The weekend is chalk full of new Specialty releases, though most will likely be low performers in terms of dollars at the box office. Entertainment One is opening Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen starrer Outcast with limited runs and will boxoffice-specialty__111212022432-200x150-1__140530221134likely find tepid returns at the theatrical box office, though it may shine in the digital/on-demand space where it will also bow this weekend. Documentary Ballet 422 (Magnolia Pictures), meanwhile, has had solid buzz heading into the weekend and should score well in its niche market. Monterey Media is hoping to have traction with stars Wes Bentley, Vincent Piazza and Amber Tamblyn as it opens 3 Nights In The Desert in theaters and on-demand, while Freestyle Releasing is targeting the rom-com crowd for its debut, One Small Hitch. Other Specialty openers this weekend include First Run Features’ doc The Other Man: F.W. de Klerk And The End Of Apartheid In South Africa, Lionsgate’s The Voices, The Film Arcade’s Love, Rosie, Gravitas Ventures’ Lovesick and Wolf Releasing’s Boy Meets Girl.

Outcast PosterOutcast
Director: Nick Powell
Writer: James Dormer
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Hayden Christensen, Andy On, Liu Yifei, Bill Su Jiahang, Anoja Dias Bolt, Jike Junyi
Distributor: Entertainment One

Sales company Arclight Films boarded Outcast early in its development after being approached by producer Jeremy Bolt (Resident Evil) who touted its Chinese angle. The feature centers on the heir to the Imperial throne who becomes the target of assassination by a despised relative. The young prince’s only hope comes via his sister as well as the reluctant aid of a war-weary crusader, Arken (Hayden Christensen), who is also plagued by personal demons. He in turn rallies the support of a legendary crusader-turned-bandit named Gallain (Nicholas Cage) to return the prince to his rightful place on the throne.

“We developed the script and packaged the film closely with Jeremy and then went on to structure the overall financing as a three way co-production between China, Canada and France,” noted Mike Gabrawy, Chief Creative Officer for Arclight Films and an executive producer on the feature. “It’s a good fit with Arclight Films in that the majority of our development slate and the co-productions we are involved with have a Chinese component.” Outcast was initially set for a late September release in China, but was subsequently — and abruptly — withdrawn. It was later reportedly expected to debut there around the time of the early ’15 North American release, though its status on the other side of the Pacific is not clear.

The Chinese, Canadian and French co-production was originally set in Britain in the first millennium, but 14 years after its original draft, was set in medieval China. First-time director Nicholas Powell first read a draft of the script five years ago. Powell had worked with Bolt on previous projects. Shooting took place in China in 2013, and eOne picked up rights last year. The distributor will open Outcast in New York, Los Angeles and select additional markets this weekend in addition to a digital and on-demand release across all platforms.

Ballet 422Ballet 422
Director: Jody Lee Lipes
Subjects: Justin Peck, Tiler Peck, Sterling Hyltin, Amar Ramasar
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Veteran cinematographer cum doc filmmaker Jody Lee Lipes found his Ballet 422 subject while attending an event at the Guggenheim Museum. The documentary goes backstage at the New York City Ballet where Justin Peck, an NYCB dancer, emerges as a promising young choreographer. He is commissioned by the venerable company to create a new ballet for its 2013 winter season. Ballet 422 gains wide access to an elite world, following Peck in a vérité style as he collaborates with musicians, lighting designers, costume designers as well as his fellow dancers to create Paz De La Jolla, NYCB’s 422nd new ballet.

“I initially became interested in Justin Peck when I attended a ‘works in process’ presentation at the Guggenheim Museum that my wife Ellen [Bar] was moderating,” said Lipes. “They were doing a talk about [Peck’s] previous ballet, The Year Of The Rabbit ahead of its premiere. It was fascinating to watch him work. I was very impressed with how concise and clear he was, even though he was only 24 [at the time] and was showing his technique in front of 200 people at the Guggenheim. He was beyond his years creatively and very very focused on his work to the extent that he wasn’t [altering his work style] in front of this crowd of people. I thought that would translate well into a documentary since he wouldn’t be [overly] conscious of the camera or acting for the camera.” Lipes’ wife, who is a producer of the film, had been with the company as well. Her relationships at the NYCB enabled the production to fairly seamlessly get behind the scenes at the company, capturing often intimate scenes of both performers and staff as they go about their work.

“We had access and it’s the first time that anyone has had access on this scale,” said Lipes. “With this kind of film, visuals and aesthetics are just not that important. It’s important in the sense that you need to tell the story and you need to have the camera in the right place at the right time, but in terms of how it “looks,” it was the last thing on my mind. It’s not what this world is about. It’s about capturing what you need to capture to tell the story. Also it was important to have as little of an impact on your surroundings as you can.”

Ballet 422 premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Magnolia Pictures picked up the title shortly after the event. It will open in New York at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Sunshine Cinema this weekend and will bow at the Nuart in L.A. as well as locations in Santa Ana, CA, Berkeley and San Francisco the following Friday. Additional cities will be added throughout February and March.

3 Nights In The Desert Poster3 Nights In The Desert
Director: Gabriel Cowan
Writer: Adam Chanzit
Cast: Wes Bentley, Vincent Piazza, Amber Tamblyn
Distributor: Monterey Media

Monterey Media hopes to capitalize on the three actors who star in 3 Nights In The Desert as the title heads to theaters this weekend. Set against the majestic landscape of the desert, three estranged friends and former band mates “celebrate” turning 30, carrying their hopes and unresolved wounds and their intertwined romantic baggage, in a tale of lost loves, forgotten dreams and missed opportunity. “We have a very significant social networking outreach which is a key to marketing this film,” said Scott Mansfield, Managing Parner at Monterey Media. “With Amber Tamblyn on 2 And A Half Men, Vincent Piazza prominently on Boardwalk Empire and Wes Bentley in Interstellar and the upcoming new Terrence Malick film, we are reaching the fans of these shows and films.” Maren Olson at independent production and sales outfit Traction Media approached Monterey about the project and soon signed on. The distributor is targeting millennials in their thirties down to college audiences as the film’s core audience.

“We are on a very slow platform release over a period of about six weeks as we feel that the film needs that nurturing time to be discovered and talked about,” said Mansfield. “We anticipate 3 Nights In The Desert [to go to] about 20 cities with primarily one theater in each [location] – generally an art house theater.” Monterey Media will initially release the title on-demand VOD and via iTunes, Amazon and others March 29, followed by Netflix. “On-demand/VOD is definitely a wonderful platform for this kind of film to grow and spread,” said Mansfield.

Enter The Dangerous MindEnter The Dangerous Mind Poster
Directors: Youssef Delara, Victor Teran
Writer: Victor Teran
Cast: Nikki Reed, Thomas Dekker, Jake Hoffman, Gina Rodriguez, Scott Bakula, Jason Priestly, Noel Gugliemi, Joe Egender
Distributor: Cima Films/Self-distribution

Filmmakers Youssef Delara and Victor Teran began working on Enter The Dangerous Mind (initially called Snap), but then tabled it after another project, Filly Brown (2012) gained momentum. The duo then circled back to the psychological thriller. The feature, which began principal photography in Spring 2012, revolves around a reclusive American composer with an online following who has a tentative romance with a beautiful social worker. The burgeoning relationship offers a glimmer of hope, but his mind fractures as the voices in his head grow louder and more destructive. “I started off with a kernel of an idea thinking about what people are really afraid of. It’s the stuff inside their head,” said writer-co-director Victor Teran who penned the script over a year. “I wrote a script from [that idea], and Youssef got involved early on. We wanted to find the right frame of mind for the character. [He’s] not crazy but extraordinary in a special way.”

Teran’s manager introduced actor Jake Hoffman to the filmmakers and everything clicked, according to the directors. “We met Jake and he loved the script. He was the guy,” said Teran. “It was almost creepy.” Financing came via private equity. Filly Brown, which had screened at Sundance, gave the duo some momentum in raising resources for Enter The Dangerous Mind, including investors who had put in dollars for the previous project. “We had a lot of elements that we loved in the script, but once we began filming, there were areas we wanted to develop in the story,” said Youssef Delara. “It’s a difficult story to tell. It makes people uncomfortable and we didn’t want to hold back any punches. It’s a very dark film and we decided to go there.”

Enter The Dangerous Mind had its festival bow at 2013 SXSW Film Festival where the filmmakers said they had received offers for ultra-VOD roll outs, though they decided to pass. “It’s not a commercial movie, so we had this situation where we had a great art film, [so] we held onto it for another year,” said Teran. The filmmaking team set out to raise P&A in order to release the title themselves. Variance Films’ Dylan Marchetti (now Amplify Films) also helped with the release strategy. “It’s a hard pill to swallow,” added Teran. “You want to go to SXSW and get a deal and have it take off, but [but then it doesn’t work out] though you know there’s an audience out there…” Despite not working the traditional release angle, Enter The Dangerous Mind will open in 13 cities this weekend including New York and L.A., as well as bowing day and date via VOD.

One Small Hitch PosterOne Small Hitch
Director: John Burgess
Writer: Dode B. Levenson
Cast: Shane McRae, Aubrey Dollar, Daniel J. Travanti, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Jary Jo Faraci, Ron Dean, Robert Belushi, Rebecca Spence
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

The late Susan Jackson, who co-founded Freestyle Releasing in 2004 (and passed away last October due to breast cancer) brought romantic comedy One Small Hitch to the indie label while still in production. In the film, Aubrey Dollar stars as Molly who flies home to Chicago for her mother’s wedding and tells her family she’s bringing a “mystery man.” However, after she discovers he is already married, she dumps him. Enter Josh (Shane McRae), a childhood friend who is flying to the same event. Molly cries on his shoulder and passes out. In the meantime, Josh gets a call from his parents and finds out his father is dying and is sad he’ll never meet his son’s future wife. Desperate to fulfill his dad’s final wish, Molly conveniently becomes that fiancée for a few days. The shenanigans begin to snowball as the two families plan a wedding for the pair — but amidst all this, the two begin to actually fall in love.

“It is a rom-com and we’re not pretending it to be anything else,” said Freestyle’s Mark Borde. “One Small Hitch will appeal to women 16 to 45 or 50. It’s very sweet, funny and charming. But ‘sweet’ is the best adjective.” Borde said the bulk of its marketing is touting Aubrey Dollar, who is starring in the new TV series Battle Creek. He said that he expects One Small Hitch to be a long-term winner in terms of revenue since Dollar is a “rising star.” “People will search for Aubrey once the show comes out,” added Borde. “It will have a long tail. It’s not necessary to hit records on the first day on iTunes. We don’t expect it to win the derby, but we expect it to be at the end of the race.” One Small Hitch will bow in ten of the top 20 markets this weekend in addition to a day and date VOD release.