The buzz had been building for more than two weeks. A new project from Zach Cregger, the out-of-the-box filmmaker behind the cult horror hit Barbaricwas coming.
There were unseen on-sight bids, some even reaching eight figures, before the project hit the market. Producers were calling Cregger’s reps, begging to be involved. No dice. No one looked at it until it hit the market on the morning of January 22.
Within 24 hours of Cregger’s new horror project, Weapons, was sent to Hollywood Studios, a brief but intense bidding war erupted. And just as quickly, a huge deal was struck.
Closing flash negotiations on Tuesday, New Line won the rights to Weaponssigning a deal that seems unprecedented in modern times, especially for a filmmaker with essentially just one movie under his belt.
Yes, there is the money – eight figures to write and direct – according to the sources. The numbers are more than double the total budget of his previous film. That alone is remarkable and harkens back to an older Hollywood era where spec sales caused weekend bidding war frenzies.
But there is more. There is a guaranteed green light. There’s Cregger receiving the final edit, waiting for a threshold to be reached during test screenings. There is a majority stake in a main pot. And of course, there is the guarantee of a theatrical release.
“Zach proved with Barbaric that it can create a visceral theatrical experience for audiences and commands every tool in the filmmaker’s tool belt,” New Line President and CCO Richard Brener said in a statement. “We couldn’t be happier than him, Roy [Lee] and Miri [Yoon]and JD [Lifshitz]and Rafi [Margules] has chosen New Line to be the home of its next film, and hopefully it will be the first of many to come.
Sources say that if things go well with this project, the goal would be for Cregger to become a major voice of horror and supplier to the Warners/New Line movie factory.
All of this underscores the prodigy status Cregger has achieved through his Barbarian. The writer-director was an actor and comedian, and co-founder of comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know. He co-directed and co-wrote a little-seen 2009 film titled Miss Marcha very low-budget traveling comedy in search of a Playboy centerfold, and was part of the TBS comedy set Destroy.
And came Barbaric. It’s hard to describe the movie without revealing its twists, but it featured Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long in a story about a woman who ends up double-booked at an Airbnb in a very seedy 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, then opened in September to rave reviews. Critics and audiences alike were gobsmacked as Cregger’s film weaved together several seemingly disparate elements to create one of the most original and chilling films of the year. The film, released by 20th Century Studios and financed by New Regency, grossed over $40 million domestically (it only had a limited international release, where it racked up $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. When news of a new project spread, the jockey started in earnest.
Details of the plot of Weapons are kept in their slipcase, but it’s described as a multi-story, interrelated horror epic that’s tonally in the vein of Magnoliafilmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 actor-packed showcase.
In addition to writing and directing, Cregger will also produce with Roy Lee of Vertigo Entertainment as well as JD Lifshitz and Raphael Margules of Boulderlight Productions, all of whom produced Barbaric. Miri Yoon of Vertigo will also produce.
The fact that Cregger had a new project was an open secret, but getting your hands on 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 thrill of the proceedings brought to mind the heady days that greeted some filmmakers in the early 2000s.The sixth sensefor example, the release of new M. Night Shyamalan scripts was practically an event, a time when a hard copy was delivered to a studio head in a suitcase and had to be read in the presence of the courier.
This being the 2020s, Weapons was sent via Embershot, a secure content-sharing app that can monitor how many times the script is read and even which page a reader is on.
Bids started pouring in immediately, but unlike other bidding wars where streamers could beef up, this one had flexible studios. Ultimately, sources say, it comes down to Universal and Warner Bros. New Line Division. Even after a late night session that bled into the early hours, it was unclear who the winner was. New Line finally emerged with the deal Tuesday midday, with Warners’ Picture Group co-chairman Michael De Luca also involved. It was less upfront money than a potential deal with Netflix, according to one source, but the potential upside via an assured theatrical release that could more than make up for it was a big selling point. New Line’s track record with horror was also a selling point.
As for Cregger, that moment lasted more than a decade, after he felt he had stalled in Hollywood. As the filmmaker said THR last year of his trip to Barbaric: “I just started writing, and I wrote a bunch 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 since I returned to this position.