Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Only a handful of new specialty movies opened during the early part of 2013, but spring has brought an onslaught of indies and foreign titles. The Weinstein Company opens the Cannes debut The Sapphires this weekend, while two titles from last year’s SXSW, Hunky Dory starring Minnie Driver and Gimme The Loot from Sundance Selects, bow in select locations. Thriller Come Out And Play makes its way to theaters after a very unconventional production. Paladin’s My Brother The Devil enjoyed the support of Sundance but faced riots during its filming in London. Entertainment One brings a French-Canadian comedy that has already landed an English-language remake deal, and Well Go USA will launch New World, hoping once again to capitalize on past successes with Korean thrillers.
Director: Wayne Blair
Writers: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson
Cast: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
TWC picked up the biographical comedy/drama ahead of its Cannes Film Festival premiere in the Official Selection last year, picking up U.S. rights and other territories for low seven figures. “It’s a really, really strong film with great performances,” said TWC president of theatrical distribution & home entertainment Erik Lomis. “Chris O Dowd is terrific”, said Lomis. Set against a backdrop of racial strife in Australia in the late ’60s, the film centers on four Australian Aboriginal girls who form a group and head out to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam, escaping the tensions and limitations of their rural community. “It plays well to an audience and hopefully will crack the formula,” said Lomis. “It’s not a four-quadrant movie, but it’s has appeal across the spectrum. It’s an audience pleaser and it has scored through the roof.”
TWC tested the feature in New York and in the Midwest where Lomis said audiences in both regions responded well. “The trick is getting them in,” he noted. “We’re hoping word-of-mouth will propel its theatrical run.” The Sapphires will have a traditional first weekend opening in New York and LA, playing at two locations in each city before expanding.
Director: Marc Evans
Writer: Laurence Coriat
Cast: Minnie Driver, Kristian Gwilliam, Adam Byard, Aneurin Barndard, Danielle Branch
The team from distributor Variance first saw Hunky Dory at SXSW, although the movie wasn’t initially on their schedule the night they saw it. “We split our staff up [to see more films] but we skipped seeing the ones we were supposed to see and saw Hunky Dory and I was clapping in the movie,” said Variance president and founder Dylan Marchetti. “Minnie Driver is amazing and it’s filled with the best hits of my iPod.” Produced by members of the team behind Billy Elliot, Hunky Dory takes place in the dog days of summer in 1976. Drama teacher Vivienne (Driver) fights sweltering heat and teenage apathy to put on an end-of-term version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. “What’s cool about this film is that there are a couple of hooks,” said Marchetti. “Young people will like it. It’s a non-Disney Welsh version of Glee with better music. And it’s from the producers of Billy Elliot, so it works with older audiences too.” Minnie Driver has participated in the PR circuit in support of the film.
Variance has partnered with Gravitas for VOD where it has been available for six weeks. “It’s been popping in and out of the Top 10 on iTunes and its Facebook traffic has been strong,” said Marchetti. Variance will open the film in LA and New York as well as select areas that cater to mature audiences including Sedona, Ariz. and The Villages in Florida for a total of 11 shows including special afternoon showings in smaller markets. “There may be a weird per screen average,” noted Marchetti. “We’ll add theaters in a steady clip into a lot of other cities.”
Gimme The Loot
Director-writer: Adam Leon
Cast: Ty Hickson, Tashiana Washington, Joshua River, Zoe Lescaze, Sam Soghor, Greyson Cruz
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Producers Natalie Difford and Jamund Washington worked with Gimme The Loot writer-director Adam Leon on his short film Killer which debuted at the 2009 New Directors/New Films series. The short served as a precursor to Gimme The Loot, which reunited the trio for the feature. “Killer informed Gimme The Loot“, noted Difford. “During that shoot, Adam met the kids and became with their hijinks.” Gimme The Loot centers on a group of graffiti writers who come up with a plan to take on what they view as the ultimate location in New York after a rival gang buffs their masterpiece.
“We got Ty [Hickson] for the lead who was an actor in Killer“, noted Washington. “Adam wrote the part for Ty. As for Tashiana [Washington], we saw 400 to 500 girls before we picked her. Once we were up and running, it was a short pre-production,” added Difford. Financing came together from a number of separate sources including a Kickstarter campaign. The project shot over 21 days in August 2011, which happened to coincide with the rainiest-ever August in New York. “We lost one day of shooting and there was one day in which rain shows up when it wasn’t supposed to”, said Washington. “And then Hurricane Irene showed up.” The project had two re-shoot days later in the year. Gimme The Loot debuted at the SXSW Film Festival last year and Sundance Selects came on board as distributor afterward “through the genius of [Submarine’s] Josh Braun,” said Difford. The film screened in Cannes, which was a rare honor considering it had screened at several festivals before heading to the Croisette. It also screened at France’s Deauville and Bodeaux festivals. “The French love the film,” noted Difford. Sundance Selects will bow Gimme The Loot exclusively at IFC Center this weekend.
Come Out And Play
Writer: Juan José Plans (novel)
Cast: Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Vinessa Shaw, Daniel Giménez Cacho
Producer Pablo Cruz searched for the author of the novel for Come Out And Play over an extensive period. Cruz eventually tracked down Juan José Plans down in a remote part of Spain at about the same time he and his filmmaking team were identifying a director. “I had to find this guy who lived in the middle of nowhere and ask if he’s interested in doing a film,” said Cruz. “By that time we were finding the right director. At a festival I heard about this guy who was doing documentary work in Mexico and had met him in 2008 at a festival. We talked about all the crazy stuff he had done and his work in Mexico and we decided to see if we could do this together.” After putting together financing in Mexico from a benefactor who was more interested in having an adventure than anything else, Cruz’s next challenge was getting the Russian-born filmmaker into Mexico. “Makinov couldn’t leave Russia because getting him a visa was a nightmare,” said Cruz. “But then we got a call from immigration at the airport that there was a guy there who claimed to be working with us. We then went to the airport and picked him up.”
Come Out And Play follows a couple who go to an island getaway and find a nightmare where there are no other adults. With Makinov safely in tow, the filmmaking team traveled to a remote Caribbean island off Mexico for the shoot. Makinov’s filmmaking style proved unconventional, noted Cruz. “He refused to scout and we’d send photos to him and he’d decide where to shoot based on that.” The actors also did not have a script. Cruz noted that Makinov would hand out pages of the day’s “script” every morning. “He said, you just have to trust me,” said Cruz. “We just told the cast and crew where to show up. We were on an island, so there were only so many places we could shoot, so … it was doable.” After an initial delay because of a big storm, the shoot went well despite the unconventional approach. “It was 3½ weeks of craziness, but I actually enjoyed it,” said Cruz. “Decisions were made and we just went with them. Everything existed in Makinov’s head.” Cinedigm picked up the film during Toronto. The distributor will open the thriller in nine markets Friday with more added in the coming weeks.
My Brother The Devil
Director-Writer: Sally El Hosaini
Cast: James Floyd, Elarica Gallacher, Fady Elsayed, Said Taghmaoui, Aymen Hamdouchi
Writer-director Sally El Hosaini grew up on a council estate in London’s Hackney area where she filmed My Brother The Devil. First planned as “very micro-budget” in her flat, it ended up getting additional funds after she received the Sundance stamp of approval. “The Sundance Institute was very instrumental for me,” said El Hosaini. “I went to their Screenwriters and Directors Lab. It is filmmaker heaven being involved with Sundance. You can go and play and develop things in a safe and creative environment… It put a mark of quality on the project and allowed me to up my game.”
El Hosaini originally planned a non-professional cast, but she cast pro-actor James Floyd as the lead. “Sally initially wanted non-actors and do the City Of God thing for an organic naturalism. But he was forced to cast an actual actor because of the homophobia,” said Floyd. “Nobody would do that in that world — a gay Muslim gangster.” Filming took 28 days in the summer of 2011, coinciding with the Hackney Riots that shook the neighborhood and other parts of London. My Brother The Devil screened at Sundance and Berlin last year before heading to other festivals including London’s. Paladin, which picked up rights to the film out of Berlin, will open the film at the Sunshine and the Elinor Brunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center in New York. LA will follow April 5th with other cities later.
Director/co-writer Ken Scott
Co-writer: Martin Petit
Cast: Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bertrand, Dominic Philie
Distributor: Entertainment One
The Québécois comedy film will be somewhat unchartered territory Stateside, said eOne VP of Marketing and Distribution Dylan Wiley, although Starbuck won awards and accolades at U.S. festivals in Palm Springs, Sonoma and Santa Barbara. “It’s a crowd-pleaser that you watch and think it’s a good one for an English language re-make and hope they’ll do the re-make as well,” said Wiley. “Ken Scott is doing the English-language version as well. DreamWorks is releasing the re-titled The Delivery Man later this year.” Wiley noted that media attention around Vince Vaughn starring in The Delivery Man spurred eOne to release the French-language original in the U.S. “We’ve been screening the film aggressively with people who are pre-disposed to like foreign language” films, said Wiley. “We’re also targeting people who really like comedy. In social media we picked up buzz from people who may not be normally willing to go to foreign-language films. We’ve been surprised by the number of younger men that have really enjoyed the film.”
The film’s star, Patrick Huard, who is big in French Canada but not well-known in the U.S. traveled to LA to do press. Starbuck will open at two locations in New York and one in L.A. It will expand in both metro areas and add the top 10 markets the following week. Next month, eOne plans to take it into the top 30 to 50 markets. “If it plays the way we think it will, it will sit for multiple weeks and have its average drop very little”, added Wiley.
Director-Writer: Park Hoon-jung
Cast: Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jeong-min, Lee Joeng-jae
Distributor: Well Go USA
Distributor Well Go USA is a veteran outfit handling Korean films in the U.S. The company’s exec Jason Pfardrescher noted that Well Go scored well on its fall 2012 release The Thieves, which grossed nearly $686K domestically (it made more than $83.5 million worldwide). “The cast is very strong. Choi Min-sik is known here for starring in Old Boy, which did well here,” said Pfardrescher. “New World is a strong film that we wanted to go after seeing it in Berlin in February.” The company has worked to spread the word leading up to its release, premiering the trailer on popular sites and previewing clips every day this week on MTV and Film School Rejects, according to Pfardrescher.
New World held the No. 1 spot for four weeks in South Korea where it has cumed about $30 million from 4 million admissions, noted Pfardrescher. “We’re releasing this on 24 screens in major markets in the US and Canada,” he added. “We’ll know if we expand to additional markets after the weekend, but we have plans for expansion in second-tier markets.”