Music is at the core of two new Specialty features making their theatrical bows this weekend, albeit from rather different ends of the spectrum. XLrator Media will open Jimi: All Is By My Side focusing on the artist’s life in London in nearly three dozen theaters, while Samuel Goldwyn Films will bow faith-centered The Song in over 300 theaters, the biggest number of runs for a limited release newcomer this week. Magnolia Pictures will take thriller The Two Faces Of January starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac to an initial half-dozen locations in the wake of its VOD release late last month and CBS Films is targeting the same number of runs for its Cannes ’14 feature Pride. Factory 25 is opening its art meets goth-rap thriller Hellaware and Cinema Libre will debut a former Swiss foreign-language Oscar contender The Little Bedroom in exclusive New York runs. The weekend is another crowded one with IFC Films’ Days And Nights, Strand’s Lilting, Fox Star’s Bang Bang, Pantelion’s Mas Negro Que La Noche, Riot Studios’ Believe Me and Entertainment One’s Two Night Stand, among the Specialties opening this week.
Jimi: All Is By My Side
Director-writer: John Ridley
Cast: André Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots, Burn Gorman, Ruth Negga, Tom Dunlea, Ashley Charles, Clare-Hope Ashitey
Distributor: XLrator Media
Writer-producer John Ridley had a great 2013 with Oscar-winner 12 Years A Slave and he’s back again this fall — this time wearing the director’s hat for Jimi: All Is By My Side. The drama is based on Jimi Hendrix’s life as he left New York for London where his career began to skyrocket. “Around the time we started XLrator my friend Jamie Carmichael at Content Media shared the [story] with me as a potential pre-buy. I’m a music fan and what intrigued me was that the music would not just be about the hits,” said Xlrator Media CEO Barry Gordon. “When I finally saw it at Toronto ’13 I was blown away. It is not a ‘big bombastic’ Hendrix film.” XLrator picked up rights out of TIFF where it was earmarked as a top pick by Entertainment Weekly. “It was serendipity that I’d read the script and then we’d end up getting the film,” he added. The timing for Jimi’s U.S. festival bow at the SXSW Film Festival couldn’t have been planned any better with 12 Years A Slave winning Best Picture only weeks before. The film went on to screen at the LA Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival in early summer but XLrator held off its theatrical release until now. “We have had a great campaign,” said Gordon. “The intention here was to nurture the film and not have it be a race to the finish line. I learned from the master Harvey Weinstein about the need to nurture… I didn’t want to go up against the blockbusters in summer. I don’t buy the ‘counter-programming’ argument.”
XLrator is taking Jimi: All Is By My Side to about 35 theaters in the top 18 markets this weekend with some markets showing the feature in two locations. In the second week the film will expand to additional runs in some of the same markets while adding up to a dozen other cities, reaching 75 to 100 theaters. “John [Ridley] is happy we’re going to more cities than just New York and L.A. this weekend,” added Gordon.
The Two Faces Of January
Director-writer: Hossein Amini
Writer: Patricia Highsmith
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac,
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Oscar-nominated screen writer Hossein Amini (The Wings Of The Dove) can add feature filmmaker to his resume. The Two Faces Of January is his feature directorial debut. Set in Greece and Istanbul in 1962, the film centers on an American tourist (Mortensen) and his wife (Dunst) who meet an American expat (Isaac) who is a scammer working as a tour guide. The couple befriend him but a murder at their hotel sets the trio on the run creating a precarious bond between them. The shoot took place in the two cities as well as Crete and London’s Ealing Studios. It had its debut at the Berlin International Film Festival. “It has an old school thriller vibe with traditional storytelling and suspense,” said Magnolia exec Matt Cowal. “It pulls off a Hitchcock feel to it.” Magnolia has had a string of word-of-mouth screenings in the lead-up to its release this weekend. The film has already had a release in the UK, Germany, France as well as in Australia and New Zealand, grossing over $8.8 million so far. Mortensen and Dunst have been in NYC for press in the lead-up to its release while Isaac has been doing press from the Star Wars set, according to Cowal. Magnolia picked up distribution rights and opened the title via VOD August 28. It opens this weekend theatrically at the Royal and Sundance Sunset Cinemas in L.A., Town Center 5 in Encino and Pasadena’s Playhouse 7 Cinemas as well as the Sunshine and the Empire 25 in New York. It will add additional markets in the LA area next week and will add Pittsburgh, Portlan, OR, San Diego and Washington, D.C.
Director: Matthew Warchus
Writer: Stephen Beresford
Cast: Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Ben Schnetzer, Abram Rooney, Jim McManus, George MacKay, Monica Dolan
Distributor: CBS Films
Cannes and Toronto ’14 title Pride is, at its core, the story of two unlikely groups who become allies in a quest for change. Set in the UK during the mid-80s the feature follows a group of lesbian and gay activists who set out to raise money to help families affected by a miners’ strike. The brass at the union, however, were worried about a public relations fall-out if they accepted the group’s support, so the activists instead took their donations directly to a small mining village in Wales, which resulted in an unlikely alliance. “It’s a quality film for an adult audience,” noted CBS Films which acquired the film over the summer ahead of its North American bow at TIFF. “One of the film’s strengths is that practically everyone who [sees it] becomes an advocate. We believe the film can play to almost any audience once the momentum and scale of word of mouth grows to a certain point.” CBS Films appears to back up its view of the film holding ‘broad appeal.’ It has been running television spots in opening markets in the lead-up to this weekend’s roll out. “Opening now gives us the time to go slowly and build and adapt as [word of mouth] spreads,” added CBS.
Pride will open in six theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco Friday with an expansion set for October 10. Added CBS: “One of the benefits of our smaller size as a studio is the ability to adapt a release plan according to exactly what’s working. It served us well on Salmon Fishing In The Yemen ($9 million cume in 2012) and The Kings Of Summer ($1.3 million in 2013). Both of these very different films exceeded expectations.”
Director-writer: Richard Ramsey
Cast: Alan Powell, Ali Faulkner, Caitlin Nicol-Thomas, Danny Vinson, Aaron Benward, Kenda Benward
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Samuel Goldwyn Films are no strangers to faith-based movies. The niche has also been a lucrative one, most obviously with the 2008 release of Goldwyn’s Fireproof which grossed a whopping $33.4 million. Their subsequent faith-oriented titles haven’t been quite as earth-shattering, but nevertheless solid performers. The company’s 2012 release October Baby totaled over $5.3 million and last year’s Home Run cumed over $2.86 million. Freestyle scored huge box office numbers for its March 2014 release God’s Not Dead, which has grossed over $60.7 million. Goldwyn is returning to that Christian audience this weekend with The Song. Described as a “contemporary take on the Old Testament,” the feature follows singer Jed King (played by Alan Powell of Christian band Anthem Lights) who falls for and marries a vineyard owner’s daughter. He’s inspired to write ‘The Song,’ which becomes a hit. But after being thrown into the spotlight, temptation awaits. “These are strong word-of-mouth movies which we have done through outreach ministries,” said Michael Silberman, the company’s Head of Distribution. Silberman said that the company is again working with faith-centered production company City On a Hill tapping their connections to the faith community. The film features 11 original songs including a new version of The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!”. The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn worked with Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs to re-record the song for the movie and soundtrack. The film, which had a Nashville premiere last Friday, September 19, has some reality star allies including Duck Dynasty’s Willie and Korie Robertson among others. Willie and Korie took to social media, touting the title via Twitter and Instagram.
“We did hundreds of word-of-mouth screening for The Song,” said Silberman. “And Anthem Lights has a huge following on YouTube.” Silberman noted that part of their word-of-mouth strategy was to show The Song to influencers of faith-centered culture. He added that the typical rotation of trailers in mainstream theaters has minimal effect since many in this segment rarely attend Hollywood movies. Samuel Goldwyn will open The Song in 337 theaters nationwide, which Silberman noted is somewhat lower than the 800 – 1000 runs similar faith-based titles have had in the recent past. “We strongly feel this will [be driven] by word of mouth so that’s why we want to platform it,” added Silberman. “It’s a better way to ensure longevity.” The film will expand to additional markets and add theaters in existing markets in the coming weeks.
Director-writer: Lina Plioplyte
Writer: Ari Cohen
Subjects: Joyce Carpati, Ari Cohen, Lynn Dell, Zelda Kaplan, Jacquie Murdock, Debra Rapoport, Tziporah Salamon, Ilona Smithkin
In a rarity for movies, the spotlight for documentary Advanced Style is sexy elderly women. It centers on seven New Yorkers whose eclectic personal style and spirit have guided their approach to aging. “The point of the movie is not to fear getting older and that’s what we want to get out,” said Bond/360 founder and CEO Mark Schiller. “[Advanced Style] is a quality of passion. People who see the movie want to tell 10 people. The [subjects] will make you cry because they’re so inspiring.” Schiller uses the term ‘over-index’ to describe the ability for passion to market a film. The company is also relying on more conventional methods. Posters of the film have been placed “all over New York,” and that has caught the interest of some potential fans. The poster one of its subjects in her 90s in a “glamour shot,” though it is not re-touched and celebrates “beauty and dignity,” according to Schiller. “What I’ve known for a long time is that if you do something beyond the norm you get noticed,” he said. “People have asked us to buy the poster which isn’t something that happens often.”
Bond/360 will open Advanced Style for a one week run at the Quad Cinemas in New York and will release the film via iTunes/digital October 7. The feature is booked in 25 cities and Schiller said many of the venues are combining the screenings with home-grown “celebrations” honoring the elderly, including the Gene Siskel Theater in Chicago. “We’re looking at it as a ‘holistic release,’ so we’re paying attention to each part, including the theatrical, digital and DVD release October 27,” said Schiller. Advanced Style will add Miami October 3, the Bay Area October 10 and L.A. October 17 in addition to other markets in the following weeks.
Director-writer: Michael M. Bilandic
Cast: Keith Poulson, Sophia Takal, Brent Butler, Duane C. Wallace, Kate Lyn Sheil, Gilles Decamps
Distributor: Factory 25
Second-time filmmaker Michael Bilandic said he had always wanted to make a movies set amongst “suburban rap horror” and “in the art world.” The result is a fusion of the two — Hellaware. The feature centers on Nate who is jaded by the New York art world, but is intrigued when he finds a music video on YouTube made by a group of goth rappers in Delaware. He drags his lover Bernadette to rural Delaware to shoot the group playing in their parents’ basement. He makes return trips and befriends them, but his tactics become increasingly similar to the established art world he loathes. “I started writing the feature soon after my [first] feature Happy Life,” said Bilandic. “I worked with [D.P.] Sean Price Williams and he had some time available. He found some [initial] financing from a friend in Chicago.” Bilandic and Williams began an intense 15 day-shoot in summer 2012 in upstate New York and New York City with some exteriors in Delaware, which made logistics all the more challenging because of what Bilandic said were, “a ton of locations.”
One slight mishap occurred in one location when shooting a video for a song featured in the movie. “We shot the music video for “I’ll Cut Yo Dick Off” at a yoga center and suddenly the owner’s parents walked in. They were shocked,” said Bilandic. Awkward run-ins aside, the production finished shooting after scraping together resources “from private investors,” added Bilandic. Hellaware had its premiere at the 2013 BAMcinemaFest. Distributor Factory 25 came on board soon afterward. It will open Cinema Village in New York this weekend and will be available via digital/VOD next Tuesday. The film will add additional markets in the coming weeks.
The Little Bedroom
Directors-writers: Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
Cast: Florence Loiret Caille, Michel Bouquet, Éric Caravaca
Distributor: Cinema Libre
Swiss actresses Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond came up with the idea for The Little Bedroom after joining a competition on French-Swiss television. The Little Bedroom centers on an elderly gentleman who has a bad fall and must accept in-home care. A young woman enters his life who takes solace in confiding her painful memories to him, prompting him to open up as well about his life with his beloved wife. After completing a treatment, Chuat and Reymond were introduced to prominent Swiss producer Ruth Waldburger at the Zurich Film Festival where a string of luck and persistence set the project on its path to the big screen. “It’s a co-production between Switzerland and Luxembourg. It’s an intimate movie so it didn’t have a big budget,” said Chuat. “When we wrote the script, we didn’t have any actors in mind. They are a composite of people we know. But since we’re first-time filmmakers we knew it would be important to find someone who could help sell it.” The director duo sent the script by regular mail to veteran French-born actor Michel Bouquet after finding his address. “He doesn’t have an agent, but maybe that was good for us,” said Chuat. “He responded and said he was ‘hooked’ by the character.” The film shot in March and April 2009 over thirty days. The original plan had required five extra days but budget constraints forced them to make cuts. “It was actually a good exercise because it forced us to streamline the story,” said Chuat. “Michel Bouquet has been known to get angry on set, but this time he was very nice. It’s also hard for him because he’s old, but it went very well. Florence Loiret Caille was the one who was really carrying the movie because she had to be there every moment.”
The Little Bedroom had its premiere at the 2010 Locarno Film Festival followed by a Swiss theatrical release. “It was the biggest opening for a French-Swiss film in 20 years, though of course that is a small area,” added Chuat. “But people still talk about the film so that’s important to us.” The Little Bedroom didn’t have U.S. distribution, but that changed after they traveled to some U.S. festivals. Chuat and Reymond had met director Bob Rafelson in Berlin and re-connected with him at a film event in Aspen where he introduced the film. Afterward he introduced them to his agent who then in turn introduced them to Cinema Libre which came on board as their distributor. The company held off on release until they could find a ‘good window.’ It will open Cinema Village in New York and will head to L.A. with additional cities planned in the coming weeks. Chuat and Reymond will be on-hand this weekend in NYC for Q&As.
Two Night Stand
Director: Max Nichols
Writer: Mark Hammer
Cast: Miles Teller, Analeigh Tipton, Jessica Szohr, Leven Rambin, Scott Mescudi, Kellyn Lindsay
Distributor: Entertainment One
Filmmaker Max Nichols first read Mark Hammer’s script Two Night Stand after Nichols’ agent passed along the script. The comedy-romance follows two people who meet online and are forced to extend their one-night stand because of a snowstorm. Perhaps surprisingly the plot would eventually mirror a natural disaster the production faced once it became time to shoot. “The script was one out of a hundred where I thought, ‘I have to do this movie,'” said Nichols, a veteran director of music videos and son of Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols and novelist Annabel Davis-Goff. “I was intrigued from the very premise. The characters are smart and funny, but the story digs much deeper…It reminded me of coming-of-age stories from my youth.” Nichols read the script, which appeared on the Blacklist in December, 2011, and pitched his vision of the story to producers Beau Flynn, Ruben Fleischer and Adam Yoelin. “I was shooting a Willie Nelson video in Austin, TX in May  and got a call that I [was on board],” said Nichols. “We immediately started casting the film and were lucky to have a lot of talented actors and actresses who were interested, but there was something about Analeigh [Tipton’s] ‘Megan’ that caught my attention.” Nichols said it was “essential” that her character’s ‘date’ Alec understand that “he’s never met a girl like her and can’t let her go.”
Miles Teller joined the cast soon afterward as Alec and the rest of casting was completed in late summer. After the primary cast was in place, producers went off “to work their [financing] magic,” said Nichols and the shoot was scheduled for October, 2012, which coincided with Hurricane Sandy. “Production had to go down for two days,” said Nichols. “After it was over we had the challenge of a gas shortage which meant no power for our generators and trucks.” The Two Night Stand shoot was only scheduled to take 19 days and some of the planned locations were without electricity post-storm. “Analeigh and Miles were staying downtown in an apartment and were stranded there without power,” added Nichols, giving the actors a real-life parallel to their characters’ own predicament. Production managed to recoup its time-loss and Nichols bunkered down with editor Matt Garner at Harbor Picture Company to edit. The film screened at AFM last year and distributor eOne came on board soon after its screening at The Grove. eOne will open Two Night Stand in 5 theaters in five markets Friday and will be available on iTunes exclusively, but available everywhere on demand Friday October 3.