EXCLUSIVE: Studiocanal’s coveted Amy Winehouse package Back to Black looks to have found a home as sources tell Deadline that Focus Features and Monumental Pictures are partnering with Studiocanal on the new biopic about the Grammy-winning singer who tragically passed away in 2011. Industry breakout Marisa Abela is set to star as Winehouse, with Sam Taylor-Johnson on board to direct.
Focus will distribute the pic in the US, with Universal Pictures International handling international distribution excluding the UK, France, Germany, Australia/New Zealand, Benelux, Scandinavia and Poland which will be handled by Studiocanal. Filming is set to begin on Monday in London.
Deadline was the first to report that Studiocanal and Taylor-Johnson were moving forward with the film over the summer, and the role of Winehouse quickly became one of the most coveted parts. While a number of actresses met, sources say the first audition for Abela blew away execs and Taylor-Johnson and put her in the driver’s seat to land the role. Once Abela signed on, the package made the rounds, with Focus moving aggressively to land distribution rights.
See the first look at Abela as Winehouse below.
Following Winehouse’s death, Hollywood has since tried to tell her story with various projects going into development, including one from Lotus Entertainment with Noomi Rapace attached to star. Ultimately, none moved forward. While a feature film has yet to make it into production, the 2015 A24 documentary Amy was a huge success, and won the Oscar. With Focus now on board, all signs are pointing as this being the first pic likely to make it in front of audiences with the full support of the Winehouse estate.
“My connection to Amy began when I left college and was hanging out in the creatively diverse London borough of Camden,” said Taylor-Johnson. “I got a job at the legendary Koko Club, and I can still breathe every market stall, vintage shop and street… A few years later Amy wrote her searingly honest songs while living in Camden. Like with me, it became part of her DNA. I first saw her perform at a talent show at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and it was immediately obvious she wasn’t just ‘talent’… she was genius. As a filmmaker you can’t really ask for more. I feel excited and humbled to have this opportunity to realize Amy’s beautifully unique and tragic story to cinema accompanied by the most important part of her legacy – her music. I am fully aware of the responsibility, with my writing collaborator – Matt Greenhalgh – I will create a movie that we will all love and cherish forever. Just like we do Amy.”
The pic was written by Greenhalgh, reuniting the scribe with Taylor-Johnson following their collaboration on Nowhere Boy in 2009. Featuring many of Winehouse’s hit songs, Back to Black has the full support of Universal Music Group, Sony Music Publishing and the Amy Winehouse Estate.
“We are thrilled that Studiocanal, Focus Features and Monumental are making this movie celebrating our daughter Amy’s extraordinary musical legacy and showcasing her talent in the way she deserves,” the estate added.
Alison Owen and Debra Hayward of Monumental are producing with Nicky Kentish-Barnes executive producing. Nina Gold is leading the casting. EVP Global Production Ron Halpern and SVP Global Production Joe Naftalin executive producer and overseer for Studiocanal.
“It is our enormous pleasure and privilege to produce and bring this movie to audiences,” Halpern and Naftalin said. “We are incredibly grateful to our partners at The Amy Winehouse Estate, Universal Music Group and Sony Music Publishing to have the opportunity to tell Amy Winehouse’s story with the use of her extraordinary music – to our partners at Focus Features – and to our amazing director , Sam Taylor-Johnson, and star Marisa Abela, who we are so excited to be working with. Amy Winehouse was a once-in-a-generation talent – and with our producing partners at Monumental Pictures, we will endeavor to do her proud with this movie – and create a music-driven event picture for audiences new and old, that will make us all laugh, cry – and to truly celebrate Amy and her genius.”
Winehouse is considered one of the greatest artists in recent history, selling more than 30 million records worldwide, and today generating more than 80 million streams per month. Her 2006 album Back to Black propelled her to stardom, earning her a (then) record-breaking five Grammys including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for the hit single “Rehab.” The film will focus on Amy’s genius, creativity and honesty that infused everything she did. A journey that took her from the craziness and color of 1990s Camden High Street to global adoration and back again, the pic crashes through the looking glass of celebrity to watch this journey from behind the mirror, to see what Amy saw, to feel what she felt
“Amy Winehouse is the greatest musical talent of the 21st centuryst century so far,” Owen said. “But like so many female icons, the tragedy of her death has seemed to obscure the triumph of her talent…the fun of the noughties, the craziness of Camden, her youth and brilliance – we want to reclaim that for her, with this film .”
“In Sam Taylor-Johnson’s exquisitely moving portrait of an artist, the genius, the heart, the energy and the woman behind the icon we all know as Amy Winehouse promise to shine through as she deserves,” said Kiska Higgs, President of Production & Acquisitions at Focus. “We can’t wait to travel through Amy’s world and hear her voice through the wonderful Marisa Abela, and are looking forward to reuniting with Sam and our friends at Monumental and Studiocanal.”
Taylor-Johnson helmed the 2015 blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Her additional credits include the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy and A Million Little Pieces, both starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson. She is represented by CAA, Brillstein Entertainment Partners and Sloane, Offer, Weber, Dern.
Greenhalgh is an award-winning screenwriter best known for Control about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, and Nowhere Boy about Lennon’s younger years. He was BAFTA-nominated in 2018 for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.
Abela broke on to the scene in the first season of the hit HBO-BBC Two banking drama Industry, with the second season just coming to a close; the series has been renewed for a third season. She has also wrapped production on Barbie, Warner Bros live-action film adaptation from director Greta Gerwig. She also has the IFC Films and AMC+ espionage thriller Rogue Agent, alongside James Norton and Gemma Arterton. Abela previously starred in She Is Love, the improvisational romance from writer and director Jamie Adams, opposite Haley Bennett and Sam Riley. She is represented by WME and The Artists Partnership.
The deal was closed by Anne Cherel, Aska Yamaguchi and Sophie Leuthreau for Studiocanal and Howard Meyers and Marin Babb for Focus Features.