Last night, while catching up on my television watching for the week, I witnessed a very strange commercial. It was for a Lifetime Original Movie called “Personal Effects,” starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates. And Ashton Kutcher? As much as I love those first two stars and wish Hollywood would make more big-deal roles for actresses of their ilk, I could understand how they’d end up in a Lifetime movie—heck, it’s not like the phones are ringing off the hook. But Ashton Kutcher? With the exception of those annoying camera commercials he’s been doing lately, his career is alive and kicking. Not to mention the fact that he’s one-half of one of Hollywood’s most A-list couples. How could he do a made-for-TV movie?
This morning, doing a little research on the movie, I get it. Lifetime was by no means the original plan for this movie. “Personal Effects” was supposed to be a major release, with Oscar-bait written all over it. Here’s what happened.“Personal Effects” was written and directed by David Hollander (who created the show “The Guardian”), based on a book by Rick Moody (who penned The Ice Storm). It’s a love story, though a sad one—about an older woman (Pfeiffer) and younger man (Kutcher) who meet at a grief support group after her husband and his sister have been murdered. All the early reviews said that the movie was good. According to an interview with Hollander at CinemaBlend.com, the crappy economy and a lame production company are what did it in. To make up some of the money they spent on the film, the production company sold Lifetime the television rights before it was even finished. “Distribution, we assumed it. We didn’t think there were going to be any issues at all,” said Hollander. “We didn’t anticipate the mechanism of the financers who were making our film, and their habits and their tendencies to sell off bits and pieces of the film before the film was ready to be sold entirely. If you sell television [rights] to offset financing for the film, it’s very hard to find a distributor of any real repute to finance a film.”
When the film appeared at the American Film Market—where many distribution deals are struck—no one stepped up to buy it. And so the production company cut a deal with Blockbuster to make it a DVD-only release. Interestingly, this isn’t nearly as uncommon as you would think for movies featuring major stars.
Though Hollander is obviously disappointed that “Personal Effects” didn’t make it to the big screen, he says he’s still very proud of the final product. “I like the film I made,” he said. “I think it would feel worse if it went into 3,000 theaters and I thought it was a piece of s**t. To me, if this film is important to a few people, that’s lovely, and for me better than than making something that’s wholly unimportant.” [Cinema Blend]
While I couldn’t find the Lifetime trailer for “Personal Effects,” here is the original preview without the Lifetime branding. And it does look kinda good. Maybe I’ll be tuning into Lifetime for the first time to watch something other than “Project Runway“? OK, fine, I did also once watch “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger” starring Tori Spelling. Sue me.