After three all-night negotiations, Neon and 30WEST tag teamed to skate off with a deal for I, Tonya, the Craig Gillespie-directed black comedy from Miramax about the epic fall from grace of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. Sources peg the deal at around $5 million, and Neon’s Tom Quinn and Tim League will make a strong play for the film in Oscar season. The Steven Rogers-scripted film stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney, and came into the festival as the hottest acquisition title before it premiered Friday at 9:30 at the Princess of Wales Theatre. At a post premiere party at Ivan Reitman’s restaurant Montecito, potential buyers I spoke to were not disappointed, nor were reviewers. Robbie produced the film with Tom Ackerley, Rogers and Bryan Unkeless.
The bidding came down to the compelling choice of a traditional theatrical play (Neon) or a streaming deal (Netflix) and here the filmmakers and financiers chose the former. Beyond the strong performances by Robbie and Janney, I, Tonya has an enviable path in front of it. The film can qualify for awards, and roll out slowly with the Winter Olympics coming in February (where the Harding scandal played out in 1994) and then Oscars in March. Neon and 30WEST made a passionate pitch and this will be a big film for the upstart distributor.
In unabashed R-rated fashion, Gillespie admirably threaded the needle and balanced the sometimes outrageously funny chronicle of how Harding skated from a hardscrabble life into momentary glory followed by tabloid scandal, counterbalanced by the upsetting depiction of her being used as a punching bag by her dimwitted husband Jeff Gillooly, after she was slapped around repeatedly as a child by her tough as nails and impossible to please mother. The film shapes up as a cross between hallowed black comedies Fargo and To Die For, in characterizing the twisted things that can happen when not bright people have ambition and try to cut corners to achieve those dreams of escaping their low station in life.
In the lead up to the festival, CBS Films had made an offer said to be around $6 million, which was what Miramax Films paid earlier to acquire and make the film. Before others could step up, the sellers — CAA and UTA Independent Film Group co-brokered the deal for Miramax chief Bill Block — stuck a pin in any talks and let buyers see the film here in Toronto, or at simultaneous screenings in L.A. The clear goal was to match the film with the right distributor and put it into the upcoming awards season race. Some buyers I spoke with felt the movie could be tightened, and it seemed like Gillespie was happy with the cut audiences saw last night. Continue reading