Maggie Gyllenhaal is not just a lauded actress and an enthusiastic Brooklynite, she is also something of an expert on how indie movies get sold and marketed, as the Bagger discovered over a recent lunch (at a family-run restaurant in Brooklyn, of course). In Ms. Gyllenhaal’s latest, “Crazy Heart,” the directorial debut of Scott Cooper, an actor, she plays the love interest of Jeff Bridges’s alcoholic country singer; it also stars Robert Duvall as his old friend and features music by T-Bone Burnett. Yet it very nearly fell to the straight-to-DVD ranks before being scooped up and thrust into the Oscar race late in the year. Now Mr. Bridges is being touted as the best actor front-runner, and, in the year of the 10, the film itself is a dark horse for best picture. (But don’t expect the movie’s good fortune to be reflected in the fortunes of its couple. “Jeff always makes this joke,” Ms. Gyllenhaal said, “like, oh they’re going to get together in the sequel, and it’s going to be called ‘Crazy Liver.’ ”) Here is Part 2 of our conversation; Part 1, now updated with more answers, is here.
Did you follow the ins and outs of how the movie was released?
Mmm. I mean, I’ve done independent movies where I was like a constant part of getting it to distribution, you know, like ‘Sherrybaby,’ I had to go and get dressed up and have dinner with all the distributors, and get the money to begin with. And then go to the festivals, and wine and dine everybody, and chat everybody up, and do my job.
In this case, it wasn’t on my shoulders in that way. But still, of course, I loved the movie so much I followed everything that happened with it. In a way, it’s like a perfect picture of the financial climate of the movie industry.
We made it with a distribution deal, with Paramount Vantage. And now nobody would make a $7 million independent without a distributor. Nobody, you can’t sell it. Nobody is ever gonna buy that. At that time, you could have made a $2 million movie without a distributor. I know a lot about this actually, because I have made a lot of these tiny movies and cared a lot about how they get sold. But we made it thinking we had a distributor, but then Vantage fell apart, and then Paramount, big Paramount, it’s not a big Paramount movie, and they were great and let it go. And we didn’t take it to Cannes. Instead, after Cannes, when nobody bought anything at Cannes, they had a bunch of screenings, and Jeff Berg, who’s Scott’s agent, a fancy I.C.M. producer, kind of helmed it. It was a little bit of a scramble for a moment, because we were in that moment when nobody was buying anything.
When I started making movies, like when I made ‘Secretary,’ you could totally go and make a movie for $2 million with a good cast and a good script, and it would get bought, and you could count on it having some kind of a life. And that is completely not true now. At all. It’s just dead, because the whole financial structure for funding independent films has fallen apart.
So we got caught in this kind of moment where everything has been crumbling, and then thank God for Fox Searchlight, they have been incredible. I have to say, I watched the cut of the movie before they came in, and you know, it was very good, but it felt like an independent movie. It felt like, there were places that were too long, places that didn’t totally gel. They basically, according to Scott, they didn’t say, ‘O.K., we’re going to buy the movie and get rid of the director and do our own thing,’ they just gave him more time and money to finish editing the movie. And he did a beautiful job, and the cut is so much better.
And the way that, I mean, they’ve worked us, like Jeff and Scott, and even T-Bone and Duvall, and I have been at like a thousand Q. and A.’s for the past little while, but I think they know if actors love their movie, they’ll go. I went to the Angelika and just randomly did a Q. and A. after the first Friday night screening, and that helps get people into the first weekend. You know, when you’re working on a movie you’re not that crazy about, you might not do that. Peter [Sarsgaard] was joking with me, my husband, like, are they going to have you with a big sign, standing on Broadway, handing out fliers, trying to get people to go see ‘Crazy Heart?’ Because you would, wouldn’t you.