Jeff Nichols’ Loving, which chronicles the couple behind the landmark 1967 Supreme Court Case Loving v. Virginia, begins its theatrical run via Focus Features today, just a day after an opening night screening at the Virginia Film Festival, the state where Mildred and Richard Loving were thrust to the forefront of the civil rights movement. Also opening this weekend is The Orchard’s Rainbow Time, directed, written and starring Lina Phillips along with Melanie Lynskey and produced by Duplass Brothers Productions, while Vertical and Orion Releasing will bow comedy-horror Trash Fire, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Cannes 2016 debut Loving is based on the events that lead to the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Producer Nancy Buirsiki’s 2011 documentary The Loving Story served as a precursor of sorts to the narrative feature, and starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton. Focus Features begins rolling the title out in theaters today.
Loving follows interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving (Edgerton and Negga) who married and then spent the next nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their hometown. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia in 1967, reaffirmed the very foundation of the right to marry.
“I was developing a treatment for the narrative while working on the documentary,” said Buirski. “But the narrative didn’t take off until I connected [with fellow producers] Colin Firth and Ged Doherty.” After the initial group formed a company to push the project ahead, they contacted Jeff Nichols about directing. “[Nichols] likes to write his scripts,” said Buirski. “He did a lot of his own research and also watched my extra interviews [related to the documentary]. He wrote a first draft, which only needed very few changes. He then gave a second draft.”
“In 2012 I was approached by the producers,” said Jeff Nichols during a press luncheon in New York last week. “When I heard about it, I couldn’t believe I was just then learning about [Mildred and Richard’s] story. When I first started looking into birth dates of the children, I was surprised to learn she was pregnant when they got married and also when they went to jail.”
While the project moved forward, there was a gap time while Nichols went off to make Midnight Special (2016), his follow-up to Mud (2012). Joel Edgerton also starred in the former title, and Nichols thought the actor might be a good fit for the role of Richard Loving. Ruth Negga, meanwhile, boarded via a casting agent. Big Beach joined the project as producers and helped with financing. The feature shot in August of last year on location in Virginia over 40 days.
“We fell in love with this couple when watching Nancy Buirski’s documentary,” said Edgerton at the luncheon. Added Negga: “[The doc] was a gift….There’s archival footage interwoven into the whole story. I feel like Nancy did my homework for me.”
“Many of the scenes are shot where Mildred and Richard had some of the dramatic moments of their lives take place,” said Buirski. “The courthouse and exterior of the jail where they were held are the same.”
The producing team flew to the Berlin International Film Festival with nine minutes of footage from the film, hoping to attract foreign buyers. Instead, things went to a “fever pitch,” according to Buirski when Focus Features came on “passionately and strongly.” Deadline reported in February that Focus picked up North American and international territories for $9 million.
Focus will open Loving in four locations today, including Arclight Hollywood and Landmark in Los Angeles as well as AMC Union Square and AMC Lincoln Square in New York City. The title will roll out to 10 additional markets next week, and will continue to expand through Thanksgiving weekend. Q&As will take place at select screenings with Edgerton or Nichols in Los Angeles over the weekend, while Colin Firth and Nick Kroll will do a Q&A each in New York.
Director-writer: Linas Phillips
Cast: Linas Phillips, Melanie Lynskey, Timm Sharp, Artemis Pebdani, Jay Duplass, Tobin Bell
Distributor: The Orchard
Rainbow Time director, writer and star Linas Phillips began writing the screenplay for the title a few years back when he was acting in Manson Family Vacation by J. Davis. Phillips solicited his friend’s advice at the time. “I don’t come from a screenplay background,” said Phillips. “J. Davis was the only one at the time to read the draft… I’ve made some docs and I learned from [my 2010 feature] Bass Akwards, but most of that was improvised.”
Rainbow Time centers on a mentally challenged 40-year-old man named Shonzi (Phillips) who is sent to live with his brother Todd (Timm Sharp). When Shonzi develops a crush on Todd’s new girlfriend Lindsay (Melanie Lynskey), he threatens to reveal past secrets that could ultimately tear the couple apart.
Also starring Melanie Lynsey and Jay Duplass, whose Duplass Brothers Productions produced and set up financing of the title, the feature shot in Los Angeles over 15 days during September 2015, followed by a few pick-up days.
“I had the script ready around SXSW 2015,” said Phillips. “I sent it to Melanie shortly after that. Seeing her on [the Duplass series] Togetherness and knowing her other work, I could see how she’d fit into this world.” Rainbow Time extends the relationship distributor The Orchard has with the Duplass Brothers for a seven film output deal.
Rainbow Time debuted at the SXSW Film Festival this past spring, where cast members saw the feature for the first time. “It was nerve-racking but fun,” said Phillips. “Melanie hadn’t seen it, so I was nervous. I was looking over at her the whole time. It has a real combination of weird humor which I love and there’s a lot [of references] to special needs kids with whom I have worked with a lot over the years. It’s heartfelt and I hope that comes across.”
The Orchard will open Rainbow Time day and date, opening theatrically at the new Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn, followed by Los Angeles next weekend. It will also be available today on iTunes and other platforms.
Director-writer: Richard Bates, Jr.
Cast: Adrian Grenier, Angela Trimbur, Fionnula Flanagan, Ezra Buzzington, Matthew Gray Gubler, Alexa Hamilton
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment and Orion Releasing
Richard Bates’ script for Trash Fire came out of a less than happy experience making his 2014 feature Suburban Gothic. “Certain things I experienced weren’t ideal and I got depressed,” said Bates. “I hold up in my apartment for a year and wrote my way out of it…I have a dark sense of humor about things so I [skewed it] to be a personal exorcism.”
In the comedy-horror, Adrian Grenier stars as Owen, who is forced to confront the past he’s been running from his whole adult life. In the process, he and his girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur) become entangled in a horrifying web of lies, deceit and murder.
After finishing the script, Bates sent it to his management at Circle of Confusion, which quickly boarded the project. He also met producer David Lawson, Jr. at a festival and sent him the script. “He read it that day and he was all over it,” said Bates. “Usually something like this would be very difficult to get made, but everything fell into line. This was the most fun I’ve ever had making a movie.”
Trash Fire shot in L.A. in the summer of 2015 for 18 days. Financing came from several private investors. “The way I shoot is to have the least number of cuts as possible,” added Bates, who said that aside from an incident in which a P.A. suffered a seizure just as they were shooting a “seizure sequence,” most everything went well. “David Lawson put together the schedule, so I owe it all to him for that. I could just concentrate on shooting the film.”
Trash Fire debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and although Bates said he felt a lot of pressure, he did have one particularly celebratory moment. “I proposed to my girlfriend at the Sundance premiere,” he said, adding about the festival: “Once you’re in Sundance, the bar is set so high that after that, there’s more pressure to get invited back. This was the make or break movie for me.”
Orion and Vertical spoke with the filmmaking team soon after Sundance and came on board to distribute. Trash Fire will open in 19 theaters Thursday in addition to being on-demand starting today.