Could 'The Goldfinch' Financing Deal Be A Template For Hollywood's Return To Mid-Budget Dramas?

If you've been paying attention to the film industry for the past decade or so, you've probably heard the frequent lament from critics and executives alike that movie studios don't make nearly the same number of mid-budget adult-targeted dramas that they used to. Sure, an occasional exception may slip through the cracks, but compare the state of the industry now with how it was in the 1990s, and things continues to look increasingly dire for mid-budget movies.

But The Goldfinch financing deal may establish a template that could keep those movies from going extinct on a studio level. Warner Bros. teamed up with Amazon to co-finance the upcoming prestige drama, with WB distributing the film theatrically worldwide and then passing it off to Amazon Studios, who has video-on-demand streaming rights for its Amazon Prime Video platform.

The Goldfinch, from Brooklyn director John Crowley, is a $40 million adaptation of a popular novel – exactly the level of film that we often complain doesn't get made anymore these days. Vulture has a long, detailed breakdown of how The Goldfinch got made; the full piece is worth a read, but the short version goes like this.

When Crowley and the producers pitched the project to WB and told them how much they needed to make the film, the studio balked at the initial budget. After those budget talks broke down, Crowley's agent proposed an unorthodox solution: what if the studio partnered with a streaming service to raise the money to make the movie? This isn't the type of thing you see every day, because studios often bank on a film's post-theatrical life for more profits in the long run by licensing it out to cable channels or streaming services. Typically, Warner Bros. movies would go straight to the WarnerMedia-owned HBO, and The Goldfinch deal was made well before HBO Max was announced.

But producer Brad Simpson explained why Amazon was a good fit for a co-financier for this specific project: "Amazon made sense because obviously, this book had been featured on their platform. It makes sense to have a synergistic partnership where they had direct access to fans of the book through their site."

As for Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, several people close to the production of The Goldfinch told Vulture that Emmerich had high praise for the new deal:

"This could be a game-changer for our business model...This is a great model for us. It creates a model that potentially allows Warner Bros. to make dramas or urban-skewing or domestic-skewing films for a higher budget through a partnership with Amazon."

Unfortunately, Warner Bros. won't make any new deals like this with Amazon because WarnerMedia's HBO Max streaming service is debuting soon, and other studios have similar landing zones ready and waiting: Disney will have Disney+, and Universal will soon have an untitled NBCUniversal streaming service of its own.

But as Vulture points out, that still leaves Sony, Lionsgate, Focus, and Paramount as studios which could make theoretically make their own deals like this in the future with a company like Amazon. And while we don't know for sure if similar deals will actually happen, the very fact that there's a possibility is good news for anyone who misses seeing mid-budget films that are now looked at as old-fashioned.