Quentin Tarantino Film Bidding Heats Up: Three Finalists Emerge (EXCLUSIVE)

Quentin Tarantino
John Salangsang/Variety/REX/Shut

Three Hollywood studios are engaging in a heated courtship of Quentin Tarantino as they work to out-charm each other for the rights to the “Pulp Fiction” director’s upcoming movie set against the backdrop of the Charles Manson murders.

Paramount, Sony, and Warner Bros. have emerged as the three finalists for the project, Variety has learned. It’s possible, of course, that a dark horse candidate could still emerge. Each of the three studios heard Tarantino’s pitch, with Warners engaging in some splashy wooing in hopes of landing the film. When Tarantino arrived at the studio’s Burbank lot, he found the circular entrance in front of the administration building adorned with cars from the late 1960s. The Warner Bros. logo circa 1969 was on the marquee outside the studio, and the executive conference room was outfitted with vintage furniture from the era and mock posters for the movie. Much of Tarantino’s film unfolds in August of 1969, a time when Manson’s commune of followers murdered actress Sharon Tate and four of her friends.

Not to be outdone, Sony cooked up a multimedia presentation discussing how it would handle the release of the film, as well highlighting what it saw as its competitive advantages. Studio chief Tom Rothman used his time in front of Tarantino to talk up Sony’s marketing team and to take the director through the efforts that the company has made in recent years to bolster its international distribution. He emphasized that Sony could help the film succeed at the domestic box office, as well as internationally. Rothman was flanked by the studio’s senior staff, including Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch.

Initially, any execs interested in winning the project for their studio had to make the trek to WME’s offices to read the script. Every major studio, with the exception of Disney, made the pilgrimage to the agency headquarters. To get a second meeting with the director, the studios had to agree to a number of terms: Tarantino wants a production budget of roughly $100 million. He is also expecting first-dollar gross, meaning he will get a cut of the pre-tax revenue taken in by the studio, as well as final cut on the film.

Spokespeople from all three studios declined to comment, as did a spokesperson from WME.

The financial terms scared away many suitors, leaving Warner Bros., Sony and Paramount as the final bidders. At stake is the chance to be in business with a proven hitmaker and an Oscar winner. Tarantino is one of the rare auteurs whose films are true “events.” He’s mixed critical acclaim with commercial success, scoring with the likes of “Django Unchained,” “Kill Bill,” and “Inglourious Basterds.” His most recent effort, “The Hateful Eight,” was something of a box office disappointment, earning $155.8 million on a budget of $55 million. It’s rare to see studios engage in such ardent ego stroking. Insiders say the only recent bit of flirtation that is on this level is the theatrics that companies engaged in as they tried to nab the distribution rights to the James Bond franchise. In that case, it is believed that newcomer Annapurna emerged victorious.

Tarantino’s still-untitled film was originally set up at the Weinstein Co., but the rights are up for grabs because the indie studio is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. The director has released nearly all of his films with Harvey Weinstein, but the mogul’s career has gone up in flames after dozens of women have accused him of sexual abuse and harassment.