Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
The wall of silence around digital and VOD numbers may be showing some initial cracks. This weekend, John Sloss’ Producers Distribution Agency is opening Escape From Tomorrow day and date and the veteran entertainment lawyer/sales agent said all numbers will “be transparent.” He vows to make it a model for others, saying it “behooves” filmmakers, insiders and — well, everyone — to understand how the numbers work. VOD/digital often out-weigh theatrical figures, but there has been little way to confirm individual numbers. The title joins another crowded weekend of newcomers, though the onslaught of Specialty titles appears to be decreasing in coming weeks. Among the limited release titles opening this weekend are Millennium’s As I Lay Dying from James Franco, CodeBlack/Lionsgate’s The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete, Variance’s God Loves Uganda, FilmBuff’s Broadway Idiot and Tribeca Film/Nerdist’s Zero Charisma.
As I Lay Dying
Director-writer: James Franco
Writer: William Faulkner (novel)
Cast: James Franco, Danny McBride, Logan Marshall-Green, Richard Jenkins, Ahna O’Reily, Tim Blake Nelson
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment
James Franco directed, adapted and stars in As I Lay Dying, based on William Faulkner’s novel. The ’30s classic is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family’s quest to honor her wish to be buried in the nearby town of Jefferson. The ubiquitous Franco approached Millennium about being involved with the project, which gave him the go ahead. “James came to us and said he wanted to direct it,” said Millennium’s Mark Gill. “He had Tim Blake Nelson [already attached] and it [was budgeted for] under $5 million. He’s also working on a PHd at Yale, so we figured if anyone knew anything about Faulkner, it would be him. We’re big fans of his.” As I Lay Dying shot in the summer of 2012 and debuted in Un Certain Regard in Cannes in May. The distributor decided to time its release to Franco’s availability to promote the title to this Friday. “[We're] timing it to James availability and also if you’re going to take a shot in particular subject matter, there are movies for summer but this isn’t one of them,” added Gill. ” We’re looking to [target] a highly literate college-educated crowd. As I Lay Dying will open AMC Empire in New York exclusively Friday and will expand based on performance.”
The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Michael Starrbury
Cast: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Hudson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Julito McCullum, Anthony Mackie
Jeff Clanagan who spearheads CodeBlack Films pursued The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete at Sundance where it premiered. Set in the inner city, the coming of age drama centers on two youths who are left to fend for themselves over the summer after their mothers are taken away by authorities. “The story has a lot of heart,” said Clanagan. “When you walk out of the theater, it’s something that really touches you. The acting and directing were strong. It’s different from the standard fare that’s out there. We want to diversify our portfolio and there’s a hungry audience for diversity in urban areas…” CodeBlack has targeted its core African-American audience through social media and “a lot” of word of mouth screenings in the lead up to its theatrical roll out this weekend. “The challenges here are creating awareness of the film. The leads are the two kids, but people don’t know them, so creating that awareness is the [objective]. Once they see it, they fall in love with the movie.” The film will open in a comparatively large number of theaters beginning Friday. It will hit 15 – 18 major markets in 142 runs. Clanagan said that they want to maximize awareness of the film as it heads to theaters. “Before you could contain the message in local news, but once you start doing press it’s going to go nationally so it makes sense to go bigger, so it’s a hybrid release,” said Clanagan. “If we’re successful initially then we can go wider. Especially for this audience you’ve already created awareness so it makes sense to just get it out there.”
Escape From Tomorrow
Director-writer: Randy Moore
Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Annet Mehendru, Danielle Safady, Lee Armstrong
Distributor: Producers Distribution Agency
Writer-director Randy Moore took a “somewhat contentious trip” to Disney World with his family in 2009. His wife had a “miserable time,” prompting Moore to turn to writing for self-therapy. “The writing also served as form of self-therapy and helped to exorcise some of the demons I had lingering around from my childhood which was heavily imprinted and shaped by countless trips to the park with my own father, who at the time lived in Orlando,” said Moore. The film centers in a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents where an epic battle begins when an unemployed father’s sanity is challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday. “It’s hard as a first time director to earn people’s trust because you have no track record and with this particular film it was even harder,” said Moore. “I can easily understand how everyone might have thought I was completely crazy. I financed the film mostly myself and through friends and family, who, I think, just felt sorry for me.” Casting began in July 2010 and shooting commenced that fall. Principal photography lasted about 45 days, but Moore only had a window of time for park shots. “We had only so much time available to get in all our shots before the Halloween decorations went up, followed immediately by the Christmas decorations,” said Moore. “So anything we couldn’t get then, we’d have to wait and come back for the following spring, which is what we ended up having to do.”
Entertainment lawyer and sales agent John Sloss’ distribution label Producers Distribution Agency (which successfully released 2010’s Exit Through The Gift Shop with nearly $3.3M domestic gross) is releasing Escape From Tomorrow. Sloss said that they are hoping to make this release a model in transparency, including platforms that have remained mysteries for filmmakers, sales agents and the like with the advent and growth of non-theatrical release models. Sloss’ former employee, Liesl Copland – now with WME – made a much heralded speech at the recent Toronto International Film Festival calling for similar transparency, which is the norm when it comes to theatrical. “This is an experiment we’re doing for everyone’s benefit,” said Sloss. “We are going to be completely transparent on what we spend and what we make. Every data point we get we will make public including VOD. Cabining of information doesn’t benefit anyone.” Escape From Tomorrow is the first day and date release for PDA and Sloss said VOD numbers will likely not be available in time for Sunday’s box office report, but vows all numbers will be made in a timely manner. “It behooves people to learn how this works,” he added. PDA will open Escape From Tomorrow in 30 theaters around the country including IFC Center in New York and at the Sundance and Downtown Independent theaters in L.A.
Variance saw God Loves Uganda at Sundance where it premiered but came on board as distributor after meeting the filmmakers at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in June. The doc spotlights American evangelicals campaign to infuse African culture with values imported from the Christian Right. “The politics are important for me and this is one of those films that does that,” said Variance’s Dylan Marchetti. “I don’t want to say I take a dim view of religion, but I think this film makes the direct connection to evangelicals.” Marchetti said filmmaker Roger Ross Williams took some risk himself as a gay black man, doing extensive filming throughout the country, which has debated in its parliament extending the death penalty for convicted homosexuals. “What I found amazing is the response to the film in Africa,” said Marchetti. “They took the [finished feature] around and screened it in Malawi and it was amazing that live on television, people were coming out.”
Variance has been working with LGBT groups as well as “progressive Christian organizations” in getting the word out ahead of its release Stateside this weekend. God Loves Uganda will open at the Chelsea Clearview in New York Friday. “We’re taking it pretty slow and it’s a crowded season,” added Marchetti. “It’s going to L.A. on 18th, D.C. on 25th and San Francisco on the 1st of November. We have bookings coming up through the end of January. We want to get local communities organized in each market. We want people to know where their money is going when they put it in their collection plate.”
Green Day produced hit album “American Idiot”, then took it to Broadway and produced a rock opera with the same title. And the saga continues with Broadway Idiot, a documentary that follows the band’s Billie Joe Armstrong as he traverses the Great White Way to create his musical. “We came onboard after screening the film at SXSW. It was electric,” said FilmBuff’s Head of Content Partnerships Steve Beckman. “The band introduced the film at the Paramount and the theater was packed with hardcore Green Day fans who all headed over afterwards to Austin City Limits to see the band play to 2,000 people that night. We knew then and there that we needed to help this film get out there.” As the film heads into release this weekend, naturally those same fans will be the prime audience. Social media and support from the band and their fan club leads the way. Beckman, however, sees the potential for some cross-over as the film reaches theaters. “What’s been surprising about some of the early screenings, like the one at Lincoln Center this summer, has been that the entire audience seems to know each other,” said Beckman. “They all speak the same language. We really love this film, though, because it plays to such a wider audience than simply Green Day and Broadway. At its core, Broadway Idiot follows Billie Joe Armstrong on a powerful journey of self discovery, which is a very human, universal thing.” FilmBuff will open Broadway Idiot in New York, L.A. and 30-plus additional markets in addition to cable and broadband VOD.
With a penchant for characters that are “true outsiders with real vulnerability,” filmmakers Andrew Matthews and Katie Graham set out to create a film centering on a “fleshed-out version of the two-dimensional angry nerd.” Comedy Zero Charisma follows an overgrown “nerd” who serves as Grand Master of a fantasy board game who finds his role as leader of misfits is put in jeopardy when a new initiate enters the group. Not able to afford a casting director, the filmmakers cast hundreds of actors themselves. In order to get an IndieGoGo campaign underway, they asked local actor Sam Eidson to appear in a short teaser trailer. “He was totally game so for four days we ran around town shooting a few pages from the script and the resulting video…was something of a hit,” said Graham. “We raised more than our target goal and even got some press and we knew Sam had a lot to do with that. So once we had raised enough funds through private investors to start shooting about 9 months later, we offered him the role.” Shot over 18 days in Austin, the set was found a stone’s throw from home. “The house behind ours in our residential Austin neighborhood was vacant so we tracked down the owner and were able to rent it for a short time,” added Matthews. “We took down the chain link fence that separated our backyards and for a month it was the picture house while our house became the production house.” Also close to home, the feature won an Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival. Tribeca Film and Nerdist will open Zero Charisma at Cinema Village in New York Friday followed by about a dozen theaters nationwide. It’s currently available on most digital and VOD platforms.
Forgetting The Girl
Director: Nate Taylor
Writer: Peter Moore Smith
Cast: Christopher Denham, Lindsay Beamish, Elizabeth Rice, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Phyllis Somerville, Joel de la Fuente
Distributor: RAM Releasing
Director Nate Taylor, writer Peter Moore Smith and producer Brian Gonsar have backgrounds in advertising. After being introduced, Grosner invited Taylor to see his first film Favorite Son and hit it off. Taylor shared the script and business plan for a project he was working on, Forgetting The Girl, and Gonsar came on board. The dramatic thriller follows photographer Kevin Wolfe as he struggles to forget all his bad memories, but erasing his past threatens to consume his future. Production was set for 2008, but then the economy, of course, tanked and their investors decided to hold off. “So we postponed it a year [later] and shot in 2009 in New York City and a few days in Long Island,” said Gonsar. “All of the financing was secured by private investors [including] seed money by the ‘friends and family’ program. The main break was when Nate’s girlfriend (now wife) met the wife of our Executive Producer and we began a long courtship with him, convincing him that this was a real thing and that we were serious and experienced filmmakers. He was a dream investor, allowing us to concentrate on the art and relying on him for his business knowledge.” Casting directors Ann Goulder and Gayle Keller identified Christopher Denham for the lead role in ’08 and once production was back on track in ’09, the rest of the cast was selected. Most of the film is shot in a studio and needed to have the feel of NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, but most Manhattan apartments they found could not accommodate equipment and crew. So the found a space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and built out a studio. “The art department did an amazing job with it,” said Gonsar. “As soon as we saw it in person and then on camera, we discovered that it looked beautiful. The only downside was that it could have also doubled as a sauna. We were filming in August with no AC so the heat and humidity was rough on our cast and crew. But luckily everyone worked very hard and sucked it up despite the adverse conditions. And since it all looked amazing on camera, it was worth it.” Forgetting The Girl will open Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent and at Cinema Village in New York this weekend. It is also available via iTunes, Amazon and various VOD platforms, with a DVD release set for 2014.
Ghost Team One
Directors: Ben Peyser, Scott Rutherford
Writers: Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli
Cast: Carlos Santos, J.R. Villarreal, Tony Cavalero, Meghan Falcone, James Babson, Craig Stott, Fernanda Romero
Distributor: Paramount Home Media Distribution
Co-director Scott Rutherford joined the Ghost Team One project shortly before production began. The horror-comedy revolves around two roommates who are afraid of ghosts, but fall for a girl who believes their home is haunted. “I came on about 3 weeks before production started and it was a fast moving train that was still figuring itself out as we went,” said Rutherford. “But the film really demanded an improvisational comic style that leant itself to the chaos of production, and in the end created a horror comedy built on the feeling of spontaneity and authenticity you expect out of Spinal Tap or The Office.” Funding for Ghost Team One came from friends and family. Casting went ahead rather seamlessly. J.R. Villarreal and Fernanda Romero were among the first to join the cast. “At that point the idea to go with a Latino cast suddenly felt like a no brainer.,” said Rutherford. “Hollywood keeps saying they want to make more movies with Latino talent, yet they seem to be too scared to actually do it. We were working with such limited resources that there was no one there to tell us it was too risky, so we took the opportunity and ran with it.” Others joined including Carlos Santos who quickly bonded with Villarreal. The project shot over three weeks in an L.A. house. In order to capture a party scene, the filmmakers simply threw a party. “Soon enough, the neighbors just came in and joined the party, and now they’re part of the film,” offered Rutherford. “Also, the owner of the house was so suspicious of the ouija board that he asked us to have a priest on hand when we filmed that scene.” The feature will open in 15 theaters and cities across the country Friday and is currently available via VOD/digital platforms.