the movie, with the two communicating primarily via Le Pogam.
The incident also shines a light not only on the murky world of international film financing and distribution but also on the slippery nature of film editing, in which the same script can be turned into vastly different movies.
There is a pointed coincidence too in a disagreement of this magnitude coming over this particular movie: Grace Kelly’s personal tale itself is about an association between U.S. and European parties that is viewed very differently by each side.
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