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Toronto: Tobey Maguire and Edward Zwick on Studios’ Lack of Adult Dramas

For Tobey Maguire, it was a 10-year-journey to get his drama about chess player Bobby Fischer on the big screen. After many false starts, he finally secured enough financing for the $16 million picture, “Pawn Sacrifice,” which premieres at Toronto on Thursday night. Director Edward Zwick shot the film in 40 days in Montreal starting last fall.

Both Maguire (who plays Fischer) and Zwick sat down with Variety to talk about the project, and why they think studios aren’t interested in serious dramas anymore.

Tobey, what made you want to be a producer?
Maguire: I had some time on my hands.

Why?
Maguire: Well, it wasn’t like I was acting in movie after movie. I just started going, “All right, let me find things that I want to develop or try to build into movies that I want to make, because I’m not seeing scripts I want to do.” It was really primarily a function of that. My interest started about 13 or 14 years ago. I’ve gotten more serious about it in the last six years.

What drew you to Fischer?
Maguire: Gail Katz, our fellow producer, came to me and talked to me about the idea of doing a movie about Bobby Fischer. I was aware of Bobby and dug in and did some research, and had to contemplate it a bit. The current Fischer at the time was a recluse and was really harsh and critical of things in a way that was inappropriate. I didn’t like that. But in digging deeper into his life and compartmentalizing different things, I thought it would be a really fascinating thing to do. And to try to tell the character story of Fischer, but in kind of sports movie way.

Zwick: A couple years ago, finally, Gale and Toby had a piece of material by Steven Knight that they really had some confidence in and they showed it to me and we dove in. It wasn’t the most obvious choice for a studio system.

Why not?
Zwick: I don’t have to tell you how many serious adult movies of any kind of intellectual ambition the studios are making right now.

What do you think is behind that change?
Zwick: By virtue of making fewer and fewer of them, they have, in some sense, have had a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the audiences for them haven’t been cultivated. I think even more so, they realized there was even a riskier proposition to something that wasn’t already branded or a superhero movie. I’ll give you an example. When [Leonardo] DiCaprio and I made “Blood Diamond” in 2006, we were able to make a serious adult movie at scale. The movie made a significant amount of money, yet at the end, I had a conversation with someone very high up in the studio, who said, “We can’t make this movie anymore, because this amount of profit given this amount of time and investment doesn’t move the needle in our stock prices.” In other words, they want multiples of a certain number. They would rather lose $100 million and make $300 million than to be in the game of making $30 million. And suddenly all of us in the business, if we want to still make those movies, we have to find others willing to take those risks, and the studios after the fact cherry-pick as distributors.

I think of “Blood Diamond” as a successful film that earned Oscar nominations.
Maguire: All of that’s true.

Zwick: And tragic.

What was the tipping point in getting this film made after 10 years?
Maguire: I think we had gone through different iterations and different writers. I got to a point where I felt I’m ready to make this movie. Shortly after the moment, Ed and I got together and decided to make it together. That was a normal process that took a while.

Zwick: This is my first experience in this world. It’s full of vagaries of people who say they are going to do something and don’t.

I was talking to Chris Evans who said playing Captain American helped him get financing for his directorial debut. Tobey, do you think playing Spider-Man helped you?
Maguire: I don’t know if it relates that much to this kind of movie. It’s part of the history, although I don’t think it translates that much.

But there’s still global recognition for your name.
Maguire: I travel a bit and people know who I am in a lot of places.

Are you worried about the future of adult dramas?
Maguire: I think it’s all about the resources that you have. You have to be clever basically about how to get the stuff onscreen. I think the days are very different for dramas to still be a big category for financiers who are spending $70 million or $90 million.

Zwick: It was also explained to me that studios have a certain number of slots, and they consider those slots worth a certain amount of money in potential earnings. But scale is sometimes part of story telling. If you take away scale, the nature of the story changes. I made a joke the other day, if I were to try to make “Glory” now, rather than be about a regiment, it would be about a platoon. It would be seven men in the woods rather than all the men on the beach.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.
Zwick: Absolutely. And I’m on the Board of the Governors of the Academy and there’s a very interesting conversation that’s going to take place in a year or two—what is a movie? If it starts on VOD, if it starts on Direct TV and then goes to the theater, does it have to have a run for x-period of time?

Maguire: I see another awards show.

CAA and WME are handling domestic sale of “Pawn Sacrifice.” Lionsgate is working on international distribution.

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