Last weekend Richard Linklater made a Specialty box office splash with the 2nd highest screen average of the year with Boyhood. This week, Focus will hope to grab some similarly outsized attention for Zach Braff‘s Wish I Was Here. His previous film, 2004’s Garden State, cumed more than $26.7 million at a time before crowd sourcing was an indie norm. Braff has since learned some new tricks, raising the seed money for his latest, which debuted at Sundance earlier this year. Fox Searchlight will open second-time feature filmmaker Mike Cahill‘s I Origins on both coasts, while Drafthouse will bow French filmmaker Michel Gondry‘s Mood Indigo in two locations in NYC and L.A. Bond/360 will open the weekend’s new doc, Alive Inside, in an initial exclusive New York run. The film won an audience prize at Sundance.

Wish I was here movie posterComments 38Wish I Was Here

Director-writer: Zach Braff

Writer: Adam J. Braff

Cast: Zach Braff, Joey King, Pierce Gagnon, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Alexander Chaplin, Leslie David Baker

Distributor: Focus Features

Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here project grabbed some trade headlines when he launched a Kickstarter campaign in April 2013 to raise an initial $2 million. The campaign met its goal in 3 days, eventually raising over $3.1 million with cash from nearly 47,000 donors.

“Every financier we were in talks with [prior to the campaign] was insistent that we go to stars with bigger foreign box office than the ones that were my first choices,” said Braff. “That happened across the board with every role. Even roles where the character has one scene. I kept saying, ‘Those are great actors, but I want to cast Mandy Patinkin.’ I’m no dummy, I know you need to have star draw to market a film, but the process one is asked to go through in casting your film in the typical way takes all the art out of it. In my experience, it’s solely about what that performer’s current overseas stock is.”

The Kickstarter campaign, of course, changed the project’s course. Wish I Was Here follows Aidan Bloom, a 35-year-old man who finds himself examining his life, career and family. “We wanted to write about family and spirituality for secular people in 2014,” said Braff. “So many people I know had their parents’ religion presented to them in their childhoods as ‘the truth,’ but nothing other than the fun of the holidays was resonating for them as a useful tool for dealing with the mind-f*** of living on a tiny spinning rock in the middle of infinity.”

The success of the campaign led to subsequent additional financing allowed production to go forward, though it was still relatively tight, with a 26-day shoot and 12-hour days. There were also obligations to the 47K contributors, including set visits and early screenings in addition to “voicemail messages, signing anything that can ever be signed, marriage proposals,” said Braff. “I couldn’t have done it without my amazing producers. It was like starting and running two companies at the same time.”

“Having the Kickstarter Backers on set was actually a lot of fun for the crew. I’d look over and see my key grip, Sean, explaining why they rigged a light a certain way to someone, or Kate Hudson showing a Backer where her wireless microphone was hidden,” said Braff. “It became a lot of fun for the cast and crew to have the Backers visiting all the time because we’re all so used to on-set life. I will forever be grateful to all 47,000 of them for going on this crazy ride with me.”

Focus Features, which picked up North American and select international rights to the film, will platform release Wish I Was Here beginning Friday, bowing in 64 U.S. theaters in addition to several Canadian locations. In support of the film, Focus implemented a targeted marketing campaign to “drive consumer interest in seeing the film,” the distributor said this week.

“Campaign elements included: a teaser and payoff trailer; a targeted media buy, online destination takeovers such as; social-media threads and placements; a curated soundtrack by Braff; red-carpet premieres in New York and Los Angeles; and cast support via traditional media appearances such as multiple parts on The Today Show, visits to The Tonight Show, Live with Kelly and Michael, and other programs.The film will expand to additional markets July 25.

I Origins

Director-writer: Mike Cahill

Cast: Michael Pitt, Steven Yeun, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Brit Marling, Dorien Makhloghi

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

i Origins Mike Cahill poster imageCahill had the idea for I Origins swirling in his head even before coming up with the story for what would be his 2011 narrative debut, Another Earth, which opened in July 2011 and grossed more than $1.3M domestically. Cahill returns to sci-fi for I Origins, which follows a molecular biologist and his laboratory partner, who uncover evidence that may fundamentally change society.

Cahill met actor Michael Pitt through his agent. Conveniently, both lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, met for a chat and sowed the seeds for I Origins. “I’ve admired him from afar for a long time. I think he’s made some interesting choices and has the highest integrity as an actor,” said Cahill. “He’s just bold and surprising and anything that has his name on it, I want to see it. We met for coffee in Williamsburg and we just hit it off — he felt like a brother. I didn’t even have a project I was presenting to him, it was just a general meeting. I only had a treatment  for [I Origins].”

“I thought maybe we’d really make this movie together,” added Cahill. “So I wrote the script in about two weeks. It was a first draft but it was all in my head. He said, ‘Let’s do it’ and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And then literally we started going into laboratories the next day.” Their personal green light came in August 2012 and shooting began in January 2013. One year later to the day the film premiered at Sundance. The shoot itself took 6 weeks in New York and in India, where the film climaxes. “It was so super fast,” said Cahill. “I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could make more movies this fast.'”

Fox Searchlight, which also released Another Earth, will open I Origins in NYC and L.A. Friday in four theaters, including Arclight Hollywood, The Landmark West L.A., and Manhattan’s the Sunshine and AMC Lincoln Square. “The film will be released on a limited platform basis opening in Art/Specialty and upscale theatres in North America over a 4-5 week period,” said Searchlight.

Mood Indigo

Director-writer: Michel Gondry

Cast: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy

Distributor: Drafthouse Films

Mood Indigo Michel Gondry movie posterDrafthouse Films saw French filmmaker Gondry’s Mood Indigo and went after it for both their signature genre event, Fantastic Fest, as well as for their distribution slate.

It played extremely well there last September and StudioCanal was motivated to close quickly with us after they could see what we did with the film during Fantastic,” said Drafthouse Films’ James Shapiro and Sumyi Khong Antonson. “We are huge Gondry fans and this is perhaps the most pure Gondry vision we’ve seen since his music videos, so the opportunity to work with someone of Gondry’s stature was too good to pass up.”

The fantasy feature centers on Colin, a wealthy, inventive bachelor who seeks a cure for his lover Chloe after she’s diagnosed with an illness that causes a flower to grow in her lungs. Drafthouse is leveraging Gondry’s popular film titles, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, $34.4M U.S. gross) and The Science Of Sleep (2006, $4.67M U.S. gross) in Mood Indigo’s poster, trailer, advertising and other marketing materials.

“[We want] to strengthen the connection for audiences,” added Shapiro. “In addition, in LA, we partnered with the American Cinematheque for a Gondry retrospective and in New York, we’re doing a  series of Q&As with both him and Audrey Tautou opening weekend.” Drafthouse is hoping to capitalize on its stars and “romantic and emotional storyline” to appeal to a wider audience, in particular women and couples on “date night.”

“In addition to traditional entertainment coverage, we are also working with style and beauty outlets and hosting a red-carpet event in New York to celebrate the opening,” said Shapiro. “The film has been receiving strong reviews, which is also more relevant for arthouse audiences so we are also highlighting the prestige and well-received reactions.” Drafthouse will open Mood Indigo at the NuArt in L.A. and the Landmark Sunshine in New York on Friday, followed by a handful of “top tier markets,” including Chicago and San Francisco, before opening to an additional 20 markets by early August and up to 50-plus markets throughout summer. A home-entertainment release won’t come until the end of the year.

Alive Inside

Director-writer: Michael Rossato-Bennett

Writer: Michael Rossato-Bennett

Cast: Dan Cohen, Louise Dueno, Nell Hardie, Norman Hardie, Michael Rossato-Bennett

Distributor: Bond/360

Alive Inside documentary film posterThis weekend’s new non-fiction offering comes courtesy of a Sundance Audience Award winner. The title has only had a limited festival run since bowing at Sundance, but it has managed to pick up wins, in fact, in most of the events it has played, including Seattle, Sedona and in Milan.

The doc centers on the founder of nonprofit group Music & Memory, Dan Cohen, who fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss. “It was clear from that first screening that audiences react to the film emotionally (in a manner) one can only dream for in a sense,” said Bond/360’s Mark Schiller. “The key is to let audiences know that they will be able to leave the theater humming and singing. It’s that kind of film.”

Schiller, who worked on fellow Sundance doc Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010) said he’s taking a page out of that playbook to screen this film “early and often [and] in contexts that are special,” adding, “It’s about curation. What we’ve always done is to look for different types of groups together to share the experience. What happens is typically you’ll screen for a particular constituency, but what we’ve found is that curating a screening, so (we’re) having musicians sitting next to care givers next to students next to others. If you curate that properly, then you see that they’ll share their passion for it.” Bond/360 has organized “dozens” of such screenings around the country in the lead-up to this weekend’s release.

Landmark has come on board to champion a bulk of the film’s showings in various markets, including its exclusive bow at the Sunshine in NYC on Friday. Landmark is also partnering with the distributor to set up donation posts where the film is screening to solicit used iPods in support of the Music and Memory program. Alive Inside will head to Washington, D.C as well as other locations before heading to the NuArt August 1. There will also be a bigger push Aug. 8. Added Schiller: “We’re thrilled they loved the film and saw in it what we saw in it and have emotionally connected with the film and are partnering in the donation drop boxes.”