Kenneth Lonergan’s third film, Manchester By The Sea, was the smash success of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with critics heaping it with near-universal praise for its tale of emotionally guarded New England men. (Per our own A.A. Dowd: “So overwhelmingly powerful that I spent most of yesterday afternoon’s world premiere screening either holding back tears or releasing them.”) But Lonergan—a New York playwright who broke into films with 2000’s sibling drama You Can Count On Me—didn’t have final cut—i.e., the final decision on what ultimately ends up in theaters—on his own movie. Instead, that decision fell to producer Matt Damon.
That might seem odd, given that Damon’s never directed a film, and also isn’t actually in the movie. (He was supposed to be, but scheduling conflicts forced him to abdicate in favor of Casey Affleck.) The reasoning behind the decision rests in the massive headache surrounding Lonergan’s second feature, Margaret. Originally filmed in 2006, the Anna Paquin indie languished in post-production (and the courts) for fully five years before finally being shoved out into few theaters and tepid reviews. The experience apparently soured financiers on Lonergan, leading them to give Manchester’s final edit to Damon instead.
“Kenny is in a certain place right now that he really wasn’t in… his reputation was really sullied,” Damon said at today’s Produced By New York conference. “I was the compromise. It was just a way of keeping everybody calm.” Ultimately, though, Damon wasn’t forced to use his prerogative: “Kenny had this reputation of not being able to cut anything down. I knew I would never need [to change the final cut].”
Manchester By The Sea is set for a limited release on November 18, before expanding into more theaters in December.