Saturday Night Live writer Chris Kelly is making his feature directorial debut with Sundance opener Other People, starring Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon, which opens Friday via Vertical Entertainment. The weekend’s newcomers bow as the specialty world’s focus shifts to the Toronto International Film Festival and the long haul of awards season. Focus World is opening Justin Tipping’s Kicks, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. The film will play exclusively in theaters for a little more than a month before heading to digital platforms. Documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story, which Amazon picked up out of Sundance in January, is heading to theaters via distribution partner Magnolia Pictures, beginning a rollout that will continue to major markets through next month, while the Orchard is opening the late Marcin Wrona’s art house thriller Demon in NYC and L.A. Also, Cohen Media Group is launching French WWII title Come What May, which debuted in Cannes in 2015.
Also among the weekend’s limited release openers are Violet Crown Films’ Starving the Beast and First Run Features’ docu Germans & Jews in Los Angeles
Director-writer: Chris Kelly
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow, Madisen Beaty, John Early, Zach Woods, June Squibb
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Saturday Night Live writer Chris Kelly decided after working on his first season of the show to try his hand at scribing something that was “outside the umbrella” of another show, and he sat down to pen something vaguely autobiographical.
His film, Other People, centers on a struggling comedy writer (Jesse Plemons), fresh from breaking up with his boyfriend, who moves to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and younger sisters, David feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother worsens, he tries to convince everyone, including himself, he’s doing OK.
“I wrote the first draft in the summer after my first season at SNL [in 2012],” said Kelly. “It was a draft, but I had something I could use to chip away at over the course of my next season [on the show].” Kelly, meanwhile, was put in touch with Adam Scott and Naomi Scott through their mutual agents, at first speaking by Skype and then meeting for a breakfast. “We realized this would work,” Kelly said about the duo who boarded the project as producers. “We have a similar sense of humor.”
Casting came next. Plemons joined the cast well before financing was in place, while others Kelly had imagined for particular roles slowly fell into place. “One by one, people from my wish list [liked the script] and came on,” said Kelly. “It was a slow snowball effect.”
Park Pictures came on board after enough key cast members were in place. Producer Sam Bisbee helped piece together additional financing ahead of the shoot, which was slated for summer 2015. “It was a mad dash to get it all done by summer,” said Kelly. “I was off from SNL then. We shot in and around Los Angeles [over 20 days] in areas that look suburban with an additional day of establishing shots in Sacramento.” The title had a tight editing schedule in order to have it ready for its Sundance premiere as one of the festival’s opening-night selections.
The filmmakers are hosting a number of Q&As following its public showings Friday and Saturday in New York and Los Angeles. In New York, Kelly will be joined at Q&As by John Mulaney, Abbi Jacobson, and SNL cast members Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong and Beck Bennett. In Los Angeles, most of the cast will participate in Q&As including Molly Shannon, Madisen Beaty, JJ Totah, Zach Woods and June Squibb.
Vertical Entertainment will open Other People day-and-date in 12 markets Friday. Netflix, which picked up digital rights to the title, will broadcast the feature later in the fall.
Director-writer: Justin Tipping
Writer: Joshua Beirne-Golden
Cast: Jahking Guillory, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Christopher Miller, Kofie Siriboe, Mahershala Ali, Molly Shaiken
Distributor: Focus World
Focus World first became involved with Justin Tipping’s adventure pic Kicks in the script stage a few years back, and after seeing an early cut last year, the distributor “jumped at the opportunity to take it off the table.” Said Anjay Nagpal, SVP of Focus World: “We saw Justin Tipping’s [Student] Academy Award-winning short film [Nani] and believed he could execute on this poignant, poetic, funny and sometimes brutal coming-of-age story, especially with ace indie producers Animal Kingdom on board. So it was a chance to launch a talented new director.”
Kicks centers on 15-year-old Brandon (Jahking Guillory) whose dream is a pair of fresh Air Jordans. Soon after he gets his hands on them, they’re stolen by a local hood, causing Brandon and his two friends to go on a dangerous mission through Oakland, CA, to get them back.
“The film’s unmistakable core audience is young males, but we hope it goes a bit broader because of the important subject matter,” said Nagpal. “Because we do not have A-list names in the film, we had to be very creative and very grassroots. We know the film will play in the Bay Area, so we premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival [where Kicks won a cinematography award and was nominated for Best Narrative Feature] and then played at the Los Angeles Film Festival to create awareness in the countries two biggest markets.”
Focus World followed those debuts up with extensive word-of-mouth screenings with the help of a social-issue agency the distributor had on board for months, targeting indie film fans, urban audiences, “sneaker heads” and social-issue advocates in the Bay Area in addition to New York, L.A. and Chicago.
“We reached thousands of young people and engaged them in discussions about topics such as materialism, masculinity and violence. I’m very proud of that,” added Nagpal. “In addition, we had coverage on various NPR radio shows, the Michaela show, the Los Angeles Times as well as websites as varied as Complex, the Daily Beast, IndieWire and World Star Hip Hop. The highlight for me was that Justin was on Sway in the Morning, a hugely popular show on SiriusXM hosted by a hometown hero [Sway Calloway] who has passionately embraced the film. I think that was a surreal moment for Justin.”
Focus World is opening Kicks on Friday at the AMC Empire 25 in New York, the ArcLight Hollywood and Grand Lake in Oakland before expanding to about 30 markets next weekend. The film will have about a 32-day window for theatrical before heading to digital platforms.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Director-writer: Jeff Feuerzeig
Subjects: Laura Albert, Bruce Benderson, Dennis Cooper, Asia Argento, Bono, Courtney Love
Distributor: Amazon/Magnolia Pictures
Producer Danny Gabai had been filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig’s agent, while at WME. Feuerzeig had been fascinated by the evolving story of JT LeRoy, an enigmatic personality who fascinated celebrities and fans who were left stunned by a revelation about the “author.”
On January 9, 2006, The New York Times sent shock waves through the literary world when it unmasked “it boy” wunderkind LeRoy, whose tough prose about a sordid childhood had captivated icons and luminaries internationally. It turned out LeRoy didn’t actually exist. He was the creative expression of Laura Albert, a 40-year-old former phone-sex operator-turned-San Francisco housewife. Documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story looks through the rabbit hole of how Albert breathed not only words but life into her avatar for a decade. Albert’s epic account goes into a glittery world of rock shows, fashion events and the Cannes red carpet, where LeRoy becomes a mysterious sensation. As she recounts this odyssey, Albert also reveals the intricate web spun by irrepressible creative forces within her.
“I introduced Jeff to Eddy Moretti at Vice,” said Gabai. “The story was so strange, you wouldn’t believe it if it weren’t true. Vice was looking for stories that were wild, and when Jeff began finding out details of the story, they realized it was indeed wild.” Moretti encouraged Feuerzeig’s approach to project, moving him away from a linear storyline. Vice pitched the project to A&E, which became involved as well as Brett Ratner who also joined on as producer.
“Through the grapevine [via] some friends in San Francisco, we heard there was a path to Laura,” said Gabai. “[Feuerzeig] spent a few years hitting her up to do the doc. At some point, she saw his film, [2005’s The Devil and Daniel Johnston] and liked it and agreed to meet.” After getting her story, Feuerzeig went to others who revealed more about how the myth of JT LeRoy played out. Production took about two years.
The film includes actual voicemails left for “JT LeRoy.” by celebrities. “Our lawyers carefully analyzed everything and let us know what we could do,” said Gabai. “We reached out to all the major players who are in [the film], so nobody was surprised.”
Author: The JT LeRoy Story debuted at Sundance. Amazon picked up the title, bringing Magnolia on for the theatrical release. The feature opens Friday at the ArcLight Hollywood, Landmark 12 in Los Angeles and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Sunshine in New York as well as the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. It will head to about 18 additional cities, with more markets to follow throughout September and into October.
Director-writer: Marcin Wrona
Writer: Pawel Maslona
Cast: Itay Tiran, Angieszka Zulewska, Andrzej Gabowski, Tomasz Schuchardt, Katarzyna Herman
Distributor: The Orchard
Part absurdist comedy, part scary love story, Demon is the final film by Marcin Wrona, who died just as the feature was set to premiere in Poland. The Orchard caught the film at its Toronto debut last year.
Demon follows Peter (Itay Tiran, a new arrival from England who is set to marry his fiancée Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) at her family’s ramshackle country house in rural Poland. As the ceremony proceeds, Peter begins to come undone, and a dybbuk, the iconic ancient figure from Jewish folklore, takes a toehold in this present-day celebration – for a very particular reason, as it turns out.
“It’s rare for a horror film to be an art house film, and it’s rare for an art house horror film to so artfully master a wicked sense of humor while still creeping you out,” the Orchard’s Paul Davidson said. “But that’s exactly what Marcin had done. We felt he had created a challenging film to market but one with such a stunning original vision that it was a challenge we were excited to tackle.”
The Orchard is eyeing three audiences ahead of the title’s Friday release: art house, genre and people familiar with the classic dybbuk story. “We’re targeting all three of these audiences through early festival and tastemaker screenings, reviews and publicity through the platforms they frequent, and ‘eventizing’ the opening weekend with Q&A’s with Marcin’s widow, Olga, who also produced the film,” added Davidson. “Some companies might have chosen to release a film like this right around Halloween, but we felt the nature of this film — foreign language and horror — made earlier in the fall the right time to give it room to connect with art house and genre audiences alike.”
Demon will open at Lincoln Plaza and the Sunshine in New York and at the Nuart in L.A. where Marcin’s widow will take part in Q&As Friday and Saturday nights. “We’ll expand in subsequent weeks to the top 30 markets in at least 50 cities,” said Davidson. “This film is a traditional theatrical release. We believe it has the legs for that.”
Come What May
Director-writer: Christian Carion
Writer: Andrew Bampfield, Laure Irrmann
Cast: August Diehl, Olivier Gourmet, Mathilde Seigner, Alice Isaaz, Matthew Rhys
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
Cohen Media Group caught Christian Carion’s WWII story Come What May ahead of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. The company calls it a “crowd pleaser” and a “real humanistic, relatable story of a father in search of his son.”
The film is set in May 1940 as German forces roll into France. Led by their reluctant mayor (Olivier Gourmet), the inhabitants of a small northern village are forced to flee along with millions of others throughout the country. The villagers take with them a German child whose father (August Diehl) opposed the Nazi regime and has been jailed for lying about his nationality. The father escapes into the fog of war in search of his son, accompanied by a Scottish soldier (Matthew Rhys) who is trying to get back to England.
“The campaign was geared around setting the film up as the kind of classic, traditional epic period piece that audiences haven’t seen for a while,” said a Cohen Media Group spokesperson. “The marketing materials focused on the many appealing elements, strong international cast, beautiful cinematography and a refugee story that is very resonant.” The company also created additional materials focusing on The Americans star Rhys’ character, targeted to his growing fan base on this side of the Atlantic.
The film is scheduled to open Friday in New York at the Paris Theater and the Angelika Film Center and will head to Los Angeles the following week. Come What May then heads to the top 10 markets ahead of an expansion from there. Rhys and Christian Carion will be doing Q&As in the two Manhattan theaters on opening night.