Maybe you heard of James Gray's critically lauded period epic THE IMMIGRANT, starring Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix. It played in competition at Cannes in 2013, and was the odds on favorite to cruise all the way through to the Oscars, as so many Weinstein-backed films have. But that never happened. In fact, the film was released with minimal fanfare for a number of obligatory engagements and the film sank - some would say it was dumped. Watch the trailer - looks pretty good, right. Well, what happened?
Now, James Gray has spoken candidly about what went on behind the scenes with Hammer To Nail editor Michael Tully:
"The Weinstein Company chose to release the movie in a particular way based on the fact that I was not going to change the film. That’s really what it is. It’s not really more complicated than that. It’s very, very simple. When you have a film that has a certain ambiguity and complexity and doesn’t end with everyone jumping up and down and dancing and saying, you know, “Asshole Number 1 saved the universe,” then you’re gonna have potential problems.
Here’s the thing. If I had revamped the movie, or made the changes that were suggested, then I really would have been left with nothing, because the movie would have been a disaster financially and critically, and it wouldn’t have been mine. So who wins there? Nobody. This way, at least it’s the film I wanted to make, and I can at least say to you I’m extremely proud of it and I’m thrilled by how it was supported, which is all true."
Many have noted that the wide release "Oscar-bait" arthouse films are held to a formula nearly as restrictive as a paint-by-numbers superhero movie or romantic comedy, but with Gray's story we see that a filmmaker who works outside that restrictive mold can have little chance of placing a film on 1500 screens, even if the film is excellent and the subject matter is timely.
The rest of the interview is very interesting as well, with digressions into such subjects as film vs. HD video (Mike Leigh gets gently roasted) and what it means to sell out nowadays.