The big U.S. winners at this year’s Sundance Film Festival will go head-to-head with Universal’s Jurassic World this weekend in theaters. There is no doubt who will win, but both Fox Searchlight’s Me And Earl And The Dying Girl and Magnolia Pictures’ The Wolfpack appear to have a good amount of momentum to carve out a decent niche for themselves. The Wolfpack had a who’s who come out for its New York theatrical premiere earlier this week in New York, followed by a “Rock-n-Roll Prom” downtown — complete with Ramones band member Marky Ramone rocking out to the tune of one of his own songs. The Wolfpack will also have other docs in its company this weekend. Tribeca Film Festival opener Live From New York! will roll out in select cities as well as through TUGG, while The Orchard is opening the third Yes Men installment day and date. And Emerging Pictures will bow controversial Kurt Cobain documentary, Soaked In Bleach.
'Me And Earl And The Dying Girl' Takes Top Dramatic Honors At Sundance; Is It The Next 'Whiplash'?
Me And Earl And The Dying Girl
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer: Jesse Andrews
Cast: RJ Cyler, Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Katherine C. Hughes, Matt Bennett, Masam Holden
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Sundance breakout Me And Earl And The Dying Girl followed last year’s Whiplash in winning the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Dramatic prize and the Audience Award. Both also were picked up at the January festival, though Earl reportedly fetched a more lucrative deal.
From the Black List script by Jesse Andrews based on his novel, the plot follows Greg (Thomas Mann), who is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia.
“Indian Paint Brush developed [the project] from the novel, and [producers] Dan Fogelman and Steven Rales were involved from the beginning,” said fellow producer Jeremy Dawson. “The book has a lot of personality — it’s not linear. We wanted to keep that in the movie and tap into the mind of someone coming of age.”
The search was on for a director and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon obtained a draft of the script. Although he was not on the initial list, he reached out to co-producer Jeff Sommerville, whom he had known at NYU. “He made a great pitch,” said Dawson, who added that two of the three leads, Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke, alreadywere on board when Dawson boarded the project. “The [initial cast] rehearsed a lot with Alfonso, and we were greenlit before we had our ‘Earl’ in place.”
RJ Cyler was cast as Earl about two weeks before the film’s Pittsburgh shoot after casting director Angela Demo found him. “We shot over 23 days in June 2014. It went quite well. … I’d say it wasn’t one of these things where we weren’t feeling something wasn’t working,” said Dawson. “We had a small crew, but we were very excited about the material.”
Fox Searchlight launched its media campaign May 31, including TV and cable spots in the film’s initial launch cities. “We believe we’ll have the opportunity to capture the over-30 cinephile/art house audience who are aware of the film’s festival buzz as well as 12-to-24 moviegoers who came out to see Juno and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower,” said Fox Searchlight SVP Frank Rodriguez. “I think we were lucky to position the movie well within this crowded marketplace. Jurassic World will suck up [a lot], but we’ve found a space to co-exist with [that movie].”
Searchlight will launch Me And Earl And The Dying Girl in 15 theaters spread across New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, D.C. “It’s a mixture of upscale multiplexes and art houses,” added Rodriguez. “We’ll add 10 markets after that, and by July 4th weekend, our hope is that we’ll be in 750 theaters.”
Director: Crystal Moselle
Subjects: Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Krsna Angulo, Mukunda Angulo, Narayana Angulo
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
The Wolfpack had buzz going into this year’s Sundance Film Festival and it carried its momentum all the way to the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the January event. During an introduction at the film’s New York theatrical premiere at the Sunshine Theater, which brought out a bevy of stars including Susan Sarandon and Spike Jonze, the film was described as “the Grey Gardens for his generation.”
For years, the Angulo brothers were locked away from society in their Lower East Side Manhattan apartment. They learned about the outside world through the films they watched, spending much of their childhood reenacting their favorite movies using elaborate homemade props and costumes. Their insular lives, however, is shaken when one of the brothers escapes the apartment and their fascination with the world takes hold.
“[Director] Crystal Moselle met the boys about five years ago on the street. They were six boys who had distinct looks and had never cut their hair,” said Wolfpack producer Izabella Tzeknova. “They started talking and she said she was a filmmaker and they were interested in getting into filmmaking, and she pretty much began filming them from that point on.” At this point, the boys had begun their journey outside, and Moselle initially considered shooting the Angulos as a short video project, but as time passed, Moselle began to realize their was more to their story.
“Visually they looked interesting and it took awhile for her to peel the layers of their story,” said Tzeknova. “I came on board 2 1/2 years ago. At that point she had already shot a good amount of [footage]. She showed me a six-minute teaser and then I asked to see more. I was glued to the screen. The minute I saw it, I knew it could be great if it was edited right.”
Others boarded the project including David Cross as an executive producer, as well as Hunter Gray and Alex Orlovsky who all provided resources. Tzeknova believed the project could go somewhere but finding financing for this type of doc is especially challenging. “The obvious story was these kids who are stuck inside, but the hard part is finding financing for character-driven films. It’s not an issue doc, so it’s hard for people to believe it would work. But they came in and brought along a chunk of the financing along with Tyler Brodie.”
“I think six months into editing we realized we had an ending,” said Tzeknova, giving a shout-out to Editor Enat Sidi. “Magnolia Pictures picked up The Wolfpack at Sundance. In the lead-up to its release, the feature has received “intense media coverage,” according to a spokesperson familiar with its rollout, including features in Vogue, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, People, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, NY Post, NY Daily News, as well as multiple NPR shows and coverage across many shows on ABC including an upcoming 20/20 segment.
Magnolia Pictures is opening The Wolfpack at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Sunshine in New York as well as a single location in Toronto Friday. It will expand to about 20 locations in various markets on June 19 including the Arclight in Hollywood.
Live From New York!
Director: Bao Nguyen
Subjects: Dan Aykroyd, Alec Baldwin, James Belushi, Candice Bergen, Tom Broecker, Dana Carvey, Chevy Chase
Producer JL Pomeroy and Saturday Night Live Costume Designer Tom Broecker were discussing the 40 years of the late night sketch comedy show. “Everything happened very quickly,” said Pomeroy. “Tom Broecker is also a producing partner. We were saying it wold be great to do the kind of coverage of SNL that hasn’t been done before and thought it would be great to do a documentary.”
Live From New York! explores the show’s early years, an experiment that began with a young Lorne Michaels and his cast of unknowns, and follows its evolution into a comedy institution. Archival footage is interwoven with stolen moments and exclusive commentary from SNL legends, journalists, hosts, crew and others influenced by the long-running show. The film reflects on the longevity of a show that has broadcast nearly 800 episodes over 40 years.
Even as Pomeroy and Broecker talked about the scenario of an SNL doc, the show’s higher-ups had talked about doing something for the big screen. “We wanted to show how it’s an American institution,” said Pomeroy. “Lorne [Michaels] said, ‘Yes,’ but then he said, ‘Maybe you should run this by NBC.'” Luckily the network consented. Shooting began in March, 2014 with Pomeroy putting up the initial resources. “We delivered Live From New York! eleven months to the day for the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival,” raided Pomeroy. “I had looked for independent financing, but it was difficult because of licensing rights.” Production included booking all 50 interviews with many of the show’s biggest personalities in Studio 8H where SNL has aired since it began in October, 1975.
NBC came in on the back-end with additional financing. “We had kept creative control,” added Pomeroy. Part of the feature’s big screen release is happening through TUGG, which allows audiences and content owners to connect directly to play films in local venues. Abramorama’s Richard Abramowitz is advising on the feature’s release. The title will also be in 40 cities in the U.S., including select Landmark theaters. The title is also opening across 70 cities in Canada via Ron Mann’s Films We Like.
The Yes Men Are Revolting
Directors: Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno, Laura Nix
Cast/Subjects: Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno
Distributor: The Orchard
This is the third big screen outing for The Yes Men, who have humorously invaded the likes of the World Trade Organization and impersonated execs from Exxon, Halliburton and Dow Chemical in 2004’s The Yes Men ($255K gross) and 2009’s The Yes Men Fix The World ($194K gross). This time around, the comedy troupe stage phony events and press releases in an effort to bring attention to environmental dangers and corporate greed.
“We walked out of [the film’s Toronto premiere] with huge smiles across our faces. Their movies are a Trojan horse for activism,” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “It’s fully fun and at the same time you’re learning about their issues. “Our goal was to find the right time of the year to release it. We didn’t want to rush it out. We looked at the other Yes Men movies which came out around the summer months.” The previous two Yes Men installments were traditional releases, but for The Yes Men Are Revolting, The Orchard is opting for a day & date release.
Additionally, comedian Adam McKay, who is a producer of the latest Yes Men, will promote the film’s release with new Funny Or Die installments over “the next week or so,” according to Davidson. “We’re also partnering with BitTorrent for exclusive clips, the Sierra Club and 25 national organizations,” added Davidson. “Andy and Mike are doing late night talk shows in addition to [other events].”
The Orchard recently said it would “be transparent” with its on-demand/VOD numbers, noting its first-weekend on-demand take for Club Life was $100K in its first week. Hopefully the trend will continue. For its theatrical release, The Orchard will open The Yes Men Are Revolting in 40 – 50 markets over the next 4 – 6 weeks, with 17 locations eyed over the next couple weeks including New York and L.A.
Soaked In Bleach
Director-writer: Benjamin Statler
Writers: Donnie Eichar, Richard Middleton
Cast/Subjects: Kurt Cobain (archival), Sarah Scott, Daniel Roebuck, Tyler Bryan, August Emerson, Kurt Loder
Distributor: Emerging Pictures
Over 20 years after his death, Kurt Cobain remains a draw as evident in the Sundance debut of HBO Documentary Films’ Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck by Brett Morgen. Though HBO only gave it a one-week limited qualifying run on the big screen, Cobain’s allure was evident when its Friday and Saturday runs in New York, L.A. and Seattle grossed over $107K, easily outgrossing other 2015 documentary debuts. HBO moved the title to its network May 4, so its potential theatrical prowess was limited. Emerging Pictures will seek to fill some of that gap with Soaked In Bleach.
This film does not have the same built-in experience of Cobain’s family and music at its disposal, however. Based off a lyric from Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, Soaked In Bleach investigates the events behind Kurt Cobain’s death via Tom Grant, the private investigator who was hired by Courtney Love in 1994 to track down Cobain only days before his deceased body was found at their Seattle home. Cobain’s death was ruled a suicide by the police, but doubts have circulated for 20 years as to the legitimacy of this ruling. Grant, a former L.A. County Sheriff’s detective, did his own investigation and determined there was alleged circumstantial evidence to conclude, according to an official plot description, “that foul play could very well have occurred.”
“[Director] Ben Statler has been cultivating the audience over the past year, in close contact with Nirvana fans,” said an exec at Emerging Pictures about Soaked In Bleach‘s release details. “He has a very robust Facebook site with over 250K Facebook followers. For a small documentary, this is great. We can use the data to drive the theatrical.” Emerging is evolving its model, according to the exec, “to take advantage of the lack of business during the week.”
It is partnering with Vimeo for the day-and-date release of Soaked In Bleach as well. “We’re looking for films that have built in audiences to go in and mine,” said the Emerging spokesperson who asked to remain anonymous. “We will go where the audience wants to see a film and specially program it in those areas. So it’s chasing demand. Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck helped reignite demand for the story. The fact that they’re coming out close together is no coincidence.” Theatrically, the feature will be a mixture of bookings and one-off screenings with 15 runs set for Thursday in addition to nine screenings.
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