It came as kind of a slap for Antoine Fuqua - the idea that, despite his track record and a stellar cast, no studio was willing to take a chance on Brooklyn's Finest.
So he took it as a challenge and found the money to make the movie independently - only to discover that the real challenge would be in finding a distributor.
"It was a statement about where the industry is," Fuqua says in a telephone interview. "It's the first time I've done an independent film. I have more respect for independent directors who go through it all the time."
Brooklyn's Finest, which opens tomorrow (3/5/10), is a gritty, tough-minded crime story about three New York cops - played by Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke and Richard Gere - who reach crossroads in their respective careers. It's got energy and the feel of a thriller, but the thoughtful, downbeat quality of a classic noir.
Fuqua had a solid resume - including guiding Denzel Washington to an Oscar in Training Day - as a studio action director when he began working on Brooklyn's Finest. But he found that things had changed drastically in the half-decade since Training Day.
"It's timing," Fuqua says. "When I was making this film, Transformers came out and all of a sudden, everybody was trying to make movies that would sell toys. They want remakes or this or that franchise. Meanwhile, I've got a '70s' noir film. I couldn't make them believe I could do this movie for a price with this cast.
"That was tricky because everybody needed to be paid appropriately. I was worried I might not be able to work it out with Don and Richard - but mostly it was about getting the schedules to work. Luckily, the stars lined up. The actors believed in me. They were counting on me. I wanted it to be something we all could be proud of."
Shot in 2008, the film was put together in a 140-minute rough cut and made its debut at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Though the response was mixed, the film - with gripping action and a stellar cast doing outstanding work - was the first of its Sundance class to make a distribution deal.
Unfortunately, the deal was with the ill-fated Senator Films, which ran out of money before it could put Brooklyn's Finest in theaters. So Overture Films took over the project and will release the film.
"We were sold to Senator and it was the only big sale at Sundance," Fuqua says. "Then they ran into problems. They didn't have enough money to properly distribute it. Luckily, they were honest and said, 'We respect you enough to tell you this.' I wasn't happy; you never expect that to happen."
In the interim, Fuqua went back to the editing room to tighten the film - it's now 125 minutes - and change its ending.