Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan Fly With ‘The Seagull’; Olivia Holt Studies ‘Class Rank’ – Specialty B.O. Preview

The Seagull
Sony Pictures Classics

An abundance of new Specialty releases will roll into theaters and on-demand this weekend, including newcomers with Hollywood A-listers such as Sony Pictures Classics’ drama The Seagull, based on the Chekhov play and starring Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan and Elisabeth Moss. Olivia Holt, Skyler Gisondo, Kristin Chenoweth and Bruce Dern star in Cinedigm Entertainment’s comedy-romance Class Rank, making a day and date bow this weekend, while a cross-section of documentaries will open, hoping to tap some of the momentum of last weekend’s successful launch of non-fiction title RBG. Good Deed Entertainment is opening Always At the Carlyle by Matthew Miele with a cast of stars effusing about the legendary Upper East Side New York hotel. Sara Driver’s Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat about the late artist’s pre-fame years in a now lost downtown Manhattan begins its run via Magnolia Pictures (which opened RBG). And Willem Dafoe narrates Greenwich Entertainment’s Mountain, which has an exclusive run in New York starting Friday.

Other limited releases this weekend include Neon’s action-thriller Revenge by Coralie Fargeat, and Paladin drama-romance Anything by Timothy McNeil.

The Seagull
Director: Michael Mayer
Writers: Stephen Karam, Anton Chekhov (play)
Cast: Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Corey Stoll, Elisabeth Moss, Mare Winningham, Jon Tenney, Glenn Fleshler, Michael Zegen, Billy Howle, Brian Dennehy
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Veteran theater producer Leslie Urdang was approached by colleagues Tom Hulce and Michael Mayer for advice in 2015 about doing a big screen version of the play The Seagull by Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov. The request for input turned into full participation.

“Tom had played the role of Konstantin [in The Seagull] twice as a young actor,” said Urdang. “[Later], Tom asked me if I’d be interested in partnering with them. I’m attracted to labors of love and material that never fails you and attracts talent that absolutely wants to tell a story. It’s not necessarily about the money but the labor of love.”

The Seagull is set during summer at a lakeside Russian estate, where friends and family gather for a weekend in the countryside. While everyone is caught up in passionately loving someone who loves somebody else, a story unfolds about art, fame, parents, children and human folly.

The producers had approached Annette Bening early on about playing Irina and she accepted. In the meantime, they also raised fund, which came via a combination of several investors that worked in the theater as well as a larger group making smaller investments. “It was person by person and meeting by meeting raising money,” explained Urdang. “We also had an international seller and equity investors.”

Urdang had worked with Saoirse Ronan on a small project previously and tapped her to join the film early in the process. Elisabeth Moss came on after Urdang had suggested her to Tom Hulce, who had been in the process of auditioning a number of actors.

The Seagull shot in summer 2015 over 21 days in Monroe, New York, about 45 minutes north of the city.

“Our production designer remembered a summer camp she went to that was built by Russian industrialists,” said Urdang. “We were incredibly lucky to find almost all of our locations in one place. Stephen Karam made some script adjustments based on the actual locations. And, since we had to spend less money on transportation, we had more money to spend on period clothing etc.”

Post-production took a while. Michael Mayer had to turn his attention to other projects, while composer Nico Muhly was finishing an opera. Urdang showed SPC co-president Michael Barker an early version of the feature, who gave some notes, which Urdang said proved helpful. “We addressed those notes in the final edit,” she said. “We give real kudos to him for helping us. We [later] showed the film to a handful of distributors in private screenings, but Sony Classics was where we really wanted to go.”

SPC picked up the title in 2017, but the company had another Annette Bening project, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which opened in late December, so the plan was to hold off on The Seagull’s release until the spring.

Sony Classics will open The Seagull at the Paris and Angelika theaters in New York as well as The Landmark and AMC Hollywood in Los Angeles Friday. It will then move to other select cities the following week including Washington, D.C. and San Francisco before additional cities in the coming weeks.

Class Rank
Director: Eric Stoltz
Writer: Benjamin August
Cast: Olivia Holt, Skyler Gisondo, Kristin Chenoweth, Bruce Dern
Distributor: Cinedigm Entertainment

Filmmaker Eric Stoltz boarded Class Rank as director early on when producer Sandy Stern called him “out of the blue,” he said, and sent him the script. Stoltz said that he quickly connected with the material. “I loved all the characters, the smart caring kids and the wizened but flawed adults,” he explained. “It made me laugh out loud, and I knew I’d enjoy spending a great deal of time with them.”

The quirky teen comedy centers on placement, politics and finding your voice. The only thing holding Veronica (Holt) back from her dream of attending Yale is her number two high-school class ranking. So when she devises a plan to elect fellow teen Bernard (Gisondo) to the local school board and abolish the ranking system, their unorthodox efforts inspire everyone around them to see life and love in a whole new light.

No cast had been attached by the time Stoltz joined the project. He said that at one point an entirely different cast had been slated, but then it fell apart. Ultimately Olivia Holt, Skyler Gisondo, Kristin Chenoweth and Bruce Dern were cast. Financing came together via producer Shaun Sanghani who brought on investors from Louisiana where the title was shot.

Class Rank filmed over about 20 days in Alexandria, Louisiana. “Thankfully it looks a great deal like New Jersey in some areas,” noted Stoltz. “Because Mr. Sanghani was from Alexandria, they really opened their arms to us. The gorgeous high school we shot in gave us free reign, students as extras, and it looked like a million bucks. The party scene, however, was in our Mr. Sanghani’s parents house, [which is] always a tricky proposition as you certainly don’t want to damage your boss’ home.”

Cinedigm announced it had picked up North American rights to the feature in February. Class Rank will open day and date Friday theatrically in 14 locations including Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Seattle as well as in Alexandria, LA. It will also be available via digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon and FandangoNow.

Always At The Carlyle
Director: Matthew Miele
Subjects: George Clooney, Sofia Coppola, Tommy Lee Jones, Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, Wes Anderson, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell, Jon Hamm, Anthony Bourdain, Elaine Stritch, Vera Wang
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment

Distributor Good Deed Entertainment had an early look at director Matthew Miele’s documentary Always At The Carlyle last fall. The company was attracted to the mix of A-list talent who stayed at the Upper East Side hotel as well as its staff.

“It’s not hard to be drawn in by the way the cast and Carlyle staff offer a glimpse into what’s made the property so iconic and so beloved by some of the most powerful, creative, and influential figures of our times,” commented Kristin Harris, VP, Acquisitions and Distribution at Good Deed. “The film offers a sort of beautiful nostalgia while also being a sort of love letter to New York City itself.”

The official synopsis states: “While the walls at The Carlyle don’t talk, they definitely whisper.” In the works for over three years, Always At The Carlyle brings to life the untold stories of this legendary hotel in New York, as heard from the mouths of its own employees and top clientele including George Clooney, Anjelica Huston, Tommy Lee Jones, Vera Wang, Elaine Stritch and more.

“We wanted to release on the heels of [last weekend’s] Met Gala,” said Harris. “As you’ll see in the film, the Carlyle hosts many of the gala guests and we saw this as a way to continue the excitement of the annual event, which we hope will translate into box office success.” The company is expecting to lure a “sophisticated, older, female audience” while also tapping a younger generation including fans of pop culture.

Added Harris: “For opening weekend, Matthew Miele will be hosting guests for live Q&A sessions of his popular podcast, Last Night at the Carlyle, at the Quad theater. We’ll also be giving filmgoers an opportunity, during opening weekend, to enter at the theater to win an evening on the town at The Carlyle, including dinner and a show at Cafe Caryle and a night’s stay at the hotel. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the heart behind the Carlyle property, and then experience it firsthand for yourself.”

Following its exclusive showing at the Quad in New York this weekend, Always At The Carlyle will head to L.A. and a few additional markets next week. A national expansion is planned for May 25.

Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Director: Sara Driver
Subjects: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, Lee George Quinones, Jim Jarmusch, Kenny Scharf, Luc Sante, James Nares, Patricia Field, Alexis Adler, Michael Holman
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

The origins of doc Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat came out of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Producer Rachel Dengiz’s friend Sara Driver called her up saying she had seen a “remarkable archive,” in her words, at her friend Alexis Adler’s apartment. The collection had been rescued from a flood zone.

“She was so excited about what she had seen that I encouraged her to buy a camera and start filming,” noted Denzig. “I organized a very small crew as we had no money or financing, and we just started shooting and interviewing a small group of people who were friends with Jean-Michel and familiar with what was happening in the New York City art scene at that time.”

Boom For Real follows artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life pre-fame and how New York City, the times, the people and the movements surrounding him formed the artist he became. Using never before seen works, writings and photographs, director Sara Driver, who was part of the New York arts scene herself, worked closely with friends and other artists who emerged from that period. Drawing from their memories and anecdotes, the film also uses period film footage, music and images to visually re-create the era, drawing a portrait of Basquiat and downtown New York City — pre-AIDS, President Reagan, the real estate and art booms — before anyone was motivated by money and ambition. The definition of fame, success and power were very different than today. To be a penniless but published poet was the height of success, until everything changed in the early 1980s. This is New York City before that change.

“Sara was friends with Michael Holman, who had amazing footage of Jean-Michel Basquiat from a short experimental film he shot and directed called Pesceador,’” explained Denzig. “Glenn O’Brien was also a friend of Sara’s and he allowed us to use footage from his film Downtown 81, which he wrote and co-produced and was directed by Edo Bertoglio. Glenn’s associate Maripol, who also produced Downtown 81, helped expedite the footage to us. Glenn also allowed us to use footage of Jean-Michel from his public-access television cable show, TV Party.

Denzig added that the feature’s financing was “extremely low,” but added: “Getting the financing together was hard and took many years. Luckily the film was made by an extremely small and intimate group of people — a labor of love for all involved who continue to be dedicated and see the film through.”

Magnolia Pictures picked up Boom For Real post-Toronto ’17 where it had its world premiere. The title will bow in New York at IFC Center as well as the Nuart in L.A. The following week it will head to six additional markets with further expansion in select cities planned from there.

Director: Jennifer Peedom
Narrator: Willem Dafoe
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment

Willem Dafoe takes on narration duties in Greenwich Entertainment doc Mountain, sampled from British mountaineer Robert MacFarlane’s memoir, Mountains Of the Mind. The company saw the documentary via sales agency Submarine last fall. Greenwich Entertainment said it saw its theatrical possibilities: “It reminded us of an extreme Alpine sports version of an experiential non-narrative film like Baraka…”

Greenwich’s Ed Arentz also said that his positive experience with the release of Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyl and Jimmy Chin’s 2015 mountaineering doc Meru (Music Box Films), which grossed over $2.3M at the box office, also influenced the company’s involvement with Mountain.

Only three centuries ago, setting out to climb a mountain would have been considered close to lunacy. Mountains were places of peril, not beauty, an upper world to be shunned, not sought out. With drones, Go-Pros and helicopters, and from Tibet to Australia and Alaska to Norway, the film has fashioned a symphony of mountaineers, ice climbers, free soloists, heliskiers, snowboarders, wingsuiters and parachuting mountain bikers.

“The core audience is the cross-section of documentary filmgoers and those with [inclinations] for adventure like [travelers and hikers, climbers, skiers],” said Arentz. “The marketing focus is purely social media.” The company said it wanted to target a non-winter window in order to tap skiers “missing the mountains” and hikers “contemplating their summer adventures.”

Mountain is opening in New York with an exclusive run, followed by an L.A. bow May 25 in two locations. Starting June 1, Greenwich will move Mountain into 25 markets heading into summer.

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