To finance "The Homesman," a 1850s Western drama playing in competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Tommy Lee Jones turned to some of his closest friends.
Jones sent his old polo-playing comrade Peter Brant a copy of the script for the movie that he wanted to direct and star in. Brant, a U.S. businessman who owns Interview Magazine and has financed five other films, including 1977's "Andy Warhol's Bad," 1996's "Basquiat" and 2000's "Pollock," was immediately impressed by the story of a claim jumper who embarks on a journey with three mentally unstable women.
Brant said he agreed to finance about 65% of the film, which had a budget of less than $20 million. The rest of the money came from producer Brian Kennedy and executive producers Richard Romero and G. Hughes Abell.
International rights were sold to the France-based EuropaCorp. Brant said several U.S. studios have already expressed interest in domestic distribution (the film co-stars Hilary Swank, Hailee Steinfeld and Meryl Streep), though a deal likely won't close until the film's May 18 Cannes debut.
"The Homesman," based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout, was a project that had been kicking around Hollywood for years, with Paul Newman attached to star at one point. Jones was able to get it off the ground because he kept the budget small.
The movie was shot in the New Mexico, Nevada and Georgia, while Jones pulled double duty behind and in front of the camera. "I was always very impressed with Tommy's ability to direct and the fact that he is in 90% of the movie," Brant said. "To accomplish that is very difficult."
Brant, who has since seen the movie about 30 times, first laid eyes on a rough cut in November. "I thought it had great moments," Brant said. "I thought it was a bit long, because it was a first cut and there was no music in it. I was surprised by how much I liked it."
About 40 minutes have since been trimmed for the version that will screen at Cannes. "I couldn't be happier," Brant said. "I think Tommy Lee Jones' performance in the film is one of the all-time best."
He predicted that the movie will eventually earn him a profit: "On a long-term basis, I do. It was a good deal for me."
Like many in the movie business, Brant is alarmed at how studios are only investing in mega-blockbusters, without much regard for smaller stories that are struggling to compete in the independent film market. He wonders how young directors now can even get the chance to begin making movies.
"I think the larger companies really should be more active in distributing independent films, because that's a feeder to the studio films that come later," he said. "How many directors have started off in independent films? The big studios should support (the indie world) to get the talent to go further." His own philosophy, he added, has been: "to look at films as backing a passion of a creative person."
Brant got into the movie industry after he met Andy Warhol in the late 1960s, when he started buying his paintings. He recalls how passionate Ed Harris was to play Jackson Pollock, which persuaded Brant to finance the biopic. He names "Nebraska," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "August: Osage County" as some of his favorite movies of last year.
"I think everybody is looking for the big (tentpole) movie," Brant added. "Film is deeper than that. It's really one of our great art forms. If you look at the period in American filmmaking when it was one of our greatest exports, it's certainly better to do that than to sell arms to the rest of the world."