For the first time this year, the Specialty space is packed full of new features vying for crowds who have been released from the shackles of Awards contenders. Many of the newcomers hail from last year’s SXSW Film Festival (this year’s starts this weekend).Sally Field takes on the starring role in comedy Hello, My Name Is Doris, which is opening via Roadside Attractions and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. The film is joining a cadre of titles also boasting veteran actors, including Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau in A24’s Remember, which opens in New York and L.A. Friday. Helen Mirren stars in Bleecker Street’s Eye In The Sky in a role originally meant for a male actor. Benjamin Dickinson co-wrote, directed and stars in Creative Control, which Amazon Studios picked up out of SXSW last year. The film is having a theatrical run ahead of its ancillary roll outs. Others on tap include L.A.-centric doc City Of Gold, about Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold from Sundance Selects as well as Cohen Media Group’s Marguerite, starring Catherine Frot who took Best Actress for the role at this year’s Césars.
Also opening in limited release is Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Hyena Road, bowing day and date. The TIFF title was written, directed and stars Paul Gross. And FilmBuff is opening madcap romantic comedy Me Him Her written and directed by Max Landis in locations in NYC and L.A. as well as on VOD.
Hello, My Name Is Doris
Director-writer: Michael Showalter
Writer: Laura Terruso
Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Natasha Lyonne, Beth Behrs, Wedny McLendon-Covey, Stephen Root, Elizabeth Reaser
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions
Hello, My Name Is Doris starring Sally Field had its Theatrical Premiere this past week at the new Metrograph Theater on New York’s Lower East Side. The project began as an eight-minute film called Doris And The Intern by then-film student Laura Terruso. Filmmaker Michael Showalter saw the short while teaching at NYU, leading to the feature version
Field plays Doris, an ignored woman whose world is turned upside down she meets John Fremont (Max Greenfield), her company’s hip new art director. Sparks fly—at least for Doris. Her first encounter with true romance convinces Doris that she and the mostly unaware John are meant for each other. In the cluttered house she shared with her late mother, Doris mines the Internet for information on her one-and-only, guided by the 13-year-old granddaughter of her best pal Roz (Tyne Daly). When Doris begins showing up at John’s regular haunts, she wins over his Williamsburg friends with her eclectic vintage wardrobe, quirky naiveté and un-ironic enthusiasm for their rooftop knitting circle. Eager for all the experiences she has missed out on, Doris throws caution to the wind and follows her heart for the very first time.
“We saw Hello, My Name Is Doris at SXSW last year and bought it together with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. We’re partnering on its domestic release and they have international,” said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen. “It’s great to see Sally Field in a leading role again. It’s been quite a while. She’s had great [supporting] parts in Lincoln [and others] but not the lead, especially in a comedy.”
The film will appeal to a mostly older audience and fans of Showalter who is a veteran of television both in front of and behind the camera. “It’s about [Doris] but she gets involved with these Brooklyn hipsters, so it has possible appeal there too,” said Cohen. “But obviously it’s [primarily going to be] the Sally audience.”
Hello, My Name Is Doris will open in four theaters in New York and L.A. The feature will then head to a little over 100 theaters the following week. Both Field and Greenfield have been working the talk show circuit, including a funny stint involving making out on Ellen, which caught social media attention. Added Cohen: “It’s one of the first movies after Oscar season, and I think audiences are ready for something different.”
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer: Benjamin August
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Dean Norris, Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Henry Zcerny, Jürgen Prochnow, James Cade, Duane Murray, Peter DaCunha, Sofia Wells, T.J. McGibbon
Veteran producer Robert Lantos typically embarks on projects from scratch, but this script intrigued him. After reading Remember by Benjamin August, Lantos took on the project. “It was a compelling page-turner,” said Lantos, which he first read about three years ago. “But the compelling reason for me was that we’re still able to tell this as a contemporary story. In 5 or 6 years it will have to be told as a period piece. It is important that we can tell it in the present tense.”
Remember centers on Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), a 90-year-old struggling with memory loss. A week following the death of his wife Ruth, he suddenly gets a mysterious package from his close friend Max (Martin Landau), containing a stack of money and a letter detailing a shocking plan. Both Zev and Max were prisoners in Auschwitz, and the same sadistic guard was responsible for the death of their families—a guard who, immediately after the war, escaped Germany and has been living in the U.S. under an assumed identity. Max is wheelchair-bound but in full command of his mental faculties. With his guidance, Zev will embark on a cross-continental road-trip to bring justice once and for all to the man who destroyed both their lives.
“As I was reading it, I was picturing who could play the leading role and who could pull this off. This requires a dramatic range,” explained Lantos. “There’s a transformation this character goes through. I could only think of Christopher Plummer to play this. First thing I did was option the script pretty much instantly, and then I called Christopher Plummer and asked him if he’d read it. He then raised his hand and said, ‘Yes.’”
Next, Lantos telephoned veteran filmmaker Atom Egoyan to direct, believing his ability to pull off ‘psychological nuance’ would be essential for Remember. The project shot over 7 weeks mostly in Toronto and another Canadian location. Financing came from a combination of partners in Mexico, South Africa, TeleFilm Canada in addition to pre-sales in France, Italy, Spain and Canada.
A24 bought the title ahead of its Cannes debut. Remember will have a platform release in Los Angeles and New York Friday followed by other markets.
Eye In The Sky
Director: Gavin Hood
Writer: Guy Hibbert
Cast: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Babou Ceesay, Carl Beukes
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Guy Hibbert’s script Eye In The Sky landed with Gavin Hood via his agent. After boarding the project, he suggested making the lead role a woman, and Helen Mirren was eventually cast in the part. Hibbert had started working on the script five years before it finally went into production with Hood at the helm. The project had been previously slated with other directors attached.
In the film, Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.
“This is 99% Guy’s script but I asked him to switch [the main part] to a woman because I thought the topics were so present that I thought these questions should be a conversation for both men and women,” said Hood. “I also thought we had plenty of men in the movie anyway and she could express a point of view.” Hood had done about four weeks of research on the use of drones in modern conflict before pitching to direct the project. He then worked with Hibbert for three additional months to fine-tune the story before going into production. In the meantime, Entertainment One came on as the full financier of the project which landed at $13 million.
“There was an initial push to do it in 30 days, but I was afraid it would look too ‘TV movie-like,” he said. “I’m thankful to my producers and eOne that after we presented our design and proper sketches to make our case for the kind of film we wanted, they came on board. I was very fortunate.” Eye In The Sky shot in Cape Town, South Africa over 45 days.
“This is set in multiple places around the world, but that would have been impossible to go to all the places,” said Hood. “Our Production Designer Johnny Breedt and Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos worked very hard. The film is set in pretty claustrophobic locations, but they did very well bringing it cinematic punch.”
Bleecker Street is opening Eye In The Sky Friday in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles Friday, followed by a national roll out on April 1.
Director-writer: Benjamin Dickinson
Writer: Micah Bloomberg
Cast: Benjamin Dickinson, Nora Zehetner, Dan Gill, Alexia Rasmussen, Reggie Watts, Gavin McInnes, Jay Eisenberg
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures/Amazon Studios
New York production company Ghost Robot has been working with filmmaker/actor Benjamin Dickinson’s projects for years, including music video, commercials and an earlier feature, First Winter (2012). The script for Creative Control came together in early 2013 and shot later that year.
The feature is set in New York, five minutes into the future. The technological advances and communication devices of the near future meant to increase connectivity and alleviate boredom are only increasing the anxiety level of the insecure New Yorkers who’ve inherited them. David is an overworked, tech-addled advertising executive developing a high-profile marketing campaign, featuring musician/comedian Reggie Watts, for a new generation of Augmented Reality glasses. Feeling stuck in his relationship with yoga teacher Juliette, he envies the charmed life of his best friend, fashion photographer Wim and his entrancing girlfriend Sophie — so he uses the glasses to develop a life-like avatar of her. Unwittingly, fantasy and reality begin to blur. As passions escalate and things get increasingly out of hand, the friends are forced to deal with the impending collision between their public, private and imaginary lives.
“We spent the first half of the year and summer raising money for the project,” said producer and Ghost Robot partner Mark DePace. “The money came together through three major investors and three smaller ones. The shoot took place in [Manhattan], Brooklyn and a bit upstate over four weeks in October and November of that year.” Ahead of the shoot, it was decided filmmaker Benjamin Dickinson would play the role of David, while the others were cast. “We looked for actors that aren’t too dissimilar to the characters they’re playing,” added DePace. “Nora Zehetner and Dan Gill are up-and-coming actors, while the rest are people essentially playing themselves.”
The shoot itself went rather smoothly since Dickinson tapped the team he typically works with on his other projects, allowing for a more efficient use of time and technique, according to DePace. “One of the benefits of directors who do commercial work is that they have a stable of collaborators they’re used to working with and they have a similar language they use. They put a lot of value going in and that’s something we’re proud of. For a film its size, it looks a lot bigger.”
Creative Control bowed at last year’s SXSW Film Festival where Amazon Studios head Ted Hope saw it. After acquiring the feature, the team met with various distributors who would take on the theatrical side of its release, eventually deciding to work with Magnolia Pictures. The feature will open in New York at the Sunshine and the Landmark 12 in Los Angeles as well as the Violet Crown Cinema in Austin this weekend, followed by other markets. Added DePace: “They’re committed to the theatrical release which will be followed on April 12 with iTunes. They’ll follow some formula based on box office receipts and VOD before going on Amazon Prime.”
City Of Gold
Director-writer: Laura Gabbert
Subjects: Jonathan Gold, Allen Salkin
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Filmmaker Laura Gabbert had been reading food critic and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Gold’s work well before meeting him when their kids began attending the same school in Los Angeles.
In the documentary, Gold gives a look at Los Angeles where ethnic cooking is at the heart of a complex mosaic of a city. Combing through diverse neighborhoods in his pickup truck, Gold sets out for his next strip-mall discovery. As dishes are served up, so are stories of immigrants whose secret family recipes are like sacred offerings pledged for the opportunity to build their American Dream. According to Sundance where the film debuted: “With eternal curiosity, razor-sharp intellect, and existential longing, Gold is a culinary geographer taking us where no critic has gone before.”
“I had done a social issue documentary [previously] but was weary of doing that again. I wanted to so something cultural,” said filmmaker Laura Gabbert. “When I think of Los Angeles, I think of Jonathan Gold. I had bid to have dinner with him at the school’s charity auction. When we met and I told him my idea he said, ‘No.’”Despite the initial ‘no,’ the two continued to meet, though Gabbert said that Gold was trying to convince her that the whole thing was a “bad idea.” However, when the idea evolved to make the city itself the primary focus, Gold came around. “This was in 2010,” said Gabbert. “We shot on and off for four years and edited about a year, though we’d still shoot during [the edit].”
Aside some initial funding from the Rosenthal Foundation, the project was self-financed.
Gabbert said securing funding was difficult for this type of project. “I thought this would be an easy film to fund since it’s about him and food,” she said. “But a lot of the funders right now are focused on social issues. After we had a lot of footage together we showed it to a lot of folks, but they wanted a lot of control, so I just continued to self-finance. I was lucky though because people worked for cheap because they loved working with Gold. They also ate very well.”
City Of Gold sold at Sundance where it debuted (tacos were served after the screening). Sundance Selects will open the title at Westside Pavilion and Hollywood Arclight in L.A. in addition to locations in New York this weekend. Theatrically, it will expand to other L.A. theaters as well as other markets next week.
Director-writer: Xavier Giannoli
Cast: Catherine Frot, André Marcon, Michel Fau, Christa Théret
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
Cohen Media Group picked up French-language title Marguerite out of the 2015 Berlinale after watching its show reel.
The film is set at the beginning of the 1920s near Paris, where it is party day at Marguerite Dumont’s castle. Like every year, an array of music lovers gather around a great cause at the owner’s place. Nobody knows much about this woman except that she is rich and that her whole life is devoted to her passion: music. Marguerite sings. She sings wholeheartedly, but she sings terribly out of tune. Marguerite has been living her passion in her own bubble, and the hypocrite audience, always coming in for a good laugh, acts as if she was the diva she believes she is. When a young, provocative journalist decides to write a faux-rave article on her latest performance, Marguerite starts to believe even further in her talent. This gives her the courage she needs to follow her dream. Despite her husband’s reluctance, and with the help of a has-been divo, both funny and mean, she decides to train for her first recital in front of a crowd of complete strangers.
“The footage was so compelling in terms of production value. Also, the fact that it was based on a fascinating American true story intrigued us,” noted Cohen Media’s Daniel Battsek. “Plus you could already tell that Catherine Frot’s performance was going to be filled with compassion and humor. Her recent César win for Best Actress is well deserved.”
In France, the title opened last fall with over 1 million admissions, eventually receiving 11 César nominations including four wins, but for the U.S., the company stayed clear of awards season. “We wanted to wait until after the Oscars had come and gone as well as the slight ‘lull’ that tends to follow for a couple of weeks,” said Battsek. “We also were prepared to wait to get a slot at The Paris in New York City as Marguerite is such a perfect fit for the audience demographic for that theatre.”
Cohen Media Group is targeting the traditional fans of foreign language films that tend to be over 40 and skew female. The company has also reached out to arts communities including music and opera lovers. “In particular, the story resonates so strongly with those groups and many may be aware of the real life story of Florence Foster Jenkins,” noted Battsek.
In addition to the Paris Theater, the film will open at the Angelika in NYC as well as the Landmark in L.A. In the following weeks Marguerite will expand to the suburbs in those markets as well as into top markets around the country.
The Dog Wedding
Director-writer: James Lefkowitz
Writer: Jason B. Hurwitz
Cast: Rosalie Thomass, Matt Bloom, Bernard Schütz, Dee Booher, David Casillas, J.R. Packhorse
Distributor: 25th Frame/Double Exposure Distribution
Romantic-comedy The Dog Wedding has been a ten-year project. The title centers on a German businesswoman who falls for an American pro wrestler she meets at the dog park, testing her lifelong obedience to her CEO father.
“We brought in James Lefkowitz to direct, and [actor] Matt Bloom and I have been friends since kindergarten,” said producer Jason Hurwitz. “James found German [award-winning] actress Rosalie Thomass, and shot over three months in late 2013 in Arizona.” Hurwitz pulled together financing of the project from individual private equity sources in New York. Initially the team was lured to Arizona because of its tax credit, though by the time the project was up and ready, the state had rescinded the incentive.
“We went along with it even though they got rid of it,” said Hurwitz. “But that may have actually ended up playing in our favor. The tax credit had helped build this whole industry, but when they let it go, they had all this infrastructure including great crews in place. They were at our disposal because most other productions had left.”
One location during the shoot offered a slithering surprise, especially for the Germans who were not used to seeing what desert environs have to offer. “There’s a fantasy sequence where we shot on a desert ranch that was infested with rattlesnakes,” said Hurwitz. “That was very strange for the Germans who had never seen that before. It affected our schedule. We had to move from one side of the ranch to the other and had local people scout. There were no incidences at the end of the day, but there were a couple scares.”
Hurwitz’s company 25th Frame is releasing the title with Double Exposure Distribution. The Dog Wedding opened on Premium VOD via iTunes and other platforms ahead of its theatrical roll out this weekend in New York and L.A. in a single location each. The team held a dog wedding photo contest, which is apparently popular, drawing 250K votes, which also served as a marketing tool for the feature. Added Hurwitz: “We built an entire network with this contest and we use 100 in the opening credit sequence of dog weddings. These dogs have a lot of Facebook fans and this is direct audience engagement.”