Whoopsy Daisies

Barry Sonnenfeld blows the bank on his new television show.

Overgrowth: Pushing Daisies is considered one of ABC’s bright hopes for the fall season. It’s a show about a guy who can bring back the dead with his touch, and it’s tracking nicely with audiences in the buildup to its Oct. 3 debut.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld didn’t create the series—Bryan Fuller did—but in a July interview with the New York Times, Fuller called Sonnenfeld a “crucial partner” in setting the show’s tone and its colorful, stylized look. And Sonnenfeld remains as executive producer. What’s less clear is whether he’ll direct future episodes.

Fact is Sonnenfeld went so far over budget on the first episode that Warner blew a gasket and Sonnenfeld’s role as director was curtailed. The studio isn’t talking.

“He was going for a lot of stuff in the first episode to continue the look of the pilot and it went over,” says a source sympathetic to Sonnenfeld, adding that Warner TV chief Peter Roth “overreacted and handled it badly.” Roth, he continues, is an emotional fellow whose nickname in the industry is “the hugger.” Our source adds: “Five days before the blowup on this thing he was hugging and kissing Barry Sonnenfeld and calling him the best director he ever worked with. The extremes of it are ridiculous.”

This insider says the two have made some sort of peace, but it seems doubtful that Sonnenfeld will direct the show again.

Sonnenfeld, whose successful films include Men in Black and The Addams Family, tells us he’ll “probably direct some future episodes down the road” but not just now, because he’s very busy—taking his child to boarding school, giving a speech. Another source on the show also says Sonnenfeld isn’t directing now because he’s very busy, but in this version he’s occupied with other television pilots (and, in fact, he is working on two).

Whatever is keeping him busy, Sonnenfeld says he’s still very involved with the show. “I need to become rich so I can buy another plane,” he says. He used to have one, he says, but a string of failed movies clipped his wings. Getting Pushing Daisies into syndication is his best shot at escaping the tedium of commercial flights.

Sept. 5, 2007

Russell Crowe

The Unforgiven: So far, the critics are loving the Western 3:10 to Yuma, which opens this weekend and stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Lionsgate plans to present it as the first Oscar contender of the fall. But the movie has generated as many fisticuffs off-screen as on—and, according to several sources, key talent on the film fears that Lionsgate may have shot itself in the foot by releasing it now.

Things apparently got so sour that there were vying parties after the film’s premiere—one thrown by financier Ryan Cavanaugh at Los Angeles restaurant Ago, and the other at Crowe’s digs at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Those said to be displeased with Lionsgate’s handling of the film are the Russell Crowe camp, as well as director James Mangold (Walk the Line) and his producer-spouse, Cathy Konrad. Let it be noted that none of these individuals will ever win a congeniality award.

Certainly Crowe has agendas involving his own career that may not sync up with Lionsgate’s interests. He’s coming off the exceedingly dreadful A Good Year and another disappointing performer, Cinderella Man, before that. So he’s looking for a hit. He and his advisers believe that hit will be American Gangster, an upcoming Universal film that pairs him with Denzel Washington. (We’re told Universal will run an Oscar campaign for Crowe in the best supporting actor category.) Crowe did not want to muddy the waters by opening 3:10 to Yuma too close to American Gangster’s release on Nov. 2. His camp thought the film should be moved to next year—and promised that the star would be more cooperative in promoting it if Lionsgate agreed. But Lionsgate did not.

Lionsgate is a small company that butters its bread with horror fare like Hostel. But it can utter one word in response to naysayers who complain that it doesn’t know how to handle a quality film like 3:10 to Yuma. That word is Crash—a movie Lionsgate guided to an Oscar victory against all odds.

Whether the company has made a wise move or blown it by opening 3:10 to Yuma this weekend will become apparent with time. Certainly scheduling movies in this crowded marketplace isn’t easy. But it’s also well-known that the weekend after Labor Day is a tough time to open a movie—especially a serious one. Parents are focused on getting the kids back to school. Some believe that people are not quite in the mood for somber fare when they’re coping with the end of summer. And it’s tough to book stars on the talk-show circuit in the days leading up to the holiday weekend, when the programs tend to be in repeats.

Originally, Lionsgate set the movie for an October release. Some felt that didn’t leave enough space before American Gangster—there would be competing ads featuring Crowe, and Universal would certainly outspend Lionsgate by a big margin. But Lionsgate says it was focused on coming out before another Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. That film, starring Brad Pitt, will start rolling into theaters on Sept. 21. With that and a whole passel of other Oscar-contender wannabes set to open in the weeks ahead, Lionsgate’s Tom Ortenberg says that he saw an advantage in being the first one out of the box. He acknowledges, however, that trying the weekend after Labor Day was “a bold move.”

One result is that 3:10 to Yuma had to forget about the Toronto Film Festival, while Brad Pitt is getting press in Venice and giving the Jesse James movie—likely to be another critical darling—a nice push. That might not help 3:10 to Yuma in the awards arena. The talent associated with 3:10 to Yuma also believes the film is far more commercial than Jesse James but that the date will damage it at the box office, too.

Apparently, once Lionsgate moved the date, everything had to be done in a hurry. Crowe was given an unusually small selection of photos to approve for the poster and rejected all of them (one of our sources says he thought they made him look fat). But those on his side say the studio didn’t offer enough choices and Crowe was merely exercising a routine movie-star prerogative. Finally, an acceptable option was proffered.

But Mangold et al. apparently were fuming that Lionsgate left them out of the loop on various decisions. “They’ve had a big-studio experience with Walk the Line—they know what it means to be included in the process,” says a source inside the situation. “And Lionsgate isn’t used to dealing with filmmakers like that.” Lionsgate, says this person, is very comfortable drawing young men to Eli Roth movies, but not with bringing along a more mature movie like 3:10 to Yuma. Ortenberg counters that the 3:10 to Yuma campaign “will go down as one of the best of the year.”