Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Another weekend, another dozen-plus Specialty films entering the crowded theatrical market. The end of summer opened the floodgates of limited release titles and momentum has continued into fall. A number, of course, are four walling in support of their VOD/digital release and often disappear after a couple of weeks. Most execs have expressed concern for the saturation, but maintain that their releases are unique and have a shot at standing out in a crowded market. Noted one indie veteran this week, “It is both not sustainable and not going to change. There is an embarrassment of riches in the theatrical marketplace this season so you better have the goods if you want to compete.” This week’s Preview includes nine of the newcomers hitting theaters this weekend. Notably, two of the week’s biggest roll outs are targeted toward niche (albeit large niches) markets. Bollywood will have a big North American roll out with Besharam from Reliance, while faith-centered audiences will welcome Grace Unplugged via Roadside and Lionsgate. Among the others bowing in limited release are Phase 4’s Slamdance winner The Dirties, Magnolia’s Bad Milo!, Ketchup’s doc Linsanity, Film Arcade’s A.C.O.D., Sundance titles I Used To Be Darker from Strand and Sundance Selects’ doc The Summit. And Paladin will open Five Dances in limited release.
2013 Slamdance Grand Jury Prize winner The Dirties. The drama revolves around two best friends who film a comedy about getting revenge on bullies at their high school, but one of the would-be filmmakers takes matters beyond a big screen fantasy. “Elyse Seiden from the Kevin Smith Movie Club saw the film at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival and brought it to us and Kevin,” said Phase 4 CEO Berry Meyerowitz. “Kevin was over the top about the film so he pursued it for our label together. The club is a great jumping off point for independent filmmakers, and The Dirties is the type of movie that has just the right amount of edge to mobilize and create conversation among the Kevin Smith fan base.” Phase 4 is hoping to broaden the film’s audience beyond the KS Club’s core 18-34 male group via the topic of bullying. “Our intent with the audience is to create conversation around bullying while also positioning this film against others of its kind,” said Meyerowitz. “The Dirties is unique in how it takes a neutral stance while creating understanding of the plight of the victims and the (potential) consequences of bullying.”
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The Dirties is premiering day-and-date on October 4th coinciding with the start of the new school year and National Bullying Prevention Month. It will open in L.A., NYC and Toronto and will add locations in Ohio, Kansas and Austin in the coming weeks. Added Meyerowitz: “We are confident that the audience interest on this film will continue to build over the coming weeks as more and more fans have the opportunity to watch it.”
Director Abhinav Kashyap pitched his script to Indian media powerhouse Reliance Entertainment after his blockbuster Dabangg (Fearless). The romantic comedy, which will have a comparatively wide opening for a Bollywood title in North America this weekend follows Babli, a street smart car mechanic living in a Delhi orphanage who is charming and lives life to the fullest. He also steals cars to support his orphanage. “The challenge is to reach out to the South Asian audiences who are widely dispersed in North America,” said Reliance Entertainment COO Mahesh Ramanathan. “Unlike India where one media platform delivers 90% of your reach, in North America Reliance had to use a multi-pronged approach including flying out the lead cast of the film for promotions. Also we use a variety of targeted media vehicles-Internet, print, radio and TV to reach out to Bollywood film lovers.” Using a similar approach niche distributors such as China Lion who release films targeting a specific background, Reliance is opening the film on this continent as it opens at home. “Reliance has been constantly targeting audiences outside the South Asian community through mainstream press and reviews,” said Ramanathan. “This has helped if the story is more universal and travels. Reliance Entertainment’s 3 Idiots still holds the record for the highest grossing Indian film of all time in North America with a U.S. $6.5 million gross. So ‘push’ can combine with audience ‘pull’ if we make efforts to top it over.”
Besharam will open in 217 theaters in North America. “Ranbir Kapoor is an ascendant star in the Bollywood film firmament,” added Ramanathan. “His parents Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor who star in the film as well have tremendous goodwill among the South Asian community. This is Ranbir’s 11th film in 6 years and his last two films have grossed almost $4 million in North America. Only three Bollywood films, including 3 Idiots, have crossed the $4 million mark which have had a star with a two-decade-old career in Bollywood.This gives you an idea of Ranbir’s box office draw.”
Vaughn said that “professional jealousy” precipitated writer-director Jacob Vaughn’s idea to make Bad Milo! for the big screen. The horror/comedy is centered on a man who learns that his unusual stomach problems are being caused by a demon living in his intestines. “An acquaintance had gotten funding for a horror film that I (in my questionably good judgement) felt didn’t deserve funding,” offered up Vaughn. “Benjamin Hayes, the co-writer, and I started talking about horror films that we respected a lot — early Cronenberg films especially, as well as Gremlins and other creature features of the ’80s — and suddenly I blurted out the idea of a creature coming out of a guy’s ass. It was a joke at first, but then it continued to make us laugh.” The joke morphed quickly into a basic plot, though the duo were skeptical about being able to find financing. Lack of funds, however, let them unleash their outlandish ideas into a script. “John Norris was the first producer who came on board and was a champion of the script,” said Vaughn. “Then [I gave the second] draft of the script to Mark and Jay [Duplass]. I was working as an assistant editor on Cyrus and we were old friends from college (UT at Austin). They offered to come on as executive producers to help get the film made. Meanwhile, we finished Cyrus and jumped straight into Jeff Who Lives At Home. Ben and I used that time to do revision after revision of the script — we knew it needed work and we wanted to make it as air tight as possible.”
After working on Katie Aselton’s Black Rock, the group began pushing Milo via contacts at ICM, which found financing. New Artists Alliance and Floren Shieh came through with funds and then production began. “Who knew making an ass monster movie would be so easy,” said Vaughn. The film premiered at SXSW and Magnolia picked up rights soon afterward. Bad Milo! will open 11 cities this weekend including New York’s Cinema Village and Sundance Sunset Cinemas in L.A. The film will add several markets including Santa Cruz, CA, Charlotte, NC and Columbus, OH on October 10.
Lionsgate produced faith-centered drama Grace Unplugged, about a Christian teen who is a phenomenal singer. At 18, she gets the music break of a lifetime and is sent to “the real world” of Hollywood where, naturally her faith is put to the test. “People have compared it a bit to Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, but not based on them but people point out the parallels,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “She goes to Hollywood and has to choose between making it and being a Christian and dad is afraid for her when she goes to Hollywood.” Cohen said the album from the film has already rocketed to number one on the Christian charts and it has been screening heavily for “religious influencers” for the past six months. “[Lionsgate] had done an earlier film with the filmmakers called No Greater Love, which was made primarily for home entertainment, but they had a great experience and then started talking to them about this [project,” said Cohen. “We also did a film called Bella. The faith film arena has been an interest for Lionsgate.” Cohen added that Grace Unplugged is a “lower budgeted instructional religious movie that is made with entertainment in mind,” adding, “I think it’s one of the best made movies for this audience yet.”
The film has been heavily advertised in the faith space ahead of this weekend’s substantial roll out in 511 theaters in addition to advertising spends on Glee and ABC Family. Markets will be weighted toward the Bible Belt and Midwest, Cohen noted. “We’ll go from there. It’s not as large as [past faith-centered titles] Courageous (in 1,100 locations, 2011) and Fireproof (in 800 runs, 2008), but those were basically sequels.”
Documentary Linsanity will also tap the faith-based audience along with Asian-American and sports crowds for its bow Friday. The folks at Ketchup Entertainment caught Linsanity, the feature documentary about basketball sensation Jeremy Lin, the first Asian-American in the NBA, at Sundance in January. “The producers were following him before Linsanity happened,” said Ketchup’s head of acquisitions Stephen Stanley. “So instead of being a retrospective, they were on the ground as it was happening. The project already had a swell of support via its Kickstarter campaign and Ketchup has tapped that group as part of its push ahead of this weekend’s opening. “We have kept that grass roots approach and have continued to work with those groups. We’re doing a targeted roll out,” added Stanley. “Our philosophy is to find the core audience and build it out from there.” Ketchup will open the film in NYC’s AMC Village in addition to the Kabuki and Bluelight Cinemas in San Francisco where Lin grew up as well as the AMC Studio and Sundance cinemas in Houston. It will also bow in San Diego and Chicago. It will head next to Seattle and will open in South Coast Plaza in addition to other cities October 11.
Comedy feature A.C.O.D. (that’s Adult Children of Divorce) debuted at the Sundance Film Festival where distributor Film Arcade first saw the title. The movie centers on a grown man caught in the crossfire of his parents 15-year divorce. He discovers he was unknowingly part of a study on divorced children and is enlisted in a follow-up years later, which wreaks new havoc on his family. In addition to the 50 percent of the country that are A.C.O.D.s themselves, the movie plays equally well to men and women,” said Film Arcade. “We’re running a robust media campaign across TV, radio, newspaper and online targeting comedy lovers, indie filmgoers, and fans of our fantastic cast.” The company has also created a series of videos and faux PSAs that have caught traction via social media ahead of its opening this weekend at Landmark’s Sunshine and AMC Lincoln Square in New York as well as the Landmark in L.A. “We believe A.C.O.D. is the perfect comedy to counter-program opposite Gravity. This is a traditionally released film. Our partners at Paramount will be releasing the film on VOD & DVD in 2014.”
Strand co-head Marcus Hu saw I Used To Be Darker at Sundance where it debuted in the festival’s NEXT section. The musical drama follows a runaway who seeks refuge with her aunt and uncle in Baltimore amidst marital crisis and her cousin’s downward spiral. “I went to the very first screening of it there,” said Hu. “I’ve been following Matt’s films since Hamilton and Putty Hill. It gave me the kind of feeling I’d had when I saw great works of Alan Rudolph and Robert Altman. It reminded me a lot of Welcome To L.A – [but as] the Baltimore version of that.” Hu noted that The New Yorker and others have been responding to the film which suggests the cinephile crowd will be a mainstay for the film as it heads into theatrical release, though he acknowledges the backdrop of divorce may be challenging for some. “I hope it has a broader appeal, but of course it’s also a tough movie about divorce and how people perceive divorce,” said Hu. “So it’s not easy, but I also think it’s a very beautiful movie. We have music people who are doing outreach with Ned and Kim.” Ned Oldham and Kim Taylor will be on a song tour which the release schedule will roughly mirror.
“The film will open IFC Center in New York where Kim and Ned are performing and Matt will do Q&As,” said Hu. “It will next head to L.A. For me personally, it feels very indie and one of the most passionate of the year that we’re releasing.”
The idea behind Sundance Editing and World Documentary Award-winner The Summit came when filmmaker Nick Ryan heard a frightening statistic. The doc centers on the deadliest day on the world’s most dangerous mountain known as K2, when 11 climbers mysteriously perished. The tragedy in 2008 was a worldwide media event,” said director Nick Ryan. “A colleague of one climber who was on the mountain alerted me to the fact that the full story wasn’t been told, and initially it was an attempt to address that issue. I was drawn to the statistic that for every four people who have reached the summit of K2 one had died trying. It seemed like a peculiar form of insanity to me and I wanted to know why someone would put their lives at risk with worse odds than Russian roulette.” Ryan pursued the story over four years, but had challenges finding people who would share their stories. Filming also proved to have a number of technical and safety challenges. Sundance Selects picked up the title at the Sundance Film Festival for a reported low 7-figure deal and will open the film in NYC, Boulder, Seattle and Los Angeles this weekend followed by a wide national roll out. VOD etc will come at a later date.
Five Dances opened the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Dance On Camera film series last February and has since traveled the international film circuit in Europe, Israel and South America. The coming of age tale centers on a gifted young dancer who arrives in New York City. Paladin chief Mark Urman had worked with writer-director Alan Brown on his previous film Private Romeo and began to collaborate on this film’s release strategy soon after wrapping. “Although Alan has developed a considerable LGBT following, we truly believed that Five Dances was first and foremost a dance film,” said Urman. “So while the film naturally played several prominent LGBT events – and winning prizes along the way – it played Lincoln Center, Jacobs Pillow and is benefiting from the support of the Dance Film Association among other important dance influencers. Alan even did a music video on the very set where he shot Five Dances to a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Want To Dance With Somebody” that has gone viral. It’s a great curtain raiser for the film.” Urman said fans of dance, will, naturally, be a fit for the film and noted that dance-oriented films have a long tradition of “soaring at the box office.” He said Five Dances is set in the world of contemporary dance, so it’s not being aimed at “balletomanes or the Broadway crowd.”
Urman noted that the marketplace has been very crowded and competitive this season, but said Five Dances is a stand-out. “There is literally nothing out there even remotely like it,” he added. “Plus we are rolling it out slowly and in many instances, playing such specific venues, that we hope to outlast the season.” Five Dances will open as an exclusive engagement in NYC Friday in addition to Atlanta. Wolfe Video will handle digital and DVD for the film next spring. Added Urman: “In true dance fashion, we are approaching it as more of a ‘tour’ than a traditional theatrical release.”
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