Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
After tapering off the last couple of weeks, a new surge of specialty films are hitting theaters. In one of Focus Features‘ final releases spearheaded by James Schamus and Andrew Karpen, Québécois director Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club begins its theatrical run this weekend. The film starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto had a two decade sojourn first as a studio property, then as an indie before finally making it to the big screen. RADiUS-TWC’s Man Of Tai Chi opens as the weekend’s widest indie title in over 100 theaters after a one month stint in Ultra-VOD. The company, meanwhile said that its income disparity doc Inequality For All by Jacob Kornbluth passed the $1 million mark this weekend and is continuing its theatrical run. Tribeca Film is opening Belgium’s Oscar contender Broken Circle Breakdown, which hopes its powerful bluegrass soundtrack will help extend its theatrical life. Submarine Deluxe’s doc Casting By includes a bounty of A-listers spotlighting the often sidelined role of the casting director. Leto stars in a second opener this weekend as Magnolia rolls out Mr. Nobody in regional markets, while Ketchup Entertainment joins the weekend debuts with Big Sur. Jean Marc-Barr, Kate Bosworth, Balthazar Getty, Josh Lucas and writer/director Michael Polish were joined by a cadre of guests for its New York premiere this week at the Sunshine Landmark Theater. Zeitgeist Films is opening The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology, a follow-up of sorts to The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema seven years ago. And Oscilloscope has These Birds Walk in a limited run.
Dallas Buyers Club
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn
Distributor: Focus Features
Dallas Buyers Club has roots tracing back to the ’90s when writer Craig Borten met with Ron Woodroof, the real-life personality behind Matthew McConaughey’s starring role in the film about a rough Texas electrician who finds out he’s HIV-positive in 1986 and takes on the medical establishment in order to have access and distribute potentially life preserving medication from abroad. “Craig Borten is a good friend of mine. He heard about Ron and met with him in Texas,” said producer Robbie Brenner who worked at Miramax by the time the first draft of the film was available in ’96. “I fell in love with it. At that juncture there were other people involved.” Borten solicited Brenner’s help. In one of its early stages Brad Pitt and Universal were involved with the project, though it languished at the studio for seven years before the company ultimately decided against it. “I think things happen for a reason and I think it was good to have it done independently,” added Brenner. In 2009 the group, which also now included fellow script writer Melisa Wallack, got the rights to the script back. Brenner then contacted McConaughey’s agent who passed the script along to the actor, saying it was a role that would appeal to him. “A short time after that, he said he ‘had to do it,'” said Brenner. “It was a week after [the script] was sent it to him.” Brenner then approached Québécois-born director Jean-Marc Vallée who Brenner had worked with on a previous project. “He has a European sensibility and I thought he’d bring that extra added dimension,” added Brenner. “He read it and said, ‘Hell yeah! Let’s go make this cowboy movie.’ That was in 2010 and we put the financing together which took 2 1/2 years.”
But just eight weeks before shooting was set to begin, the financing fell through. The producing team went into emergency mode, with Brenner bringing on Rachel Winter to help with the crisis. “Matthew was already losing weight working with a doctor and lost 35 pounds at this point,” said Brenner. “We didn’t know what to do. We loved the script but nobody wanted to put their money where there mouth is. So I called [McConaughey’s] agent and said that maybe we could push production to spring. But Matthew said, ‘You better get this together. This is a moving train. I’m in character, so you have to get this together…’ There was no ‘no’ for this.” Brenner tapped a team of people to help resuscitate the production. At one point she pulled off the side of the road on Mulholland Drive to speak with potential financiers at Truth Entertainment. “I remember thinking that I have to talk these guys into it,” she added. “And they put the money into it. Everybody loves the movie and felt it was important and special and it just needed to happen. Money wasn’t the issue for them. It just resonated with them.” Dallas Buyers Club shot over 25 days. At one point Vallée asked for the lighting package to be taken out in order to save time. “There’s natural lighting and it became a stealth unit,” said Brenner. “There were not all the trucks and accoutrement you’d normally see. Jared Leto came on and left in character. I didn’t see him as Jared until Toronto. It was liberating for the actors to not have to sit for hours. It moved quickly.” Focus came on board in the beginning of May after seeing a three minute reel of the film. “[Focus’] Jeb Brody called and asked if the rest of the movie is as good as the three minutes and I said, ‘yes,'” said Brenner. “They’ve been the most spectacular partners on this movie. We are happy to be a part of this period of Focus that was incredible and to go out with the James Schamus era. We’re blessed to have been able to work with them.” Focus will open Dallas Buyers Club at the Village 7, Lincoln Square and Chelsea Cinema 9.
Man Of Tai Chi
Director: Keanu Reeves
Writer: Michael G. Cooney
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Tiger Hu Chen, Iko Uwais, Yuen Woo-ping
Keanu Reeves‘ directorial multi-lingual debut rolls out to 102 theaters this weekend after opening in Ultra-VOD September 27 across multiple digital, satellite and on demand platforms. The Cannes acquisition also stars Reeves in an action pic centered on a young martial artist’s superior Tai Chi skills, which lands him in a highly lucrative underworld fight club. The film also stars Tiger Chen, whom Reeves met on the set of The Matrix as well as Yuen Woo-Ping, who did the fight choreography on Matrix. As I exclusively reported Friday, RADiUS-TWC said it had grossed $1.5 million during its one month-long Ultra-VOD window. “I’m pleased with that number out of the gate,” the company’s co-president Tom Quinn said. “I’m happy we’re able to make this film as widely available theatrically as possible and without VOD frankly we couldn’t do that. It just wouldn’t make sense financially.” Quinn, who heads the company with Jason Janego, noted that Ultra-VOD can serve as a lucrative word-of-mouth mechanism ahead of the theatrical debut of certain films. He also noted that the P&A spend is far less for a VOD release than theatrical. Quinn noted that Man Of Tai Chi hit No. 7 on Xbox, No. 10 on iTunes, and No. 15 on Cable VOD, beating some recent comparable titles. Still, RADiUS did host some sneak screenings last Thursday at an IMAX Theater in New York, with Reeves participating in Q&As. The sneaks may be one of the first IMAX films launched out of its Ultra-VOD run. Man Of Tai Chi‘s theatrical run this weekend includes most major markets.
Broken Circle Breakdown
Director-writer: Felix Van Groeningen
Writers: Johan Heldenbergh (play), Mieke Dobbels (play), Carlos Joos (adaptation)
Cast: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg
Distributor: Tribeca Film
Belgium’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration Broken Circle Breakdown is the first feature Tribeca Film is not releasing day and date. The film won the Audience Award at the Berlinale in its Panorama section where the Tribeca folks first saw the title. It played the Tribeca Film Festival in April where it was also a hit with audiences, according to Tribeca Film’s General Manager, Todd Green. Interestingly, the film has a strong bluegrass music thread that is performed by its actors throughout the film. The soundtrack from the film has become the biggest selling soundtrack in Belgian history and its actors have been playing gigs there. The drama, however, centers on a couple who quickly fall in love despite of their differences. She’s spiritual, while he’s atheist. Their relationship is put to the test when their young daughter confronts cancer. “We thought of doing a traditional release because we think word of mouth will drive this movie,” said Green. “The popular soundtrack is now available and we think that will build buzz as well.” Green quoted a critic who described the film as “Walk the Line meets Blue Valentine,” which they have used to describe the film which has mostly Flemish dialog with bluegrass performances in American English. Green said that the company, a sister entity to Tribeca Film Institute, has hosted a number of word of mouth screenings, even tapping unlikely partners such as Brooklyn Vegan to propel awareness as the film heads out this weekend.
“Landmark is behind the film, which helps,” added Green. “We think the soundtrack will also be helpful in getting cross-over beyond the traditional foreign language art-house. The landscape is crowded, but we’re confident that a new take on storytelling and something unique will find an audience.” Broken Circle Breakdown will bow at the Sunshine Theater in New York this Friday, followed by the NuArt in Los Angeles the following week. Green said the title is already booked in 25 markets, with Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Irvine on tap for the following weekend.
Director: Tom Donahue
Subjects: Jeff Bridges, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Marion Dougherty, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Woody Allen, John Travolta, Jon Voight, Diane Lane, Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Glover, Ned Beatty
Distributor: Submarine Deluxe
Filmmaker Tom Donahue’s producers Joanna Colbert and Kate Lacey approached him about doing a story on veteran casting director Marion Dougherty. The late Dougherty, whose career spanned the early days of television and into feature film from the ’60s through the ’90s, helped define the profession whose instincts have helped define the careers of countless actors. Casting By initially played on HBO, in a deal sales company Submarine facilitated. “We weren’t thinking about theatrical initially but the filmmakers qualified it earlier in the year and asked if we’d be interested in it for [our distribution label] Submarine Deluxe,” said the company’s Dan Braun. “I had been a huge fan of the film and saw how rapturous the response was at the Toronto premiere last year so I felt strongly that the film could attract an audience theatrically especially in New York and L.A. where there are large numbers of actors who could relate to the casting experience of some very successful actors and would want to experience the film in the communal environment of a theatrical setting. We also felt the film could be an Oscar contender so we were game for helping the filmmakers with strategic thinking for the Oscar campaign.” With that community in mind, Deluxe has targeted its ads and marketing with outlets like Backstage. Additionally, the company is spreading the word that any actor who shows up with a headshot will get a discount and veteran casting directors such as Ellen Lewis will be on hand for some Q&As. “We’ve also done grassroots outreach to acting schools and promoted with heavy postcard drops in bookshops, theaters and bars and restaurants all across the city where actors who are up and coming are working,” said Braun. “We are also doing some strategic ticket giveaway programs with partners like Argentum Photo in L.A. who is one of the bigger source for actor’s head shots, and a program with NYU for student discounts.”
Submarine Deluxe will open Casting By at Cinema Village and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center this weekend, with L.A. to follow in addition to at least 5 additional markets. “There is already a strong demand for non-theatrical so we may collapse our window to allow for non-theatrical a bit earlier, keeping in mind that the non-theatrical will ultimately support the Oscar campaign and continue to build awareness and word of mouth to the film,” said Braun. “Casting By is ultimately a feel good film and although it would be hard to say exactly that it is a counter programming move, the film is a mix of pure entertainment with the uplifting subject of overlooked casting director Marion Dougherty finally getting recognition…”
Mr. Nobody had a relatively huge budget in the mid eight figure range. To date it’s reaped about $3.54 million in foreign box office and is now heading out in the U.S. via Magnolia, which came on board as distributor earlier this year. The fantasy drama begins with a boy standing on a station platform as a train is about to leave and he decides whether to go with his mother or stay with his father. Infinite possibilities arise from his decision, but as long as he doesn’t choose, anything is possible. “It’s an extraordinary film of a high level of quality,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “It’s epic in scale and had a huge budget. It’s well made, but has never played in the U.S.” It’s, of course, no accident that the film is opening alongside Dallas Buyers Club, which features Jared Leto in a very different role. Fans of Leto, Magnolia hopes, will want more and head out to see the actor playing a much different part. “It’s an exciting year for Jared Leto,” added Cowal. “We’re happy it will be out there when it comes. It’s a happy accident. I think this will only enhance the value for Mr. Nobody the fact it’s coming out as Dallas Buyers Club. These are very different films and hope people will be looking for more to see him.” Cowal said the film launched on Ultra-VOD September 26 and has been “performing well.” For now it’s opening theatrically in regional markets ranging from Santa Cruz, CA to Santa Fe, NM, Silver Springs, MD and Vancouver, B.C. It will add additional regional markets in mid-November and into December.
The Visitor (Re-release, 1979)
Director-writer: Giulio Paradisi
Writer: Ovidio G. Assonitis, Luciano Comici, Robert Mundy
Cast: Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Joanne Nail, Shelley Winters, Sam Peckinpah
Distributor: Drafthouse Films
Drafthouse Films decided to re-release The Visitor after a a 35mm print of the complete version of the film began to make the rounds of repertory houses for midnight screenings a few years back, including the Alamo Drafthouse. The horror/sci-fi centers on the soul of a young girl with telekinetic powers that become the prize in a fight between the forces of God and the Devil. “The audience reaction to this film was overwhelming and it began amassing devotees around the country,” said Evan Husney. “As with last year’s release of Miami Connection, which was also critically panned upon its original theatrical release in 1979, we felt this film was ripe for rediscovery and that it should be experienced with a rabid audience in the theater.” Drafthouse sees its core as cinephiles and its pedigree, which they hope will carry the film to another big screen release. “The hook is purely in The Visitor‘s gonzo logline: ‘legendary director/actor John Huston stars — alongside Lance Henriksen, Franco Nero and Sam Peckinpah — as a intergalactic warrior teaming with a cosmic Christ figure to battle against a demonic 8-year-old girl and her pet hawk.’ Who wouldn’t want to see that?”
Drafthouse will take the film to its own Alamo Drafthouse Theaters this weekend (a total of nine) in addition to venues that have also played the film in the past including L.A.’s Cinefamily, Chicago’s Music Box Theatre Seattle’s Grand Illusion Theatre and SF’s The Roxie. Husney added: “We are then expanding to several other repertory markets where this film has rarely screened, including NYC with some late night bookings at the IFC Center.”
Director-writer: Michael Polish
Writers: Jack Kerouac (novel)
Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Radha Mitchell, Anthony Edwards, Balthazar Getty
Distributor: Ketchup Entertainment
In the third Beat Generation film to come out in the past year or so, Big Sur recounts Kerouac’s three sojourns to a cabin in California’s Big Sur, owned by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. “We first saw Big Sur at Sundance and were immediately impressed with what a beautiful, intimate and lyrical movie Michael Polish had assembled,” said Ketchup Entertainment’s Stephen Stanley. “The strong ensemble cast (Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Radha Mitchell, Balthazar Getty, Anthony Edwards, and a breakout performance by Jean-Marc Barr) gave us confidence it could perform across multiple platforms.” Stanley emphasized that Big Sur is different from its big screen counterparts, Kill Your Darlings and last year’s On The Road with this film concentrating on a period later in Jack Kerouac’s life. “Big Sur is a more mature and thoughtful meditation from an older Kerouac with a lifetime of experience (both joy and heartache) around him,” added Stanley. “Some of the themes it touches on – love, loss, regret, and hope for renewal – can strike a chord with a wider audience who, while maybe not specific fans of Kerouac or the rest of the Beats, can relate to a film about a man so very genuinely trying to make sense of his life.” Ketchup opened Big Sur on VOD three weeks ago and is opening the title in 13 locations in 12 markets this weekend. It will expand the title based on performance.
Writer and subject Slavoj Zizek, a professor at the European Graduate School and international director of the Birkbeck institute for Humanities in London, espouses the idea that we are responsible for our dreams, which is the ultimate lesson of psychoanalysis and fiction film. Those ideas form the basis of the not easily forgotten title, The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology. “Slavoj suggested this theme. I recall us having our first discussion about it at the ICA in London, while the first film [The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema] was screening,” said Fiennes. “That was about 7 years ago. His re-framing of what ideology means is a key subject in his work. The two films have to stand alone as it can’t be assumed that people watching the second film have seen the first, but for me, it is a logical development and a continuation of an analysis of film.” Fiennes said she found the film’s edit as the project’s biggest challenge and said shooting with Zizek also proved to have its own particulars. “Shooting with Slavoj is always hilarious, but his humor is so far out as to be unrepeatable,” she said. Zeitgeist’s Nancy Gerstman met Fiennes at the Toronto International Film Festival when the distributor bought the first Pervert‘s movie. “She contacted us after the 2012 Toronto Film Festival and let us know that there were no rights issues for The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology and we were on it,” said Gestman. “We’re opening at the IFC Center this Friday, November 1 for an open run and subsequently it will be playing in theaters throughout North America.”
O-scope first became involved with doc These Birds Walk in the rough cut stage. The film centers on a poor runaway boy and a reluctant ambulance driver in Karachi, Pakistan. Their two lives come together through a dying humanitarian whom they come to depend on in their daily lives. “We had numerous conversations with the filmmakers and loved what we saw, and never had a doubt in our minds that they would succeed in making an incredibly powerful, incredibly emotional film,” said Oscilloscope’s Dan Berger. “It’s of paramount importance that we are involved in projects that we believe in and we felt very strongly about this one.” Berger said the company is emphasizing the “quality and originality” of the film as it heads out in theaters this weekend in their messaging. Berger said the filmmakers have been compared to the likes of Terence Malick and Michael Haneke and that early viewers have been “in awe that this is actually a documentary.” These Birds Walk will open at the Village East exclusively in New York and will head to L.A. in November, qualifying for awards. Theatrical expansion will continue into major markets after that with VOD and digital slated for early next year.