CANNES — Fine Line Features, continuing its shift toward more acquisitions, has agreed to pay $10.5 million for North American rights to Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry” and Barbara Kopple’s documentary about the European tour of Allen’s jazz band, sources said Tuesday.
The deal, which will mark the first time that Fine Line has released an Allen film, was a bonanza for Jean Doumanian Prods., the company Allen set up with former “Saturday Night Live” producer Doumanian.
But the pricey buy poses a marketing challenge for the arthouse distributor. None of Allen’s last three films has grossed more than $14 million in the U.S. By contrast, the 1986 “Hannah and Her Sisters” rang up more than $40 million in the U.S. for distrib Orion.
“Harry” is the third high-profile acquisition for Fine Line in the last two weeks, after Giuseppe Tornatore’s “The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean” and Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter.”
“We’ve been eager to be involved with Woody,” said Michael Lynne, president and chief operating officer of New Line Cinema. “This is our opportunity. For Fine Line, it represents the next stage.”
“I am looking forward to working with Fine Line,” Allen said in a statement. “Their reputation is excellent and I feel it’s a perfect spot for both ‘Deconstructing Harry’ and the jazz tour project.”
Guy East and Nigel Sinclair’s Intermedia will handle overseas distribution for “Harry,” the jazz tour docu and two other pics produced by Jean Doumanian Prods.
Doumanian will work with Intermedia to line up distribution for the Allen pic in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain, where Intermedia has strong relationships with the local distribs that released Allen’s previous films.
The “Harry” move signals the end of Allen’s distribution relationship with Miramax Films, which domestically released his last three pics — “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Mighty Aphrodite” and the musical “Everyone Says I Love You” — and sold them overseas through Miramax Intl.
Allen moved to Miramax after Orion Pictures, which released many of his earlier films, filed for bankruptcy.
Sources close to Allen said he was unhappy that Miramax did not use its clout to keep his latest, “Everyone Says I Love You,” on screens longer. However, Miramax execs are understood to be disappointed with the modest grosses of Allen’s recent features.
Allen nonetheless offered the pic to Miramax; however, the indie passed because it wanted to retain international rights, to which Allen and Doumanian wouldn’t agree. One source said that the dealbreaker was the loss of rights in France, where the grosses on Allen’s last three pics have rivaled their U.S. receipts.
“Bullets” grossed $14 million domestically and $7 million in France; “Mighty Aphrodite” picked up $7 million in U.S. as well as in France; and “Everyone” earned $10 million at U.S. kiosks and another $10 million in France.
Skedded for a July delivery, “Harry” features an ensemble cast including Allen, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Demi Moore, Richard Benjamin, Kirstie Alley, Stanley Tucci, Amy Irving, Judy Davis, Julie Kavner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mariel Hemingway and Elisabeth Shue.
As with nearly all Allen pics, plot details were kept hidden, but Fine Line described the movie as the story of a writer, played by Allen, “and the turmoil of his erotic life.” Sources said it resembles the filmmaker’s life, which in recent years has become fodder for U.S. tabloids.
Allen wrote and directed the pic, which was produced by Doumanian. J.E. Beaucaire is exec producer and Allen’s sister Letty Aronson is co-exec producer. Also involved is Allen’s usual creative team of editor Susan B. Morse, cinematographer Carlo DiPalma and production designer Santo Loquasto.
Fine Line feels sure that the pic is potentially a moneymaker.
“We’re obviously believers in Woody,” Lynne said. “This feels like a film that we can bring home in the way that Woody’s movies performed before the most recent releases. We’ve never been involved with Woody before. We hope and believe we have brought something unique to the table.”
Fine Line execs said they were equally eager to distribute the docu, which follows the European tour Allen made with his New Orleans-style jazz band. The arthouse made a major hit of its last docu release, “Hoop Dreams.”
Sources said the deal for “Harry” was contingent on picking up the docu as well.
The complicated deal for the pics was brokered by Fine Line exec VPs Jonathan Weisgal, Mark Ordesky and Ben Zinkin, along with Doumanian Prods. exec John Logigian, Doumanian and agent John Ptak of CAA.