DEADLINE EXCLUSIVE: Netflix has acquired distribution rights to War Machine, the David Michod-directed drama which will star Brad Pitt as a four-star rock star U.S. military general. The character is patterned after Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for a time the commanding general of international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The film is a satirical comedy inspired by the bestselling book The Operators: The Wild And Terrifying Inside Story Of America’s War In Afghanistan, by the late journalist Michael Hastings. Script was written by Michod, whose credits include Animal Kingdom and The Rover. Pitt and his Plan B cohorts Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner will produce with Ian Bryce.
This picture package was on Deadline’s list of his Cannes titles, but Pitt and his reps have for several weeks been down the road with Ted Sarandos and his Netflix cohorts on an alternative strategy. With this deal, Sarandos has an opportunity to make the kind of seismic move in features as he did with TV series like House Of Cards. This will be the biggest investment Netflix will have made so far in a feature film, in the $30 million range. It is also the first time Netflix has really gotten hold of a film with one of the biggest global A-list movie stars, in his prime, along with his producing cohorts whose recent credits include Best Picture winner 12 Years A Slave and Best Picture nominee Selma.
The streaming service continues to establish itself in countries around the world — it just announced Italy, Portugal and Spain to raise its penetration to more than 150 countries — and is expected to be in even more by the time this movie is ready for a qualifying theatrical run, and then a big Netflix worldwide bow late in 2016.
Plan B acquired the Hastings book last year and originally it seemed like a straight nonfiction film. It has instead been turned into a fictionalized satire. The book captured McChrystal in his cocky glory, and focused on the backrooms and politics of war and the high-stakes maneuvers and political firestorm that shook the country. Hastings, who followed McChrystal around Europe and Afghanistan for a month in 2010 for a Rolling Stone article, quoted the general badmouthing the White House and its handling of the war. That proved to be his undoing; after Rolling Stone published the article “The Runaway General,” McChrystal was ordered back to D.C. by President Obama, and McChrystal tendered his resignation there.
Even though this is sophisticated subject matter and not the popcorn fare that studios covet, any studio or independent distributor would have salivated over releasing a movie with Brad Pitt as its star. But it is also the kind of movie that is often hard pressed to find a large theatrical audience, and P&A is exorbitant to chase that business. Pitt and his advisers instead decided to experiment with the idea that potentially more people would see the film through the Netflix global streaming subscriber base, while still having it eligible for Oscar consideration just like any other theatrical release. Deadline has reported that when Netflix makes a deal like this — or on a movie like the Cary Fukunaga-directed Idris Elba-starrer Beasts Of No Nation or the four movies that will star Adam Sandler and be produced by his company — its model eliminates the possibility for overages because the priority is the streaming service. We’ve heard that Netflix will pay 130% of a film’s budget. In order to get this coup, it paid at least that much or more, but it potentially knocks down a wall that could give Netflix a real shot at movie-star-driven pictures that want one-stop shopping. Netflix will also heavily market the movie.
“War Machine is a rip-roaring, behind-the-facade tale of modern war decision-makers, from the corridors of power to the distant regions of America’s ambitions,” said Sarandos, the chief content officer of Netflix. “Brad and David are a perfect team to make this timely, compelling and entertaining film.”
Said Pitt: We are so excited to be a part of the inspiring commitment by Netflix to produce cutting-edge content and to deliver it to a global audience.”
Said Michod: “I’m humbled to be making a big, bold movie about the whole sprawling, complex, cumbersome and crazy machinery of modern war and the many lives it touches.”
Pitt has hardly abandoned the traditional theatrical release that launched his star. He wrapped By The Sea, the Universal film with Angelina Jolie, who directed. After he wraps War Machine, Pitt will join Marion Cotillard in an untitled Steven Knight-scripted period spy thriller that will be directed by Robert Zemeckis for Paramount. He will then reprise in a sequel to the zombie apocalypse hit Wold War Z, which is being scripted by Knight and will be directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, with Plan B producing.
Pitt is repped by CAA, Brillstein Entertainment Partners and Alan Hergott. CAA brokered the deal. UTA reps Michod.