Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster arrives in North America re-worked to appeal to audiences here and faith that it will appeal to both art house and broader audiences alike. The lauded Hong Kong director has received critical and box office success with In The Mood For Love and perhaps to a lesser degree with My Blueberry Nights and 2046, and distributor TWC is looking to turn out ticket buyers who are loyal to the filmmaker or fans of martial arts. Former mumblecore filmmaker Joe Swanberg steps up his game with his comedy Drinking Buddies, parlaying into a production that did not follow DIY orthodoxy. The film has already been a big moneymaker on VOD, so theatrical will likely be icing on the cake. Short Term 12 has won awards from SXSW to Locarno. The film, which Cinedigm is opening in limited release will try and replicate that success theatrically. Cannes ’12 closer Thérèse hits theaters as well. Starring Audrey Tautou, the film is the final feature from the late Claude Miller. Vertical Entertainment is banking on its thriller Scenic Route starring Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler to bring out genre fans. The film has also tested positively with women. Una Noche takes on the phenomenon of Cuban immigration. The title played at a festival in Havana before finally being banned there. And Ketchup Entertainment is skirting the usual L.A./New York roll out for the Southeast where its latest, Savannah starring Jaimie Alexander and Jim Caviezel finds its base.
Director-writer: Wong Kar-wai
Writers: Zou Jingzhi, Xu Haofeng
Cast: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Zhang Jin, Song Hye-kyo, Le Cung, Leung Siu-Lung, Chang Chen
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai’s latest has undergone an evolution since opening in China earlier this year, coming in at 130 minutes. By the time it screened as the Berlinale opener, it came in at 122 minutes and it will land at 108 minutes when it hits screens this weekend. The feature centers on martial arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee. “We test screened it and there were some confusions in the storyline that make it hard to follow for some people, but there are no significant changes to the storyline,” said TWC president of Theatrical Distribution, Erik Lomis. “Harvey and Kar-wai got together to talk about it. We love the movie and love Kar-wai.” The version that will open Friday, according to TWC is a more linear telling of the story, emphasizing the “emotional and human story” rather than the history and politics of the period. Starring Tony Leung, Chang Chen and Zhang Ziyi and set in the Republican era that followed the fall of China’s last dynasty, The Grandmaster was six years in the planning and three years in the making. Its stars also underwent several years of kung fu training for their roles. “I think for a wider audience it’s better to understand,” said Lomis who noted that the film will play to an art house crowd and fans of Wong Kar-wai in its initial release before going wide the following week, seeing a broader audience. The film has grossed $55 million overseas to date.
“There is substantial action that will appeal to a wider audience,” said Lomis. “It will go to upscale theaters the first weekend and then broaden out to suburban theaters.” Ahead of its theatrical bow, TWC said Martin Scorsese would “present” the film, essentially giving the lauded American filmmaker’s stamp of approval to the title. Samuel L. Jackson later lent his name to the film. “The biggest challenge for me in making this film is that I don’t practice martial arts,” said Wong in Berlin before its premiere there in February. ” Added Tony Leung: After four years of studying martial arts [for this role], I learned that it’s not just physical. There is a spiritual side of kung fu you can’t simply learn by facts…I started to learn kung fu at 46.” TWC will open The Grandmaster in limited release Friday in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, followed by an expansion to 500 to 600 theaters Labor Day weekend. “It will be one of the largest foreign-language releases of the year,” added Lomis. “Harvey has been a fan of Asian film and we have faith in the movie. It’s different and cool enough that we think we can find a sizable audience.”
At the center of the so-called mumblecore movement that gained traction at the 2005 SXSW Film Festival when his film Kissing On The Mouth debuted alongside like-minded titles that year including the Duplass brothers’ The Puffy Chair, Joe Swanberg operated with a comparatively larger budget and established actors (though he’s credited with discovering Greta Gerwig) in his latest film which debuted at this year’s SXSW. The pre-cursor to Drinking Buddies began during a conversation Swanberg had with fellow filmmaker, Madeleine Olnek (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same) at the Maryland Film Festival. “She said that if you have the ability to make a comedy, then it’s immoral not to,” Swanberg said. “That was the wildest piece of film theory I had heard in a long time. She thought it was the duty to do that, and I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.” He later wrote the comedy about Luke and Kate, two workers at a Chicago brewery where they spend their days drinking and flirting though they’re both in separate relationships. Swanberg, who decidedly existed outside the Hollywood or even Indiewood system for much of his career, secured resources for Drinking Buddies along with the responsibilities of answering to investors, producers and others, although he acknowledged his job became more simple in other ways. “I’m usually the director, craft services operator, driver, airline reservation maker etc. But this time, I could concentrate on what I enjoy best – working with the actors,” he said. “I’ve used elements of comedy [in my past work] but not as the main [element]. Your risk of failure is high when you set out to make a comedy.” Swanberg shot the film over 18 days in Chicago.
Magnolia Pictures picked up the title following its SXSW debut and opened the title via digital/VOD last month. “I have to tell you, I’ve already made my money back through [its VOD release],” said Swanberg. A spokesperson from the distributor said the title had performed beyond their expectations and Swanberg himself said the digital/VOD momentum will likely drive its theatrical numbers. “You always want your film to do well so you can do it again,” he said. For its theatrical, Drinking Buddies will open at New York’s Sunshine and the Landmark Century Centre Cinema in Chicago. It will head to 10 additional cities including L.A.’s NuArt and the Roxie in San Francisco Labor Day weekend before expanding to additional markets in September.
This year’s big winner of the Grand Jury Narrative Feature and Narrative Audience Awards at the SXSW Film Festival, Short Term 12 won the other big prize — a distribution deal following the spring festival. It centers on a 20-something supervising staff member of a foster care facility, dealing with personal demons as she decides how to continue her relationship with her co-worker/boyfriend. “It’s an artistic achievement and it’s emotionally satisfying,” offered Cinedigm’s Vincent Scordino, VP of Theatrical Acquisitions. “Critics and audiences have responded to it. [The film] plays really well everywhere we’ve taken it. Brie [Larson] has received great reviews for her role. She’s front and center and is an extraordinary performer.” Cinedigm took the film to the recent Locarno Film Festival where Larson picked up an acting award. Noted writer/director Destin Cretton: “The best thing that allows for performance is to not have to spend too much time setting up scenes…Brie [Larson] and John [Gallagher] saw something in those characters they could identify with and threw themselves into them.”
Back Stateside, the distributor has presented word-of-mouth screenings including one hosted by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. It also played at the Hamptons International Film Festival’s summer screening series. “If you look at this film you think 18 – 40 but it also plays well to people who are older,” said Scordino. “Destin [Cretton] is a huge talent and definitely someone to get to know.” Cinedigm will platform release Short Term 12 in New York at the Sunshine and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as well as the Landmark and Arclight in Los Angeles this weekend. “We will expand in those markets and add Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and others in the coming weeks,” said Scordino. ” We have 20-plus markets booked [to date]. We’re prepared to support the film and expand as necessary. The speed isn’t our first priority.”
Director-writer: Claude Miller
Writers: Francois Mauriac (novel), Natalie Carter
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anaïs Demoustier, Catherine Arditi, Isabelle Sadoyan, Francis Perrin
Distributor: MPI Media Group
Originally titled Thérèse Desqueyroux, the feature is the final film by the late French director Claude Miller. It screened as the Closing Night film at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. “I saw it in Cannes and it was one of the few movies that stayed with me and thought would be releasable here,” said MPI’s head of acquisitions Marie Therese Guirgis. ” It helped that Audrey Tatou is as big of a star a foreign actress can be in this country.” Tautou stars as an unhappily married woman who struggles to break free from social pressures. “What’s great about her is that she’s not playing the cute part she typically plays,” added Guirgis. “She’s relying on her strengths as an actor and totally playing a part she’s not done before. She’s a very dark intelligent woman who’s unhappy. She said it’s her favorite part because she’s been able to show she can do more than just be adorable.”
MPI took it to the major French film festivals in the U.S. including the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Rendez Vous with French Cinema in New York and COL-COA in L.A. “We didn’t want to do a ton of screenings outside the festivals,” added Guirgis. “We feel like we have a foreign film that is based on a famous novel and a famous actor, so it has selling points that are not obscure.” The company also quickly produced its trailer and poster, which gave it a promotional head start last spring at the Angelika in New York and Landmark theaters. MPI will open at the Angelika and Elinor Bunin Munroe in New York as well as the Royal in Los Angeles before heading to other major markets the following week. Added Guirgis: “The top major markets are booked, but depending on how well it does, we’ll decide about expanding it to some suburbs.”
Directors: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Writer: Kyle Killen
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler, Miracle Laurie, Christie Burson
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
SXSW Film Festival genre feature Scenic Route caught the eye of Vertical Entertainment after its first screening. Starring Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, the thriller revolves around two lifelong friends who have a breakdown in the middle of the desert. Tensions rise between the two as they start to attack each other’s life decisions with increasing brutality. “The audience reaction was great. Our acquisitions exec Peter Jarowey called and said it’s a must have for us,” said Vertical Entertainment co-president Mitch Budin. “History shows that these kinds of genre films do well.” The company was also attracted to the combination of Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler to catapult the movie on screen. Duhamel is seen outside some of his usual action roles. “At Vertical if we think we can find terrific cast, director and story in one, it’s capturing lightning in a bottle and that’s what we believe with Scenic Route,” said Budin. “With its star-power and performances, we definitely think it can cross over.” The film began its VOD run July 26th via DirecTV, capturing a 50-50 split between males and females. Scenic Route had its theatrical premiere at TCL Chinese Theatre this week.
“[Scenic Route‘s release] started on this film on DirecTV which stepped up its marketing levers,” added Budin. “DirecTV spent money and resources. The VOD world is doing very well so by the time we got to theaters it’s got momentum…It’s exceeded its expectations. And Josh and Dan have been dynamic in adding to that momentum.” The film’s theatrical run will then carry it into DVD and Blu-ray, of course. Scenic Route will open in ten cities in ten theaters this weekend. It will expand based on performance in individual markets and beyond.
Una Noche’s routes began when writer/director Lucy Mulloy traveled to Cuba a few years ago. She had heard stories about people leaving though she hadn’t ever seen a movie depicting the Caribbean island’s controversial emigration. She also wanted to do something unique. “I was tired seeing the same actors and Hollywood movies so I wanted to tell a story in Cuba,” said Mulloy. “It’s such an incredible setting. It’s full of contradictions and layers.” The story centers on Raul, who dreams of escaping to Miami. Accused of assault, he appeals to a friend to help him. “I met people risking their lives. It was very very hard and there were a lot of obstacles in making the movie,” she added. Mulloy faced some of the usual challenges such as financing, but was able to piece money and resources together through contacts. She also received film stock from Kodak and used a personal contact through one of the film’s producers to help with the permit process in the communist country. “We didn’t go through the usual cinema institution in Cuba because they would want budgets and all kinds of details, so instead we went through [Cuba’s television organization] to get permits,” said Mulloy. “It took a very long time to get permits, but in that time, we started a whole infrastructure for the shoot and did casting.” Mulloy’s brother arrived in Cuba with film and cameras. The film was housed in an air conditioned hotel room, while the rest of the cast and crew had to endure non air-conditioned accommodations. “The film got the best room, but on particularly humid days, we’d [retreat] there,” she said. “Cuba has amazing colors and the sky and textures is so rich, so it was yelling to be captured on film. I wanted to go that extra mile or that extra 50 miles.” Most of the shoot’s big ticket items were received through sponsorship.
The film had premieres at the Havana, Berlin and Tribeca film festivals. IFC Films picked up rights to the the title at the Tribeca Film Festival where it won the Best New Narrative Director prize. Una Noche had initially been given a small theater at the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, but large crowds turned out attempting to crowd into the theater. “The second showing, they had to bring out police to control the crowds. People were pushing because word had spread,” said Mulloy. The film has since been banned in Cuba. IFC Films will open the film in limited release in New York, and Miami Friday with VOD/Digital starting August 26.
Director-writer: Annette Haywood-Carter
Writers: Ken Carter, John Eugene Cay Jr.
Cast: Jaimie Alexander, Jim Caviezel, Sam Shepard, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bradley Whitford
Distributor: Ketchup Entertainment
Ketchup Entertainment had been tracking Savannah, which it picked up at a buyers’ screening outside the festival circuit. The feature stars Jim Caviezel in the true-life story of Ward Allen, a bombastic romantic who rejects his plantation heritage for life on a river. “The movie has a lush backdrop for a larger than life character,” said Stephen Stanley, head of acquisitions for Ketchup Entertainment. “We feel that this film particularly plays to the heartland and to a Southern audience.” The film played a “special screening” at the Charleston International Film Festival. The boutique label, which launched its distribution label last summer, has partnership agreements with Open Road Films and ARC Entertainment for its releases. The title, which is already available via VOD, will concentrate its launch in the Southeast and it is opening in NYC. The company sees as its core audience including cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, West Palm Beach, Savannah, Charlotte and other primarily Southern locations. “We’re not going to 100 cities, but we’re not avoiding big cities either,” added Stanley. Ketchup has hosted word-of-mouth screenings and social media to propel the title for its weekend release. It will likely head to LA at a later date in addition to other locations outside its primarily Southeast base.