The buzz had been building for more than two weeks. A new project from Zach Cregger, the out-of-nowhere filmmaker behind the cult horror hit Barbariancame.
There were unseen offers, some even hitting eight figures, before the project was put on the market. The producers called Cregger’s representatives and asked to be involved. No dice. No one got a look before it hit the market on the morning of January 22nd.
For 24 hours after Cregger’s new horror project, Arms, was sent to Hollywood studios, a brief but intense bidding war exploded. And just as quickly, a sinister deal was made.
Concluding whirlwind negotiations on Tuesday, New Line has won the rights to Armssigns a deal that seems unprecedented in modern times, especially for a filmmaker with basically just one film under his belt.
Yes, there’s the money — eight figures for writing and directing — according to sources. The figures are more than double the entire budget of his previous films. That alone is remarkable and harkens back to an older era of Hollywood when special sales caused weekend bidding frenzy.
But there is more. There is a guaranteed green light. There is Cregger who receives final cut until a threshold is reached during test screenings. There is a controlling interest in a backend pool. And of course there is a guarantee of a theatrical release.
“Zach proved with Barbarian that he can create a visceral theatrical experience for audiences and that he controls every tool in the filmmaker’s tool belt,” New Line president and CCO Richard Brener said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more pleased that he, Roy (Lee) and Miri (Yoon), and JD (Lifshitz) and Rafi (Margules) chose New Line as the home of his next film, and hope it’s the first of many to come.”
Sources say that if this project goes well, a goal would be to eventually have Cregger become a significant horror voice and supplier to the Warners/New Line film factory.
All this emphasizes the strange status that Cregger achieved thanks to his barbarian. The writer-director was an actor and comedian and co-founder of the comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know. He co-directed and co-wrote a little-seen 2009 film titled Miss Marchan ultra-low-budget road comedy involving the search for a Playboy centerfold, and was part of the ensemble of the TBS comedy Destroyed.
So come Barbarian. It’s hard to describe the film without giving away its twists, but it starred Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long in a story about a woman who finds herself double-booked on an Airbnb in a very shady Detroit neighborhood. Without giving anything away, let’s just say “never go to the basement” has never been better advice.
The film premiered at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2022 and then opened in September to rave reviews. Critics and audiences raved as Cregger’s film wove together several seemingly disparate elements to create one of the year’s most original and creepiest films. Released by 20th Century Studios and financed by New Regency, the film grossed over $40 million domestically (it had only a limited release internationally, grossing $5 million) on a budget of $4.5 million, and was one of the films that contributed to the strong horror wave of 2022.
It also put Cregger on the list of filmmakers that many major actors, producers and studios wanted to do business with. As word spread of a new project in the works, the jockeying began in earnest.
Plot details re Arms is being kept under wraps, but it is described as an interconnected horror epic in several stories that is tonally similar to Magnoliathe 1999 actor-filled showcase from filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.
In addition to writing and directing, Cregger will also produce alongside Roy Lee of Vertigo Entertainment, as well as JD Lifshitz and Raphael Margules of Boulderlight Productions, who all produced Barbarian. Vertigo’s Miri Yoon will also produce.
That Cregger had a new project was an open secret, but getting hold of the new material was anything but easy. Despite the blind offers, Cregger’s camp – which includes CAA, Artists First and law firm Jackoway Austen – held firm.
The high security and excitement of the cases brought to mind the heady days that befell certain filmmakers in the early 2000s. Post-The sixth Sensefor example, new M. Night Shyamalan scripts going out were practically events, a time when a hard copy was delivered to a studio head in a briefcase and had to be read in the presence of the courier.
This is the 2020s, Arms was sent out via Embershot, a secure content sharing app that can monitor how many times the script is read and even what page a reader is on.
The offers started pouring in immediately, but unlike other bidding wars where streamers could brace themselves, this one made studios bend hard. In the end, according to sources, it went to Universal and Warner Bros.’ New Line division. Even after a late night session that bled into the early hours, it was unclear who was victorious. New Line finally emerged with the deal at noon Tuesday, with Warners’ Picture Group co-chairman Michael De Luca also getting involved. It was less money up front than a potential Netflix deal, according to a source, but the potential upside via a secure theatrical release could more than offset that was a big selling point. New Line’s track record with horror was also a selling point.
As for Cregger, this moment has been more than a decade in the making, after he felt he had stalled in Hollywood. As the filmmaker told THR last year of his journey to Barbarian: “I just started writing and I wrote a lot of scripts. Some of them were good, some of them were bad. And finally I got this. So it was a long process. It was like 10 years that I worked back in this position.”