Woody Allen gets another summer bow this weekend with Café Society, which opened the Cannes Film Festival last May. The Amazon/Lionsgate release stars Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart, whose fans will have two opportunities to see the actress in new releases this weekend. The Twilight alum also stars opposite Nicholas Hoult in Equals, a sci-fi romance set in the near future. The A24 film hits theaters today after an exclusive bow on DirecTV in late May. Gkids opens animated film Phantom Boy, several years after opening a feature by the same filmmakers that received an Oscar nomination, and Vertical Entertainment releases the baseball-themed Undrafted with Tyler Hoechlin, Chace Crawford and Aaron Tveit in a day-and-date release.
Additionally, Sundance Selects opens Free to Run, while Argot Pictures launches Garnet’s Gold in limited release.
Director-writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Jeannie Berlin, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Ken Scott
It’s summer, so time for another Woody Allen movie. Six of the prolific filmmaker’s past eight films have been released to counter summer studio tentpoles. The other two during the time period, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) and Midnight in Paris (2011), bowed in late September and late May, respectively. While his latest feature will mirror his recent titles in its weekend debut with limited runs, Café Society is digesting two fairly significant differences from Allen’s releases this decade.
First, Sony Pictures Classics is not distributing, and it opens today in L.A. and New York this weekend, Amazon and Lionsgate are planning a nationwide release at the end of the month. The only time an Allen film broke 1,000 theaters was DreamWorks’ Anything Else in 2003, though that film only cumed $3.2 million.
The opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Café Society is a bittersweet romance set in the 1930s. Bobby Dorman (Jesse Eisenberg) goes to Hollywood, where he falls in love, and then heads back to New York, where he is swept up in the vibrant world of high-society nightclub life. “It’s a period that Woody loves and that involves so much more preparation,” said Allen’s sister and longtime producer Letty Aronson. “The process for [Café Society] was basically the same as with [most of our projects]. Woody has all these ideas in his drawer. He’ll work for a couple months on a script. If it doesn’t work, then he’ll scrap it, but when [it does work], he’ll start thinking about who will be great in it.”
Aronson noted that she and Allen are following a same trajectory for their recently announced untitled project, which will star James Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake and Kate Winslet, adding that its backers have been through the process before. “The last few films have had the same sources of financiers, and we continue to work with them,” said Aronson. “We’re really in a different business than the studio films, but working with them [has been great].” Aronson said that like previous projects, Café Society shot over seven weeks using, “pretty much the same pattern.” “There’s a finite amount of money,” she said. “[Allen] doesn’t do many rehearsals. He likes spontaneity. … [Also], Woody doesn’t like to do that many takes because he feels it makes [the cast] tired. They were all very good.”
Aronson said that prior to the film’s debut in Cannes, Amazon had “come to us and really made an offer we couldn’t refuse.” Deadline reported in April that Amazon had picked up Café Society for “reportedly eight figures.”
Since 2009’s Whatever Works ($5.3M cume), Sony Pictures Classics has spearheaded distribution for Allen’s films, including his biggest box office success ever, Best Picture Oscar nominee Midnight in Paris ($56.8M), followed by To Rome with Love in 2012 ($16.68M), Blue Jasmine in 2013 ($33.4M) and Magic in the Moonlight in 2014 ($10.53M). Last year’s Irrational Man failed to break eight figures, coming in just over $4M. It’s opening weekend, the title grossed over $175K in seven theaters, averaging $25,045 — a PTA that would be headline-inducing for the 2016 specialty box office.
Allen’s previous non-SPC release, Vicky Cristina Barcelona from MGM and the Weinstein Company, bowed in 692 theaters in August 2008, grossing $3.75M ($5,427 average) its first weekend, eventually going to more than 700 locations during its release and a total domestic cume of over $23.2 million.
Aronson hinted that plans for their films’ releases are “collaborative,” but they typically defer to distributors unless there’s “some strong objection on our part.”
After its bow in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, Café Society will expand there in addition to opening 11 additional markets the following weekend. The title will go nationwide July 29.
Director: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol
Writer: Alain Gagnol
Voices: Edouard Baer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Audrey Tautou, Jackie Berroyer
Set in the shadowy streets and alleyways of New York, noir caper Phantom Boy is the latest film from Academy Award-nominated writers and directors of A Cat in Paris. The title follows Leo, who has a mysterious illness that has transformed him into a phantom boy, enabling him to leave his body and explore the city as a ghostly apparition. While in a hospital, he befriends Alex, a New York cop injured while attempting to capture a nefarious gangster who has taken control of the city’s power supply, throwing the metropolis into chaos. They form an extraordinary duo, using Leo’s phantom powers and Alex’s detective work to foil the plot and save New York from destruction.
“We worked with the filmmakers on A Cat in Paris, which was the kickoff to a great relationship,” said Gkids’ David Jesteadt. “One of the sore spots of animation is you have to wait for projects, but four years later we had this. This is a detective/superhero story, so it felt ‘summery.’ A Cat in Paris was a June release, so this time-period felt like it would work well for us.”
Gkids opened A Cat in Paris stateside in June 2012 eventually grossing $350K domestically. “They have a good second life,” Jesteadt said. “It was one of our most successful titles in streaming and on-demand. We’re doing call-outs of their previous work and because they have a unique, identifiable style, we believe that will help get people who liked A Cat in Paris to go see Phantom Boy.”
Jesteadt added that Gkids is targeting its advertising in the digital space, also noting that this release comes “between a gigantic wave of animated films.” “[These films] provide box office competition, but they’re also an opportunity to show our trailer. Most of the world has seen Finding Dory or The Secret Life of Pets, so this will be an alternative.”
Gkids will open Phantom Boy exclusively today at IFC Center in New York ahead of its start at the Nuart in Los Angeles next week. The title will expand “heavily” on July 29. Said Jesteadt, “We’re going to take our time to see how the reviews and word-of mouth goes, and hopefully it will land in as many theaters as possible on the 29th.”
Director-writer: Drake Doremus
Writer: Nathan Parker
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart, Vernetta Lopez, Scott Lawrence, Kate Lyn Sheil, Rebecca Hazelwood
Following its exclusive release on DirecTV in late May, Equals hits theaters today. In the sci-fi romance, Nicholas Hoult and Café Society’s Stewart play Silas and Nia, who work together in a futuristic society known as the Collective. The seemingly utopian world has ended crime and violence by genetically eliminating all human emotions. Despite this, Silas and Nia can’t help noticing a growing attraction between them, leading them to a forbidden relationship — at first tentative but then exploding into a passionate romance. As suspicion begins to mount among their superiors, the couple is forced to choose between going back to the safety of the lives they have always known or risk it all to try and pull off a daring escape.
While at Indian Paintbrush, producer Michael Pruss put filmmaker Drake Doremus in contact with writer Nathan Parker, who has a sci-fi background. Following his 2013 feature Breathe In, Doremus was eager to do something different. “Drake wanted to spread his wings a bit in scope and thought of exploring tense relationships between people,” said Pruss. “We got a screenplay pretty quickly in 2013.” Initially the project was with Indian Paintbrush as part of an earlier deal, but after working with Scott Ridley on another project, there was a move to over to Scott Free. Financing also came from Route One Entertainment.
“Drake is very specific when it comes to cast and singular about the who and the why,” said Pruss. “Early on he said that he saw this for Nick Houlton and Kristen Stewart. He loved the fact that they are exceptional dramatic actors and hadn’t been in a piece that contains ‘intimate and externalizing’ of intense feelings in a world that didn’t allow that.”
Starting in August 2014, shooting spanned 40 days mostly in Japan before finishing up in Singapore. The aesthetics of a world that seemed futuristic but still recognizable were behind the choice to primarily shoot in Japan. “He wanted it to feel grounded but not alienating,” said Pruss. “Japan was a perfect place for that. The look was inspired by the great Japanese architect Tadao Ando. He typically doesn’t allow a lot of access to his buildings, but we were lucky he liked the project. After we began scouting his design of minimalism, concrete, glass and natural light, it became the look the team got on board with early on.” Shooting took place in five locations in Japan, while an apartment with a bridge featured in the film was built in Singapore.
Following Equal’s Venice premiere, the title had its North American debut in Toronto, where talks began with A24, which ended up with the title. The company opens Equals today in two New York and L.A. theaters ahead of going out around the country in the coming weeks.
Director-writer: Joseph Mazzello
Cast: Tyler Hoechlin, Chace Crawford, Aaron Tveit, Joseph Mazzello, James Belushi, Philip Winchester, Michael Fishman, Manny Montana, Toby Hemingway
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Undrafted is based on a true story. The film centers on 12 ragtag baseball teammates who set out to play what should be a meaningless summer intramural game that ends up becoming the most important game of their lives. This collection of characters include a reliever-turned-starting pitcher (Tyler Hoechlin), a hot dog power hitter (Chace Crawford), an outfielder with anger-management issues (Joe Mazzello), a player-coach with clipboard envy (Duke Davis Roberts), an over-eager catcher (Ryan Pinkston), the old guy who shouldn’t be playing anymore (Philip Winchester) and the guy everyone forgot was on the team (Matt Bush).
As they struggle to transition away from baseball and toward an uncertain future, the best player among them (Aaron Tveit) has to deal with the news that his Major League dreams were dashed, leaving him grappling with why he should still play.
“It’s based on my brother’s experience as a star college baseball player,” said writer-director Joseph Mazzello, who had been trying to get another project done in L.A. when his father told him that he should consider the idea in 2012. “I sad down with my brother and did a character breakdown. I wrote the last 35 pages [of the story] in one night.”
By 2013, a first draft of the film was finished, and Mazzello set out to find producers, especially those with financial and baseball connections. “We went down this road for a while, which was a classic story where you have a financier that falls away and then another who comes on but falls away,” said Mazzello. Momentum changed after the filmmaker reached out to his friend, actor Crawford, who also had a friend that was able to help.
“Chase read the script and loved it and wanted to find a way to get it made,” said Mazzello. “After an investor dropped out, I got ahold of him. He had a plan to have dinner with Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys at a sushi place. There, we started talking about process. Tony was reading the script … and by the end of the dinner, he wanted to do it. He came on and by then, it was a runaway train.” Mazzello added that the star quarterback on board with some financing, rounding out the budget via additional private sources came quickly.
“We had the money in place, which was essentially immediately,” said Mazzello. “It was becoming fall and the film is almost all outdoors. We needed long-enough shooting days, so we had to kick it into high gear, so we had only five weeks for preproduction from that point.” Actors’ non-overlapping schedules also became a jigsaw puzzle, causing the production to fit them in where possible, sometimes resulting in one scene being shot over four days. Undrafted shot over four weeks in La Crescenta near Burbank, with a pickup in upstate, New York when it became necessary to shoot crowd scenes. In order to avoid spending big money for hundreds of extras, Mazzello’s mother recruited students from her dance studio, whose members also brought family and friends to play a crowd at a game.
Post-edit, Kevin Iwashina from Preferred Content came on board. It was decided that the feature was not a “festival movie,” so a buyers screening was arranged. “We got like five offers on the film, and it felt like Vertical Entertainment were the right choice,” said Mazzello. “When you talk to companies, you get the same speech that feels like they’ve said the same thing over and over again for the past 10 years. But when we talked to [Vertical’s] Peter Jarowey, it felt so different. He talked like an audience member first and then talked about strategy.”
Vertical Entertainment open Undrafted in 20 cities today in a day-and-date release in addition to iTunes and other on-demand platforms.