Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the unfairest of them all? It’s a tough call, because Hollywood’s fight over Snow White is getting ugly. A battle between Universal Pictures and the studio’s linchpin financier, Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media, is unfolding over their competing efforts to adapt the same fairy tale. What’s more, Vulture hears exclusively that Relativity has offered the job of directing its version of Snow White, The Brothers Grimm: Snow White, to Tarsem Singh, the renowned commercials director (of crazy expensive spots like last year’s Britney/Pink/Beyoncé “We Will Rock You” Pepsi commercial) and the guy behind the equally visually wild Jennifer Lopez thriller The Cell. It’s unclear whether they’ll reach a deal, but talks are proceeding apace.
First, a little backstory: You may not have heard of them, but Relativity has quietly become the writer of most of the enormous checks needed to run Hollywood’s studios. So much so that two years ago, Relativity reached a multiyear deal to co-finance three out of every four Universal releases through 2011. “We consider this not just a film co-finance deal,” Kavanaugh gushed at the time, “but a true partnership,” one with which he was “delighted.”
So when Kavanaugh preemptively acquired a hot Snow White spec screenplay from Melisa Wallack last June and announced Relativity’s intention to produce and green-light its own 3-D version of the famous Teutonic tale, the last studio anyone expected to try to mess with him was Universal.
But then last month Universal acquired screenwriter Evan Daughtry’s Snow White and the Huntsman for $1.5 million against $3 million — one of the largest script sales of the year — from Alice in Wonderland producer Joe Roth. The Huntsman came with the equally hot commercials director Rupert Sanders attached, and contained aggressive progress-to-production language in its deal. An epic Snow-ball fight was on.
(Disney, meanwhile, is no doubt cackling like Emperor Palpatine, screaming, “Excellent, excellent!” as it readies Snow White and the Seven, which — and we’re not making this up — features the usual complement of dwarves as Shaolin fighting monks.)
Kavanaugh, clearly, had long ago tired of merely writing checks; he wanted to be a studio chief in his own right, and for some time now, operating with only a fraction of Universal’s overhead, more or less has become one. Relativity could still make the same amount of movies as Hollywood’s “traditional” studios and then release them through deals at Lionsgate, Sony, Paramount, and, of course, Universal.
But Universal brass may also have been a bit annoyed: Had Relativity forgotten who’d brought them to the dance? After all, it takes a lot more than money to make good movies, right?
Regardless, we’ll soon find out, because talent agents at other shops indicate that both sides are clearly unsure if the other will blink, and so both Universal and Relativity are said to be frantically checking the availability of stars suitable to play Snow White, including Anne Hathaway, Scarlett Johannson, and Natalie Portman.
Meanwhile, the dueling Snow Whites have the rest of Hollywood looking on with a mix of shock and amusement at what many say is Universal’s uncharacteristically — even for Hollywood — boorish behavior.
“Financing most of their slate obviously didn’t buy him any kind of power over there,” observed one talent agent of Kavanaugh’s plight at Universal, adding, “It’s like ‘We’ll take your money, thank you very much, but all’s fair in love and war.’”
Still, don’t count Kavanaugh out, say agents. Consensus is that his script is better, and he might just be annoyed enough to ram this one through.