Backed by its parent studio Universal Pictures, Focus is understood to have taken worldwide rights in a deal costing it more than $20 million.
That price tag — and a p&a commitment in excess of $10 million — makes it by far the biggest deal seen during the Cannes festival so far. And it comes following a highly unusual pitch given by Ford on Thursday at the festival.
Ford said he wanted maximum creative control and that he was prepared to self-finance the production in order to preserve that. However, after a welter of offers, he appears to have had a change of heart and settled with a supportive studio deal.
“Tom’s vision for his film is unique and inspiring and something that global audiences will be thrilled by,” said Focus CEO Peter Schlessel in a statement. “Tom has proven his prowess as a filmmaker and this romantic tale of revenge and regret will be a fantastic addition to our slate”
Rights were handled by Glen Basner’s FilmNation and by CAA.
George Clooney and producing partner Grant Heslov had been attached to produce through their Smokehouse banner when Adams and Gyllenhaal came on board in March, but they are no longer involved with the project.
Clooney’s rep confirmed a recent report in the New York Post in which the actor-producer denied that there had been disagreement with Ford: “No falling out at all. It was just scheduling. Grant and I love the project and think Tom is fantastic. We just couldn’t do it when he needed to go.”
The film is an adaptation of the 1993 novel “Tony And Susan” by Austin Wright, described as a two-part “story inside a story.”
The first part follows a woman named Susan who receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband, a man whom she left 20 years earlier, asking for her opinion. The second part includes the manuscript, titled “Nocturnal Animals,” which revolves around a man whose family vacation turns violent, along with Susan recalling the previous marriage and confronting some dark truths about herself.
“Nocturnal Animals” marks Ford’s return to directing, six years after the release of “A Single Man,” which Ford self-financed. TWC distributed “A Single Man,” which grossed $24 million worldwide, and Colin Firth received a best actor Oscar nomination for portraying a depressed gay British professor living in Los Angeles in 1962.
Focus Features president of acquisitions, Lia Buman, and executive VP of business affairs, Beth Lemberger, negotiated the “Nocturnal Animals” deal on behalf of the studio. Peter Kujawski, managing director of Universal Pictures International Productions, was also instrumental in the agreement.