This weekend is guaranteed to be all about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but there are some brave Specialties hoping to carve out niches. DirecTV/A24 will open filmmaker Jared Moshé’s The Ballad of Lefty Brown, a Western starring Bill Pullman, Kathy Baker, Jim Caviezel and Peter Fonda, opening in two locations in New York and Los Angeles. Vertical Entertainment is heading out this weekend with horror-adventure Beyond Skyline with Frank Grillo in ten cities Friday, while Well Go USA is heading out with Hong Kong/Chinese adventure-fantasy The Thousand Faces of Dunjia by Yuen Wo Ping.
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Director-writer: Jared Moshé
Cast: Bill Pullman, Kathy Baker, Jim Caviezel, Joe Anderson, Diego Josef, Tommy Flanagan, Peter Fonda
The John Wayne movies Rio Bravo and Red River were inspirations for filmmaker Jared Moshé’s second feature (and second Western), The Ballad of Lefty Brown. Specifically, each film had a supporting character to Wayne’s maverick roles, which caught Moshé’s imagination.
“There was the crotchety sidekick who people laughed at, but the hero relied on,” explained Moshé. “I was interested in finding the human being behind this character — the dichotomy is so compelling.”
In the feature, cowboy Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) witnesses the murder of his longtime partner – the newly-elected Senator Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda). He strikes out to find the killers and avenge his friend’s gruesome death. Tracking the outlaws across the vast and desolate Montana plains, Lefty recruits a young gunslinger, Jeremiah (Diego Josef), and an old friend, a hard-drinking U.S. marshal (Tommy Flanagan), to help deliver the men to justice. After a gunfight with the outlaws leaves Jeremiah wounded, Lefty returns home with the names of Johnson’s killers only to find that he is being accused of his friend’s murder. With the tables turned, and with his friend in the governor’s mansion (Jim Caviezel) refusing to help, Lefty must evade the law and prove his innocence by exposing the powerful men ultimately responsible for Johnson’s death.
“I started writing the script after [my first film] Dead Man’s Burden,” said Moshé. “I wrote [a version] six years ago and then put it away. I then revised it and sent it to Neda Armian in 2015. She has great talent relationships.”
One particular talent who saw the script was Pullman, who received it through his agent. Moshé and Pullman met in the fall of 2015, and he joined the cast. Said Moshé, “Once Bill Pullman was attached, producer Ed Parks brought in financing, [including] Om Films as well as producers Niraj Bhatia and Dan Burks.”
Other key roles were also filled by Fonda, Jim Caviezel and Kathy Baker. The Ballad of Lefty Brown shot over 20 days in September, 2016 in Bannock, Montana, the historic territorial capital of Montana.
“I fell in love with Bannock,” said Moshé. “I even did a little re-write of the script to fit the location. We had gunfights… we shot in a ranch house that completely randomly happened to be 20 minutes away from Bill Pullman’s ranch in Montana — and he had nothing to do with that… Weather and horses can be unpredictable, but everyone was willing to make quick decisions in order to get the best film possible. We shot 23 hours the final day due to a lightning storm.”
The Ballad of Lefty Brown was completed two days before its premiere at SXSW. Moshé said there were nine offers for the film, but A24 came on soon after the festival. Making a reference to this weekend’s monolithic Star Wars release, he quipped: “They’ve been a great partner in the lead-up to the release of this Western vs. Space Western [weekend].”
DirecTV/A24 bows The Ballad of Lefty Brown at the Village East in New York and Laemmle NoHo in L.A. It is also available via digital platforms. Pullman and Moshé will do Q&As following the 7 pm showing of the film on Friday in New York and then will head west for a Q&A in L.A.
Director-writer: Liam O’Donnell
Cast: Frank Grillo, Bojana Novakovic, Kevin O’Donnell, Iko Uwais, Callan Mulvey, Valentine Payen, Betty Gabriel, Jack Chausse
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
The concept for Beyond Skyline was born out of the original Skyline co-written and produced by Liam O’Donnell who took up the director’s chair for this follow-up from his own script.
Beyond Skyline, however, doesn’t just pick up where the last left off. O’Donnell took inspiration from an episode in season two episode of Lost. “In [the episode] they rush through all the events of season one, which I thought was cool,” said O’Donnell. “[In Beyond Skyline] there are all these new characters in the movie who end up with the former characters in the second act.”
Beyond Skyline witnesses an L.A. apocalypse of sorts. When the population of Los Angeles is vacuumed off the face of the earth, Detective Mark Corley (Frank Grillo) storms his way onto an alien ship to rescue his estranged son. But after crashing the ship in Southeast Asia, he must forge an alliance with a band of survivors to discover the key to saving his son and taking back the planet once and for all.
O’Donnell wrote a first draft for Beyond Skyline in 2013 and then picked it back up in summer 2014 after working on another project. “The first one was critically panned and the U.S. box office was disappointing, though it did well abroad,” said O’Donnell. “In the meantime we had these other movies fall apart but buyers were asking about Skyline 2. I had written the [main character] for Frank Grillo, but was worried the window would end.”
Grillo did like the concept and with a poster and pitch, the filmmaking team took it to the 2014 Cannes Film Festival to show it to foreign buyers. They eventually received equity investment through Hong Kong and China. “It’s very much a foreign sales model,” added O’Donnell. “The first one [released by Relativity] was a much lower budget.”
Through Infinite Studios, based in Singapore and Indonesia, the film shot in various locations in the latter. Grillo had to take a hiatus to do another project and then came back. The script called for some subway scenes, so the production relocated to Toronto. The whole shooting schedule took place over six months from beginning to end.
“Post began in May 2015 and we worked nonstop until January,” said O’Donnell. “We finished a version at the end of 2016.” The filmmaking team then shot more in the beginning of 2017 to add to the “pacing and tone,” according to O’Donnell.
Vertical Entertainment came on board for distribution in April 2017. “I haven’t done anything in the VOD space, but they said it’s an opportunity to do a certain amount of business,” added O’Donnell. “We’re actually not going up against Star Wars [exactly]. At first I was surprised by the [release date], but really it’s all about on-demand. This is the busiest time of the year for on-demand, so we’re lucky to have this window.”
In addition to being on-demand, Beyond Skyline will open at Cinema Village in New York as well as AMC Sunset in Los Angeles this weekend in addition to locations in Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Houston, Phoenix, Tampa, Denver and Cleveland.
The Thousand Faces of Dunjia
Director: Yuen Wo Ping
Writer: Tsui Hark
Cast: Dong Chengpeng, Darren Leung, Ni, Zhou Dongyu
Distributor: Well Go USA
Distributor Well Go USA became familiar with Hong Kong/Chinese adventure-fantasy The Thousand Faces of Dunjia while the feature was still in production. The company was particularly interested in the project because it was helmed by Yuen Wo Ping.
“We’re constantly on the lookout for the best Asian action titles, and so a martial arts fantasy epic directed by Yuen Wo Ping, who American audiences will know from his work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill and The Matrix films, was [appealing],” noted Well Go USA’s Dylan Marchetti. “And, with a script by the legendary Tsui Hark, this was something that sent up flags immediately for us.”
The feature centers on Dao, a naïve young constable, who discovers a secret society with supernatural abilities that has protected mankind for centuries. As he’s drawn into a power struggle within their ranks, they learn that an ancient creature with the power to destroy the world is rising – and it will take all of their powers combined to stop it.
“Most films wouldn’t want to open against Star Wars, but we’ve found that the diaspora audience loves having an option at their local multiplex over the holiday,” commented Marchetti, adding: “For example, we opened Mojin: The Lost Legend against The Force Awakens two years ago, and grossed over $1.3 million on just 27 screens. We have some truly great partners in exhibition who understand this audience, and are kind enough to save us a screen even during what promises to be an insane few weeks coming up.”
While The Thousand Faces of Dunjia will open up against Star Wars here, it will also bow day and date with China. Not surprisingly, Well Go USA will first target the Chinese American audience initially as well as “die-hard martial arts fans looking for something different over the holiday break,” according to Marchetti.
Well Go USA will launch The Thousand Faces of Dunjia in 27 theaters in the top markets with concentrations of Chinese Americans and will expand based on results through the rest of December and into January.