NEW YORK — Even in a business fueled by jealousy and schadenfreude, it’s hard to find anyone who begrudges New York-based producer Anthony Bregman the success he’s had this year.
He scored one of Sundance’s two biggest deals — the Weinstein Co. and Ron Burkle’s reported $6 million-$7 million pickup of “Our Idiot Brother” — and is in Toronto selling twisted holiday-themed pic “The Oranges.” He’s fresh from a recent Sony Classics deal for another comedy-drama (“Darling Companion”) and has more peace of mind than most in his line of work.
Bregman notes that the $5 million “Brother” made $7 million in its opening weekend, even as Hurricane Irene forced East Coast theaters to shut down. At $18 million and counting, it’s also the top grosser of this year’s Sundance sales crop.
But one look at Bregman’s filmography (including “Friends With Money” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) shows that he’s far less motivated by box office than ideas and good taste, something that may be linked to his major in philosophy.
Before most TIFF trips, Bregman can be found with his wife and four kids just outside his in-laws’ Black Butte, Ore., vacation home. “I get a tremendous amount of work done standing on this deck,” he says in a phone interview. “Last year I was setting up the financing on ‘Darling Companion’ (with Werc Werk Works) here. This year we’ve been dealing with the release of ‘Idiot Brother,’ finishing up ‘The Oranges’ and handling a lot of stuff with ‘Lay the Favorite.’ It’s a bit of a bummer that I have so much work while I’m on vacation, (but) on the other hand, I’d rather be making these calls looking out over a mile-wide meadow with 50 cattle and 30 horses in front of me.”
It’s also as good a spot as any to contemplate his future. As Bregman closes his second decade in the biz, he finds himself in an ever-shrinking niche: producing literate films for adults that fall between the bottom range of big studio budgets and the shrinking price of most other indies. The economic climate for his kind of movie — while much improved from the start of the recession — is far less forgiving than a decade ago.
Bregman began his career working on films like “Safe” and “The Ice Storm” at Good Machine in the 1990s before making his debut as a producer with such films as “Love God,” “Luminous Motion” and the cult hit “The Tao of Steve.” After co-founding This Is That with Ted Hope, Anne Carey and Diana Victor in 2002, he broke out on his own with Likely Story in 2006.
He hopes to continue taking the middle road, making $5 million to $25 million films that aim for high quality while remaining accessible enough for the new crop of wide-release distribs.
“The intention is not to be obscure, though some of the movies — like a Spanish-language science fiction film (“Sleep Dealer”) — might be obscure,” he says with a laugh. “It’s to further satisfy people’s expectations of a particular kind of movie — to not just do what everyone else has done with it, but to give audiences something new and hopefully better, more satisfying and more memorable.”
Bregman is also aiming for economic stability — understandable when you consider how financing fell through on “Lay the Favorite” three times before Wild Bunch came onboard. “The process of making ‘The Oranges’ with Leslie Urdang and Dean Vanech (at Olympus Pictures), or ‘Our Idiot Brother’ with Peter Saraf and Marc Turtletaub at Big Beach — those are partners who added incredible value to the process, but not all of do.”
He’s talking with investors about long-term financing for Likely Story. “I’ve done four movies in the last 15 months, but I feel I could do more if I didn’t have to search for new partners on every movie,” he says. “I’d like to make money for long-term partners as opposed to one-off partners.”
In the works: a another Nicole Holofcener comedy, a laffer from his “Companion” director Lawrence Kasdan and “Brother” scribes Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall, Ross Katz’ action thriller “The Amateur American,” Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of the Marilyn Monroe novel “Blonde” and a live action adaptation of the graphic novel “Too Cool to be Forgotten,” developed from Likely Story’s multiyear first-look deal with Top Shelf Prods. He’s also working on financing for Bennett Miller’s du Pont murder pic “Foxcatcher” and Kaufman’s sophomore writing-directing effort, the Hollywood satire “Frank or Francis,” aiming for early 2012 production on both.
“Frank or Francis” could’ve been Bregman’s first break into the majors, putting him on the road to a transition few Gotham indie film producers make. But Sony put the project in turnaround, and he doesn’t seem too upset about it. On the contrary, he gives it a characteristically upbeat spin.
“The process of developing a movie through a studio never appealed to me, just because the odds of it going into production are very low. The percentage of movies that I develop that get to production is high,” he notes. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I can do to please a studio, but I certainly spend time thinking how I can take a film I’ve made and make it attractive to one.”