From Todd Solondz and Greta Gerwig to Daniel Radcliffe and his pair of directors known collectively as the Daniels, a notable pack of filmmakers and stars are heading to theaters with limited releases this weekend. Solondz Wiener-Dog, with Gerwig, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn and a rambunctious dachshund (or two) share this week’s Specialty roster with the Daniels’ feature bow Swiss Army Man starring Paul Dano and Radcliffe. Also up: New Zealand director Taika Waititi, whose previous title What We Do In The Shadows did bang-up box office in theaters ($3.5M) and cashed in across on-demand platforms to over $2M. The Orchard, which handled non-theatrical for Shadows, takes Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople into theaters for what looks to be a several hundred location release this summer. And Sony Classics turns the spotlight on the late musician Frank Zappa in doc Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words, opening in New York and Los Angeles today.
Also among the weekend’s new titles in limited release are Abramorama’s Breaking A Monster, Gravitas Ventures’ Accidental Exorcist, and Cohen Media Group’s Les Cowboys.
Director-writer: Todd Solondz
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Zosia Mamet
Director Solondz pays tribute to his revered Welcome to the Dollhouse with his latest film, Wiener-Dog, just as the former is having its 20th anniversary this year. Wiener-Dog follows the wayward adventures of a dachshund who passes from oddball owner to oddball owner—including the world’s worst mom, a beleaguered screenwriter, and the grown-up Dawn Wiener of Welcome to the Dollhouse—whose radically dysfunctional lives are all impacted by the pooch.
“David [Hinojosa] brought this one to us,” said producer Christine Vachon of Killer Films. “I had made two movies with Todd Solondz (Happiness, 1998; Storytelling, 2001), but we hadn’t worked together for awhile. David thought it was one we should do.”
The project – Solondz’s eighth narrative feature – had already circulated a bit before coming to Killer Films. “We had a meeting with Annapurna, and we pitched it to them,” said Vachon. “They responded to it and we also jumped in. Annapurna said they’d do it if we did it and [vice versa].”
Greta Gerwig and Julie Delpy were already attached to the project, but the rest of the cast still had to be put in place. “It’s a process with Todd,” added Hinojosa. “Sometimes he starts with [people], but then we came up with ideas. Danny [DeVito] was the first big one to come on and Ellen [Burstyn] was one of the last because she was waiting to see if she was going to direct [a film].”
The shoot took place over 30 days in and around New York City as well as Nyack, NY. The two dachshunds that play Wiener-Dog — a mother and daughter — were a challenge though. “They were two show dogs, so they were trained to do different things and Todd had specific ideas of what he wanted,” said Vachon. “I don’t think we’d do that again.”
Wiener-Dog debuted at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival where it was picked up by Amazon Studios. IFC Films is partnering on the release which begins its run with limited bows this weekend.
Swiss Army Man
Directors-writers: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Timothy Eulich
Swiss Army Man generated a lot of talk at the Sundance Film Festival when it debuted in January. The feature debut of acclaimed music video directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as the Daniels), stars Paul Dano as Hank, who is stranded on a deserted island and has all but given up hope for making it home. One day, a corpse he names Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore, and the two become fast friends, embarking on an epic adventure that will take Hank back to the woman of his dreams.
Swiss Army Man producer Jonathan Wang began working with the Daniels in their short form projects in 2011 and was on-hand with fellow producers to get the ball rolling on their first feature in 2013. “We met with [Cold Iron Films’] Miranda Bailey who was excited about [the project],” said Wang. “Once she was on board, [Daniel’s] manager and I were getting serious in the casting process.” The filmmaking team already knew Dano, who was attached early on, and later met with Radcliffe.
“We had a checklist of things we wanted like comedic timing and willingness to go out in the woods with us,” said Wang. “We didn’t want divas. We met with a handful of people [for the part] and Daniel was the shining star…He asked if he could do his own stunts — and then we were like, ‘You’re hired.’”
With Dano and Radcliffe secured, financing was also rounded out with Tadmore Films from Israel, while WME introduced the group to two additional private investors. Swiss Army Man also received the California tax credit. The shoot took place over 22 days along with five pick-ups. “We found a rare private property with redwood trees on it where we could film,” said Wang. “After that we went to L.A. and pulled crew there, did underwater work in San Pedro and ended up in Humboldt County for wide vistas, etc…We’ve always filmed with the same crew, so this was the culmination of the past five years of music videos. When we were off to the woods, it was like a big summer camp for us.”
Talent have been traveling around the country promoting the title ahead of its release, augmented by “an extensive online/offline campaign” ahead of this weekend. A24, which picked up the title this past spring, will open Swiss Army Man today in limited release in New York and L.A. ahead of a nationwide roll out July 1.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Director-writer: Taika Waititi
Writer: Barry Crump (book)
Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscar Nightley, Stan Walker
Distributor: The Orchard
After a successful on-demand run with New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s previous title, What We Do In The Shadows last year (its theatrical was handled by Paladin/Unison), The Orchard is taking the filmmaker’s latest feature Hunt For The Wilderpeople, based on the novel by Barry Crump, to theaters this weekend. The story is based on a national manhunt for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a universal story that’s both sweet and funny. We knew ten minutes into seeing it at Sundance we wanted it,” said The Orchard’s SVP of Film and TV Paul Davidson. “[Waititi’s last film] What We Do In The Shadows was a huge success for us, grossing over $2M in VOD/digital/cable. We know how to reach that audience and based on [What We Do In The Shadows] fervor, we expect that audience will come out to Hunt For the Wilderpeople.” What We Do In The Shadows broke $3.5M in theaters.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople has “broken records in its release in both New Zealand and Australia, meeting or competing with studio releases there,” said Davidson. “What’s unique about this film is that it’s a broader film than his previous [work]. It harkens back to those ’80s action comedies like Goonies that are original ideas…It’s a charming breath of fresh air for people of all ages. We’re going to target the Shadows audience, but we’re also going broader.”
Davidson noted that Taika Waititi is participating heavily in promoting the film despite his current work as director of Thor: Ragnarok, shooting original videos tied to Wilderpeople in addition to taking part in Skype Q&As as the film rolls out theatrically this weekend. Hunt For The Wilderpeople is also getting attention from national papers and radio stations ahead of its release. Additionally The New Zealand consul is tapping both Kiwi and Australian audiences in New York and Los Angeles this weekend.
“We really, really believe in this film. We think it’ll be that rare summer comedy that crosses demos that others haven’t,” concluded Davidson. The Orchard will open Hunt For The Wilderpeople at the Arclight and Landmark in Los Angeles and Angelika and Lincoln Square theaters in New York as well as Cineplex Odeon in Toronto today. The feature will expand to the New York and L.A. suburbs in addition to locations in Washington, D.C., and other markets the following week. The film is set for about 150 theaters in top markets for the summer, but the company expects it to reach three to four hundred runs throughout summer.
Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words
Director: Thorsten Schütte
Subject: Frank Zappa
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
German-born Thorsten Schütte has been producing docs for over two decades and has always been a Frank Zappa fan. Over the years, he had begun collecting various material about the American musician. “He had a lot of cliche labels, being mistaken as a weirdo and dopehead,” said Schütte. “But he was very eloquent and from the beginning looked at himself as a composer. I think he was one of the most underrated composers in the world.”
Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words is an intimate encounter with the iconoclastic composer and musician. Rare archival footage reveals a provocative 20th century musical genius whose worldview reverberates into the present day and beyond.
“The idea came about in 2008, and soon after I began approaching Zappa’s widow, Gail,” said Schütte. “You don’t want to go forward without being on the same page with the family because of music clearances. At the beginning they’d send nice emails asking me to send over material, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to meet them and get them to understand my position. They were very protective which is understandable.” After speaking with their legal representation, Schütte was able to meet with Gail Zappa in 2009.
He then went to the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) to promote the project in the event’s pitching forum, eventually finding a French co-producer and a broadcast partner along with pre-production funding to continue researching Frank Zappa around the world. “What was tough was coming down to a contract,” said Schütte. “At the beginning, I had dreams of flying to Japan and researching, but that didn’t always happen.” Schütte added that obtaining Zappa footage from various broadcasters around the world was complicated by the fact that material had been misplaced, lost or not taken care of.
“Also, some of these broadcasters have quite a lot of material, so that means a lot of money to them,” he added. “By 2014 we had completed most of the things we wanted and knew what we had. From the moment we got our first funding, we hired a production assistant to start digitizing everything. Our first edit was done that year.”
Schütte said the Zappa family had contractually given him final edit, but he had agreed to sit with them for “meaningful consultations,” but noting: “Gail never sat in the editing room.” Two months before Gail Zappa passed away, Schütte showed her a rough cut. “Their reaction was very moving,” he said. “In a way, I brought home someone they knew…It felt surreal to sit in the house where he worked and lived and then project [him] onto the wall…Knowing that Gail was severely ill made it all the more emotional.”
Sony Pictures Classics picked up the title ahead of the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered in January. Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words will open at Film Forum in New York and the Nuart in Los Angeles today before heading to five additional markets the following week as well as further expansion going into July. Added Schütte: “When you see the list of where the film is going, it looks like Frank is touring again. Fans have been asking about when it’s coming to their city.”