Shooting is underway in and around New York on Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” but there’s no iron-clad guarantee yet that the big-budget mobster film, which is backed by Netflix, will make it to the big screen.
Scorsese, an ardent cinephile, is believed to have asked for a commitment from Netflix that the long-gestating film – which he and star Robert De Niro are passionate about – will have a theatrical run in 2019. Sources familiar with the negotiations say Scott Stuber, Netflix’s film division chief, has assured Scorsese that the film will have a minimum two-week theatrical window. That would at least qualify it for Oscar contention.
But Netflix head of film publicity Julie Fontaine told Variety that “it’s premature to say anything at this point” regarding the company’s distribution strategy for “The Irishman.”
Even if Scorsese gets his wish for some kind of theatrical run, the film will almost certainly go out day-and-date in theatres and on Netflix, in line with the streaming giant’s usual practice. That’s what happened with Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” and Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” both of which were released in cinemas and online the same day. (Both played in Cannes as well.) It’s also the case with Dee Rees’ epic on the rural American South, “Mudbound,” which will be released Friday on Netflix and in selected U.S. cinemas in an attempt to capitalize on its Oscar buzz out of Sundance and Toronto.
Netflix’s involvement with the “The Irishman” came after Hollywood studios balked on the project and its ballooning budget. The film was initially pegged at $100 million, but producer Gaston Pavlovich said in an interview with Variety that the ballpark budget figure for “The Irishman” now stands at $125 million, adding that it could “go over that.”
Production of the pic, whose starry cast includes De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano and an out-from-retirement Joe Pesci, has been bedeviled by a series of complications. After languishing in development since 2008, it was pulled out of turnaround at Paramount last year by Mexican producer Pavlovich. The studio intended to take domestic rights, with international rights going to STX Entertainment for a reported $50 million.
But Paramount subsequently withdrew when it became clear that the visual effects necessary to make De Niro’s character, alleged hit-man Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, look 30 years younger in flashback scenes would push the film’s budget far past the initial $100 million estimate. George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic is reportedly employing the same type of effects that were used on Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
“We quickly realized that that Marty and De Niro really thought that the aging process was going to be a very important aspect of this film,” Pavlovich said. “The traditional [business] model was not going to work with this new vision of the project, and that’s when we entered conversations with Netflix.”
Those negotiations led to a deal being hammered out by the “Irishman” team and Stuber shortly before principal photography kicked off in August. The agreement required the undoing of “previous distribution agreements in different countries, because Netflix of course wanted a worldwide deal,” said Pavlovich, who thanked STX for unlocking the deals they had made.
Pavlovich declined to discuss specifics of Netflix’s release strategy for “The Irishman” but said that without the streaming giant’s involvement, the film “just could not have been done.”
“The market and the dynamics of the market would not give us the possibility…to risk that amount when all our data was telling us that it [the money] was not going to come back,” Pavlovich said. “We would have had to do a box office similar to ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ or even better than that, to have something even close to a return. And that movie had Leo DiCaprio and sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll….This is different, and Marty knew it.”