Specialty releases can clean up at the box office if they’re seen as serious awards contenders, but the majority of limited rollouts never make it to the awards big leagues in a given year. Two of this week’s new specialty openers are admittedly not in play for any golden statuettes according to their insiders (unless this is some sort of reverse-psychology campaign?). First off, Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener starrer Peace, Love & Misunderstanding will open in 25 cities this weekend. Its high-profile stars along with some now high-profile newcomers might be just the thing for moviegoers looking for a summer escape. China Lion’s Double Trouble will have a smaller indie platform release, hoping to cash in on the first film of Hong Kong star Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee. Also hitting screens is FilmDistrict’s Safety Not Guaranteed, which concerns a magazine crew that sets out in search of the person who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time-travel. Then there’s Daryl Wein’s Lola Versus with star Greta Gerwig courtesy of Fox Searchlight and doc Paul Williams Still Alive is taking its story about the Oscar and Grammy award-winning star via a more DIY approach.
Director: David Hsun-Wei Chung
Writers: Zhang Hongyi, Yeh Sho-Heng
Cast: Jaycee Chan, Xia Yu, Chen Han-Tien, Deng Jiajia, Chang Fei
Distributor: China Lion
“For us Double Trouble is a small platform release and our anticipation is that it’s a quick summer film,” Milt Barlow, CEO of distributor China Lion told Deadline. The film stars Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee Chan, which China Lion hopes will bring out fans to see the feature about a Taiwanese security guard who is forced to work with another guard from Beijing in order to recover a legendary painting stolen by international art thieves. “We think it will do really well once it goes to ancillary,” said Barlow. “It’s [Jaycee Chan's] first major film and it’s his first exposure in the U.S. The Chan dynasty is set to continue.”
China Lion, which releases from 12 to 13 films from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in the U.S. per year, found Double Trouble through one of the company’s shareholders. China Lion will open the title in two theaters each in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle and Boston. The strategy is to release it simultaneously with Hong Kong, China and Taiwan to avoid piracy. “Ten years ago, nobody was releasing these films [besides playing] in a film festival, so the way people got used to seeing these movies was through pirated copies,” Barlow said. “Now this is why we do releases this way.”
Lola Versus producer Michael London read the script for what eventually became the film while working for Fox Searchlight in New York. Starring Greta Gerwig, the film follows Lola as she endures a break-up only weeks short of her wedding. But Gerwig was not initially the planned lead. She came on board after another high-profile name dropped out. “There was a casting change. An actress who was involved became uninvolved,” London told Deadline. “We were worried this would make the movie not of interest to Searchlight, but Searchlight is typically more interested in actors that are at that tipping point. The movie is extraordinarily dependent on who is playing that role,” noted London who added that the original actress was more of a “brand-name movie star.”
Though Lola Versus‘ budget was a fraction of a typical studio production, according to London, effort was put into surrounding director Daryl Wein and writer-star Zoe Lister Jones with a great crew. “There’s this guy who is playing with this DIY aesthetic but he wants to attract an audience,” noted London. “They’re a unique pair because you’re working with this filmmaking couple.” The targeted audience for the film is youthful and “different” from the art house crowd. It should skew toward females but attract males who are “attracted to the Lola character,” said London. “The music and energy plays to a particular demographic. Internally, we talk about the 500 Days of Summer audience.”
Lola Versus will launch with a typical four-screen roll out this weekend in New York and Los Angeles, expanding to 60 screens in the second weekend. “Searchlight has an intuitive approach for rolling out movies like this,” said London. “Steve Gilula has an instinct on pushing the pedal if he thinks it should go quickly or holding back if he thinks there could be word-of-mouth.”
Based on real guy who actually placed an ad seeking a companion for time travel, Safety Not Guaranteed was directed and written by newcomers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly. FilmDistrict is rolling it out in 9 theaters in 4 markets with plans to expand in the coming weeks. FilmDistrict acquired the movie when it debuted in January at Sundance. It subsequently was also warmly received at at South by Southwest and has received high marks at test screenings. Executive produced by Mark Duplass and his brother Jay Duplass.
Documentary Paul Williams Still Alive received a big boost in media attention at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival where it premiered. Shot in high-def digital, director/producer Stephen Kessler told Deadline the film’s budget wasn’t “that high,” although post-production spiraled a bit. “It’s not a cheap documentary but not a very expensive one either,” said Kessler who received an Oscar nomination in 1991 for his short film Birch Street Gym. “A lot of the footage was fair use. Johnny Carson Productions was very generous in licensing their footage to us.” The film, which looks at what came of Oscar and Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Paul Williams did not find distribution in Toronto, however. So, Kessler decided to take a DIY approach and asked fellow filmmakers for advice.
“What I did after looking at our options, I talked to filmmakers who did self-distribution like Anvil: The Story of Anvil and Valentino: The Last Emperor and those [two groups] said to me that self-distributing your own documentary is a lot of hard work, but it’s also very hard work to chase down a small distributor who isn’t doing the right job,” said Kessler. “My partner and I split the rights and I called Richard Abramowitz who did Anvil and he said he thought Paul Williams would work in theaters. Abramowitz can tell theater owners that he has a film that can work in theaters and they take his word for it.”
Along with theatrical, a cable deal is currently in the works and VOD is pending. “So I had everything in place that a studio would have in place and worked with Brigade on publicity,” said Kessler, adding, “Look, I don’t know if people will see a film even with good reviews about a 71-year-old pop star. But I do know that when people go into the movie, they like the movie.” Paul Williams Still Alive will open at the Angelika Film Center in New York on Friday followed by the NuArt in Los Angeles the following week and the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago as well as in Boston on the 29th. “We’ll be in 10 cities after that,” said Kessler. “Other directors said to me, ‘get your film opened and theater owners will want your film.'”
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding
Director: Bruce Beresford
Writers: Joseph Muszynski, Christina Mengert
Cast: Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chase Crawford, Kyle MacLauchlan
Distributor: Sundance Selects
French producer Claude Dal Farra and his partners at BCDF Pictures developed Peace, Love & Misunderstanding internally, hiring screenwriters to pen the script centering on three generations of women set in the hippie enclave of Woodstock, NY. “We’ve produced seven pictures in the last 18 months and this is the first in-house project we’ve developed,” Dal Farra told Deadline. Director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) came on board, attracted by the story that would target older audiences, while Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener were “interested in working together,” according to Dal Farra.
Never a challenge easily overcome, financing proved daunting, especially since the story is not “meant to solicit critical acclaim,” noted Dal Farra. “It’s not intended to be a tough character development piece, so we knew it would be hard to get financing. So, we’re French and we raised the money in Europe.” Dal Farra said their company has solid ties to Europe and Jane Fonda is particularly adored in France where the story’s feel-good overtones convinced financiers there. Logistics, police and help with extras came handily via the Hudson Valley Film Commission in Upstate New York where the film shot. Dal Farra noted the feature was Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff’s first-time on a movie set when it shot in July and August of 2010. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September and its U.S. debut took place, naturally, at the Woodstock Film Festival a few weeks later. Sundance Selects will open the feature in 25 cities in 30 theaters this Friday, expanding it to 80 locations next week along with VOD.