Michael Manns Venice-Bound Ferrari Revs Neon Distribution Deal For Christmas Day Release

EXCLUSIVE, UPDATED with more details, confirmation from Neon: Neon has acquired distribution rights to Ferrari, the Michael Mann-directed epic film starring Adam Driver and Penélope Cruz. It will get a Christmas Day 2023 theatrical release.

The movie is expected to make its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. It is one of the most eagerly awaited films of the movie-awards season, and Neon will be a strong driver for the picture. It closed the acquisition of the film in a highly competitive North American deal and I heard A24, another studio and a streamer were also in the mix.

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“Michael Mann, one of the most innovative and influential filmmakers in American cinema, was moved by the power of this intensely dramatic story to persist for years to bring it to the big screen,” Neon CEO and founder Tom Quinn said Monday. “Ferrari reaffirms Neon’s continued commitment to supporting visionary auteurs who push the boundaries of cinema. Working with Michael Mann on Ferrari is a dream come true for Neon.”  

Driver stars as Enzo Ferrari and Cruz as Laura Ferrari, with the cast including Shailene Woodley as Ferrari’s mistress Lina Lardi, Jack O’Connell as Peter Collins, Sarah Gadon as Linda Christian, Patrick Dempsey as Piero Taruffi and Gabriel Leone as Alfonso De Portago.

Set during the summer of 1957, the pic finds ex-Formula 1 racer Enzo Ferrari in crisis. Bankruptcy stalks the company he and his wife, Laura, built from nothing 10 years earlier. Their tempestuous marriage struggles with the mourning for their one son. Ferrari struggles with the acknowledgement of another. His drivers’ lust to win pushes them out to the edge. He wagers all in a roll of the dice on one race, the treacherous 1,000-mile race across Italy, the iconic Mille Miglia. 

The script was penned by Troy Kennedy Martin (The Italian Job) based on Brock Yates’ book. Mann is also producing via his Moto Pictures banner alongside P.J. van Sandwijk and John Lesher, as well as Marie Savare, John Friedberg, Lars Sylvest, Thorsten Schumacher and Gareth West.

Mann shot much of the film in Modena, Italy, where Enzo Ferrari was born and built his empire. I met Mann there last August for a piece on the publication of Heat 2, which became a massive and well-reviewed bestseller based on his seminal crime thriller film, and which he will turn into a film at Warner Bros. His Ferrari star Adam Driver is attached to play a young Neil McCauley, the career thief played by Robert De Niro in the original.

Mann finished the book after directing the pilot for the HBO series Tokyo Vice, so he has been busy. And Enzo Ferrari has been a figure for whom Mann has long held a fascination. At the time I visited, Mann was back to inspect progress on the composite race cars built for the race scenes, accessorized by mounts to hold the cameras that will inject a different reality to the frantic and freewheeling races that were as popular in Europe as soccer. These replicas stood beside the vintage actual Ferrari and Maserati cars used in the 1957 race Mann is depicting. Mann said those cars go for between $20 million-$80 million and were loaned by a small group that includes Nick Mason, the Pink Floyd drummer and avid vintage car collector. The young drivers were movie-star handsome daredevils who attracted the most beautiful women in the world, even though careening around twisty streets at 180 MPH wiped out many of them in horrifying accidents because the cars afforded them little crash protection.

“The story comes from human behavior that’s unique and very, very different, but it’s also the contradiction in our lives,” Mann told me at the time. “It had so much of the real condition of our human lives, and really passionately wanting something you know it’s damaging and you want it anyway. That could be anything from libido to the ecstasy of mastering one of these cars, and what does that mean, mastering cars? It’s not driving a car masterfully. It means that you’re a human being and you can create a machine that will exceed what I as a human being or other human beings have been able to do up to that point. There’s a tremendous romance to that, but that impulse to exceed limits, whether it’s NASA, painting, making movies, that’s such a human strong impulse and it gets you in a lot of trouble. There’s a scene where a young driver for Ferrari gets killed, and there’s a funeral cortege, and the women in black and they’re really good looking. That happened all the time. Not to get too flirty with it, but there’s a connection between death and sex and the way these things really look. I think there’s a real subliminal sense of when you’re around death, you’re by a ghost of procreation. It’s almost like we’re programmed for this.”

This will be a big one for Neon, whose recent record of success with awards-season pics includes its Best Picture success with Parasite after Bong Joon Ho’s pic won the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 2019. It kicked off a streak of four Palmes in a row for Neon with Titane (2021), Triangle of Sadness (2022) and Anatomy of a Fall (2023). Triangle of Sadness scored three Oscar nominations last year.

The indie distributor also landed Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days and Pablo Berger’s Robot Dreams from Cannes this year.

Ferrari now joins Neon’s 2023 garage that already houses Eileen, the Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie starrer from William Oldroyd set to release in Q4; Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel, starring Julia Garner; Sanctuary from Zachary Wigon, starring Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott; and one of its first in-house productions, Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool.

The Ferrari deal was negotiated by Dan Friedkin, Ryan Friedkin and Quinn for Neon with CAA Media Finance and attorney Harold Brown of Gang Tyre Ramer & Brown on behalf of Mann.

Friedkin, the Imperative Entertainment principal, will be a key player here as Ferrari revs in Europe. Friedkin is the owner and president of the Italian Serie A club AS Roma, and I expect him to be an important ally in promoting the film. Friedkin has two big films in the upcoming Oscar race. The other is Killers of the Flower Moon, which he and Imperative’s Bradley Thomas acquired in a statement making $5 million of the David Grann book which has turned into the Martin Scorsese-directed drama that opened at Cannes to raves, starring Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemons.

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