By Jake Coyle
NEW YORK — This year’s Academy Awards nominees reflect a Hollywood truism: The margin between the dustbin and the Oscar red carpet is often razor thin.
The development process of any film can be lengthy and arduous, full of challenges in obtaining financing or a studio executive’s stamp of approval. The biggest obstacle on the road to the Academy Awards is, for many films, simply getting a green light.
That’s especially true nowadays, when studios have pulled back on their output and turned their focus almost exclusively to blockbusters. It makes for an annual Oscar irony: When Hollywood gathers to celebrate itself at the Academy Awards, it fetes not its standard business, but its oddities, its rarities, its freaks that somehow managed to squeeze through the cracks.
“The Wolf of Wall Street,” for example, might seem like a no-brainer: Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, loads of drugs. But even “The Wolf,” nominated for five Oscars including best picture, came very close to never getting made. After developing the film, Warner Bros. dropped it in 2008. Scorsese would later lament having “wasted about five months of my life” waiting for the Warner Bros.’ OK that never came.
It wasn’t until years later (and after other directors were considered) that the project came together, with independent film company Red Granite Pictures financing the film’s $100 million budget, and Paramount Pictures distributing.
The bet paid off not only in accolades but at the box office. “The Wolf of Wall Street” has made more than $335 million worldwide.
The case of “Dallas Buyers Club” (six nominations, including best picture) is even more remarkable. A film that’s now counted among the nine best of the year by the Academy took nearly two decades to get made. Co-producer and co-screenwriter Craig Borten first sold the script in 1996 after meeting and interviewing Ron Woodroof, a Texan who combated AIDS with drugs smuggled from other countries.
It was only revived with Matthew McConaughey (the best actor front-runner) and director Jean-Marc Vallee after the rights to the screenplay went dormant and Borten and co-producer Melisa Wallack were able to buy them back. And still, just weeks before filming began, investors pulled their money.
The breach was filled partly because McConaughey gave it an air of inevitability. He had already begun losing weight for the role and discussed it on TV talk shows.
Made for just $5 million and shot in 25 days, “Dallas Buyers Club” finally got made, long after AIDS dwindled from the headlines. Specialty division Focus Features acquired the film, which has made $30.5 million worldwide.