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Paramount Preempts Robbie Williams Pic ‘Better Man’; $25 Million NA Top Indie Deal In Years For ‘The Greatest Showman’s Michael Gracey Musical

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has stepped up for a $25 million commitment for North American theatrical rights to Better Man, a fantastical original musical directed by Michael Gracey, helmer of the blockbuster musical The Greatest Showman. The film is about the unlikely rise of celebrated singer-songwriter Robbie Williams.

The deal marks the year’s biggest North American deal for an independent film in years, and Paramount is going to give it a full theatrical release, eyeing later this year. Studio is coming off the success of Mean Girls, which led the box office last month and grossed $92 million worldwide so far. It also is aggressively rolling out globally Bob Marley: One Love, a film that bows February 14, as Paramount leans into films in the musical space.

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Rolling out Better Man late in the year gives the studio plenty of time to address a challenge in the U.S. and Canada for the conundrum that is Robbie Williams. He is one of the biggest musical artists around the globe, but even though he spends most of his time in the U.S., he is a bit of a well kept secret here. Williams better get all those trips to the mall out of the way because by late this year, he’ll be a well kept secret no more and there is a whole market that will have the opportunity to discover his musical catalog.

Deadline broke the story about Better Man when it was a package at Berlin 2021, when CAA Media Finance arranged the financing and repped domestic distribution rights, with Thorsten Schumacher at Rocket Science handling international sales.

Gracey wrote the script with first-time screenwriters Oliver Cole and Simon Gleeson. The film tells the story of Williams’ ascent, exploring the experiences that made him who he is, and the demons he battled both on and off the stage as he became a huge star on the back of hits like “Angels.” It’s a very original exercise in storytelling.

Paul Currie, Gracey, Coco Xiaolu Ma, Jules Daly and Craig McMahon produced. Pic was majority financed by Sina Studios and Facing East, and filmed on location in Victoria, Australia and at Docklands Studios with support of the Victorian government and VicScreen and Screen Australia’s Producer Offset Program.

Williams first became famous at 16 as a singer in the boy-band sensation Take That, but really hit stride as a solo artist. It happened fast, with 11 out of 12 of his studio albums charting No. 1 in the UK, and six of them among the top 100 biggest-selling albums there. His tours are instant sellouts and he made the Guinness Book for selling 1.6 million tickets for a tour in a day. He has long been a provocative, outsized global personality, except stateside.

Deadline spoke with Gracey back in 2021 and it was clear the filmmaker is planning something exceptional here, just as he did with Greatest Showman, the musical on P.T. Barnum, which became a surprise blockbuster with a $434 million worldwide gross. Paramount is keen on Gracey, and is also developing a musical adaptation of the bestseller Nevermoor that Drew Goddard is adapting.

Gracey said Better Man came out of hours of free-flowing conversations he had with Williams, a process that started after Greatest Showman in L.A. and London and lasted a couple years to find the handle on a movie. Williams’ hit tunes are part of the film package.

“I want to do this in a really original way,” Gracey told Deadline at the time. “I remember going to the cinema as a kid and there were films that blew me away and made me say as I sat there in the cinema, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ I just want the audience to have that feeling. It’s so important when they watch this story, and look at the screen, that they literally think, I’ve never seen this before. All I can say is the approach is top secret, but the goal is to generate that feeling I just described. It’s this fantastical story, and I want to represent it in its harsh reality all the way to these moments of pure fantasy.”

Williams’ personality, ambition and insecurities will be on full display, unearthed in those long conversations. It will be different from recent musical movies like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman in that Williams did not come in a prodigy like Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

“Unlike some people who were born prodigies or musical geniuses and you follow the narrative of the world catching up to their brilliance, this isn’t that story,” Gracey told Deadline. “Robbie is that Everyman, who just dreamed big and followed those dreams and they took him to an incredible place. Because of that, his is an incredibly relatable story. He’s not the best singer, or dancer, and yet, he managed to sell 80 million records worldwide. You can relate to the guy who doesn’t see himself as having any extraordinary talent, even though of course, he does. What he did have is the will, vision and confidence to say, I’m going to pursue my dream. For us as an audience, it’s a window into the world, of what if we just went for it and chased that impossible dream that so many of us put to one side.

“Robbie had incredible fame at age 16, and they often say and I do believe it is true, you stop your emotional and mental maturity at whatever age you become famous,” Gracey said. “You look at people who get fame at a young age, and all the challenges that make you grow, all the things that you should have to deal with on an emotional level, they get taken care of or pushed to one side. You have a mechanism around you that allows you to stay immature, that allows you to get what you want, have a tantrum. That doesn’t happen for the rest of us. It is interesting to watch someone who has all this at 16, and kind of stays 16 his whole life. This whole script was born of hours of Robbie and myself getting together at this recording studio he has at his house. We would just leave the mic on record and chat for hours. Some sessions weren’t great and in the last five minutes he would say something that was so honest and truthful, it blew my mind. I would think, if I was writing a script, I could never come up with a line as brilliant as that.”

Gracey believes the unorthodox storytelling device in the film and the opportunity for the artist to catch on in America, can be an ally to the movie when a huge audience gets to discover him.

“All the round the world, he is massive here in Australia and massive in Europe, and for whatever reason, he didn’t crack that U.S. market,” Gracey said. “Which is why he lives there, because he is able to go down the street and he not have his clothes torn off him. I look at it like, everywhere outside the U.S. people are going to hear these songs and they’re going to know every single one of them. Inside the U.S., they hopefully will greet it the same way as when they met The Greatest Showman. They didn’t know those songs, and yet people fell in love with them and made them their own. I think it will be the same with Better Man. They will be meeting the music for the first time and it’ll be really beautiful, because it will be in the context of the narrative of the film.”

CAA Media Finance brokered the deal. Rocket Science sold out all foreign territories for the film.

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