The likes of Maleficent, A Million Ways To Die In The West or X-Men haven’t completely scared away the Specialties hoping to slice a bit of box office cash from those who go against the grain. Some of this week’s slew of newcomers even have a number of stars to boost their chances. Toni Collette and Thomas Haden Church star in IFC Films’ Lucky Them, while Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard are in Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves via Cinedigm. Taylor Kitsch goes indie in eOne’s The Grand Seduction and James McAvoy front’s Filth from Magnolia. The distributor is also rolling out Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s festival favorite We Are The Best! and Indican is bowing Emoticon ;). And the doc of the weekend goes to PJ Raval’s Before You Know It spotlighting LGBT senior citizens with release partner The Film Collaborative.
Director: Megan Griffiths
Writers: Huck Botko, Caroline Sherman (original idea), Emily Wachtel
Cast: Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, Oliver Platt, Ryan Eggold, Nina Arianda, Ahna O’Reilly, Lynn Shelton, Johnny Depp
Distributor: IFC Films
Writer and producer Emily Wachtel had worked on the script for what would be Lucky Them for over a decade. Fellow producer Amy Hobby joined the project several years ago for the story that originally was destined to shoot in New York with a different director. The project changed coasts, added Megan Griffiths at the helm and scored a name cast with persistence paying off in the end on one star. The drama centers on a rock journalist who is assigned to explore her own past. “We met Megan [Griffiths] in Seattle and realized it felt better to shoot there,” said Amy Hobby. “Once she was on board a bit of money came in. Plus in winter you can get the best crew.” Emily Wachtel suggested Toni Collette as a lead and Thomas Haden Church’s role as Charlie was written for him specifically. Church joined the cast via the prompting of the late Paul Newman. The legendary screen actor acted as an informal advisor to Wachtel, even giving her script notes. Newman’s wife, Oscar winner Joanne Woodward later came on board as an executive producer. Lucky Them shot in February and March 2013. “The Seattle crew were great,” said Hobby. “Like all low budget films you wish you had more time.” One part that had not been cast even as production kicked into high gear was the part of Matthew Smith. Wachtel had one actor in mind and would not give up. “Emily is tenacious and said, ‘I’m going to get Johnny Depp,” said Hobby. “She had been talking to his office for six years.” Hobby said that she told her to give up on getting Depp, but even as everything headed down to the wire, Wachtel said, “Just one more day.” Her patience won out. Hobby said that soon after, Wachtel asked, “Do you know where you can land a plane?” And like that, Depp arrived in the remote setting. “It was surreal for an indie film crew,” said Hobby of Depp’s presence. “But it just happened organically and we were totally low key about it.” Hobby said that Emily Wachtel’s nickname is now “Tenacious E.”
IFC Films picked up Lucky Them from Cinetic Media following soon after it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. The distributor will bow the feature in New York in addition to VOD/digital Friday. It will head to L.A. and additional markets in the coming weeks.
Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt took time between her previous film Meek’s Cutoff (2010) and her latest Night Moves, though she spent a good amount of time scouting locations. In the end, she ended up in an area she knows well — the Northwest, an area that has been featured in her past work. Drama-thriller Night Moves follows three radical environmentalists who decide to blow up a hydroelectric dam. With a low budget and a plan to depict how a dam will explode, Reichardt and longtime producers Anish Savjani and Neil Kopp had their work cut out for them finding a location willing to give them free reign. “The slightest door was open to one dam and Neil created a relationship with a guy in charge there over the course of a year,” said Reichardt speaking at Lincoln Center this week. “[Eventually] we built up a trust and they started to get into it. They said, ‘Well, if you’re going to blow up this dam, you would put the boat there…’ I said, ‘Wow, you really thought about this…'” Casting was also a long process. Dakota Fanning was up for the part, though Reichardt admitted she was hesitant to have her join initially. “I finally met with her and she convinced me she’s not too young,” said Reichardt. “For these films we don’t have the usual separation of cast and crew where the cast has comfortable living. The craft services person has the same set up as Dakota [and the other stars] have. There is no trailer where someone calls an actor when they’re needed.”
Cinedigm picked up Night Moves in Toronto where it had its North American premiere after initially debuting in Venice and begins its theatrical run this weekend. “The positive response out of festivals in Venice, Toronto, SF and Seattle has been very encouraging and shown that the film has true playability,” said Cinedigm SVP, Theatrical Releasing Vincent Scordino. “A number of critics, including IndieWire and the NY Times, say this is Kelly’s most accessible film to date so we’re hoping to expand her audience a bit. She’s an extraordinary filmmaker with a distinct and powerful voice which makes championing her work an absolute thrill.” Cinedigm will open Night Moves at the Angelika in New York and the Arclight in Hollywood. It will expand in those cities and will add additional markets in the coming weeks.
The Grand Seduction
Director: Don McKellar
Writers: Michael Dowse, Ken Scott
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Brendan Gleeson, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent, Anna Hopkins, Rhonda Rodgers
Distributor: Entertainment One
Producer Roger Frappier had looked to make an English version of Seducing Doctor Lewis (2003). Comedy The Grand Seduction centers on the tiny hamlet of Tickle Cove which is in dire need of a doctor so they can win a contract that will secure a factory which will save it from financial ruin. “Frappier secured Canadian sources of financing and had experience operating in the real world,” said executive producer Jeff Sackman. “I met him two years ago in Cannes. It’s rare and proven that there is such an audience-pleasing film as this.” TeleFilm Canada became involved and the feature’s star Taylor Kitsch actually boarded the project a month before shooting. “I never saw someone who the media has built up and torn down so quickly with Taylor Kitsch. It was a shocking thing to watch,” said Sackman. “I think it was smart for him to [do the part] so he could prove the chops that he has and I think he did very well.” The project shot in summer 2012 in rural Newfoundland over 8 weeks. Sackman noted that the remote setting cost extra, but was well worth it. The Grand Seduction later premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “The audience was beyond anything we could expect,” plugged Sackman. “It might be a Middle America movie and play to an older audience at first. And yet, I’ve seen kids 10 years old and up who say later that they want to invite their mother.” Entertainment One will open the feature in limited release in the U.S. and Canada this weekend adding markets in the coming weeks.
James McAvoy is having a busy big screen start to summer. In addition to this month’s box office cash cow release of X-Men: Days Of Future Past, he is also kicking up Filth. In it, he plays Bruce, a corrupt cop who manipulates and hallucinates his way through a bid to secure a promotion and win back his wife and daughter. “It was a really nice hit out of the UK. We think the dark humor will play well and we are fans of Jon Baird and McAvoy,” said Magnolia exec Matt Cowal. “[McAvoy] is a producer of the film and very supportive. We tried to piggy back on some of the things he was doing here for X-Men and did TV appearances. We’re excited of his profile and for Filth and X-Men. The Scottish crime-drama had a good start when it bowed last September in its native country, grossing £250,000 its opening weekend, making it number one there. It grossed £842,167 ($1.4m) the following weekend in the rest of the UK the following weekend, reaching over $6.2 million. “We’ve been surprised by who has responded to this film,” said Cowal. “People who like Trainspotting also like this film. It has a nice dramatic heart as well so it plays well with women. We are going for adult sophisticated audience.” Magnolia Pictures will open Filth in New York at the Village Theater 7 and at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in West Hollywood in addition to locations in Seattle, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. It will head to Austin, Salt Lake City and Scottsdale next weekend with additional markets added through June.
“It is the best! We love it,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal about director Lukas Moodysson’s latest We Are The Best! Adapted from a graphic novel by his wife Coco Moodysson, the Swedish filmmaker’s film follows the travails of three young girls in Stockholm who decide to form a punk band despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead (it is by the way). “It harkens back to his best stuff,” said Cowal. “We think the film will play well with teenage girls though that can be tough since it is subtitled. But the clued in ones will really like it.” We Are The Best! was originally going to be rated R but Magnolia decided to go for a non-rated release. “You don’t have to be a punk rock enthusiast to find this to be a heart warming film,” plugged Cowal. Magnolia will open the film in New York at the Angelika and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York and the NuArt in Los Angeles in addition to three Canadian cities. It will head to Berkeley, Irvine, San Francisco and San Rafael next weekend with additional markets added throughout June and into July.
The genesis of doc Before You Know It came during a reception for one of filmmaker PJ Raval’s previous films. He learned that the primary audience for his film was LGBT senior citizens. That revelation led him to research facts about the group that he said he knew little about. “As a member of the LGBT community, I began to wonder what life would be like for myself at age 65,” he said. Before You Know It follows three gay seniors as they navigate the challenges and surprises of life and love in their golden years. “One of the biggest challenges of making this film was managing a production over several years that was shot in three of four different cities with crew spread out all over the country,” said Raval. “So scheduling (and budgeting) was key but of course with an observational documentary there are always last minute shoots that occur and everyone has to jump on a plane suddenly. For about three years I was living out of a suitcase and racking up the frequent flyer miles.” A doc on gay seniors also proved challenging in the financing department. Raval, however, found support through a number of groups including ITVS, Cinereach, LEF and Austin Film Society. “We were fortunate enough to get an ITVS development fund as well as a grant from Cinereach early on to develop the project,” said Raval. “We continued to receive various grants during production and post including a Sundance Institute Documentary Fund as well as a Tribeca All Access Continuing Grant. I cannot stress enough the importance of supporting public broadcast because this film would not have been possible without [them].” Raval picked his subjects initially casting a wide net, but found his first subject “Dennis” whom he had actually met first. He found “Ty” through a service that caters to elderly LGBT folks in Harlem. Next he wanted to find someone in his home state of Texas. “I had heard a lot about Galveston being a destination place for retired seniors and also home to several ‘vibrant’ gay bars, so on a hunch I went down there and within 24 hours met Robert, the owner of Robert’s Laffite the self proclaimed ‘oldest running gay bar in the state of Texas with the longest running drag show ever,'” said Raval. “All three were very welcoming and open to me filming at first so after several months I was able to establish a sense of trust and be able to shoot more intimate moments.”
After the film debuted at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, a Kickstarter campaign was launched with the support of Sundance Artist Services to raise money for a theatrical and community screening series. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Raval and co-producer Annie Bush spoke with The Film Collaborative’s Jeffrey Winter who proposed that the non-profit group partner on the doc’s release. “One month later we were all at the Berlinale EFM and finalized the details,” said Raval. “We screened as part of the IFP and Sundance American Independents in Berlin series. Film Collaborative has been really great to work with and I’m amazed at the growing list of cities that we’re booked in from large markets like New York oand LA to smaller areas like Mobile, Alabama.” Before You Know It played at the Quad Cinemas in NYC this weekend followed by the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles June 13.
Filmmaker and Emoticon star Livia De Paolis co-wrote the feature opening this weekend with Sarah Nerboso, whom she met while working at an experimental theater Off Broadway. “It was very naive of us,” said De Paolis. “We talked about it and I had just broken up with an older man who had a couple of kids who I had developed a relationship with. I don’t have family [in this country]. So, it was like a double break up with the man and the kids. But out of that longing and sorrow came this story.” Emoticon ;) centers on a woman who is trying to navigate intimacy in the digital age. She and her boyfriend’s children become unlikely guides in each other’s relationships. After setting the project aside for a time, De Paolis called Nerboso about picking it up again. “We had a 60-page first-draft that June,” said De Paolis. “The more I was working on it the more passionate I became. It was my mission to make this movie, but it took another six months to have a script ready to give to people.” She reached out to James Calleri who came on board as a producer who in turn reached out to several actors. Michael Cristofer joined the cast first and then money trickled in through family and private sources. “I wanted to cry when he said he really liked it,” said De Paolis. “I hadn’t gone to film school or even done a short film, but I think [other cast members] trusted Michael.” The project shot in the fall of 2011 for over 20 days with some locations dropping out in the process.
Afterward, resources proved a challenge for post-production, but De Paolis and team met Hugh Broder who runs The Station Integrated Content Production in New York. “He saw a rough cut, read the script and produced the entire post production,” said De Paolis. It was a hard post production process. The sound wasn’t so good and there’s green screen and effects that needed to be done.” Emoticon ;) bowed at Dances With Films and won a cast collaboration award at the Gen Art Film Festival. Indican picked up rights last October for a 2014 release. It opens at Cinema Village in New York and the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills this weekend.