Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Filmmaker David Lowery moved up the filmmaker food chain with his latest feature, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, opting to ditch a micro-budget plan for one that included stars and more resources. Still, the film is hardly a big budget production though the production team has created a latish summer release that IFC Films hopes will lure audiences hungry for story-driven drama. Women are the main audience target for Sony Classics’ two weekend releases, Austenland and The Patience Stone, titles it picked up out of Sundance and Toronto respectively after witnessing reaction by females audiences following their premieres. A SXSW Interactive participant discovered the allure of filmmaking and took on a documentary about the annual Burning Man event, deciding on a DIY-esque release strategy. And French filmmaker Gilles Legrand used his fascination of wine and the peculiarities of France’s inheritance laws into a father-son drama also set for limited roll out Friday.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Director-writer: David Lowery
Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Kennadie Smith
Distributor: IFC Films
Producer Jay Van Hoy of Parts and Labor served as a shorts juror at the SXSW Film Festival in 2011, the same year filmmaker David Lowery’s short Pioneer, took home the Narrative Short prize. Perhaps even better, Van Hoy got to know the film’s producers Toby Halbrooks and James M. Johnston as well as Lowery. Cut forward to the Sundance Producers Lab, where Van Hoy served as an adviser where Halbrooks and Johnston were attending with a project that would become Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. “Even at SXSW I told them if they need any help to let me know,” said Van Hoy. “We all clicked. The film was ambitious, even at a lower budget, but it’s a great script so we decided to come on board…It all came together pretty quickly considering independent film schedules.” “I had made [my previous film] St. Nick for $12K and had an inkling I could do Saints for something like $25K,” said Lowery. “But the advisers [at Sundance] told them that doing the micro-budget thing is a great plan B and you know you can do it, but why not spend a little bit of time formulating a plan A and see if you can make it just a little bit bigger.”
Lowery added: “At first I was against it because I didn’t want to wait and be in that trap of having to raise a million dollars… I got antsy about it for 24 hours and then I came around and said, ‘Ok, let’s try and expand our horizons.'” With a bigger budget and the script making its way around WME and eventually to potential cast members, Lowery met with Casey Affleck who quickly signed on along with Rooney Mara and Ben Foster. After securing cast members, the shoot took place in July and August of last year, targeting a completion in time for Sundance ’13 where the film eventually had its world premiere. Cassian Elwes helped put together financing, bringing in a half dozen other investors to the project and giving Lowery flexibility, according to Van Hoy, to do his thing. “He believed in us and wanted us to make the film that David wanted to make. He was instrumental in allowing for David’s vision being maintained. There was a real trust that we’d do what we said we’d do and stay on budget.”
IFC Films picked up the title out of Sundance and headed to festivals at LAFF and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in subsequent months. “I think we have the art house audience, especially if reviews stay as strong as the’ve been,” added Van Hoy. “I think word-of-mouth will bode well.” IFC Films will open Ain’t Them Bodies Saints at IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center as well as the Landmark in L.A. this weekend, with a planned expansion into two dozen locations the following week. It will add more cities into September.
Director-writer: Jerusha Hess
Co-writers: Shannon Hale (novel and screenplay)
Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Jane Seymour
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Austenland may tap a throng of women who have given up on a summer of remakes and superheroes. At least that’s the bet of Sony Classics, which picked up the title out of Sundance earlier this year. The comedy/romance centers on a woman who is obsessed with a BBC production of Pride And Prejudice and travels to a Jane Austen theme park in search of the perfect gentleman. “We saw it at the Eccles [Theater] in Park City and the reaction was pretty spectacular,” said SPC co-president Tom Bernard. “The thing we noticed were the voices responding in the theater which were women.” The SPC team nabbed the title because of its appeal to women, though Bernard was quick to say it’s not a typical “chick flick,” but rather akin to Bridesmaids or The Heat as far as its appeal to women’s sensibilities. Bernard noted that male critics had been rather harsh on Austenland, while women critics generally had opposing opinions out of Sundance, which has influenced how it has spread the word about the film in the preceding months. “We’re screening for women’s groups all over the country and only screening for women critics,” noted Bernard.
The Cinema Society hosted the premiere of Austenland in NYC, which brought out a who’s who in addition to cast members Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, JJ Field and writer/director Jerusha Hess followed by a party at the James Hotel, tapping into press for the event. The company is also turning to the travel sections of the NY Times and LA Times to advertise the feature, offering up a great destination called “Austenland” to live out a “Jane Austen fantasy” with links going to the film’s website. SPC will open Austenland in one theater each in New York and Los Angeles this weekend and will slowly add major markets through October.
The Patience Stone
Director-writer: Atiq Rahimi
Writer: Jean-Claude Carrière
Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Hamid Djavadan, Hassina Burgan, Massi Mrowat, Mohamed Al Maghraoui
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Similar to Austenland, SPC’s The Patience Stone is also primarily targeted toward female audiences though the films themselves are quite different. Set in a war torn country, a woman watches over her older husband who has been rendered into a vegetative state. She reveals her true feelings about their relationship and her long suffering to her unconscious spouse who becomes her de facto syngue sabour, a magic stone that according to Persian mythology will shield her from unhappiness and misery. “The reaction in Toronto [where we picked up the film] was similar to Austenland,” noted SPC co-president Tom Bernard. “It’s a movie that needs to be discovered and I think it will last a very long time.” Bernard said the film, which delves heavily into the state of women’s roles in areas of the Middle East, will have political ramifications but believes the issues presented will serve as a plus for the film as it roles out. The film has screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival and Los Angeles Film Festival earlier this year in addition to word-of-mouth screenings.
“The Patience Stone will roll out a lot slower [than Austenland]” said Bernard. “But I think it will have a long life.” SPC will open the film in two theaters in NY and L.A. but expects critical reaction to to propel the film as it continues into major markets.
Director Steve Brown had imagined attending SXSW as a filmmaker when he first attended in 2010 where he spoke about mobile technology as part of the event’s Interactive component. Having been involved with a number of start-ups, Brown believed taking on a film project would have similar attributes. He zeroed in on a documentary about Burning Man, the annual arts/party festival that takes place in the Nevada desert, where Brown organized a TEDx event. “In the process of organizing TEDx I met the board of Burning Men,” said Brown. “The event had been growing and it was hitting some limits for the first time, and they were trying to figure out how deal with that and there was a sense of a story happening.” Brown began working on the year-long project and director/producer Jessie Deeter who came on board as well. “They gave us unprecedented access,” said Deeter. They had had bad experiences in the past, so we had to work very hard. But by the time the crisis struck, they were already used to us filming.” Brown set up an LLC for the film through which the project raised money. Burning Man did not contribute to the film financially.
“We decided to distribute ourselves and looked for partners and looked at Paladin since they’re very experienced and FilmBuff is doing digital” said Brown. “We got approached by a lot of people in the industry. I was skeptical of that landscape and could see it was in a state of change. We kept calling up the chain, speaking to theater operators and cable companies directly, but we could see it was important to talk to experienced people, so that’s when we [partnered] with Paladin and FilmBuff.” The film will open in one theater each in New York and L.A. this weekend, followed by an expansion into 20 cities ahead of this year’s edition of Burning Man, which begins August 26th. It will also be available digitally August 17th.
You Will Be My Son
Director-writer: Gilles Legrand
Writers: Laure Gasparotto, Delphine de Vigan
Cast: Niels Arestrup, Lorànt Deutsch, Patrick Chesnais, Anne Marivin, Nicolas Bridet
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
The roots for director/co-writer Gilles Legrand’s You Will Be My Son came from the filmmaker’s fascination of wine and of the particulars to France’s inheritance laws. The film centers on the problematic relationship between Paul Marseul, owner of a prestigious vineyard in the south of France and his son Martin who works with him. Paul, however, is disappointed in his son’s talent, but meets the son of an employee in whom he sees promise. “In France you are obliged to give 80% of what you own to your child or children,” said Legrand. “So the question arrives. What happened if you think that your son, for example, is not able to succeed you?” Legrand said that while working on the story, he watched Into The Wild and was “touched” by the portion of the film in which Emile Hirsch’s character becomes close to an older man who proposes adopting him. “I decided to write a story where the father of the successful wine estate decides to destroy his relationship with his son because he thinks he is not able to succeed him and he [embarks on] a new relationship with a young man who is for him the ‘ideal son,'” said Legrand. Initially, Legrand hoped to shoot around the city of Beaune in Burgundy, but wineries were hesitant about allowing the shoot to take place during their harvest. But he found a location in Saint Emilion through a friend and shot between August and October 2010.
After debuting in France and other countries, You Will Be My Son debuted Stateside at the Montclair and Seattle film festivals. Legrand had met Cohen Media Group’s Charles Cohen in Cannes in 2012 where the deal for the film was completed. Cohen will open the film at the Paris Theatre in New York this weekend, followed by runs in Los Angeles, Miami and West Palm Beach in the coming weeks.