I, TONYA isn’t the first movie to turn down a larger offer from Netflix, and the bad news for the streaming service is, it won’t be the last either — at least until Netflix improves the way it releases its original movies, both in theaters and online.
Despite receiving a Netflix bid rumored to be in the $12 million range, the team behind I, Tonya accepted a $5 million theatrical offer from Dan Friedkin and Micah Green’s new company 30West and Neon that calls for a 2017 release and a strong awards campaign.
Now, a lot of indie films are blessed (or cursed) with awards chatter that never comes to fruition, but in this case, it’s actually warranted thanks to ferocious turns from Margot Robbie as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding and Allison Janney as her abusive mother, LaVona Golden. Robbie is obviously the headliner, but Janney is the one whose performance cries out for an Oscar nomination.
Directed by Craig Gillespie from a script by Steven Rogers, I, Tonya is a dark comedy steeped in both tragedy and absurdity. You’re probably aware of “the incident,” in which Harding’s rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was more or less kneecapped. But what you may not know is the story behind the story, the one off the ice, including Tonya’s complicated relationship with her mother and her doomed romance with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).
I, Tonya was produced by Bryan Unkeless, Steven Rogers, Margot Robbie and Tom Ackerley, while Rosanne Korenberg and Zanne Devine executive produced along with Len Blavatnik and Aviv Giladi of AI Films, which also financed the project.
The deal was negotiated by NEON and 30West and CAA and UTA on behalf of the filmmakers. Vince Holden of AI Films and Miramax’s Bill Block and Adrian Lopez negotiated the deal on behalf of their respective companies.
30West made a seven-figure deal with YouTube Red earlier to acquire Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! earlier in the festival.
Led by Tom Quinn and Tim League, Neon is one of the most exciting indie distributors around today, along with A24, Annapurna Pictures and Amazon Studios. The company got off to a strong start in my book with the release of last year’s hot Toronto title Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway. While I wasn’t a fan of The Bad Batch, the acquisition itself was defensible as it put them in business with up-and-comer Ana Lily Amirpour, and as the summer progressed, Ingrid Goes West and Beach Rats proved to be two of my favorite films of the year. In my book, 75 percent is a great batting average. And more importantly, the company is buying movies that I actually want to see, which is all that really matters.
I’m looking forward to seeing Neon’s Sundance acquisition Roxanne Roxanne, and I’ve shown the Gemini trailer to my friends and family more than a dozen times. I’m also trying to see both Borg/McEnroe and Racer and the Jailbird before I leave Toronto. The point of all this is to say, I really like Neon is up to right now, and I’m glad that the I, Tonya team had faith in them and saw the same potential that I do. For the moment, take comfort in the notion that a really good film that may have gotten lost in the shuffle at Netflix will now get the special care it deserves from a company (or companies, I should say) that knows what it’s doing.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief