Paul Haggis’ Toronto ’13 debut Third Person will be this weekend’s major counter-weight to the studios’ summer blitz. Starring Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde and James Franco, the film had its NYC debut earlier this week with a fashionable crowd at Manhattan’s Sunshine Theater courtesy of the Cinema Society. Haggis introduced some key cast members and warned everyone to “use the restroom” before the screening began and urged everyone to “watch carefully.” The feature is of course, one of a number of specialties opening this weekend. Among them is Oscilloscope’s Coherence which exploited its low budget roots and made a splash at last year’s Fantastic Fest. Music Box Films is opening Scandinavian discovery The Last Sentence and Big World will finally bow Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale stateside. The weekend’s largest roll out in terms of theater count among the limited release titles comes courtesy of Bollywood. Fox International Productions will bow comedy Humshakals across North America. Noteworthy this week is the upcoming Richard Linklater film Boyhood. The title, made over 12 years, had a boisterous premiere at the opening of BAMcinemafest in Brooklyn Wednesday night with a star-studded event that brought out Darren Aronofsky, Richard Linklater, Bennett Miller and more. Speculation among insiders at the party last night was that the July opener will be a box office powerhouse and a serious awards contender.
After Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days (2010) was completed, he immediately dove into writing a script for what would be Third Person. Set in Rome, Paris and New York, the romantic drama is the story of three interlocking love stories involving three couples. It took me two-and-a-half years to write the script only because I allowed the characters to take me where they wanted to take me,” Paul Haggis said at the Sunshine Theater Tuesday night at the premiere of the film hosted by the Cinema Society and Revlon.
Haggis’ producer-partner Michael Nozik said that while Haggis wrote, financing and casting started to come together. “We went to one Cannes and met a lot of financiers,” he said. “It looked like the movie was coming together and we knew we had to have the financing together in time for fall when the movie is supposed to be set.” Just ahead of Cannes, however, the financing fell apart and the project seemed in jeopardy. But Haggis remembered meeting a European financier who had expressed interest at a meeting earlier in the process. “Paul remembered he had met a European financier by the name of Paul Breuls in Berlin and expressed an interest in financing the movie previously,” said Nozik. “At the time the movie was financed so we thought, so we scrambled and called him up and in quick order he came in and financed it and we entered pre-production and shot that fall. We announced it in Cannes.” After Cannes, Haggis and Nozik drove to northern Italy for initial scouting but settled on Rome where the bulk of the movie was shot. The three-segmented story lines take place in the Italian capital in addition to Paris and New York, though most of the shooting took place in Rome at various locations including the Cinecittà Studios.
“Every time you do a project you re-invent it and start again,” said Nozik at the Sunshine Tuesday night at the NY theatrical premiere. What a record like Paul has and helps with is getting cast. Getting [quality] cast for a movie like this is critical. You need that level of cast to justify raising the level of financing. But to his credit, Paul Breuls committed to the film without our full cast in place, but he had confidence we’d get there. At the time we had Olivia Wilde and Liam Neeson. In addition to Rome, some scenes were shot in Puglia in Italy’s south and there were two-day shoots each in Paris and New York. In all, Third Person shot over 50-plus days. It had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. After that, Haggis did some tweaking. “[Sony Classics] allowed me to add back into the movie after Toronto and not a lot of distributors would allow [a director] to do that,” he said when introducing the movie at the Cinema Society event. By the time it had its U.S. debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, some footage was added back in. “The changes really helped the emotionality in the end,” said Nozik. This week’s premiere continued at the James Hotel in NYC with Haggis, Nozik and cast members Olivia Wilde and Loan Chabanol. Third Person will open in three theaters in both New York and Los Angeles with an expansion into additional markets in the coming weeks.
Director-writer: James Ward Byrkit
Writer: Alex Manugian
Cast: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher, Hugo Armstrong, Lorence Scafaria
Coherence may be a paradigm for how to do much more for less. Filmmaker James Ward Byrkit set out to make a film with very little money and looked at how he could use his living room as a set. “A lack of money can spur creativity,” said Byrkit who looked at Twilight Zone episodes for inspiration. “So we designed a ‘fun house’ for about a year and the idea was to put actors through it without a script.” The sci-fi/drama takes place on a night of an “astronomical anomaly,” in which eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling chain of reality-bending events. “We wanted naturalistic performances,” said Byrkit. “We wrote a 12 page guide for ourselves and we had a huge graph that said ‘if A happens then character B does this…'” The ‘guide’ took about a year to develop and Byrkit was on the set/room with his D.P. Nic Sadler and eight actors. The shoot itself took place over only five nights. “It took months to edit and we did do a few re-shoots, but we didn’t want to do too much re-shooting,” said Byrkit. “I like the mistakes and imperfections – they’re my favorite part. It was a completely unorthodox shoot, which was the whole goal. We had an internal deadline to be finished in time for Fantastic Fest. Though the pre and post-production phases were cheap, Byrkit tapped his sister who formed a company to raise money for post. “You need real sound design and color,” he added. “Fantastic Fest was a dream come true. We arrived completely as unknowns and we left with a tidal wave of support. After the first screening, actually, there was a tsunami.”
Oscilloscope came on board as distributor last November. Byrkit said that the “tsunami of support” has continued through attention of mainstream press in the lead-up to its theatrical roll out this weekend. Coherence will open at Village East Cinemas in New York and in L.A. at the Los Feliz Cinemas Friday. It will expand to an additional eight or so markets in the coming week with a digital release set for August 5.
Director-writer: Sajid Khan
Writers: Robin Bhatt, Akarsh Khurana
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Ritesh Deshmukh, Ram Kapoor, Bipash Basu, Kumud Pant, Vic Waghorn
Distributor: Fox International Productions (N. American release label)
Bollywood comedy Humshakals will have the highest initial theater count among this week’s specialties in North America, but as a worldwide title, it is reaching Indian audiences around the globe in upward of 3,000 locations. The comedy is centered around three people who each have a look-a-like of a look-a-like and all have the same name. “Director Sajid Khan is known for his successful track record of comedy blockbusters that he has delivered over the last 5 years,” said Vijay Singh, CEO of Fox Star Studios. “We were looking for a comedy genre film for 2014 and the story and concept worked for us and we were delighted to get on board this project at the inception stage. Humshakals is a mad cap family comedy designed for the Indian audience across the world.” Singh noted that there are 30 million non-resident Indians globally and that Fox Star’s titles are typically released day and date to counter piracy. The U.S., UK and Middle East typically constitute 70% of the international box office gross for Indian films. “The release date window is best for the Indian market where the film releases across 3000 screens,” said Singh. “This is the first comedy family film of the year and the release is day and date across 35 countries internationally which includes the U.S.”
The company is promoting Humshakals through a campaign across Indian pay television channels in North America and they’re hoping to capitalize on the “huge PR spillover” that talent took part in in India and Dubai ahead of the release, according to Singh. Khan’s previous titles Housefull and Housefull 2 are among the “most successful Indian comedies ever,” the company noted. Hamshakals shot extensively in foreign locations including London and the island of Mauritius. Fox Star Studios and Vashu Bhagnani’s Pooja Entertainment co-produced the project.
Big World Pictures’ Jonathan Howell recalls seeing Eric Rohmer’s 1996 feature A Summer’s Tale at a Rohmer retrospective in the early 2000s. The feature centers on a math graduate who takes a holiday before starting his first job. He hoped his quasi-girlfriend would join him, but he instead strikes up a friendship with another girl working in town who then introduces him to another woman who has an eye for him. “I’ve always loved Rohmer—My Night At Maud’s is one of my all-time favorites—and this one left an impression on me,” said Howell. “I knew it was available, as I’ve worked with the sales agent on other films, and it just seemed perfect counter-programming to mindless summer blockbusters—there’s fun, sun and beautiful people and locations, but it’s also intellectually engaging.” Though the film had not had a formal release stateside, Howell said that the main challenge getting the title out is persuading exhibitors that it is indeed a “new” film, though he said that the press is treating it as such and therefore will have reviews in papers like the New York Times. Howell was not sure why the film didn’t get a U.S. release in the final decade of the 20th century, though he speculates its UK-based rights holder, Artificial Eye, didn’t have a U.S. deal it was happy with. “[It's] a mystery that I haven’t been able to solve—and not for lack of trying,” he said.
“It’s a really unusual film in this regard,” Howell added. “I think the audience at Lincoln Plaza is unbeatable for any Rohmer film—Francophiles and cinephiles who have a reverence for the French New Wave auteurs—but one could say the same thing for the younger downtown audience who will see it at the IFC Center. The film has Rohmer’s sensibility evident in every shot—and he was 76 when the film was released in France. But because all the characters are in their 20s, dealing with the issues of 20-somethings, it’s relatable across the entire age and gender spectrum of foreign film viewers.” In addition to Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center in NYC, it will open in Los Angeles July 18 at Laemmle’s Royal and the Playhouse in Pasadena as well as the Town Center in Encino. “We currently have 35 engagements in 15 major markets and an assortment of smaller markets booked between now and Labor Day,” noted Howell. “Our goal is to open all major markets before Labor Day, although we feel the film will play well into September.”
The Last Sentence
Director-writer: Jan Troell
Writers: Kenne Fant (book), Klaus Rifbjerg
Cast: Jesper Christensen, Pernilla August, Ulla Skoog, Björn Granath, Kenneth Milldoff, Peter Andersson
Distributor: Music Box Films
Music Box Films discovered The Last Sentence at a preview sidebar up upcoming Scandinavian films at the Norwegian International Film Festival. The bio-drama is based on the life of journalist Torgny Segerstedt who alerted the Swedish public to the threat of fascism in the ’30s. “We loved Troell’s tale of an uncompromising newspaper editor’s commitment to truth in both his public and personal life regardless of the consequences,” said Music Box’s Ed Arentz. “It may at first seem backward looking in its visual style — defiantly and gorgeously black and white — and its ostensible subject matter…but its interest in the obligations of a free press and the intersections of the personal and public is utterly contemporary. In short, it’s compelling cinema for a smart audience.” Music Box is targeting an older, cinephile demography for The Last Sentence as it rolls out this weekend. The company will platform release the feature at Lincoln Plaza in New York and the Royal in Los Angeles followed by a national roll out.