The post-Oscars floodgates have opened, with a dozen-plus new limited-release titles heading into theater. Depending on one’s definition of “specialty release,” there likely won’t be a spectacular standout this weekend, though Sony Classics’ doc Merchants Of Doubt should make good headway. Robert Kenner’s previous docu, 2008’s Oscar-nominated Food, Inc, was a box office success. Screen Media Films will open the 2014 SXSW title Faults by Riley Stearns in theaters and on-demand, while Indican will open Straight Outta Tompkins by Zephyr Benson in a traditional release. Well Go USA is bowing “smart” genre pic These Final Hours in 10 theaters, while Abramorama will open docu An Honest Liar at two locations before an expansion hoping to capitalize on media attention. FilmBuff will take radio personality Adam Carolla’s semi-autobiographical Road Hard day-and-date, and Distrib Films is taking Italy’s The Mafia Only Kills In Summer to two locations. Among other specialties opening this weekend: City Drive Films’ The Life And Mind Of Mark DeFriest, Pack Wolf Productions’ Compared To What? The Improbable Journey Of Barney Frank and Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Bad Asses On The Bayou.
And for students this Friday, The Weinstein Company is teaming with exhibitors AMC, Carmike Cinemas, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment Group in screening its Best Picture Oscar nominee The Imitation Game in 446 location. Tickets are at no charge March 6 for U.S. students, with a “special focus” on schools and community groups, including high school computer classes, math and science teams and LGBT clubs. Select screenings will include a taped introductory message from the film’s Academy Award-winning screenwriter Graham Moore. The Imitation Game was the highest-grossing specialty release of 2014, grossing $87M to date.
It should be noted that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the sequel to the specialty hit, is opening in fairly wide release this weekend. Fox Searchlight’s film bows Friday in 1,573 theaters in North America. Searchlight opened the first Marigold in just 27 theaters in May 2012, grossing over $737K for a solid $27,298 theater average. It then hit the zeitgeist, going on to gross $46.4M that year.
Merchants Of Doubt
Director: Robert Kenner
Subjects: Frederick Singer, Naomi Oreskes, Jamy Ian Swiss, James Hansen, Bob Inglis, Patricia Callahan
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Classics picked up Oscar-nominated director Robert Kenner’s docu Merchants Of Doubt, his big-screen follow-up to docu hit Food, Inc, last summer ahead of the title’s festival rollout in Telluride, Toronto and New York. Inspired by the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants Of Doubt sets out to be “satirically comedic yet illuminating,” going into the heart of conjuring American spin. The film lifts the curtain on secretive groups of highly charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities. The self-styled authorities, however, have the contrary aim of spreading maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change. Participant Media produced Merchants Of Doubt.
“We’re excited because it’s very timely,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “Everything in the movie is making headlines today.” The film actually has its roots in Food, Inc. While making the 2008 feature, the production kept coming across groups like Center for Consumer Freedom, which aimed to cause confusion about what was added in food. Other organizations targeting oil, coal, agriculture, health and environmental issues during the past five decades had successfully created mistrust on the part of the public against established science, according to the book.
“We’ve had a lot of word-of-mouth screenings for Merchants Of Doubt, which has attracted people on the political right and left,” added Barker. SPC initially will roll out the film in four New York and Los Angeles locations, followed by several more markets the following week with additional cities added into the spring.
Director-writer: Riley Stearns
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick, Jon Gries, Beth Grant, Nicholas Tucci, Leonard Earl Howze
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Straight back from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where his third short The Cub debuted, Riley Stearns dove right in and belted out the script for feature film, Faults, in just two weeks. The story centers on Claire, who is under the grips of a mysterious new cult called Faults. Desperate to be reunited with their daughter, Claire’s parents recruit one of the world’s foremost experts on mind control.
“[This film] came together so quickly that I keep reminding myself that is usually doesn’t happen this way,” said Stearns. “I have always been fascinated by cults and mind control, and specifically deprogramming from the cult.” Although The Cub was not a direct precursor to Faults, the short’s tone established for Stearns his voice. He gave the script to Keith Calder and Jessica Calder of Snoot Entertainment, who boarded the project. “They had seen my short [at Sundance] and said they’d like to meet me when I returned to L.A.,” said Stearns. “A week after seeing the script, they said they wanted to do it.” Mary Elizabeth Winstead was cast as the female lead, Leland Orser came on and soon afterward. The project shot secretly over 19 days in October and November 2013 at a soundstage in Long Beach, CA. Snoot financed the film.
“Post was quick,” said Stearns. “We edited as we shot.” Because few people knew that the project had gone into production, an unlikely twist happened as the film was coming together in the edit room. Faults‘ script was named to the Black List. “We were getting text messages we were on the Black List, but we were actually in the editing room,” said Stearns. “We wanted to finish [the edit] in time for Sundance, but then realized we wouldn’t make it.”
The title was completed in time for the SXSW Film Festival where it had its debut last year. Screen Media saw the feature at the festival and picked it up last summer. Faults will open March 6 in 14 theaters and also will be available on-demand day-and-date.
Straight Outta Tompkins
Director-writer: Zephyr Benson
Cast: Zephyr Benson, Aaron Costa Ganis, Jon McCormick, Michael Steinmetz, Adonis Rodriguez, Christina Saragaglia
Distributor: Indican Pictures
When first-time feature filmmaker Zephyr Benson was 17 and living in New York’s East Village, he started hanging out with kids who were a part of the neighborhood’s infamous drug scene. His experience there formed the basis of Straight Outta Tompkins. Benson, son of actor-director Robby Benson and actress Karla DeVito, also stars in the film about a forlorn teenager abandoned in New York City who makes the mistake of the welcoming embrace of a Lower East Side drug dealer for the love of a family. A mixology of weed, narcotics and pills reveal the junkie lifestyle as well as innocence lost. The plot follows the sales and distribution of narcotics through teen social circles until they come to a violent end.
“In 2008, I started hanging out with a group of kids into drugs and that scene,” said Benson. “I met these kids who were 23 or 24 and were making so much money, [tens of thousands of dollars] in a day wasn’t unusual. But they were upper-middle-class white kids. Then I’d see other guys dealing dime bags and stopped in Tompkins Square Park. From that experience, I knew I had to write this script.”
He brewed on the story for a time, and later Benson wrote a 120-page script after locking himself into a room for a month and a half. He and Brandon Roots, the film’s DP, shot a teaser trailer. Benson dropped out of NYU and showed the teaser to his father, who came on as an executive producer. “My dad had a college fund for me, so I convinced him to let me use a portion to get the film done,” said Benson. “He believed in me from day one, which was incredible.” The script was cut down to 90 pages to cut costs, and at age 20, Benson began preproduction. “We cast it quickly and all the stars aligned. Some actors we already knew,” he said. “I had my vision, and I’m stubborn. But it will always change. Everyone you hire from the first actor to the colorist will change [what you envision].” The film shot over 17 days with a $150K budget. Elements of post were done during the shoot to save money.
“I had great advice from my father and others,” said Benson. “I was being thrown down a dark hallway, but for them they knew what was coming up next, so we benefited from that.” The filmmaking team began speaking with distributor Indican Pictures following postproduction and the company picked up the title. Straight Outta Tompkins will open at the Laemmle Noho in Los Angeles and the Cinema Village in New York. It will be available on-demand March 30.
These Final Hours
Director-writer: Zak Hilditch
Cast: Nathan Phillips, Jessica De Gouw, Angourie Rice, Kathryn Beck, Sarah Snook
Distributor: Well Go USA
These Final Hours is an apocalyptic drama that distributor Well Go USA says could be a game-changer for its writer-director Zak Hilditch. The feature follows James, a troubled young man on a mission. He’s desperate to join his girlfriend Vicky at the “party to end all parties” and numb any feelings as the world comes to an end. On his journey, however, James is greeted by a lawless and chaotic city, facing a cataclysmic event that will end life on the planet, and he discovers that getting to where he needs to be will not be easy. Along the way, he saves the life of a girl named Rose who is frantically searching for her father. Out of options, James invites Rose to join him. Together they discover “how they would truly like to spend their last moments on Earth in a world gone mad.”
“We love films that play in the genre space, and this is a smart apocalyptic film,” said Well Go USA SVP Jason Pfardrescher. “Many of these films can be visually stimulating but don’t stimulate the mind. We believe it could be a breakout film for Zak, and that was also very attractive to us.”
These Final Hours played a host of international festivals including Cannes and Melbourne, but it did not screen at fests in North America due to decisions by the film’s Australian production company, according to Pfardrescher. Well Go has premiered an exclusive clip on iTunes, and a recut of the international trailer premiered a month ago. The company also has been engaged in a national PR and digital campaign leading up to its simultaneous theatrical and on-demand release this weekend.
These Final Hours will open 10 theaters on Friday with an additional several locations planned over the next couple weeks. “It’s a day-and-date release, so we know there will be some challenges a the box office,” Pfardrescher said. “There’s interest among art house exhibitors, but we’ll see how it goes.”
An Honest Liar
Directors-writers: Tyler Meason, Justin Weinstein
Subjects: James Randi, Deyvi Peña, Banachek, Alice Cooper, Michael Edwards, Uri Geller, Bill Nye, Peter Popoff, Penn Jilette
Distributor Abramorama viewed documentary An Honest Liar and considered the film be be a “bona fide release, and not just a trifle [one] on the side,” according to the company’s head Richard Abramowitz. The film features James “The Amazing” Randi, who for the last half-century was known worldwide for his feats of magic, escape and trickery. Randi saw his magician tricks being used by faith healers, fortune tellers and psychics — not for entertainment purposes but to steal money. Enraged by this, he dedicated his life to exposing fraud and did so with the wit and style of a showman. But when dealing with a master deceiver, the truth can be a delicate one. A sudden and shocking revelation in Randi’s personal life is brought to light when the tale of multiple identities takes an unprecedented and potentially devastating turn.
“The movie goes through his career and takes on these completely crazy twists and turns,” said Abramowitz. “The film works on a lot of levels, and it appeals to a number of natural constituencies.” He added that the plethora of “skeptic Societies” will be a natural crowd for the title as well as fans of Alice Cooper, who appears in the film. “There’s also a compelling gay element in the story as well as a political one,” he added. “We believed we couldn’t overshow this film,” referring to the number of word-of-mouth screenings for An Honest Liar leading up to the film’s release. “We have the belief that when someone sees it, [that person] will tell 10 friends.” Abramowitz added that Randi is getting ample media traction, and the company is planning its release accordingly.
Abramorama is giving An Honest Liar a fairly sizable outing throughout March. It will open initially in L.A. and New York this weekend before heading to another 15 markets on March 20 and then expanding to 40 markets.
Directors-writers: Adam Carolla, Kevin Hench
Cast: Adam Carolla, Kevin Hench, Jay Mohr, Mindy Robinson, Jim O’Heir, Brooke Smith, Diane Farr, David Koechner, Jackie Debatin
Radio personality Adam Carolla is taking his semi-autobiographical Road Hard out to theaters and major digital platforms via FilmBuff. The title centers on comedian Bruce Madsen (Carolla), who is forced to go back on the road after his movie and television career fizzles. He appears at one second-rate comedy club after another, spending endless nights in budget hotel rooms and always flying coach. While attempting to restart his career as well as his personal life in addition to putting his daughter through college, his final hope is to get back off the road.
“We’re combining day-and-date theatrical releases with commitments [Carolla] already made during his crowdfunding campaign,” said FilmBuff’s Janet Brown. “It’s meta. He’s going on the road to do personal appearances.” Carolla also is pushing the film via his own digital reach including his podcast, which he’s done since 2009, according to Brown. “The day-and-date model made the most sense. He also has a lot of support from comedians, including shows in L.A. and [this past Wednesday] at Caroline’s in New York. Similar to Dave Grohl’s Sound City, we’re maximizing the artist and his reach with our theatrical and digital strategies.”
Road Hard will open will open in 10 theaters this weekend including New York and L.A. with up to a half-dozen added in the next couple weeks. Added Brown, “We know from Carolla’s own knowledge of his fan base where to target those cities.”
The Mafia Only Kills In Summer
Writers: Michele Astori, Marco Martani
Cast: Cristiana Capotodi, Pif, Alex Bisconti, Ginevra Antona, Barbara Tabita, Rosario Lisma
Distributor: Distrib Films
Paris- and New York-based boutique company Distrib Films picked up The Mafia Only Kills In Summer after its president François Scippa-Kohn followed the pic’s path through a host of Italian-themed festivals. Styling itself as a “subversive and irreverent feature,” the film is about Arturo, a young boy whose obsession with the mafia’s casual presence in his city surpasses his passion for Flora, the beautiful schoolmate who remains his main love interest until adulthood. Director/co-writer Pif uses Arturo’s unrequited love story as the vehicle to narrate some of the most tragic events in Italy’s recent history, starting with the Cosa Nostra’s criminal actions in Sicily in the ’70s, which soon spread through the country, including the murder of judges.
“The film did very well in Italy,” said Scippa-Kohn. “I know the director Pif … and I thought there was something about this movie. It’s an outsider, even though [in Italy] it has [a recognizable] director and actors. It doesn’t look like an Italian movie.” He said the title is not a “mafia movie” but shows the mafia from “the inside.” “There’s a tragic comedy about it,” he added. Scippa-Kohn said the title will be released in cooperation with Cinema Made in Italy, an initiative announced last year spearheaded by Emerging Pictures as well as Instituto Luce-Cinecittà and the Italian Trade Commission, which gives marketing and distribution support to identified Italian titles for the U.S.
“We’re spending more and more on Internet, including Italian websites in this country in addition to ad buys on film websites,” said Scippa-Kohn. “It’s very different from Viva la Liberta ($48,541 in the U.S.) which is our last movie. You hardly ever see this kind of movie in Italy. Pif went through the usual financing in Italy, but he kept his original voice.”
The Mafia Only Kills will open Friday in New York , followed by L.A. and Miami with other cities planned through early June.