Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Following last week’s hefty rollout of new Specialty films, the coming weekend is also awash in a large number of diverse titles that will hit the limited release slate, including titles with stars, soon-to-be stars and big screen novices. Xan Cassavetes will open her drama/thriller Kiss Of The Damned via Magnolia this weekend with a cadre of French vampires. Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgard star in Millennium Entertainment’s What Maisie Knew. The distributor is doubling up this weekend, also bowing The Iceman with Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta and David Schwimmer, while Keanu Reeves stars in Phase 4’s Generation Um… Cinedigm will open indie Western Dead Man’s Burden from newcomer Jared Moshé, starring Barlow Jacobs, Clare Bowen and David Call, while First Run Features’ The Happy House will also be looking for its niche among the weekend’s new titles. IFC Films will bow veteran French filmmaker Olivier Assayas’ latest, Something In The Air, while doc Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s joins the weekend’s packed lineup.
Xan Cassavetes initially had the idea for Kiss Of The Damned after touring a house some years ago. The home eventually became the venue for the thriller/drama which revolves around a vampire, Djuna, who resists the advances of Paolo, but soon gives into their passion. “I went through the house and the nature of its setting felt so transitory — it’s a weekend house and it’s the setting for a transitory vampire,” said Cassavetes. “I looked at the house a year and a half before writing the screenplay.” After working on other projects, Cassavetes recalled the house and wrote the screenplay for Kiss Of The Damned in only three weeks. She and her team were able to put together the financing elements from previous films. “I wanted French actors because the movie has the flavor of a beautiful European flavor,” said Cassavetes. “I also wanted relatively unknown actors because I thought it was more powerful to buy into that.”
After shooting in 2011, Cassavetes and team edited for almost a year. One of her two editors was in New York though she lives in L.A. “I couldn’t be away from my children. We played with the film. There was a lack of rules and it took some going over because it was unknown territory.” After opening at the Venice and London film festivals, it had its premiere Stateside at SXSW. ” It was incredible. I was worried it wouldn’t be scary enough for the Midnight crowd there, but much to my surprise, the whole scene there embraced the movie. I’ve never been so surprised.” Magnolia’s genre label, Magnet, which came on board ahead of its world premiere in Venice, will open Kiss Of The Damned in New York at the Sunshine and in Los Angeles at the NuArt Theatre this Friday. It will expand to Atlanta, the Bay Area, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Cambridge, MA and Coral Gables, FL the following weekend with additional cities added throughout May and early June.
What Maisie Knew
Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Writers: Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright, Henry James (novel)
Cast: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham, Onata Aprile
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment
The script for What Maisie Knew had been floating around for a number of years going through various iterations along the way. Red Crown Productions’ Creative Executive Alish Erman happened upon it and took it to his colleagues at Red Crown. Set in New York City, the film centers on a young girl who is caught in the middle of her parents’ bitter divorce and custody battle. “I had studied What Maisie Knew in college and the contemporary adaptation [for this project] was so smart,” said producer Daniela Taplin Lundberg. “The setting in NYC with an aging rock star mother and a dilettante father was great.” Red Crown put together the financing through their pool of investors and directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel came on board. Taplin had a good relationship with Julianne Moore’s agent at CAA at the time, who gave her the script. She joined the cast after responding to the material. Alexander Skarsgard and Steve Coogan joined afterward. “The quest to find the little girl was what was really hard,” said Taplin. “Our casting director Avy Kaufman was an early supporter and she launched a huge search and saw practically every young working actress. [Onata Aprile] is actually a discovery on YouTube and when David [Siegel] and Scott [McGehee] saw it, we had her immediately come in and she just performed. She is one of the most incredible actresses I’ve seen.”
The project began shooting at a large loft in New York’s West Village in Summer 2011. The team wanted to wait for Toronto, so they waited to debut it the following year at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. “It’s such a unique film told from the child’s perspective so we weren’t sure how people would react,” said Taplin. “It was one of those things where you don’t know until you get there. Reviews came in and they were glowing.” Millennium came on board to distribute the title. Taplin praised the distributor for its “utter devotion” and “passion” including a TV spot during the NBA playoffs. The film will open at the Angelika in New York before heading to LA on May 17th followed by an expansion May 24th.
Director-writer: Ariel Vromen
Writers: Morgan Land (screenplay), Anthony Bruno (novel), Jim Thebaut
Cast: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment
The Iceman originated through production and sales outfit Millennium Films and is being released via distributor Millennium Entertainment. Director Ariel Vromen initially discovered the story behind The Iceman after viewing the HBO Documentary, which prompted him to read the book. The drama/thriller is based on the true story of Richard Kuklinski, a notorious contract killer and family man. Arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters had any clue about his true profession. “We were a bit unsure about the director at first, but he had a great cast and story,” said Millennium Films president Mark Gill. “It really turned out well, he made a quantum leap.” Director Ariel Vromen had Michael Shannon attached to the project when he brought it to Millennium and the addition of Chris Evans was key to the company because of his overseas draw. The Iceman began shooting in December 2011 and finished in February and premiered in Venice, Toronto and Telluride later in 2012.
“It plays well with a festival audience, but there’s a thriller element that works across the spectrum,” said Gill. “There’s good filmmaking and there’s a commerciality as well.” Gill said people have raised questions about opening opposite Iron Man 3, but noted that he had been through opening opposite a sure fire blockbuster before. “We opened Good Will Hunting against Titanic,” noted Gill. He added that college educated audiences that attend specialized films and others that are drawn to gangster pics will be drawn to theaters. Millennium Ent. will open in two theaters each in New York and Los Angeles this weekend and will expand to 15-20 the following week. It will continue from there based on performance and exit polls, but eventually into the “hundreds and hopefully into the thousands,” according to Gill. “Whether that takes place in a few steps or many steps remains to be seen.”
Producer Alison Palmer Bourke met writer/director Mark Mann at a film festival in 2008 where they both had projects. They maintained their friendship back in New York where they live. Mann was writing the script for Generation Um… while working on a separate job in Copenhagen over one summer. “We developed the script and the characters together over Skype,” said Bourke. Generation Um… centers on three adults during a single day filled with sex, drugs and indecision in New York City. Keanu Reeves, whom Bourke knew through The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee and Henry’s Crime, happened to be in the office the day the script arrived. The two began discussing the project. “[It’s] funny and dark and truly a unique vision with amazing characters from a new director — a film I was incredibly excited about,” said Bourke. “Mark and I had been working on the script for so long, we were at that point where you start to wonder if you’re just drinking the Koolaide… We would ask ourselves, ‘Are we crazy? Will anyone want to make this film with us?'” After reading the script, however, Reeves was sold and that built momentum for the project.
Cut to production in New York’s Manhattan and Brooklyn, the production encountered a weather event that is likely a first among the city’s long history of film and television production. “Our film bears the unique distinction for being the first film in New York City to have a tornado claim from production,” said Bourke. “Lucky us – the first tornado to touch down in Brooklyn in 100 years went right through our set. Thank god the crew were on lunch so no one got hurt, but we lost sound for the rest of the day and all that was left of crafty was a few watery Tootsie pops scattered along the block.” The project recovered and Phase 4 Films signed on as distributor. It will open Generation Um… on one screen each in New York and Los Angeles this weekend and is already available via VOD.
Writer/director Matthew Miele initially began his involvement with famed New York department store Bergdorf Goodman’s when he initially wrote about a window dresser. He thought the idea about people who create the elaborate window store fronts, especially prevalent along Fifth Avenue, would be “unchartered territory.” “I knew I’d need to shoot some scenes in the store,” said Miele. “I gave the screenplay to Andrew Goodman who liked it and then I met a VP at Bergdorf’s to talk about the screenplay. I needed to do more research on the store, but they said they don’t have an archive and that’s when I was like, ‘wait a minute.’ This is one of America’s great institutions.” The idea then evolved into a documentary, which initially caused some concern among the store’s officials. After their go-ahead, Miele received financing, though he said he did not want the department store to be a part of that. Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s began shooting in May 2011 and shot for a year. “At first the interviews were hard to get,” said Miele. “Bergdorf’s was reticent to interview because some were designers they work with, but others were about to be dropped. That was a hurdle, getting them to let me talk to them. Eventually they helped me to speak with Karl Lagerfeld and other big designers.” Miele also befriended a personal shopper for a number of celebrities who paved the way for his introduction and their inclusion in the feature.
The film, which had a sneak preview at Fall Fashion Week in 2012, had its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival where eOne picked up the title. It also had its pre-theatrical launch debut via The Cinema Society in New York earlier this week with a screening at Florence Gould Hall and a party at Harlow. Fashion icons Vera Wang, Tommy Hilfiger along with celebs and Miele attended. “We wanted it to get into theaters,” noted Miele. “I’s going to be in 30-40 markets, not just New York and Los Angeles.” Miele said the film has also had good momentum selling in overseas territories. But for this weekend, it will hit New York in three theaters and one run in L.A. before expanding in the coming weeks.
Writer/director Jared Moshé attended Sundance and Slamdance where he had a film at each event in 2011 in which he produced. He decided after leaving he’d like to write and direct his own film and to do a Western, a genre he has long been a fan of. “I was very proud of those two film, but [after leaving] I sat down in early February to write a script and finished it by March 30th.” Set in New Mexico frontier in the years following the Civil War, Dead Man’s Burden centers on a struggling young family and the mining company that wants to buy their land. Moshé worked to get his cast quickly. He knew Barlow Jacobs from working together on a film they both produced, Low And Behold, which played at Sundance and had his eye on David Call after seeing him in Two Gates Of Sleep. ” Thank god my producer knew him personally and sent him the script and he and I met up and talked ten minutes talking about it and hours talking about the Civil War and the West,” said Moshé. He came across Clare Bowen through a Vimeo video and was blown away. This was before her role in TV’s Nashville. “She was hard, tough but also incredibly sympathetic. I knew I’d do whatever it took to get her. Now she’s the most famous person in it,” noted Moshé.
Moshé and producer Veronica Nickel collected investors from previous producing projects he worked on and received additional funds after shooting. His executive producer Jenny Chikes also made use of New Mexico’s tax credit scheme. The shoot itself took place in October 2011. The production dealt with rattlesnakes and even a dying goat on its second day in addition to extreme heat and cold. “There was a freak rainstorm and we had to pile into our cars and we had no idea how we’d get up this two mile dirt road,” said Moshé. “We had only a few four-wheel drive vehicles that could get back up there, so we’d have to shuttle people, but this also happened to be our hardest and longest day and we wouldn’t have time to do that. So I said, ‘You know what, we’re walking.’ And everyone followed me up to set.” The film debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival last June where distributor Cinedigm saw it and came on board in the fall. Dead Man’s Burden will open at New York’s Cinema Village this weekend in New York followed by other markets.
Veterans of releasing French filmmaker Olivier Assayas’ films Stateside, IFC Films became involved with his latest, Something In The Air when producers at MK2 brought the project to the company at the script stage. “We have worked with Olivier previously on Summer Hours and Carlos and had a great experience on both and wanted to continue working with him on his future projects,” said IFC Films’ SVP Acquisitions and Production Arianna Bocco. “We loved the script and the personal element of it and felt that it would resonate with his and our audience.” Bocco said that press has been “unbelievable” in the lead-up to the film’s release, which will help usher in his fans and the company’s art house base. “We [also] feel strongly it will resonate with a more general audience as well,” she added. Assayas’ Summer Hours grossed over $1.6 million domestically. Carlos won a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries and the film version was “one of the most critically acclaimed films of that year,” noted Bocco.
Set in May 1968, the story revolves around a group of young Europeans searching for a way to continue the revolution they believe to be just beginning. Screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival, currently underway, the film will open in select locations in New York and L.A. this weekend and will expand to the top 10 markets next weekend. Bocco expects to roll out Something In The Air to at least the top 25 markets and is available via VOD.
Filmmaker David Young’s directorial feature debut The Happy House is a “spiritual continuation” of a previous short he made Not Interested. The film revolves around a young Brooklyn couple whose relationship is on the rocks and they head to a B&B getaway to work things out. But after they arrive, it becomes one disaster after the next. ” It’s not the same movie but it has some similarities,” said Young, comparing the short with the feature. “Also, the main actor from the [short] is also in this film.” After raising funds through investors, Kickstarter and others, production began in September 2011. “It was a two-week, very fast shoot,” said Young. “It was a low budget challenge, but we planned it. The only way you can pull that off is that it’s mostly a single location film.” The production moved into a Bed and Breakfast, shooting there as well as staying there. “There was a blending of reality and art,” noted Young who added: “We did not have initial success with the big festivals with the film. Others have had to deal with this too. Our film is a bit eccentric and hard to pin down. Its aesthetic is a bit different and so we were faced with a long and drawn out festival run.”
Young had worked with First Run on a previous project and expressed interest in The Happy House and eventually took on the title last fall. “I had a film with First Run before which is a documentary and they really liked [this film] and were interested in doing it,” said Young. “We had a great experience with them before and I was leery of [working with] a straight horror distributor because the film is not exactly like that.” First Run will open The Happy House for a week at New York’s Cinema Village in addition to planned screenings in Columbus, OH. It will head to additional runs based on performance in addition to VOD, DVD etc. in October.