Samuel Goldwyn Films today opens its first drama for 2016, The Benefactor, starring Richard Gere. The film is the feature directorial debut of Andrew Renzi, who took his script to the Sundance Labs, where the project found its initial momentum. IFC Films, which is celebrating the Oscar nomination for 45 Years star Charlotte Rampling, goes out this weekend with Spanish director Fernando León de Aranoa’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight title A Perfect Day, starring Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins in a day-and-date release. Gravitas Ventures is opening Band Of Robbers by Aaron and Adam Nee. The story about a group of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer characters is making its way to the big screen this weekend after originally being conceived as a series. And China Lion will open Detective Chinatown, which opened in China over Christmas, grossing $100 million.
Director-writer: Andrew Renzi
Cast: Richard Gere, Theo James, Dakota Fanning
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
With some producing and short film directorials under his belt, writer-director Andrew Renzi was ready to take on his first feature. His hometown of Philadelphia provided inspiration for the story, though he decided to focus on a social strata in the city that was unlike his own. “I wanted to write about my hometown but from the point of view of an outsider,” said Renzi. “I’m Italian-American, but for this, I was interested in ‘WASP-y’ culture. I developed a mythology around that.” In The Benefactor, a newly married couple (Dakota Fanning and Theo James) are forced to navigate the all-consuming interests of a powerful, mysterious and possessive philanthropist (Richard Gere).
Renzi wrote his script during 2008-09. The filmmaker had attended the Sundance Labs with his short films, and the feature-length script caught the attention of Sundance Institute. He then attended the Lab with The Benefactor in 2014. “The Lab helped in getting the [script] exposure,” said Renzi. “At the time, [the story] was a one-man show in a lot of ways. It was a tour de force and darker. Agents were responding to it. My good friend Kevin [Turen] was a producer of Arbitrage and suggested Richard Gere.”
The actor read the script, and the two eventually met. Gere was into the story and the part. “In our first conversation, [Gere] said to me, ‘Nobody has offered me this kind of movie before,'” recalled Renzi. “I was a 27 year-old kid. … He watched my shorts, and we developed the material together for a couple months. As we were getting comfortable together, we had to figure out where to meet in the middle about the vision. It was a harrowing process of me maintaining my confidence. He was accommodating, and we ended up in a good place.”
Some financing already was in place before Gere joined the project, but once the actor boarded, the scale changed. “I had been doing some producing with the filmmakers at Borderline Films, and [The Benefactor] was originally going to be on a Martha Marcy May Marlene level, but when he signed on, it had to balloon,” said Renzi. “So we had to get others involved and do the presale thing and all that shebang.”
Additional private investors materialized. Gere and Renzi, meanwhile, did casting together for the other roles. Scheduling became a major factor, but Fanning and James emerged as Gere’s counterparts. The 115-page script shot over 24 days in Philadelphia, though not quite consecutively. “The hardest part of the movie was shooting in two installments,” said Renzi. “The first 10 to 15 minutes of the movie was a different time period, so Richard wanted to adjust his weight, so I started editing an incomplete movie during the [interim] seven months. We shot in October 2013 and then again in 2014.”
The Benefactor was finished in time to premiere at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and Goldwyn came on as distributor soon after. It later played the feature’s hometown Philadelphia Film Festival. The Benefactor opens today in 25 cities in a day-and-date. Renzi noted that The Benefactor opened in Italy over Christmas weekend, grossing more than $2 million.
A Perfect Day
Director-writer: Fernando León de Aranoa
Writers: Diego Farias, Paula Farias (novel)
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Tim Robbins, Olga Kurylenko, Mélanie Thierry, Fedja Stukan, Sergi López
Distributor: IFC Films
IFC Films caught A Perfect Day with Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins at last year’s Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes and had worked with him on a previous release. This is the first English-language title for the Spanish filmmaker.
Set in the “somewhere in the Balkans” in 1995, the film centers on a group of “badass” war-zone rescue workers as they defy death. Over the course of 24 breathless hours, Mambrú (Benicio del Toro) leads his team of humanitarians — including hard-bitten, wisecracking veteran B (Tim Robbins) and new recruit Sophie (Melanie Thierry) — as they deal with a most unexpected crisis, layers of bureaucratic red tape and the reappearance of Mambrú’s old flame (Olga Kurylenko). Through it all, the group handles the less-than-glamorous realities of life in a combat zone the only way they know how: with selfless bravery and a healthy dose of irreverent humor.
“It’s a unique and entertaining film. It’s hard to put in a box categorically,” said Arianna Bocco, SVP Acquisitions & Co-Productions at IFC Films. “But it has great star power and performances, plus it’s the lighter side of Benicio after seeing him in Sicario. It’s entertaining but also has a serious side, and it’s relevant.” Bocco noted that there is a challenge in finding the right audience for the feature, though she said it will be a favorite for the mature-leaning art house crowd that appreciates intelligent film. “It’s harder to identify tonally, so it will be challenging. But its quality will be satisfying, and we’re [banking on] that generating word-of-mouth.”
IFC Films rolls out A Perfect Day theatrically today in New York and Los Angeles at IFC Center and Sunset 5 as well as on VOD platforms day-and-date. Added Bocco: “We’ll platform theatrically from there, and as we spread it out, we hope [audience enthusiasm] and the film’s quality will [carry it] both for the film’s theatrical and on-demand.”
Band Of Robbers
Director-writer: Aaron Nee, Adam Nee
Writer: Mark Twain
Cast: Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Matthew Gray Gubler, Hannibal Buress, Melissa Benoist, Daniel Edward Mora, Stephen Lang, Eric Christian Olsen
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Band Of Robbers was conceived as a TV series by its filmmakers before making its way to the big screen. The feature is a comedic adventure that re-imagines Mark Twain’s iconic literary characters of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer as grown men in current day. Petty criminal Huck hopes to leave his criminal life behind when he is released from a stint in prison, but his lifelong friend, corrupt cop Tom, has other plans. Not ready to give up on his childhood fantasies of wealth and adventure, Tom forms the “Band of Robbers,” recruiting their misfit friends Joe Harper and Ben Rogers to join them for an elaborate plan to find a fabled treasure. But the plan soon unravels, thrusting the guys on a wild journey with dangerous consequences.
“When Adam was 21, he got an audition for [a film version] of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in New York,” said producer John Will. “He was laughing thinking about how Huck Finn would be like as an adult. That was the genesis of it.” Initially, writer-director brothers Aaron and Adam Nee didn’t think it would be possible to make the script as a feature-length film, so they sent a comedy-pilot script to Will. The producer, however, was not sure how he’d shop the concept, noting that the likes of Amazon and Netflix were not in the original programming game at the time.
“I was mulling over it, but then they sent me an indie feature version of the script,” said Will. “I wasn’t quite sure whether I wanted to go down that indie film road yet … but we got together for drinks in 2012, and they said they ‘had to make another movie this year.’ We had a number of possible projects, but we decided to buckle down on this.” Will then met with who he described as “the usual suspects” who finance film projects for under $5 million. “People liked the script, but it didn’t come together,” he said. “We hoped to shoot in the summer of 2013, but ultimately it was shelved.” Later a financier emerged, and shooting was set for summer. The initial plan was to shoot in Florida. The filmmakers had a crew in place in Orlando, but then L.A. beckoned.
“After considering the summer heat and rain that time of the year in Florida, as well as not having the same infrastructure we have [in L.A.], we decided to pay a bit more and do in on our home turf,” said Will. “We had 30 locations here, and some were very tricky.” Criminal Minds actor Matthew Gray Gubler had worked with Adam Nee on a web series and joined the project. Gubler knew Kyle Gallner, who introduced him to the filmmakers and took the role of Huckleberry Finn. Hannibal Buress boarded following a reach-out to his agent and was on board before financing was complete.
Band Of Robbers premiered at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. Gravitas Ventures came on as distributor a few months afterward. The company open the title today day-and-date with theatrical bows in 11 cities including the the AMC Empire in New York and Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.
Director-writer: Chen Sicheng
Cast: Chen He, Liu Haoran, Tong Liya, Wang Baoqiang, Xiao Yang
Distributor: China Lion
China Lion is releasing mystery/action/comedy Detective Chinatown on this side of the Pacific following its release in China, where the distributor said it has grossed nearly $100 million so far. “We picked it up in December, looking for a film that we could release when our international students were back from vacation,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg. “We were very excited to snag it from Wanda to fill a prime release date.”
From the producer of the box office hits Lost In Thailand and Jian Bing Man, Detective Chinatown (Tang Ren Jie Tan An) follows Qin Feng and his second cousin, Tang Ren, Chinatown’s top detective, as they investigate a bizarre murder where they become the main suspects. When the only option is to escape from the police in order to prove their innocence, they find the world against them with just seven days to solve the case.
“The big star is Wang Baoqiang, who was in the mega-hit Lost In Thailand,” said Lundberg. “Both Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran were in the Chinese reality show Takes A Real Man together in mid-2015, so their chemistry continues in this feature — even if there’s no relation between the reality show and the film. We’re definitely targeting our first-language Chinese speakers for this release. They know the stars and have been following the release’s success in the Mainland press. … We’re looking for fairly wide awareness in our core communities.” China Lion has also been playing Detective Chinatown‘s trailer at screenings of Mr. Six, which last weekend became the distributor’s highest-grossing release at more than $1.3 million.
“With Mr. Six, we’ve been able to grow a number of markets that previously we would only rarely play. Eugene, OR, Calgary, Edmonton and Waterloo, Ontario, have now turned into go-to locations for our releases.” China Lion will open the title also in its traditional metro areas including L.A., New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver and Boston. Added Lundberg, “We’re excited about the release and hope to have a slow rollout between now and Chinese New Year.”