Tim Grady and October Films co-founder Jeff Lipsky co-created New York-based Adopt Films in 2011. Since banding together, the pair has been savvy in their foreign language pick-ups, pouncing on four fims in Berlin in 2012, for example, with each going on to win prizes there — and three ending up as their respective countries’ submission for the Foreign Language Oscar. Last year, they were in the potentially hot-potato situation of having both the entry from Palestine, Hany Abu Assad’s Omar, and the Israeli elected Bethlehem by Yuval Adler. They scored a nomination with Omar and this year have Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep in contention. I spoke with Grady about the state of foreign language cinema, how the company has grown and what it’s like to handle challenging movies.
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DEADLINE: What has changed on the foreign language landscape since you guys got together to form Adopt in 2011?
GRADY: Adopt is a little over three years old now and our main focus has been the acquisition of prize winning foreign language films… We have acquired many prize winners such such as Hany Abu Assad’s Omar, Christian Petzold’s Barbara, the Taviani brothers’ Caesar Must Die, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café De Flore to name a few. Quite a few of them have proven profitable, but over the last three years the foreign language market has become more difficult and frankly disappointing. The 18-24-year-old audience care little about subtitled fare and the older, well-read baby boomers who support our films, can sometimes only find Adopt films on iTunes or Netflix, because more and more specialty theaters are not willing to take the risk of playing a foreign language film. The so-called theaters and chains who have supported foreign language films in the past have become less supportive. We accept these challenges and have negotiated more exclusives in the ancillary markets, which guarantees profitability for all Adopt titles.
I run into people all the time and I ask them if they’ve seen one of our films, and the answer is, ‘I know the film, but I’m waiting to see it on Netflix.’ Then you fully understand the lack of support theatrically. It’s depressing. There are so many great films that will never see the light of day in America and that’s sad. Sure, a handful of film aficionados can see some of these forgotten gems at film festivals, but really? They deserve a much larger audience than that!
DEADLINE: You’ve savvily picked a number of films that have gone on to win festival prizes and also become their country’s Oscar submission; how do you pick a winner?
GRADY: We buy films that we both love, and Jeff and I have been pretty accurate in handicapping which festival films will win prizes. At 2012’s Berlinale we landed a quartet of its top prize winners ahead of the closing ceremonies: Barbara, Caesar Must Die, Sister and Tabu. While it’s nice to have our taste and our soothsaying abilities confirmed — they represented the kind of cinema we adore — some of these films posed unique challenges for American audiences. For example, Caesar is in black-and-white, it’s subtitled, it’s shot in a prison with real convicts as actors, and the story is literally Shakespearean… Count them, that’s four strikes against the film in America. Since we knew all of that going in we tempered our MG, P&A budget and release commitment. But the film still did not work in America. I don’t want to be called before Congress, but Americans are stupid to have missed this film.
DEADLINE: Last year you had a nomination with Omar — how tough was it to navigate campaigning both a Palestinian and an Israeli film?
GRADY: We fell in love with both films during TIFF. The films have parallel arcs and similar endings, and we thought it would be advantageous for the same distributor to navigate the release of both films. This was not an easy task and it involved tiptoeing around the obvious tensions — and competitiveness — between these two nations. So we informed both producer teams that whichever film that was short listed for the Oscar would open first. The victor was Omar, which opened to great reviews, more than respectable box office, and, later, performed robustly, and continues to, during its ancillary afterlife. Bethlehem opened a month later. What would we have done had both films been shortlisted? Probably turn the whole affair over to the Secretary of Defense.
DEADLINE: This year, you look to have a strong candidate for the shortlist in Winter Sleep. How do you make sure Academy members see a 3+-hour film and how do you keep its momentum going?
GRADY: Our passion for Winter Sleep is boundless. We are thrilled to be distributing the film and we hope the film clears every hurdle from now through February 22nd. Winter Sleep is our 6th official Oscar-submitted foreign language film but, in this case, its (Turkish) producers hired their own awards publicist so we’ve been less proactive than usual. With Omar, we were integrally and directly involved in every aspect of the Oscar campaign, a campaign that yielded an Oscar nomination. Winter Sleep is a magnificent film and we can only hope Academy members watch the entire film… It will be a rich and rewarding experience.
DEADLINE: With the recent pick up of the Emma Thompson-scripted Effie Gray, are you branching out at all?
GRADY: In one sense, yes. Effie Gray marks our most ambitious rollout; an initial release on over 100 screens in 20 markets on April 3rd. But it also represents our third service deal, an arrangement we value, encourage, and will continue to welcome in the future. With independent films of this caliber and quality, that boast the level of talent this one obviously does, it’s an enviable alternative for producers of means to contract with Adopt Films for a fixed fee to collaborate on a film’s theatrical strategy while retaining 100% of the revenues, and so the producer(s) can retain complete control of the ancillaries, revenue streams that, for a film boasting a stable of such well-known superstars, should be considerable.
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