Following the deluge of sexual assault allegations levied against Harvey Weinstein, Quentin Tarantino struck out on his own in 2017. For the first time in the director’s career, a Weinstein-led company would not be distributing his next film. Since Tarantino is a two-time Academy Award-winner and one of the most notable voices in film, this naturally led to a significant bidding war for his services. But amid the unrelenting competition, which included big pushes from Warner Bros. and Paramount (PARA) Pictures, Sony landed the financing and distribution rights to this weekend’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
How did the studio, which had been struggling at the time of its courtship, land the A-list filmmaker? For starters, it agreed to fund the risky original project at a lofty budget of $95 million, no small feat in today’s franchise-driven ecosystem. Next, Sony had to agree to give Tarantino significant creative control and final cut, which is to be expected. The studio also forked over a meaty cut of the back-end profits (25 percent of first-dollar gross).
But the true trump card was that Sony, desperate for an attractive roster, was willing to do what other studios simply wouldn’t: cede copyright control of the film to Tarantino. In other words, Tarantino will reportedly regain full ownership of Once Upon a Time in 10 to 30 years, a perk only a tiny circle of filmmakers enjoy and titans such as James Cameron and Christopher Nolan do not.
Now, the pressure is on for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood to become a hit.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film needs to earn $375 million worldwide just to break even. Only one of Tarantino’s eight previous films has managed that feat. However, the director has always been under the mini-major studios Miramax and The Weinstein Company, outfits that could never match Sony’s global reach and resources. The juicy mid-summer season, which typically sees an increase in ticket sales compared to the rest of the year, could provide the film with better legs. It also helps that Once Upon a Time will debut in nearly 3,700 theaters nationwide, besting Tarantino’s previous high of 3,100. Throw in the sheer star power of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, and it’s possible Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood could breakout enough to be considered a financial win.
But at a lengthy two hours and 40 minutes and with early tracking projections hovering around a solid but not amazing $30 million opening, we couldn’t blame Sony for biting its nails over this one.