For Ed Guiney and Lenny Abrahamson, the four Oscar nominations for their gut-wrenching Room – including Best Picture and Best Director- are the culmination of a life long friendship. The two first worked together some 30 years ago, when they were at university, as they made a documentary about Abrahamson’s grandfather. Since then, Guiney’s Element Pictures, which he runs with Andrew Lowe, has produced all five of Abrahamson’s features, including Frank starring Michael Fassbender.
“The key to the relationship with Lenny is great longevity,” Guiney tells Deadline. “We’re very good friends. He’s very much a part of Element. He has a desk here. He’s in and out of here the whole time. He has a lot of friends here at Element. We like to think of ourselves as his home. There’s great trust and a great working relationship.”
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That relationship is only likely to continue to grow from strength to strength. Abrahamson has a first look deal with Element and the two have a number of projects in development, including a movie of the life of Emile Griffith, the bisexual boxer who won world titles in two weight classes but is best remembered for beating to death Benny “The Kid” Paret in the ring during a live nationwide TV broadcast. As revealed exclusively by Deadline’s Mike Fleming, Abrahamson and Guiney have teamed with Film4 to option the Donald McRae book A Man’s World: The Double Life Of Emile Griffith.
Also in the pipelines for Guiney and Abrahamson is The Little Stranger with Gail Egan’s Potboiler Productions, that should see Abrahamson re-uniting with his Frank star Domhnall Gleeson. That project is an adaptation of Sarah Water’s novel of the same name, a ghost story set in a dilapidated mansion in Warwickshire, England in the 1940s.
The two are also working on a feature adaptation of Laird Hunt’s novel Neverhome, about a farmer’s faithful wife in the American South who decides to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War and fight rather than stay behind.
A challenging film like Room, which features mesmerising performances from Brie Larson and nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay as a mother and son caught in unimaginable captivity, would likely never have made it to the big screen without the close relationship that Abrahamson and Guiney found in each other. Guiney and Lowe strategised with Abrahamson (with FilmFour and Irish Film Board support) to convince Emma Donoghue, on whose novel the film is based, to assign the rights to Element. That culminated in the now famous ten page letter from Abrahamson to Donoghue, who now finds herself Oscar nominated for best adapted screenplay. They agreed to partner Donoghue on the production to avoid encumbering the project with significant development costs and to avoid taking on additional (expensive) equity partners at an early stage. As an Irish production company with an Irish director and Irish writer, they were concerned about finding the right North American partners to help make an authentically American film. Element worked with UTA (who rep Donaghue) to put a financing model together.
Eventually, they brought on Glen Basner’s Filmnation to sell international territories and UTA brought in A24 for the US and Elevation for Canada. Taking advantage of Donoghue’s Canadian nationality, the production shot in Toronto to take advantage of the generous subsidies on offer, bringing No Trace Camping on-board as the Canadian co-pro partner. All that would have been nothing, however, with Abrahamson’s deft touch to turn what could have been an unbearably dense viewing experience into an at-times transcendental cinematic journey, winning the much-prized Audience Award in Toronto following its world premiere.
“To get four nominations is incredible, particularly for Lenny,” says Guiney. “When you think what that category could have looked like and who wasn’t on it, it’s so well-deserved for him. At the end of the day, what these nominations do is put gas in the engine. It’s important for the future of the film. A24 have been such a great partner in the U.S.. Those nominations just mean there’ll be even more confidence in the picture and it’ll go out on more screens and more people will see it. Ultimately, that’s the name of the game.”
It’s been a banner year in general for Ireland-based Element. In addition to Room, the company also produced Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, which helped established him as one of Europe’s most in-demand directors. Element, along with Ceci Dempsey’s Scarlet Films, are now working again with Lanthimos on The Favourite, with Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz attached to star. The story follows the political machinations behind the scenes during the reign of Queen Anne, the last monarch of the House of Stuarts. The story takes place between the end of the 17th century and first years of the 18th century, when Anne reigned from 1702-1707.
“Working with filmmakers like Lenny and Yorgos is emblematic of the the work we want to do in the future,” says Guiney. The company also owns the Ligthhouse cinema in Dublin and will be launching a new three screen arthouse cinema in Galway in the summer as it seeks to expand its exhibition and distribution operations. Element sub-distributes for StudioCanal in Ireland, meaning Element will be releasing Room themselves. The film opens Friday January 15. “The timing of the nominations couldn’t be better for us in terms of the Irish release,” says Andrew Lowe.
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