Hardships present opportunities to directors

Wed Feb 4, 2009 10:24pm EST
 
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By Alex Ben Block and Stephen Galloway

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Wandering around the crowded Shrine Auditorium party after "Slumdog Millionaire" had won the top prize at the SAG awards last month, its director Danny Boyle seemed especially giddy.

His elation was understandable. Only months earlier he was trapped in a London editing suite when a call came telling him that Warner Bros. was shuttering "Slumdog's" backer, Warner Independent Pictures -- meaning that the film would almost certainly go straight to video.

"It looked like suicide was now the only option," Boyle jokes. "Seriously, you think you might as well kill yourself."

Today, rescued by Fox Searchlight, buoyant as his movie heads toward the $100 million mark in worldwide box office, Boyle is one of the five nominees for the best director Oscar at the 81st annual Academy Awards on February 22. Like his colleagues Stephen Daldry ("The Reader"), David Fincher ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), Ron Howard ("Frost/Nixon") and Gus Van Sant ("Milk"), he has endured crises and confrontations that would have compromised the aspirations of many helmers.

None seemed as great as the Warner Independent debacle last summer.

"(WIP's) Polly Cohen and Paul Federbush had given us enormous support -- 40 percent of the budget," Boyle recalls. "Our budget was 7 million pounds" (roughly $10 million today, but closer to $14 million when the movie was made).

That relative generosity, ironically, made it harder for the studio to offload the film. Who would want to pay so much for an obscure indie release? Then "something extraordinary happened. Somehow (Warners') Jeff Robinov and Kevin McCormick showed it to (Searchlight's) Peter Rice. This was a couple of weeks before Telluride (the film festival)."

By the time the movie opened at Telluride (in September), Rice and Warners had a handshake deal, though it would be weeks before they concluded an agreement that Searchlight would handle the film's release and the companies would split revenues 50-50, including India.   Continued...

 
<p>Danny Boyle, director of Golden Globe award-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire", dances as he arrives for his film's premiere in Mumbai January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe</p>