Only days after its bow at the New York Film Festival, Universal Pictures will begin rolling out the Danny Boyle-directed Steve Jobs in four theaters this weekend. Though a studio offering, the title has some kinship with its more traditional specialty counterparts with a limited release positioned to capitalize on festival buzz. The film leads a busy pack of openers this weekend including Kino Lorber’s The Forbidden Room, which also screened at NYFF this week after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. Joining them is Sundance documentary (T)Error via The Film Collaborative, which the FBI is apparently anxiously waiting to check out again, while Adopt Films will launch its Berlin pick up, Victoria. China Lion is hoping to capitalize on box office momentum in China for its U.S. release of Goodbye Mr Loser, and FilmBuff is heading out with the day and date release of Matt Walsh’s dramedy A Better You.
Also opening this weekend is Focus World’s Trash, directed by Stephen Daldry in a dozen cities. The company is targeting fans of foreign-language films 25-55 as the title makes its way to major markets. Other openers include Vertical Entertainment’s The Final Girls, Break Thru Films’ doc In My Father’s House, Strand Releasing’s Xenia and Lionsgate/Pantelion’s action comedy Ladrones.
Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Walter Isaacson (book)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Aaron Sorkin said he had read Walter Isaacson’s book on Apple founder Steve Jobs “many times” before he knew how to tackle it as a screenplay. At a NYFF press conference for the feature, Isaacson said that he knew he didn’t want to do “a straight up cradle to grave biopic,” when he began adapting the screenplay. “I like claustrophobic spaces and compressed periods of time,” he said on stage at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. “I like things that are behind the scenes, and in this case, literally behind the scenes.”
Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter.
“We wanted to make the three sections as different as possible and we emphasized everything that had to do with this,” said Boyle, who came on board as director after David Fincher declined to helm the project. “We used 16mm film for the first act because it felt like the early days and [Steve Jobs] felt like the pirate and rebel breaking down the edifice of IBM. [Then we used] 35mm for the second act, which has a subterranean river of intention running through it… and then we moved to [digital] in the third part.”
Boyle said that the feature was essentially filmed linearly. The director assembled the entire cast for rehearsal ahead of time, shooting each part of its three parts. After part one was completed, rehearsal for part two took place followed by its shoot. The process repeated again for the feature’s third round.
“What Danny did was to pull everyone in the rehearsal rooms, it wasn’t just a case of who’s available,” explained Kate Winslet at NYFF. “All the actors no matter how big or small the roles were joined. Danny gave us permission to make the characters the way we wanted them to be. We had to have ‘Sorkinese’ in our back pockets.”
Michael Fassbender joked that he “studied Ashton Kutcher” for his part, which solicited a good amount of laughter. Later asked how portraying Jobs may have affected him, Fassbender quipped: “I lived with him from December until April when we finished. Everyday was about him. When we finished, I kind of washed it all away…”
Boyle said that despite the added costs, it was decided to shoot Steve Jobs in and around the Apple mogul’s home-base of, San Francisco/Bay Area, noting that it is a city that “changed the world.” The feature’s three parts take place backstage in three separate theaters. Large crowds are shown assembling as the behind-the-scenes drama unfolds behind the scenes. Boyle said that the production’s budget did not allow for hiring an audience, so they put up ads hoping people would come out.
“They came out,” he said. “We didn’t have the money to pay them all, but they showed up. We asked them to wear their ‘80s clothes, and boy did the shoulder pads come out.”
Steve Jobs screened at Telluride in September and the NYFF last weekend ahead of its theatrical bow this weekend. The feature will open in limited release Friday before heading wide October 23.
Directer: Joe Menéndez
Writer: Jon Molerio
Cast:Fernando Colunga, Miguel Varoni, Eduardo Yanez
Getting a release in 375 theaters in North America, Ladrones was shot entirely in the Dominican Republic at Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios owned by Lantica Media. Pantelion has continually had success reeling in Hispanic audiences, by hitting key theaters in suburban and Metropolitan areas. Their last film, the feature family toon Un Gallo con Muchos Huevos (“A Chicken With Too Many Eggs”) was a surprise hit over Labor Day weekend, cracking the top 10 with a $3.4M opening at 395 venues with a current cume near $9M.
In Ladrones, legendary thieves Alejandro Toledo (Fernando Colunga) and Emilio Sánchez(Miguel Varoni), took down an infomercial guru who was taking advantage of Latino immigrants. Following that successful heist, the modern day Robin Hoods left their lives of crime for a more civilian life. Sanchez joined the FBI and Toledo is a businessman. This action comedy sees Toledo return to his do-gooder robbing roots, and although Sanchez can’t quite commit to helping out, he introduces Toledo to the hilariously skilled Santiago Guzmán (Eduardo Yáñez) to help him with the mission of a lifetime. Their goal? The two must work to reclaim land stolen from a hard working community by a ruthless family of crooks led by a beautiful but lethal diva.
The Forbidden Room
Director-writer: Guy Maddin
Co-director-writer: Evan Johnson
Writers: John Ashbery, Kim Morgan, Robert Kotyk
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier, Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine Chaplin, Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Maria de Medeiros, Jacques Nolot, Adele Haenel, Amira Casar, Elina Lowensohn
Distributor: Kino Lorber
The Forbidden Room grew out of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s ‘Seances project,’ which took “lost films” from the silent era by re-writing them live in Montreal’s Phi Center and The Pompidou Center in Paris. The feature includes a submarine crew, a “feared pack of forest bandits,” a famous surgeon and a battalion of child soldiers who all get more than they bargained for as they wind their way toward “progressive ideas on life and love.”
“Guy and I had been introduced at the Toronto International Film Festival after he had come back from shooting at the Pompidou,” said producer Penny Mancuso. “They had been [having challenges] with financing and I told him about the Phi Center in Montreal, which has production facilities. We invited him to finish shooting there since we knew it could be done inexpensively.” Maddin proceeded to shoot 13 shorts in 12 days, which were incorporated into The Forbidden Room. “The project is experimental and has a lot of moving parts,” said Mancuso. “[Maddin] could’ve gone to the states and back to Europe, but at the end, we needed to have a completed product. It’s a piece of origami, it opens and leads you to some interesting places.”
Kino Lorber opened The Forbidden Room at Film Forum in New York and will expand to other locations in the coming weeks.
A Better You
Director-writer: Matt Walsh
Writers: Brian Huskey, Matt Walsh
Cast: Matt Walsh, Morgan Walsh, Brian Huskey, Horatio Sanz, Erinn Hayes, Natasha Leggero, Joe Lo Truglio, Rob Huebel, Mo Gaffney, Adam Pally, Andy Daly and Riki Lindhome
Hitting the big screen with comedy series credentials is A Better You, packed with a cast largely from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Matt Walsh co-wrote and directed the film, which takes cues from the comedy troupe’s improvisational ethos.
The feature, which takes a satirical look at Hollywood’s alternative therapy sphere, centers on Dr. Ron (Another Period’s Brian Huskey), a hypnotherapist, author, and as the official description says, an “idiot.” A delusional self-help guru in the midst of a midlife crisis, Ron finds that his impending divorce and the prospect of losing custody of his children is interrupting what he considers to be a “career renaissance,” during which he has written a book and started wearing an awful toupee. Forced to reevaluate his life, he may find help in the form of Hugo (Horatio Sanz), a day laborer he meets at the local hardware superstore, and a pretty new patient (Erinn Hayes) who may be more than just a client.
“It’s our second improvised film,” said Kirk Roos who produced the film under his Badlands Features label with co-producer wife Bryn Roos. “The lessons we learned from [our previous movie], High Road, was to pair things down and understand what the end product should be in the editing process. All of that made this easier.” High Road, Walsh’s first improvised feature, starred Ed Helms, Lizzy Caplan, Abby Elliott, Rob Riggle among others and followed a pot dealer who goes on the lam (James Pumphrey) with a teenager in tow (Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien making his feature film debut).
A Better You shot over 12 day with a few pick up days, and took about a year to edit. Financing came principally from private financing and Indiegogo. The filmmaking team also tapped students from the Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena for some key crew posts. “We had about 30 to 40 hours of footage,” said Roos. “We would just let the actors go and they’d go on for 15 minutes if they wanted. It was great, but not very conducive to the editing process.”
Following its premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival earlier this year, the filmmaking team started to work with FilmBuff after being introduced by attorney Mike Weiss. A Better You will have a theatrical roll out in 10 cities including Chicago, Seattle,Tampa, Philadelphia, Denver, Dallas, Detroit, Cleveland, San Francisco and Beverly Hills where there will be a special screening with Walsh and Huskey at the 7:30pm showing at the Laemmle Music Hall tomorrow. The film will also be streaming and available on OnDemand via Comcast, Time Warner, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Xbox, Verizon, DirecTV and Playstation Store. There were special screenings at UCB New York and L.A. of the film with Walsh making appearances on Today, Late Late Show, @midnight and MSNBC’s Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. “I think there’s an audience for comedy and you see that through the popularity of the Upright Citizen Brigade,” said Roos. “The challenge is where do they go on the internet and theaters to find it. What we tried to do is cater to [our audience] and cast people who that audience knows. Social media is a big part of it.”
Directors: Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe
Distributor: The Film Collaborative
Filmmaker Lyric R. Cabral met her neighbor, Saeed “Shariff” Torres, a former Black Panther, after she moved into a Harlem brownstone in the early 2000s. After getting to know each other, Cabral’s neighbor suddenly disappeared, until one day he called her up. He asked her to not tell anyone his whereabouts, and told his former neighbor he had been working as an informant for the FBI. Torres then posed the idea to Cabral, who has a journalism background, of writing a book about him. The two continued to stay in touch, though the proposed book would eventually become a film.
Shortly after Saeed Torres’ confession, Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe met at an after-school arts program where they both taught. At the time, Sutcliffe was working on his first film, Adama, for PBS, which documented the ordeal of Adama Bah, a Muslim teenager falsely accused of being a “potential” suicide bomber. “I told her I was fantasizing about the idea of filming an informant and she said, ‘I know one,’” said Sutcliffe. “She called him and found out that he had just been offered a case — the first one he had been given in six years.”
The filmmakers purport that (T)Error is the “first documentary to place filmmakers on the ground during an active FBI counter-terrorism sting operation.” The doc unfolds mostly through the perspective of Saeed ”Shariff” Torres, giving an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counter-terrorism tactics and the “murky justifications behind them.” (T)Error spotlights the fragile relationships between individual and surveillance state in modern America, and asks, “Who is watching the watchers?”
“We self-financed [the project] barely hanging onto our jobs while it all happened,” said Sutcliffe. “A lot of grandmothers had to die and illnesses faked to get this done.” Cabral and Sutcliffe began filming in October, 2011 with the bulk of the shoot continuing through the following March, though the project continued up until the summer of 2014.
“We were trying to be secretive and [off the grid], but once we contacted the target of the FBI investigation, we thought they would jump in and interfere, but surprisingly that never happened. They never knew we were filming.”
After completing (T)Error, the FBI reached out to the documentary’s sales agents for copies of the film, but the request was denied. “They asked to have the film in order to ‘better inform our counter-insurgence [ability],’” said Sutcliffe. “We felt they were being less sincere and wanted it so they could charge us with something.” The filmmakers told the FBI they’d have to wait to see it. The film debuted at Sundance last January and headed to Tribeca in April. After its screening there, two FBI agents approached Cabral asking about the film. A journalist waiting in line intervened and suggested that Cabral not talk without legal counsel present. “We have some excellent lawyers from the Centers for Constitutional Rights,” said Sutcliffe.
The Film Collaborative advised Cabral and Sutcliffe on (T)Error’s festival run and they turned to the non-profit indie distributor for the doc’s theatrical release, which began Wednesday, October 7 at IFC Center in New York. “We’ll be in Dearborn, MI, Houston and other select cities through AMC,” added Sutcliffe.
Director-writer: Sebastian Schipper
Writers: Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Eike Frederik Schulz
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff, André Hennicke
Distributor: Adopt Films
Adopt Films’ Jeff Lipsky attended the first buyers’ screening of Victoria at the Berlin International Film Festival last February, but the veteran distribution exec said his company had a leg-up on the competition. “I think U.S. buyers didn’t see it in Berlin — it was a low priority,” he said. “I’m astounded we weren’t out-bidded for the film. When I saw it, I thought it represented the original promise of digital filmmaking.”
Victoria’s tag-line is “One City, One Night, One Take,” which about sums it up. The movie was shot in a single take, centering on Victoria (Laia Costa), a runaway party girl, who is asked by three friendly men to join them as they hit the town. Their wild night of partying, however turns into a bank robbery.
“[Sebastian Schipper] came up with an insane notion about how to employ the most up to date digital technology to execute this fever dream of a movie,” said Lipsky. “In lesser hands, it could have fallen apart in so many different ways.”
Lipsky said he wanted to position the feature for awards consideration and to open it in early fall before “the lions share of the studio and boutique distributors suffocate the [marketplace],” adding: “We want to get the school kids. I think this will be a similar audience to the one that went to Ex Machina. Back in April I [looked at] an October 9 release. Steve Jobs is there, but I don’t think I see no other notable films out there. I guessed right and lucked out. The gods were on my side. My hope is that by Thanksgiving we’ll be on 100 screens.”
Lipsky is also eyeing awards recognition for the title including possible nods for cinematography, director and actress. I say Laia Costa may deserve a Tony nomination because it’s a strong performance on the biggest stage possible over many hours,” he added. Victoria opens at the Nuart in West L.A. and Lincoln Plaza and Regal Union Square theaters in New York Friday followed by an expansion to other L.A. and NYC area locations as well as the Bay Area and San Diego as well as Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Seattle and Cambridge, MA the following week.
Goodbye Mr Loser
Directors-writers: Yan Fei and Peng Damo
Cast: Shen Teng, Ma Li, Yin Zheng, Ai Lun, Wang Zhi, Tian Yu, Song Yang, Chang Yuan, Li Ping, Lee Li-chun, Zhang Yiming
Distributor: China Lion
Goodbye Mr Loser was a quick pick-up for boutique distributor China Lion. The company had shifted the release of its romantic drama A Journey Through Time With Anthony to November and acquired Goodbye Mr Loser for release on this side of the Pacific, timed to China’s National Day Golden Week period.
“Last year we had Xu Zheng’s Breakup Buddies (nearly $778K domestic gross — the company’s biggest to date) and this year we wanted to bring another great discovery to North America,” said China Lion exec Robert Lundberg. “Goodbye Mr Loser just opened last week in the Mainland and has been doing amazing business even in the wake of Lost in Hong Kong. Goodbye Mr Loser was seen as the dark horse for the period and the weekend box office reports from the Mainland confirmed it. We’re looking for that to spillover to North America on Friday given the very positive word-of-mouth.” Lundberg noted that Goodbye Mr Loser grossed $35M its first weekend, while Lost in Hong Kong took in $40M in its second weekend of release in China. “We do think word-of-mouth will propel this film further with audiences both there and here when it opens stateside,” added Lundberg.
Goodbye Mr Loser stars comedians Shen Teng and Mai Li in an adaptation of the very popular Mainland theater play following the story of a middle-aged ‘loser’ who finds himself magically transported back to his high school years, enabling him to fix all his life’s mistakes.
“We do like the fact that we can play off of the buzz, especially with Goodbye Mr Loser, coming off the Mainland during a holiday period,” said Lundberg. “But it’s still difficult here in North America given that our international student population is very scattered and that local first-language Chinese speakers can be hard to sway away from traditional Hollywood fare. Our biggest issue is confirming theaters in advance, as a lot of theaters are still not convinced there’s an audience that’s hungry for Mainland studio blockbusters.”
While the company has faced challenges securing venues for its titles, the success of Goodbye Mr Loser in China appears to have opened some doors here, at least initially. “We’ve gotten more requests for this film more than any other film in our company’s history,” said Lundberg. “[Still] Because it was last-minute, we weren’t able to secure as many theaters as we would like. It’s a crowded specialty marketplace and while we’ve been doing this for nearly 5 years — our 5 year anniversary is actually at the end October — it still takes convincing film bookers to take a chance.”
Goodbye Mr Loser will open in 23 theaters Friday in markets China Lion typically targets with Mandarin speakers including L.A., New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, San Francisco, Boston and San Diego in addition to college towns targeting the same audience. Added Lundberg: “We’re hoping success will allow for aggressive expansion in the next few weeks…We’re looking forward to a strong per-screen average.”