Two films by veteran filmmakers as well as a directorial debut are among the headlining Specialty newcomers rolling out in yet another packed weekend of new releases. New York Film Festival debut Last Flag Flying by Richard Linklater and starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne opens via Amazon Studios/Lionsgate in select locations in New York and L.A. en route to a wide release timed to Thanksgiving. Rob Reiner, meanwhile, is heading out with LBJ from Electric Entertainment, starring Woody Harrelson as the 36th POTUS. The title will be the widest Specialty release of the weekend at nearly 700 locations.
Actress Greta Gerwig has added ‘director’ to her resume with Lady Bird starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, which A24 is opening Friday. The film had a robust festival run throughout the year leading up to its theatrical release this weekend in a high-profile awards season slot. Samuel Goldwyn Films is heading out with writer/director/actor Ana Asensio’s Most Beautiful Island, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival in March. The Orchard is opening documentary 11/8/16 which combines the telling of last year’s U.S. general election through the eyes of dozens of filmmakers, while Submarine Deluxe is heading out with Tribeca doc Gilbert spotlighting comedian Gilbert Gottfried.
Also opening in limited release this weekend is Gravitas Ventures’ Bad Match in ten markets in a day and date release. Among others openers are Vitagraph Films’ Wait For Your Laugh, Gray State from A&E IndieFilms and First Run Features, as well as Princess Cyd (Wolfe), Battlecreek (Hannover House), Dream Boat (Strand), Bad Grandmas (Parade Deck Films) and On Wings of Eagles (Archstone).
Last Flag Flying
Director-writer: Richard Linklater
Writer: Darryl Ponicsan
Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne
Distributor: Amazon Studios/Lionsgate
Richard Linklater’s latest feature, Last Flag Flying, is an Amazon Studios production, with the company joining the project in the script stage. Amazon Studios, which is releasing the film along with Lionsgate, expects the title to reach a broader, mainstream audience including, not surprisingly given its subject matter, the military.
In 2003, thirty years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Richard “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with former Marines Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) on a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives.
“We’ve had a great response from the American Legion, Gold Star families as well as veterans groups from Vietnam to vets of recent wars and active service members,” said Amazon Studios head of Marketing & Distribution, Bob Berney. “I think the film is going to play across the country in places where typical indie films don’t play. We expect it to play in bigger complexes. Our research screenings have been tremendous.”
Paramount released Linklater’s previous feature Everybody Wants Some!! in spring 2016 grossing $3.4M at the domestic box office. IFC Films opened his 2014 title, Boyhood, which was years in the making, taking in over $25.35M.
The distributors are expecting Last Flag Flying to draw a broader audience than some of Linklater’s earlier, more niche work.
“It’s not a war movie. It’s a reviewing years later about what happens to the individuals and their relationships,” observed Berney. “There is a respect of the institutions and what happens, but it also doesn’t shy away from being critical. Like any big institutions, some individuals will be left out. These are guys trying to make a connection between each other.”
Amazon Studios/Lionsgate will open Last Flag Flying in four New York and Los Angeles theaters this weekend before expanding to 25 locations Veterans Day weekend. The feature will then go wide in time for Thanksgiving weekend.
Added Berney with an eye at this awards season: “We’re in the right season and the performances, screenplay and direction deserve [to be noticed].”
Director-writer: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Odeya Rush, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott
Some early press on Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird said the film was autobiographical. Gerwig has said during the film’s festival run that she had drawn experiences from her upbringing in Northern California, where the feature takes place, but that it is not a retelling of her teenage years.
“It’s definitely grounded in my life in Sacramento… It’s not literally autobiographical. The script went through a lot of work and took a long time to write,” said Gerwig at the New York Film Festival last month. “I was really a much more straight-laced kid. I think the character of Lady Bird came from somewhere though I’m not sure. I never actually went by a different name. She just emerged on the page. Still, there is a truth there.”
Lady Bird has at its center a turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Lady Bird goes through senior year dealing with the travails of loves, living on the “wrong side of the tracks” and hoping to go east for college despite her family’s financial woes. The film is set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape.
“I wanted to make something about what home means,” said Gerwig. “It’s the last year of high school in the midst of so much happening. In the writing I wanted it to feel like it’s gathering speed. Some people say it’s a coming of age story, but for me, one person’s coming of age is another person’s letting go.”
Gerwig said that her experience as an actress working with many directors informed her approach behind the camera as director on this project. She said that she realized early on that it’s important to maintain an air of control even at the most challenging moments. Gerwig also gave kudos to her cast.
“I had incredible actresses and actors,” she said. “Laurie Metcalf is one of the great treasures. I always wanted to work with someone who had that much power as an actress. I felt it was her movie in so many ways. I like movies where something is woven underneath you and are pulled out from under. Mike Leigh’s films are like that. I wanted this to be funny and enjoyable, but I am also hoping people will think par of the way through, ‘oh this is very sad.’”
A24 picked up worldwide rights to Lady Bird mid-summer ahead of its debut at Telluride and Toronto. Lady Bird will open four New York and Los Angeles locations Friday before heading to the top ten markets next week and then expanding to the top 25 by its third weekend of release.
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: Joey Hartstone
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Stahl-David, Richard Jenkins, Bill Pullman, C. Thomas Howell, Michael Mosley
Distributor: Electric Entertainment
Distributor Electric Entertainment first caught Rob Reiner’s latest, LBJ at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival where it premiered. The company didn’t initially pursue the title since it didn’t “make sense on the business side” at the time, according to company exec Zac Reeder, but they negotiated a deal with CAA nearly a year later.
“With HBO’s LBJ series and the new political landscape, we thought it would be right to release this film in the latter part of 2017,” said Reeder. “And with Trump in the White House, it seemed like a good time, [plus] people think of elections in the fall and it could get some awards consideration.”
The film centers on the ascendency of LBJ to the presidency. After then powerful Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson) loses the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to Senator John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), he agrees to be his young rival’s running mate. But once they win the election, despite his extensive legislative experience and shrewd political instincts, Johnson finds himself sidelined in the role of Vice President. That all changes on Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson, with his devoted wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by his side, is suddenly thrust into the presidency. As the nation mourns, Johnson must contend with longtime adversary Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) and one-time mentor Georgia Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) as he seeks to honor JFK’s legacy by championing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“We did test screenings early on and found that men and women 45-plus love the film,” said Reeder. “We see them as our core audience and are targeting them through ads on news networks like MSNBC and CNN as well as The Daily Show and other places where people like to follow politics. We’re also doing social media since we’ve found young people who are into politics are also interested.”
Electric Entertainment is also tapping to Woody Harrelson’s fanbase. Both Harrelson and Reiner have been on the road for LBJ ahead of its release this weekend.
“Rob Reiner and Woody Harrelson have supported it a lot,” added Reeder. “They spent two weeks on the road and we’re super appreciative for being so involved in promoting it.”
Electric Entertainment is opening LBJ in nearly 700 theaters Friday, by far the company’s widest release to date. The company has done releases in the 15 city day and date range up until now. “This is a big step for us and we’re cautiously optimistic,” concluded Reeder. “We feel very lucky to be involved with this level of film.”
Most Beautiful Island
Director-writer: Ana Asensio
Cast: Ana Asensio, Natasha Romanova, David Little, Nicholas Tucci, Larry Fessenden, Caprice Benedetti
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films/Orion Pictures
Psychological thriller Most Beautiful Island won the Grand Jury Award at this year’s SXSW Film Festival. Writer/director and cast member Ana Asensio wrote a thirty-page draft at the end of 2010 and had completed a first draft of the story by mid-2011. Asensio then hit the pavement.
“I knew it was a first draft and many things needed to be revised and improved, but I also knew the core of the story and its intensity were there, so I began knocking on doors right away,” commented Asensio. “Over the course of the years that it took to get the film off the ground, I kept working on the script with the help and advice of veteran writer and friend Jerome Perzigian.”
Most Beautiful Island chronicles one harrowing day in the life of Luciana, a young immigrant woman struggling to make ends meet while striving to escape her past. As Luciana’s day unfolds, she is whisked, physically and emotionally, through a series of troublesome and unforeseeable extremes. Before her day is done, she inadvertently finds herself a central participant in a cruel game where lives are placed at risk, and psyches are twisted and broken for the perverse entertainment of a privileged few.
Ahead of pre-production, Asensio reached out to several people she had in mind for certain roles, though she noted that it took “a very long time” to convince the non-actors to get in front of a camera, adding: “As per the professional actors in the film, I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic casting director, Sig de Miguel, who provided me with many great options for each role. Finding the financing for this film was an arduous task and it took me many years to accomplish. I knocked on many doors and eventually a few individuals who are film lovers but never actually invested in films decided to jump in and support this project. I also put all of my savings into it.”
Exteriors and the beginning of the film were shot over 15 days, while interiors took place over five days. “[The party location] was particularly challenging to find, and it was actually thanks to Chris Skotchdopole from Glass Eye Pix who after much research was able to find it, in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The other locations came through favors. I begged the owner of the bodega for weeks, same with the Chinese restaurant location, for which I ultimately had my friend Cathy Han to intervene in Mandarin to actually seal the deal.”
Samuel Goldwyn Films reached out about distributing the title soon after its SXSW debut in March. The distributor along with Orion Pictures are opening the film in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cleveland, Columbus, Orlando, Detroit, Minneapolis. Added Asensio: “They came in with a strong proposal for the distribution and we all thought the film would be in great hands with them.”
Distributor: The Orchard
Producer (and veteran distribution exec) Jeff Deutchman lead a team of dozens of filmmakers to record the U.S. Presidential election last year. He had done a similar project, 11/04/08, which ushered in the Obama era. This follow-up marked the beginning of an entirely different direction.
“Jeff put together a more aspirational plan for this [project],” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “He and [fellow producer] Dana O’Keefe were going around town to find a company that would fund it. It seemed most people believed Hillary was going to win. But from our perspective, we thought, ‘What if?’ And even if she had won, this one day would have been a significant opportunity to create an historical document. We financed the film…”
11/8/16 recalls the morning of Election Day, 2016. Americans of all stripes woke up and went about living their lives. These were the hours leading up to Donald Trump’s unexpected earth-shaking victory, but of course, no one knew that yet.
“There were 50 individual subjects with each having ten to fifteen hours of footage,” said Davidson. “Our goal was to present all sides of the argument. We wanted [to feature] people voting for both candidates or for an independent or not voting at all. We also showed some media coverage. Our [other] goal was to not let it be partisan in any way and let audiences step out of their bubbles so that people from different socio-economic backgrounds could experience what others have. It’s the Titanic of election documentaries. You know how it ends, but the subjects are so compelling you want to see how the outcome affects their lives.”
11/8/16 traveled to various regional festivals including the recent Hamptons International Film Festival, but of course the team wanted to time its release to the one year anniversary of the election. In addition to festivals, The Orchard has screened the title elsewhere including recently in Washington, D.C. where Deutchman has been doing interviews. The distributor has also experimented with digital assets, releasing content from the movie that addresses to various political points-of-view.
“[We have content] that speaks to one side or the other of the political spectrum,” said Davidson. “This way, [audiences] know their side is represented. The film has a cohesion despite there being a lot of different filmmakers. It feels like ‘one work’ at the end of the day.”
The Orchard is going to take a few months to roll out 11/8/16 in theaters, beginning in New York and L.A. at the Village East and Laemmle North Hollywood respectively. It will also be available on all digital platforms including iTunes and Netflix.
In addition to 11/8/16, The Orchard is also releasing writer/director/actor Michelle Morgan’s Sundance comedy It Happened in L.A. The classically styled comedy of manners set in Los Angeles centers on sophisticated thirty-somethings who try to determine whether ideal happiness exists in coupledom or if the perfectly suited couple is actually just an urban myth.
“We saw it at Sundance and it resonated for us,” said Davidson. “It’s a funny, endearing and quirky film about a group of friends in L.A.” Davidson said the trailer release received “great attention” when it dropped in October. The Orchard will release the feature in New York this weekend, followed by L.A. on November 10 before becoming available on digital November 14.
Director-writer: Neil Berkeley
Writer: James Leche
Subjects: Gilbert Gottfried, Arlene Gottfried, Karen Gottfried, Dave Attell, Joy Behar, Lewis Black, Whoopi Goldberg, Arsenio Hall
Distributor: Submarine Deluxe
Film sales outfit Submarine first saw Neil Berkeley’s latest doc, Gilbert, a few months ahead of its Tribeca Film Festival debut in April. All of the parties involved believed some form of theatrical distribution would be the best way to take the film out. Submarine Deluxe also partnered for non-theatrical to maximize the title’s reach.
“After evaluating a number of offers from various distributors — both theatrical and streaming companies — it became clear the strongest deal was going to be one without a theatrical component,” commented Submarine’s Ben Braun. “We brainstormed on how we’d be able to get the film out in theaters but also go with the strongest deal, so we put a plan together along with Neil Berkeley’s company, Future You, to release the film through Submarine Deluxe. It turned out to be a best of all worlds scenario, as we found a great partner with Gravitas Ventures, which will release the film on ancillary platforms and gave us the ability to oversee our own theatrical marketing and release.”
The documentary centers on comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who came into fame in the 1980s, is known for his brash personality, unique vocal tone, and off-kilter comic timing. Now, foul-mouthed and unapologetic after decades of flying solo in both his work and in his personal life, Gilbert has reinvented himself — as a family man.
“I think all of us had some pre-conceived notion about what a Gilbert Gottfried doc would be, and we were all completely wrong,” noted Braun. “The film, aside from being hilarious, resonated with us on an emotional level we didn’t except as it delves into highly guarded aspects of Gilbert’s personality and family life that no one familiar with his comedic act will see coming.”
Submarine Deluxe picked November in order to have “full access” to Gilbert himself in promoting the release. The label is of course targeting Gottfried’s fans as well as audiences who enjoy comedy generally. “We are confident that strong reviews will drive other audiences to discover the film over the weekend, it’s a genuine crowd–pleaser and positive word-of-mouth should help us,” added Braun. “We undertook an extensive outreach campaign to comedy clubs all around New York, who are plugging the film on their social media channels and have hosted preview screenings.” Gottfried is also doing his own promotion including an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Submarine Deluxe will open Gilbert exclusively at IFC Center Friday before expanding to eight additional markets including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Seattle. The doc will then continue to platform from there until the film becomes available on VOD later in November.