The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Behind the scenes at the bidding war for Werner Herzog's 3-D movie

September 17, 2010 | 12:15 pm

Werner_herzogg Erik Nelson, who produced and helped bankroll Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," was sitting in a darkened theater in Toronto, watching a new documentary about Bruce Springsteen on Tuesday night, when he got an e-mail saying, "Red Alert. Meet me in the lobby." It was Submarine Entertainment's Josh Braun, the sales agent for "Cave," alerting Nelson that the bidding war for distribution of Herzog's 3-D documentary had begun. When Nelson arrived in the theater lobby, Braun told him, "Be prepared to stay up late."

He wasn't exaggerating. Nelson, Herzog, Braun and the film's lawyers stayed up until 4:30 a.m., hearing pitches from four different distributors, all eager to release Herzog's mesmerizing film about the rarely  seen cave art inside the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave in the south of France, which may well represent the earliest art made by mankind. "It was really tough to choose, because we had all these impressive, smart people coming in, one after the other, telling us how much they loved our movie," Nelson said. "At one point, I jokingly suggested dividing up the country into four regions and letting each distributor have one of the quadrants, except no one wanted the deep South."

Nelson says Herzog sat in on all the distributor pitches. "Obviously Werner wanted to meet his partners, but he was fascinated by the sociological, Kabuki-like theater ritual of the pitch meeting," Nelson explained. "And I felt comfortable having him there, because with Werner's impassive stare, he has a very good knack for picking partners."

It was IFC who ended up with the movie. "They just clicked with us," Nelson said. "They've done really good work on a lot of films, but they were also willing to put up a nice pot of money. And most important, they came up with an ingenious plan to find art houses where we can show a 3-D movie, which is crucial for us, since the distribution plan for this movie will have to be just as unusual as the movie itself."

Nelson wouldn't provide specifics, but IFC reportedly won the bidding with a mid-six-figure deal. The company also will be spearheading an Oscar campaign for the film, which will be entered in this year's best feature documentary category though it might not have a full-scale release until 2011. "The whole process ended up being a blur to me," Nelson acknowledged. "But when IFC woke up their attorney at 4:30 a.m. to go over deal points, that's when I knew we were all really in love with each other."

Photo: Werner Herzog, left, with Peter Zeitlinger during filming of "Cave of Forgotten Dreams." Credit: Marc Valasella

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