After a sizable festival run including wins in Cannes, the Hamptons and a big Gotham prize this week, the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis is easily the most anticipated Specialty release of the weekend. The Oscar hopeful will platform release via CBS Films. Tim’s Vermeer had good news ahead of its theatrical roll out this weekend, making the Oscar Documentary shortlist. A Telluride and New York Film Festival premiere, Sony Classics will open the unique film which illusionist/entertainer Teller (of Penn and Teller fame) directed. Producer Adam Shopkorn is self-distributing his doc Lenny Cooke which will make its rounds this month ahead of a hopeful television deal that will move the Tribeca film’s reach into high gear. And also opening is IFC Films’ comedy White Reindeer in limited release.
The Coens latest has made its rounds online with various trailer releases since its World Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May where it won the Jury Grand Prize. The film then headed to the Telluride and New York Film Festivals as well as festivals in Chicago, Austin and AFI Fest. The Gothams gave it its best awards push to date with a Best Film win for 2013, while the National Board of Review gave the Coens a Best Original Screenplay nod and the NY Film Critics Circle recognized Bruno Delbonnel for Best Cinematography. The drama follows the week in the life of a young singer against the backdrop of the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. CBS Films picked up U.S. rights to the completed film last winter for close to $4 million. The project re-teamed the Coens with producer Scott Rudin who worked with the filmmaker duo on True Grit and No Country For Old Men. “I heard about the film by reading [about] it in a trade that they were going to make a movie in New York requiring live music,” Llewyn Davis star Oscar Isaac told me at a lunch for the film organized by NYC awards-centric publicist Peggy Siegal. “I’ve been playing guitar for a very long time. I told my agent to get me on this. The audition came around and did a couple of scenes and sent in a couple of song recordings. And then I got a call back from the Coens and did a couple songs and two scenes and I got it.” Soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett organized concerts in New York and L.A. featuring music from the film and Showtime will debut a documentary about the NYC event on December 13. The Coens’ last film was a star-studded studio re-make of True Grit, which was a hit at the box office, but Llewyn Davis is more akin to their “indie” roots. Studio Canal financed the film, which it is releasing in some international territories. The Coens last non-studio pic, A Serious Man (2009) opened with a $251K gross ($41,890 PSA in six theaters). It went on to gross over $9.2 million domestically. Like Llewyn Davis, No Country For Old Men (Miramax) meanwhile also boasted an appealing soundtrack. That film opened in 28 theaters in November 2007 in 28 theaters, grossing over $1.22 million ($43,797 average) going on to take in over $74.28 million.
CBS Films will open Inside Llewyn Davis in two locations each in New York and Los Angeles this weekend followed by a slow expansion December 20 and another one in January. “I think it’s too early to talk about who the movie expands to, but the movie has the music component [courtesy of] T Bone Burnett and there are many people who love this music, so it it should expand beyond its core of Coen fans,” said CBS Films co-president Terry Press. “You do what you always do when you have a film that you’re proud of.”
Entertainment duo Penn and Teller Penn and Teller have known inventor Tim Jenison for 25 years. During a dinner several years ago, Jenison showed them some footage of how Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer might have created his masterpieces using camera obscure, hundreds of years before the invention of photography. “Teller said, ‘Stop what you’re doing, we have to make a movie about this,'” said producer Farley Ziegler. The genesis of the idea started in 2009. Jillette and Teller reached out to Ziegler who produced comic doc The Aristocrats with her in 2005. “Nobody including Tim Jenison had any idea how long the project would take,” said Ziegler. “I kept thinking it would take a year, but so often a year passed.” Jenison constructed a room to emulate his theory of how Vermeer created his work. Filming began resulting in 2,400 hours of footage. “Five or ten years ago, this project would have been impossible,” added Ziegler. “It would have cost too much. There are nine cameras running in Tim’s Vermeer room to show that there’s no ‘funny business.'” Ahead of filming, Teller, Jenison and Farley headed to Holland and met artist David Hockney (who also theorizes Vermeer’s camera obscura technique) in England. Funding came directly from Penn Jillette, Teller and Tim Jenison. “We were lucky because Tim already owned many of the cameras needed and Penn has a great voice for voiceover narration,” added Ziegler. “So things were already in-house.” Ziegler added that the five year-project was made in top secret. The team submitted it to Telluride precisely because the festival uniquely reveals its lineup only hours ahead of its launch.
SPC’s Michael Barker and Tom Bernard released Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989) so they reached out to the Sony Classics co-presidents to take on this film. “It’s a very unusual documentary, [but] also unusually entertaining,” said Ziegler “You have to be careful with the log line. It’s a film showing someone doing a scientific experiment, and doing a painting. But it’s rollicking entertainment.” Tim’s Vermeer will open at Lincoln Plaza in New York Friday and will head to the Landmark in Los Angeles December 13. The film, which made the Oscar Documentary short list this week, will head to additional markets next month.
Documentary Lenny Cooke producer Adam Shopkorn was an avid sports fan who became interested in the rising phenomenon of high school athletes turning professional. In the early 2000s, inspired by the likes of MTV Cribs, he began filming promising rising basketball star Lenny Cooke, who in 2001 was ranked the number-one high school basketball player in America. He declared himself eligible for the 2002 NBA draft, but was not selected. “It was easy to convince Lenny to be in the project in 2001,” said Shopkorn. “Having an entourage that included a cameraman fit in well with the bling culture, but when I came back in 2008, it was harder.” After Cooke was not picked up, Shopkorn put the project down until a half dozen years later. Cooke, by then living in southern Virginia in a modest home with a wife and kids, agreed to be filmed. Shopkorn asked Ben and Joshua Safdie to board the project in ’08, who were then introduced to Cooke. “The Safdies spent three years filming him,” added Shopkorn. “He lives the film and it has allowed him to come to terms with his past.” The film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, but has only had limited festival runs since then. “We came close to striking deals with traditional independent distributors, but I think a lot of people were not sure whether to treat it as a traditional documentary or a sports doc,” said Shopkorn who added that he decided to take on its theatrical release himself. He also added that a television deal is in the works, but could not reveal details until it’s finalized. Lenny Cooke will open for a week at the Film Society of Lincoln Center this weekend followed by the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills December 13 and the Roxy in San Francisco December 20.
Just in time for the Xmas season, comedy White Reindeer centers on Suzanne who struggles to put her life back together following an unexpected tragedy in suburban Virginia. Writer-director Zach Clark wrote the story in late 2010/early 2011 and after raising funds via Kickstarter and casting friends (along with open casting calls), production began in late 2011. The usual stress of production achieved some levity early on, indulging in some brew only days into the shoot when a scene called for some empty beer cans. “Our sound mixer, Dan, sent someone to buy like 10 feet of plastic tubing from a hardware store, and we made it into really long straws and gave them to the cast & crew, and we all had a contest to see who could keep drinking cheap beer out of this pot the longest,” said Clark. “It was disgusting. Also, we documented it on the RED camera at 300 frames per second. This was on like, day 3 or 4 of the shoot.” Beer consumption aside, the film was completed and had its premiere at SXSW last March and played BAMcinemaFest in June. White Reindeer will open in New York this weekend and will continue to around a dozen cities throughout December. It is also available via VOD and iTunes Friday.