Looming in the wake of Boyhood‘s hot box office roll out earlier this month, some heavy-hitters will enter the Specialty fray this weekend which should shape up to be rather interesting come Sunday box office time. Woody Allen blitzed theaters last July with a smashing roll out of Blue Jasmine and he’s back, courtesy once again of Sony Classics with his latest Magic In The Moonlight. The distributor, however, is taking a somewhat different release track this time around. Lionsgate/Roadside is opening Philip Seymour Hoffman starrer A Most Wanted Man after delaying the title’s bow in the wake of its star’s death. The film will have a sizable theater count as it heads out to the box office Friday. But the weekend’s biggest Specialty opener in terms of location tally is Open Road’s The Fluffy Movie, which will hit several hundred locations nationwide though the bulk of its marketing has been targeted to a particular audience. On the other end of the scale is Oscilloscope’s Tribeca-winner The Kill Team which will bow at a single exclusive showing in NYC, while Magnolia’s Happy Christmas will have its theatrical launch in several locations after launching via ultra-VOD in late June.

Magic In The MoonlightMagic in the moonlight 3
Director-writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Antonia Clarke, Natasha Andrews, Valérie Beaulieu, Jackie Weaver, Peter Wollasch
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

SPC has had a winning streak with Woody Allen summer releases and it’s sticking to that formula for the filmmaker’s latest. Last year’s Oscar winner Blue Jasmine launched as a Specialty behemoth July 26 in 6 theaters, with a dazzling $102K average, eventually grossing over $33.4 million domestically. To Rome With Love was a comparatively more “modest” release, with a $72,272 PTA in five theaters in June 2012 ($16.69M cume), while 2011’s Midnight In Paris rocketed a $99,834 launch weekend PTA with six runs — eventually grossing over $56.8 million. “His films really seem to work in summer time,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker whose company has released Allen’s most recent five movies (and others in the past). The only recent exception was 2010’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger which opened in September of that year ($3.24M gross).”

Blue Jasmine had cross-over appeal and [Magic In The Moonlight] is ideally suited for it as well. [Allen] has found new and younger audiences, which started with Midnight In Paris. The totals for these [recent] films are evident of this. You can’t get consistently get these numbers if it were just loyalists coming to see his films. He’s attracting a new crowd while continuing to appeal to his longtime fans.” Barker touted the film’s pre-launch screenings and the big screen draw of Colin Firth.

SPC, however, is departing from its recent Allen release strategy which has hovered around a half-dozen theaters in the first week, but the distributor is taking Magic In The Moonlight out to 17 locations Friday. We’re taking the films to cities where Woody Allen’s films traditionally have done very well,” said Barker. “It made sense to not open in the typical [New York/L.A.] cities this time around. There are still some good independent alternatives out there this summer, but there’s less so this year than in past years. In addition to L.A. and New York, Sony Classics will open Magic In The Moonlight in some other major markets this weekend including Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

fluffy movie 2The Fluffy Movie
Directors: Manny Rodriguez, Jay Lavender
Subjects: Gabriel Iglesias, Jacqueline Obradors, Gina Brillon, Alfred Robles

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias, known by his performing moniker ‘Fluffy,’ is at the center of this week’s biggest Specialty opener in terms of theater count. The SoCal native performed in NorCal this past spring and producers and distribution outfit Open Road quickly collaborated to capture the comedy concert for the screen. “The producers of The Nut Job came to us with The Fluffy Movie,” said Open Road’s president of marketing Jason Cassidy. “It was made over two nights at [Iglesias’] ‘Unity Through Laughter’ tour in San Jose. From a distributor point of view, what I think is interesting about this [movie] is that you can shoot in March and release it in July.” Cassidy said that the production team as well as his side in distribution was “nimble” in getting the feature to theaters with only a tight turnaround. The company felt there was a niche in the summer release schedule that could be filled with The Fluffy Movie among comedy fans but also more importantly, Iglesias’ significant Latino fan base. “We think it’s a great opportunity for a movie like this and it feels different than what is in the market, it’s unique,” said Cassidy. “He has an incredible community online [with well-over] one and a half million YouTube followers, which is incredible. We also saw that when he’s done some specials for Comedy Central that he’s blown away expectations. He’s a grassroots guy and has an incredible well of material and a great relationship with his fans.” Getting fans who are used to viewing an entertainer online is a challenge, Cassidy acknowledged, and their marketing has centered on encouraging Iglesias fans to view him on the big screen. The company has targeted big Spanish-speaking outlets like ESPN Deportes (they did a World Cup buy) and they have debuted trailers on websites that primarily serve Latino audiences. “He was also in the Puerto Rican Day parade [in New York],” he added.

Open Road has also looked at other metrics in deciding its Fluffy Movie launch such as where Iglesias’ DVD sales have been strongest geographically in addition to seeing where other mostly Latino-targeted films have performed well recently, including Lionsgate/Pantelion’s Instructions Not Included (2013, $44.4M gross). ” It’s a different movie for sure, but there’s some demographic similarities,” said Cassidy. “We also looked at his touring schedule and see where he sells out venues. LA is a big place obviously. He grew up there and there’s a large Latino population. But there are also concentrations in Colorado, Nevada and Arizona though this is a national release.” Open Road will open The Fluffy Movie in about 400 theaters in over 100 markets this Friday.

A Most Wanted ManMost wanted man poster
Director: Anton Corbijn
Writers: Andrew Bovell, John le Carré (novel)
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Brühl, Nina Hoss, Vicky Krieps, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Homayoun Ershadi
Distributor: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

Lionsgate picked up U.S. rights to A Most Wanted Man after seeing scenes from the film in the Cannes Market in May. Distribution partner Roadside came on board the film which stars the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. The thriller centers on a Chechen Muslim who illegally immigrates to Hamburg, Germany where he gets caught up in the international war on terror. “It’s a specialty movie with a commercial upside,” observed Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “It’s cerebral but there’s also the thriller combination that I think is a potent thing delivering excitement [as opposed to] a contrived Hollywood thriller. It’s tense because there’s intricate plotting.” Initial plans were for an earlier roll out, but Hoffman’s death earlier this year altered the release out of respect. “We wanted to be respectful and not jump in,” said Cohen. “We want people to welcome the movie because they love him, so the challenge was to find a right time to do so respectfully and [at the same time] be comfortable as a commercial enterprise.” A Most Wanted Man also limited its festival run to Sundance for similar reasons, though it did make some rounds with film classes and it screened heavily for the press. The title was also buoyed by an article by author John le Carré in the New York Times which praised Hoffman. “I think it had a big impact on social media sphere and encapsulates what’s great about Philip and his performance,” said Cohen.

Director Anton Corbijn has shown heft at the box office, most notably in 2010’s The American which grossed over $35.6 million domestically. Focus opened that film wide in September of that year, bowing in 2,823 theaters, averaging $4,668. His 2007 title Control was more niche, chronicling the later years of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. That film opened in a single location in October 2001 via TWC with $27,674, going on to cume $872,252. A Most Wanted Man will have a mid-size roll out beginning this Friday, going to an initial 350 theaters in the U.S. and 10 in Canada in 75 markets. The opening is similar to Roadside’s March 2012 opener Friends With Kids, which opened in 369 theaters ($5,472 opening PTA). That film, also featuring named cast cumed over $7.25M in domestically. A Most Wanted Man will head to up to 600 theaters the following weekend.

the kill team posterThe Kill Team
Director: Dan Krauss
Subject: Adam Winfield
Distributor: Oscilloscope

Filmmaker Dan Krauss read about a group of American soldiers in Afghanistan dubbed the ‘Kill Team’ via an article in The New York Times. The documentary looks at the moral tensions that affect soldiers’ psyches through the emotional story of one individual, Private Adam Winfield, a 21 year-old who attempted with the help of his father, to alert the military to the heinous war crimes his platoon was committing, and was later drawn into the moral abyss. “Dan showed us a few scenes a couple years ago when we were at Sundance,” said Julie Goldman of Motto Pictures who went on to serve as an executive producer of the project. “We were taken by the material and the way he was able to get people to talk to him. He’s terrifically tenacious.” After boarding the documentary, the focus became fundraising. ITVS and Independent Lens came through. At that point, most of the shooting had been completed, but needed funds for editing. “That really got us over the hump financially,” said Goldman. “We had pre-sale to Danish television and [various other things happening]…It wasn’t a very long edit — maybe 7 months. He didn’t over shoot the movie so it was lean and a very good ratio for a documentary. [It wasn’t a matter of] going through 500 hours of footage.”

The Kill Team premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival where it won the Best Documentary Feature prize. It also picked up a doc nod at the San Francisco International Film Festival that year. Oscilloscope picked up rights to the film last summer and the group decided to settle on a summer release date, avoiding last fall’s clog of titles clamoring for theatrical space and audiences. “Last year was quite crowded last fall, so felt it was better to hold off until the following year, it was a group decision,” said Goldman. “I read the [NYT article in April 2011] and began filming in early June,” explained Krauss. “Normally there’s a longer development process for something like this, but this was happening now. I’m a DOP by trade and I have my own equipment etc., so I’m fortunate in that regard. I could just pack up and [begin].” Krauss, who teaches documentary production at UC Berkeley and Stanford, said that he went into the project with a focus which also kept his footage tight, but there were also circumstances outside his control that factored in. “I couldn’t simply go to Ft. Lewis whenever I wanted. I could only do it in little bursts,” he said. “I had to be there with the attorney and be embedded with him and his defense team and remain in this confined space, so part of the reason there isn’t a mountain of footage was because I was limited in my [access].” Oscilloscope will open The Kill Team exclusively at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York this weekend. Next week it will open in San Francisco and Berkeley at the Landmark Theaters, followed by the Nuart in Los Angeles August 8.

Happy Christmashappy-christmas-poster
Director-writer: Joe Swanberg
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg, Jude Swanberg
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

After finishing up Joe Swanberg’s 2013 success Drinking Buddies, the actress circled back to work on one of his next projects (he consistently seems to have many), Happy Christmas. A comparatively smaller production vs Drinking Buddies, the feature follows Jenny post break-up, who moves in with writer Kelly, her filmmaker husband and their child. It gets off to a rocky start, but Jenny’s influence helps Kelly realize that a change in various aspects of her life are needed. “Anna has played a lot of ‘do-gooder’ parts and this was her chance to play a mess,” said co-producer Alicia van Couvering. “For this [project] Joe asked friends and former cast members [from other films] to come along.” Familiarity also extended to the physical space. Swanberg used his own Chicago home for much of the shoot, capitalizing on some of its unique features. “He bought his house in Chicago which has this great 1950s tiki bar that someone had clearly spent [a long time] building.” Consistent with Swanberg’s “mumblecore” roots, the production was also rather quick. “Joe is so prolific,” added van Couvering. “With [a film like this] it’s only a matter of asking someone to come down for 2 weeks to shoot and it’s done in real time. They’re fun and it’s what you want as an actor. Drinking Buddies probably had the most structure [as a production]…” Happy Christmas shot on 16mm film, which van Couvering said is likely to be one of their last given the demise of film. “We’re trying to keep it going as long as possible,” said van Couvering who added that Swanberg’s next project will be on 35mm. “He’s comfortable scaling up if the idea means it’s necessary, but [Happy Christmas] is a personal idea that’s character base. It’s great to be able to pick how many people you want involved — sort of like a party. Sometimes you want a rager, other times you want an intimate cocktail party.” Financing came together via a group of private investors in Chicago who were “excited to experiment,” according to van Couvering.

Magnolia Pictures, which has released a number of Swanberg titles including last year’s Drinking Buddies ($343K domestic gross, but apparently a good amount more on digital/VOD), ahead of its Sundance premiere in January. The film has been available via ultra-VOD since June 26 and will open theatrical locations in Chicago at the Music Box and L.A.’s Nuart along with Denver and Philadelphia starting Friday. It will add about a dozen more markets August 1 including New York and the Bay Area, followed by further expansions throughout the month.