It’s not every week that a major milestone in filmmaking opens in theaters, but this is one. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, a dozen years in the making, finally makes its ways to an initial handful of theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The IFC Films release has a lot of momentum behind it, with word-of-mouth and buzz that should translate into a successful opening; word has it that advance sales are “strong”. It will be joined by a filmmaking milestone of a much different sort in Variance Films’ Closed Curtain, an acclaimed feature created by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who made the film discretely despite being banned from his craft at home and under the watchful eyes of authorities. Sony Classics’ Sundance title Land Ho! provides a comic twist to this week’s opening Specialties, as will Magnolia Pictures’ A Long Way Down.
Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking film had ridden a long wave of buzz even before its sneak preview at the Sundance Film Festival and its debut in Berlin this year. Twelve years in the making, the drama centers on the life of a boy, Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane throughout), between ages 5 and 18. The film began in 2002 when Linklater teamed with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. Linklater also tapped his daughter Lorelei Linklater to play Mason’s sister. In Berlin, Linklater said they simply referred to it as “The 12 Year Project.” He shot Boyhood (on 35mm film) with the same crew of main actors, typically restarting production once every year or so. The actors age, obviously most remarkably demonstrated by its youngest cast members, over the course of the 164-minute film. “I wanted to show a normal family, not an extraordinarily family,” Linklater said in Berlin in February. “I didn’t want to show the big obvious moments we think of when growing up like the first kiss. I had faith that it would all add up in a cumulative effect more than the events themselves.”
IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring to me last week: “It is my favorite [project] of my entire professional career. It’s not like anything I’ve been involved with and is my crowning professional achievement regardless of how it performs.” Sehring and fellow executive producer John Sloss worked with Linklater on Waking Life through their InDigEnt label. “Rick recalls that [Sloss and I] started talking about [Boyhood] with him along with [my former colleague] Caroline Kaplan in Venice,” said Sehring. “Nothing had been pitched like that, and we wanted to be involved.” Sehring went to his superiors including Josh Sapan (currently president and CEO of AMC Networks, IFC Films’ parent company) to extend resources. In an unconventional green light, the company reportedly invested $200K a year over 12 years. The budget also was supplemented through other sources in postproduction, etc. “It’s where you put your trust and faith in people,” Sehring said about the unique financing arrangement. “I consider John, Rick and Hawke friends and admire their work. Looking back, though, was it risky? Absolutely.” Sehring added that the company didn’t “blindly give over money” but kept tabs on its progress. “Rick is one of America’s great storytellers, and this is about life and a shared experience.”
There had been rumors that IFC Films would sell the rights to the film. “This is still a business,” said Sehring. “If someone wanted to give us an offer we couldn’t refuse … but they’d still have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers. But in the end it comes back to this being the best place for it.” Boyhood has had extensive word-of-mouth showings ahead of this weekend’s rollout in NYC’s Lincoln Plaza, IFC Center and BAM and LA’s Arclight and Landmark theaters.
Co-writer-director Martha Stephens went on her honeymoon in Iceland, which helped springboard what would become Land Ho! The Sundance and Tribeca feature revolves around retired former brothers-in-law who embark on a road trip through Iceland. “We thought it would be great to do a movie together,” said Stephens’ fellow director and writer Aaron Katz. “We were both working on separate slow-moving projects, so we decided with the spirit of diving into something, we’d embark on this.” Early Lynn Nelson, who plays one of the leads, is a relative of Stephens. Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn plays the other traveler, and together they have a John Candy/Steve Martin dynamic from Planes, Trains And Automobiles. “Stephens initially proposed the idea in January and headed to Iceland on her vacation in March and was location scouting while she was there,” said Katz. “We did some initial shooting in Kentucky to [test their] chemistry and our co-directing [dynamic].” They also spent the summer raising money — and a “game changer,” according to Katz, was when Mynette Loui came on as producer. Production took place over three weeks in the early fall. “It was incredibly smooth,” said Katz. “We were rained out only one day, which made us realize how lucky we were. The very next day was bright and sunny.” Along with the American producers, two Icelandic producers boarded the project. Land Ho! received tax rebate credits as a result.
SPC co-president Tom Bernard caught the film at a public screening at the Sundance Film Festival and picked up the road-trip comedy there. It will open this weekend at the Laemmle Royal Theatre and Arclight Hollywood as well as the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in New York. It will expand to major markets in the coming weeks.
A Long Way Down
Director: Pascal Chaumeil
Writers: Nick Hornby (novel), Jack Thorne (screenplay)
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Toni Colette, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul, Zara White, Joe Cole, Sam Neill
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Producer Finola Dwyer first read the book by Nick Hornby that eventually became a feature. The comedy centers on four people who meet on New Year’s Eve and form a surrogate family to help one another weather the difficulties of their lives. “It took my breath away,” said Dwyer. “Nick often walks a fine line tonally, and I thought it was a brilliant and audacious story about the celebration of life, and it was very funny and very moving. Johnny Depp had optioned the book very early on, and I thought maybe the rights will come available again in a few years time.” Dwyer and her Wildgaze producing partner Amanda Posey had produced An Education, for which Hornby had written the screenplay. During the Sundance premiere for that film, Hornby told the pair that the option was coming up and told them that if they wanted it, they’d have his blessing. “We kept bugging him about it,” she added. An Education headed to the Sydney Film Festival, and Dwyer gave the book to Toni Collette, who she had worked with on The Aftermath for HBO. She told Collette she’d be a “brilliant Maureen” — and sure enough, Collette boarded the project. “I sent Toni the drafts over time, talked to her about directors, and she was brilliant,” said Dwyer. “Once Pascal Chaumeil came on to direct, the rest of the cast came together quickly. … The financing is a typical UK indie mix — presales, equity — working again with my wonderful Quartet co-producers DCM and BBC Films, [which are] a cornerstone investor and regular collaborator with Wildgaze.”
A Long Way Down shot at the end of 2012 in London and Majorca. “Pascal knew what he wanted, and the cast thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” said Dwyer. “When we were returning to London, Aaron [Paul] — who was in full wedding-planning mode — was Skyping with his mother and aunts back in Boise, Idaho, Pierce [Brosnan] jumped up to say hello to Aaron’s mum and they were all sitting around in their pajamas and they totally freaked out that James Bond was talking to them in their PJs and hung up.” A Long Way Down, which debuted at Berlin in February, will open at Quad Cinemas in New York this weekend and head to a half-dozen markets the following week with more cities added. It’s also available on demand.
Closed Curtain is embattled Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s follow-up to his 2011 self-portrait This Is Not A Film, which debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. After the world-premiere screening of Closed Curtain let out at the Berlinale Palast, a cardboard cutout of Panahi’s image with the words (in both English and German) saying, “I ought to be here!” greeted audiences as they headed out of the theater. Set in a remote villa on the Caspian Sea, the film centers on a screenwriter who hides from the world with only his dog as company. But his exile is abruptly broken one night when a young woman arrives fleeing from authorities. “There’s a natural worry that this will make his situation worse,” said Variance Films’ Dylan Marchetti. “But Jafar said that he’s already taken the risk in making [Closed Curtain], so it would be worse if nobody saw it.” Panahi is under a virtual house arrest in Iran. After spending time in prison, he’s now out but lives with a 20-year ban on filmmaking and a travel restriction. “It is difficult to work, but not being able to work is more difficult,” co-director Kamboziya Partovi, who also stars as the dog owner in the film said, in Berlin. “Not being able to work at the height of your career is depressing, and I think the film shows this.” Partovi and actress Maryam Moghadam, who traveled to Berlin for the film’s screening and press conference, are now living with their own restrictions back in Iran. “We’ve shown through Variance that when directors take risk that they have a home,” said Marchetti this week. “[Artistically] it’s a big step up from This Is Not A Film.”
Closed Curtain is being released under the Variance label. It has merged with GoDigital to form Amplify, principals from both announced ahead of Sundance this year. The Variance label will continue to spearhead rollouts of select titles including Closed Curtain. The company is organizing a campaign that will ask artists it has worked with since Variance formed in 2008 to give their takes on what it would be like to be silenced. The campaign will kick in as the film heads to expansion throughout the summer. Marchetti also said that they will film audience reactions to the movie, which they will send to Panahi (with translation into Farsi). “Maybe there’s something that can happen,” said Marchetti. “The [Iranian government] has changed [since Panahi's detention]. We don’t expect an immediate change, though.” Closed Curtain opens exclusively at New York’s Film Forum this weekend and will head to 25 markets during the next several months, including L.A., San Francisco and San Diego on July 18. “We expect more to be added,” said Marchetti.