Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor
This week’s Specialty newcomers include Danny Boyle’s Trance from Fox Searchlight, IFC Films’ Simon Killer and self-distributed Sundance favorite Upstream Color. Trance will likely be the juggernaut of the group with its star-power in the form of James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel, though Upstream Color could prove a hefty presence due to strong word of mouth and a loyal following from fans of Shane Carruth’s previous film, Primer. And the folks behind 2011 hit Martha Marcy May Marlene are opening Simon Killer, a dark drama set in Paris, via IFC Films. Free Angela & All Political Prisoners is this week’s documentary newcomer, while Lotus Eaters hopes to carve itself a piece of the limited release box office pie. Also set to bow, Robert Redford’s thriller The Company You Keep. The specialty world, meanwhile, took pause today as the news of Roger Ebert’s death spread. The famed critic will be remembered for being a champion of movies big and small and will be sorely missed.
As part of its overall deal with Boyle, Searchlight has been on board Trance from the very start. “This is our sixth film we’ve done with Danny starting with 28 Days Later 10 years ago in 2003, and we’ve had a fabulous time,” Searchlight co-president Steve Gilula said in introducing the film at its New York premiere, hosted by The Cinema Society. “The one thing about Danny as a visionary filmmaker is he challenges us and challenges the audience and expects us to go with him…” Boyle introduced co-stars Dawson and Cassel before the screening in Chelsea, noting about the film: “What happens in the movie is deeply, deeply unethical,” he noted to laughs from an audience that included Patrick Stewart, Emma Watson, Kathleen Turner, Gina Gershon and Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson. “But it is clinically possible…”
Related: Hot Trailer: ‘Trance’
Frank Rodriguez, SVP Distribution at Fox Searchlight, noted that its marketing plan for the film, which centers on an art auctioneer (McAvoy) who becomes mixed up with a group of criminals and turns to a hypnotherapist (Dawson) to recover a lost painting, has been “quite varied”. “We have been primarily targeting young and older males along with an overall art house audience”, he said. “With all that being said, the biggest selling point of this film is obviously Danny Boyle’s name.” Rodriguez said that opening numbers in the UK, where it opened relatively wide, have been very strong, grossing about $2.4 million there since March 31. In the U.S., Searchlight will open Trance in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend and move it into wide release April 12, adding more than 350 theaters.
The folks behind Borderline Films, which brought 2011 indie hit Martha Marcy May Marlene to the big screen, headed to Paris with their follow-up. This time, Martha director Sean Durkin served as producer for Simon Killer, which is directed by Antonio Campos (he was a producer of Martha — get the film collective idea?). At its Sundance premiere in 2012, Brady Corbet likened his character, Simon, to the accused Dutch-Aruban killer of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway, Joran van der Sloot. In the film, Simon shows up in Paris following a recent break-up, becomes involved with a prostitute and begins to reveal a dark recent past. “I met those guys right before making Martha Marcy May Marlene,” said producer Matt Palmieri, who received a 1993 Oscar nomination for Live Action Short Cruise Control. “They ran out of money two weeks into Martha. I agreed to make payroll for the following weeks and to finish the movie.” In the course of Martha, Palmieri became friends with Campos, who had pitched him the concept behind Simon Killer. “We got very serious about it and he said he’d like to make this right away in Paris,” said Palmieri. “I said show me the script but he didn’t have one. But I knew we could do it. I had great confidence in Antonio at that point — I knew we could pull it off. It was all about my confidence in Antonio and his ability and in Brady to do the character.”
One week after wrapping Martha, the group was prepping Simon Killer. Following two weeks of prep, shooting began with Corbet — who also appeared in Martha — in the lead. “We were writing the script as we were working and improvising the first part of the day and then going back to watch the dailies,” said Palmieri. “Then we’d begin writing for the next day. We ended up making the movie for an unbelievably small price considering it was Paris.” One major challenge was using the Louvre Museum. Normally, film crews must post a €16.5 million bond to use the hallowed Paris institution but, as Palmieri noted, they simply pleaded with the woman in charge who waived the bond — otherwise shooting would have been impossible. IFC Films bought Simon Killer after its Sundance 2012 premiere, playing it at a number of festivals afterward including London, Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro. “It was going to come out last fall, but the lineup was so crowded during that period, so IFC asked for a less crowded time in April,” noted Palmieri. It will open exclusively at IFC Center in New York this Friday followed by the NuArt in LA next week and then 15 other cities the following weekend.
Shane Carruth won a sizable indie following after his debut Primer in 2004. A long time in the making, his Sundance 2013 premiere Upstream Color didn’t disappoint fans at the festival. Carruth is all over this movie as writer, director, producer, and star in addition to other hats. He’s also self-distributing the feature with the help of longtime indie insider Michael Tuckman, with New York-based Susan Norget handling PR. “Me being in it made scheduling easier and it became more integral for me,” said Carruth. “I don’t have a lot of experience with actors but it gets me to be a part of it and gets my hands dirty.” In the film, a man and woman are drawn together and entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. “The story elements were coming together for about a year,” added Carruth. “I was stripping the central characters of so much of their subjectivity it became horrific and emotional. The characters are meeting at the cross roads of being broken down. So I became very passionate about it for three concerted months.” Financing came together quickly for Carruth via friends. He said there were “no notes — just go and make the movie.” A friend suggested Amy Seimetz play the female lead. She was just finishing her film Sun Don’t Shine, which caught Carruth’s eye. “I spoke with her and she sent me her movie and it was the nail in the coffin,” he said. “She gets narrative and her film was so lyrical when it needed to be. So when Upstream went that way, the conversation became much easier.”
Carruth’s first film, Primer, was released via the new defunct ThinkFilm, but he decided early on to take Upstream Color‘s release into his own hands. “I learned that it isn’t any more complicated than production,” said Carruth. “It’s easier than it used to be.” With the advice of Sundance’s Joe Beyer, he talked to theater bookers as well as Tuckman, who helped with the release of last year’s docu Detropia, and they were accepted into Sundance. Carruth and team decided not to take the film to a host of other festivals, instead hoping to capitalize on the conversation generated after the film’s premiere there. “We decided to take the awareness we got and make this available to any and all of the audiences ready for it,” said Carruth. “We’re relaying in all its media exactly what the film is. My gauge for success is not every last dollar we can grab, but allowing the people who are ready to receive this work to know what it is giving.” Carruth and team will open Upstream Color at IFC Center in New York and will add a dozen locations in the coming week. So far it is booked in 50 markets throughout North America, and it will be released via VOD and digital platforms May 7.
Codeblack Films’ Jeff Clanagan remembers the case surrounding Angela Davis while growing up in the Bay Area. The docu recalls the young college professor and how her social activism implicated her in a botched kidnapping attempt that ended with a shootout, four dead, and her name on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. “I was a kid when this was happening and I remembered a lot of it,” said Clanagan, who acquired the pic in January. “From a distributor standpoint, I had an understanding of how to market it. But I also think it’s a great film that I wanted to be involved with. Sometimes you want to be a part of film and it’s not about the money per se. It’s more for that than the business.” Codeblack, which has a partnership with Lionsgate, specializes in urban marketing and is targeting that part of the community with Free Angela, which debuted in Toronto last year. “This is the demo for this film and we’re able to target them through social media and we have that reach much better than most of the studios can,” added Clanagan.
AMC Theatres is also partnering on the film’s release, which will head to nine markets this weekend including New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, LA, the Bay Area, Chicago and Atlanta on 16 screens. It will add theaters and markets in the coming weeks.
Producer Mark Lee met writer-director Alexandra McGuinness at film school in London where he produced her graduate film. McGuinness had entered the script for what would be Lotus Eaters in a British screenwriting contest — the potential project made the shortlist but didn’t win. But not letting momentum get away, McGuinness asked Lee to take on producing the project, which centers on a crowd of wealthy and beautiful friends who go about their business of doing nothing other than depleting their trust funds. “We had no idea what we were getting into,” said Lee. “Financing wasn’t easy, but the first time we felt this could happen was when the Irish Film Board gave us a small loan and ended up funding a third of the film.” That combined with their own version of an Internet campaign in 2009 (before crowd-sourcing had come into its own) and a British tax credit along with product sponsorship, and production was underway. “We just did without thinking of the monumental tasks. we were clueless and wouldn’t probably have done this had we known,” said Lee.
Shooting took place in the summer of 2010 after putting together a cast from a mix of people they knew and “cherry picking from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.” The film had its world premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and later screened at the London Film Festival. Former Tribeca head of programming David Kwok played matchmaker, championing the film to Meneret, which came on board as U.S. distributor. The film is currently slated to run one week in New York, with LA planned the following week. Phase 4 Films will handle VOD and DVD, which will become available April 12.
SPC first came on board Robert Redford’s thriller The Company You Keep while it was still in the editing process. The company’s heads, Michael Barker and Tom Bernard had been looking to do a Redford film, and saw this as their entree. “We wanted to release a Robert Redford movie for years and years and years,” said Barker. “It just seemed like a perfect fit for us. We wanted to acquire the rights before premiering in Venice and Toronto. The movie is an example of great story telling that we like to see in movies.” The feature revolves around a former Weather Underground activist who goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.
Barker said the film will appeal to people who grew up in the ’60s when the militant group was active (The Weather Underground was also a 2002 documentary by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, which premiered at Sundance). “It’s also a formative movie for people who don’t know about [The Weather Underground],” added Barker. “We always felt it would be a perfect Spring film. We saw Xmas as a very competitive time. Spring is perfect since it’s between the Oscars and the Summer blockbusters. We expect it to open for a very long time.” Sony Classics will bow The Company You Keep in three theaters in New York and two L.A. locations this weekend. It will expand to 30 – 35 runs in the second weekend with more runs added in its third week. The feature will go wide as it heads into its fourth weekend.
Google played a part in bringing this project together (and in this sense, it’s using ‘Google’ as a verb). The fantasy/thriller revolves around a couple who discover a brass teapot that makes them money whenever they hurt themselves. They must come to terms about how far they are willing to go to cash in. “I Googled best short story and [writer] Tim Macy’s short story appeared: The Brass Teapot,” said director Ramaa Mosley. “I contacted Tim and the website owners that hosted the short. I [also] did research and found out that over 300,000 people had read [it] and all were between the ages of 16 – 26 and mostly in Middle America. Tim and I both love comic books, so we decided to start by writing a coming and developing the screenplay based on the comic to see if we could get some interest.” Mosley mortgaged his house and used the money to make an offer to “his beloved Juno” and begin pre-production, while Macy also anted up a chunk of money. Friends and family also forked over resources, while pre-sales for foreign rights to TF1 helped get the project underway. The shooting budget came in at $800K.
Pre-production began in June and the shoot commenced in Upstate, NY in July 2011 with a small rotating crew of 17 to 20 people. The shoot took place over 19 days with two cameras. “We couldn’t get everything we needed in our main production shoot so when I returned to Los Angeles, during editing, [a group of friends] helped us shoot three more days with Juno and Michael [Angarano] getting our pick up shots. The Brass Teapot opens at New York’s Cinema Village and in L.A. at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas and expands in the coming weeks.