The shadow of the Oscar season and last weekend’s record shattering theatrical debut of Fox Searchlight’s The Grand Budapest Hotel hang over the coming weekend’s releases. Some competitors hailed its success and said they hoped to ride in its wake as they head to theaters this Friday and beyond. A24 will roll out Jake Gyllenhaal starrer Enemy by Denis Velleneuve who has had success in both the studio and indie space. Jason Bateman takes the director’s chair for the first time with TIFF and SXSW feature Bad Words for Focus. Music Box Films will open U.K.’s Le Week-end after delaying its roll out post awards-season. France’s On My Way starring Catherine Deneuve opens in theaters following its premiere at an annual French film series in NYC via Cohen Media Group. Abramorama is opening doc Big Men with the support of Brad Pitt who executive produced. Jason Schwartzman also exec produced a doc opening this weekend, the hybrid Teenage from Oscilloscope. And Paladin and Cinedigm are teaming on indie thriller Dark House, while Shirin In Love takes a bilingual approach as it heads to theaters in the Specialty space this weekend.
Québécois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve won acclaim and an Oscar nomination for his 2011 feature Incendies, which Sony Classics released with a cast unknown in the States, taking in $2 million-plus domestically. His next feature was crime-thriller Prisoners with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, a studio film that grossed over $61 million domestically. Gyllenhaal returns with Enemy, a mystery-thriller about a man who seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie. A24, which had multiple box office hits in the Specialty arena in its first year, including Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring and The Spectacular Now, first caught Enemy at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “It’s our first movie in partnership with DirecTV,” said newish A24 exec Heath Shapiro. “It’s great to break ground on a new multi-platform model with this movie. It’s a great match.” Shapiro said that the film has been “doing very well” on DirecTV leading up to its theatrical release this weekend. “This is an auteur director who has had previous success,” he noted. “It’s a unique film where the thrill elements fill very well.” Shapiro said A24 is being “curatorial” with its releases in conjunction with DirecTV. It will next have Life After Death on the satellite television provider. “You get to have your cake and eat it too because the movie can play to a commercial audience and an auteur audience,” said Shapiro. “We’ll see that grow as we platform [the feature] out into the country in the next few weeks. And Denis and Jake are being very supportive.”
Villeneuve will be at the Angelika in New York for Q&As this weekend. It will open there this weekend exclusively and then will head to the top 25 markets the following week and expand to 50 soon after. “Jake and Denis get great national attention and then complimented by DirecTV and it’s the right time to be in the marketplace for this movie,” said Shapiro.
Jason Bateman went from childhood actor to adult actor. Now he adds director to his roster with Bad Words. In the subversive comedy in which he also stars, Bateman plays a 40-year-old who finds a loophole in the rules of The Golden Quill national spelling bee and decides to hijack the competition. But a reporter (played by Hahn) is on his trail to find out his true motivation though he finds an ally in an awkward 10 year-old who is unfazed by his take-no-prisoners approach. Focus Features acquired worldwide rights to Bad Words at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival where it premiered. It debuted later in L.A. and at this year’s SXSW Film Festival in the run-up to this weekend’s release, building word-of-mouth momentum. The company augmented that with what it called an “aggressive digital media campaign partnering with properties like BuzzFeed, College Humor, Funny or Die, and The Onion.” They also hosted a nationwide screening program with partners including Fandango, Reddit, and The Onion. Bateman participated in a Reddit AMA, attracting nearly 400,000 participants. And fittingly, Focus launched what it called “Jason Bateman’s Insta-Bee” online on Mashable. Bateman also made appearances on Today, David Letterman and Howard Stern and is slated to appear on Kimmel and Ellen. Kathryn Hahn will be doing interviews with the Today Show, Watch What Happens, and Late Night With Seth Meyers in the coming weeks timed to the expansion of the film. Bad Words opens in limited runs in 6 locations Friday in New York and Los Angeles, expanding March 21 and heads to a nationwide release March 28.
Music Box picked up Toronto and NYFF debut Le Week-end out of AFM last fall. The drama follows an aging British couple who return to Paris many years after their honeymoon in the City of Lights, attempting to rejuvenate their stale marriage. “We loved the script and the cast, were familiar with Roger Michell and Hanif Kureishi’s past collaborations, and felt confident that director, crew and cast would deliver as written,” said Music Box’s Ed Arentz. “Happily they exceeded our expectations and we project this film to be a significant draw on the art house circuit this spring and with older audiences generally.” The film follows up last year’s Hyde Park On Hudson, which Michell directed and Focus released. That film cumed nearly $6.4M in the U.S. “Clearly the core audience is older, educated 50-plus much like the characters in the film,” said Arentz, adding, “But Le Week-end has a lot to offer anyone who appreciates sharp writing, crafty direction, winning performances and well earned sentiment.” In addition to word-of-mouth and festival screenings, Music Box’s grass roots outreach has focused on groups, journalists and bloggers that focus on “issues of creative aging, relationships and travel.”
Arentz added that audience reaction has surpassed the film’s well-received critical reception. Initially, the film was slated to roll out in the fall and then moved to Valentine’s Day. Arentz said the distributor settled on March 14 in order to clear the long wave of nominees that dominated theaters in the lead-up to the Oscars. “We’ll follow Grand Budapest Hotel by at least a week in virtually every market and often in the same theater giving our trailer wide pre-release exposure and hopefully drafting on the good will and movie-going enthusiasm engendered by the Wes Anderson film,” concluded Arentz. Music Box will open Le Week-end in two Manhattan locations (Lincoln Plaza and Angelika) and in L.A. at the Landmark. It will expand to about 150 theaters by its fourth week.
On My Way
Director-writer: Emmanuelle Bercot
Writer: Jérôme Tonnerre
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nemo Schiffman, Gérard Garouste, Claude Gensac, Paul Hamy, Mylene Demongeot, Hafsia Herzi
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
A debut at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival, Emmanuelle Bercot’s On My Way starring Catherine Deneuve opened the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series currently underway at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Deneuve plays a woman who is faced with a failed relationship and a struggling restaurant and hits the road for a trip with her grandson. “I bought this film a year ago in Cannes while it was in pre-production based on the strength of (Denueve’s appeal) and anticipation of the story and based on having a film by Emmanuelle Bercort,” said Cohen Media Group head Charles Cohen. “When you have all three in a confluent alignment you get the best of all three worlds.” Deneuve and her young co-star Nemo Schiffman received César nominations this year. Deuneuve did a round of press including Charlie Rose and CBS This Morning while in town for Rendez Vous. It will open at Lincoln Plaza in New York Friday and will head to Los Angeles the following weekend.
Teenage is a great example of contemporary documentaries that blend narrative elements in telling a story. The subject is of course teenagers, a concept the film reveals did not always exist. Combining rare archival material, filmed portraits and voices from 20th century diary entries, the teenager emerges as a volatile time between adulthood and childhood, defining a new interpretation of youth. Producer Kyle Martin worked with director Matt Wolf on his previous project, and after that was completed, they set out exploring areas of subculture. They found Jon Savage’s book Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture (published 2007). “We reached out to Jon Savage to do an adaptation of the book and to collaborate,” said producer Kyle Martin. “We wanted it to be an ‘anti-Ken Burns’ topic, but we knew that would be a challenge because we were talking about something that didn’t exist. We tried to get some grants and get a teaser together for a proof of concept.” Martin, Wolf and the filmmaking team knew the folks at film funding organization Cinereach. They also considered going to the traditional documentary forums for support.”Cinereach really liked the fact we were doing something difficult and challenging,” said Martin, referring to their unconventional collage of archival footage along with narrative. “I think for people who consume a lot of documentary you tend to see a lot of archival footage, so our goal was to find rare footage and find something that has the voice of teens and not footage that was made by and for adults.” After finding footage, the film’s structure became more apparent. Re-creations filled in some of the gaps of the story of teens through the 20th century and the doc even employed an art department, costume designer and of course actors. “It was very meticulous,” said Martin. “We still didn’t have the biggest budget in the world.”
Teenage shot in 2012 after getting the financing green light from Cinereach in 2011. The re-creations portion of the production took place in summer 2012. The project also included Jason Schwartzman who came on as executive producer early on. Oscilloscope came on board between its Hot Docs and Tribeca premieres last year. The company will open Teenage in New York at the Landmark Sunshine Friday before heading to the Laemmle NoHo 7 in LA next week. It will expand to a dozen markets over the spring.
Rachel Boynton traveled from oil company boardrooms to the jungle to film “insurgents” for her documentary Big Men. The film details how the economic interests of oil companies cause serious ramifications for people in African countries, profiling citizens of Ghana and Nigeria whose lives have experienced upheaval in the pursuit of oil wealth. “I’m a fan of Rachel’s other film (Our Brand Is Crisis),” said Abramorama chief Richard Abramowitz. “The kind of access she gets and the rigorous honesty in which she tells a story is uncanny. She goes from boardrooms from multi-billion dollar companies and into the jungles of Africa and interviewing insurgents with masks and machine guns.” Boynton has taken on release duties, going beyond the traditional writer-director role. She helped develop the art work for the film’s release and worked with the trailer’s editor in addition to helping to strategize the film’s roll out. “She has her own network and doing a busy round with Donna Daniels PR,” added Abramowitz. “She’s got very visible exec producer who is also using his celebrity to give this weekend a [push].” The celebrity is Brad Pitt, who took to the stage as a producer of 12 Years A Slave, which won Best Picture the other week at the Oscars. Abramorama will open Big Men in New York this weekend and will head to other markets in the coming weeks including oil centers Dallas and Houston in addition to L.A., Seattle, Boston, Chicago and other markets. “There’s no VOD deadline crushing us on this release,” said Abramowitz. “So, we’re doing this methodically. It’s a very crowded [market], more so with the success of The Grand Budapest Hotel — and justifiably so. But we’re happy to have our trailer up before Budapest and having it seen. More importantly, we’re hitting pockets that are meaningful for this film.”
A fan of horror/genre, first-time producer-writer Charles Agron penned what would become Dark House, finding inspiration from Stephen King and the Twilight Zone series. The feature follows Nick Di Santo who learns that his father is still alive and may be able to reveal the origin of his son’s dark gift. He sets out on a trip that takes him to an abandoned mansion he thought only existed in his childhood imagination. “I’ve always been fascinated in fate and this idea that no matter how good [someone] may be, their [destiny] is to be bad,” said Agron. “I wrote Dark House while staying in the same room as Stephen King did when he wrote The Shining.” Agron finished the script in 2011 and set out to construct a production team. He began working with veteran cinematographer Don E. FauntLeRoy who suggested Victor Salva as the film’s director. FauntLeRoy served as the project’s D.P. and producer. To finance the project, Salva pursued routes that left him in control of the feature’s destiny. He was weary of investors that might want to tinker with the production’s goals. “I wanted to do the movie with private equity,” said Agron. “I want to make movies and get my ideas and style out there. We had several companies try and finance the film, but I knew I’d lose control. My goal isn’t just to get my name on a movie, and I want to get my style, my stories etc. to be out there.” Financing can be tricky no matter how ideal and one investor pulled out just before production headed to Mississippi, but another was found in time. Photography began in September 2011 and continued through January 2012.
“I live in LA and the crew traveled to a very small town in the deep south, so acclimating to the area was an obstacle at first,” said Agron. “But the community broke their backs to help us. The house we found was covered with vines and greenery. The house in the film survives a flood, and this house was like that. It shouldn’t be there.” Agron added that a group of “paranormal experts” checked out the house and said it was haunted – convenient for the horror ambience certainly, though Agron “did not see anything.” Dark House will open in New York, L.A. on Friday, followed by San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta the following week. It became available via DVD/Blu-Ray on Tuesday March 11.
After moving to LA from New York where he worked in the indie world, writer-director Ramin Niami decided to take back a romantic comedy he had initially optioned to a studio producer and adapt it to a story about Iranians living in the U.S. He was amazed by Los Angeles’ very sizable Iranian community (he says is estimated between 700 – 800,000 people). “I tell the story of Shirin’s attraction to a mysterious American who lives in a lighthouse in Northern California, despite her more culturally acceptable engagement to an Iranian Beverly Hills plastic surgeon,” explained Niami. “From the time I started putting together the film until the release has been about two and a half years.” Niami returned to his indie roots, going low budget, honing his skills as a producer in New York and teaching filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. “My wife Karen (head of the LA office of Pryor Cashman LLP) and I put the cash budget together from a handful of equity investors,” said Niami. He not surprisingly turned to LA’s Iranian community to cast the romantic comedy ahead of its shoot in Los Angeles and Northern California. “I met the lovely and talented Nazanin Boniadi in the title role of Shirin on the recommendation of a friend, an Iranian-American actor who had played his fair share of terrorists. When I met her I knew she was perfect for the role. Shortly after I cast her but before I started filming Nazanin was cast as Neil Patrick Harris’ love interest in the last two seasons of How I Met Your Mother.” Shirin In Love is filmed in English, though a version dubbed in Farsi will be released in select theaters.
Niami is releasing Shirin In Love through his Sideshow Releasing release label, based in Los Angeles. The company aims to “exploit niche markets with an emphasis on social media, grass roots and event-led marketing in order to cross over to broader audiences,” according to Niami. Its first release was a blues documentary Niami filmed in LA, Babe And Ricky’s Inn. Sideshow hosted an LA premiere March 11. The film is being released in cooperation with AMCi, opening March 14 in 5 screens in LA and Orange County, one in NYC and another Persian enclave Great Neck, Long Island and also San Diego. In the second and third weeks it will expand to another 12 cities including San Francisco area, Houston, Washington DC area, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta etc. At the Laemmle Theaters in Beverly Hills (Music Hall) and Encino (Town Center) the film will play in Farsi (subtitled in English) except for the last show.