Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Valentine’s Day, not surprisingly, is a ripe date to open a romantic comedy. Monterey Media is hoping to tap those love bird dollars with its Paris set Girl On A Bicycle with a fairly hefty 60-market bow in major cities including New York and Los Angeles. China Lion will open Beijing Love Story, appealing to its Chinese-American audience with the filmed version of a popular television show. But Valentine’s Day can also offer work that perhaps goes against the grain. Cavu Pictures will open Lucky Bastard, which boasts an NC-17 and a story involving a young man winning a “date” with a porn star. Zak Forsman’s Down And Dangerous skirts the manufactured holiday as well with a film that filmed in L.A. on the edge of the law.
Agency Paradigm presented German-U.S. production Girl On A Bicycle to Monterey Media last spring. The company found appeal with its Paris setting and the fact it’s a romantic comedy. The feature follows an Italian who drives a Parisian tour bus. He has proposed to his German girlfriend, but things turn upside down when a woman pulls up beside his bus on her bicycle. “We found the film so very charming, and the opportunity of Valentine’s Day falling on a Friday this year was just the right convergence of circumstances,”said Monterey Media managing partner Scott Mansfield. “While the film resonates as a wonderful date movie, it particularly plays well with women ages 35 and up.” Mansfield said the film also appeals to older audiences which are a “nice percentage of art house patrons,” adding, “From a marketing standpoint, we are approaching it as we do many of our films, with a varied and multi-tiered and layered marketing outreach.” That marketing includes advertisement on Lifetime and Hallmark channels, a targeted Facebook campaign centered around a particular theater’s location as well as traditional newspaper advertising in most major markets. Complimenting those initiatives are trailer placements on iTunes and others as well as tastemaker screenings in New York and L.A.
“We are presently set to open the film this Friday (Valentine’s Day) in just over 60 markets/cities including New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Detroit, Miami, etc., primarily in one (sometimes two) theaters per market,” said Mansfield. “Many of the theaters are key Art House locations and we will expand to another 15-20 cities over the following three weeks.” The film will be available on demand in March.
Crime-thriller Down And Dangerous follows Paul Boxer, an inventive yet “principled” smuggler who never carries a gun, but is always one step ahead of the feds. A sharp-witted woman from his past asks for help to escape a rival outfit and Paul must choose between his livelihood and his integrity as he confronts the man hunting him down. Director-writer Zak Forsman had a key inspiration when writing the script for Down And Dangerous. “I looked at my dad’s own brief career in the smuggling trade for creative inspiration and wrote the screenplay to take advantage of resources and locations we had easy access to,” said Forsman who added that once the script was locked, there was only about a month-and-a-half of pre-production. Once shooting started, the production borrowed some inspiration from their own story and shot in one of the most regulated cities on the margins. “We didn’t have permits for a lot of the production in L.A.,” said Forsman. “But rather than shrink and try to hide, the crew would wear reflective vests and put out cones and act as though we were supposed to be there. On a few occasions cops drove by, slowed down, [and then] our producer offered a friendly wave and they moved on…” Added Forsman: “I’m sure that if we’d tried to be “small” and hide what we were doing they would have shut us down.” John T. Woods had been slated to play the lead from the beginning. He was also “instrumental,” according to Forsman for the film’s crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter. In fact, the campaign raised 177% of their goal. The team had also reached out to Judd Nelson. “It was his enthusiasm for the screenplay and the role that made him stand out,” said Forsman. “He was fantastic to work with, had an intelligent take on the character and impressed me with his professionalism.”
The production team decided to go the DIY route for the film. Producers made direct bookings with independent theaters and chains across the U.S. under their Artis Entertainment label. “Most of these are one night only with the exception of Los Angeles where we’ll play for a week,” added Forsman. Other Valentine’s openings include showings in Portland, Chicago, Phoenix, Denver and more playing various playdates through the end of the month. “True to the spirit in which the movie was made, we did it ourselves.”
China Lion has a track record releasing popular Chinese fare Stateside and in time for Valentine’s Day, it is opening the appropriately titled Beijing Love Story. “We were looking for a Valentine’s Day film that would appeal to our core audience and Beijing Love Story filled it perfectly,” said the company’s Robert Lundberg. “Based on a television series from 2012, this big-screen version is written, directed and stars the same creative force, Chen Sicheng.” The romantic drama revolves around a pregnant woman who must choose between her husband and an ex-lover who comes back into her life. “We’re marketing it towards Chinese-speaking audiences who are familiar with the series,” said Lundberg. We’re in our core communities and pushing our grassroots outreach there.” They’re also adding a San Jose, CA location – Camera 12 Cinemas – for this release. China Lion is hoping to replicate the success it had with the Huayi Bros.’ Love (2012) as a Valentine’s release. The company said it did not find a Chinese New Year film to fit its schedule, so it will look to Beijing Love Story for its Q1 success. They will open the film in smaller theaters, similar to how they rolled out Feng Xiaogang’s Personal Tailor earlier this year. It will open in 9 theaters this weekend.
Lucky Bastard is a meeting of a DIY “thriller” and the X-rated (or rather NC-17). The feature is centered on the “found footage” about a porn website run by Mike which invites fans to have sex with its stars. One eager young fan is given the chance, but everyone gets more than they bargained for as something more sinister lurches below the surface of the seemingly mild mannered young man. “The movie crosses many genres— drama, comedy, suspense thriller, horror—without entirely belonging to any of them, and implicitly comments on a society in which pornography is not only a common part of modern life but also a mirror reflecting the nature of intimacy in an atomized world,” noted Cavu Pictures. “This is a story that lives in the twilight of what we consider ‘culturally correct’ so I think it would make for a very interesting story.” The team behind the release decided to go for a straight-up (so to speak) NC-17 instead of releasing it without a rating. “We did not want people to accuse us of trying to make a quick buck off the naïveté of young and inappropriate audiences,” said co-writer and executive producer Lukas Kendall. “It was 50-50 whether we would go unrated or accept a rating we assumed would be NC-17, because both are problematic, but in the end it was a simple decision: the movie is not for kids. I won’t say we don’t want to make money, but we want to make money from adults. As a business and moral decision we figured we would communicate that fact by accepting the NC-17. In the end the movie is being normalized simply by the process of marketing it as a movie, albeit a very provocative one.” Not surprisingly, it will roll out slowly, opening at Cinema Village in New York Friday — just in time for Valentine’s. It will head to L.A.’s Laemmle Noho 7 March 7 with additional cities added through March and April.