British Screen Queens Reign in ‘The Favourite’; Palme d’Or Winner ’Shoplifters’ Hits Theaters; ‘Roma’ Rollout Begins: Specialty Preview

Yorgos Lanthimos

A finite number of audiences on both coasts will get the chance to see Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma beginning Thanksgiving weekend. Netflix’s anticipated black-and-white feature, which is a Spirit Award nominee and won the Golden Lion at Venice will have the vast majority of its audiences view what some have called a masterpiece through the service. Roma is the second of three Netflix films — along with the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which opened this month, and Susanne Bier’s Bird Box — to get a rare pre-streaming theatrical release as the company looks to boost awareness for its awards-season fare.

Fellow Venice, Telluride and New York film festival pic The Favourite from Fox Searchlight begins its theatrical run Friday in four New York and L.A. locations. Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, the period drama should be a heavy draw for audiences during the holiday. This is the second consecutive year that Magnolia Pictures is releasing the Cannes Palme d’Or winner stateside. Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters makes its holiday outing with limited runs, beginning a slow expansion that will take the film to major cities going into 2019. Also, Abramorama is opening dramedy-romance Write When You Get Work, directed by Stacy Cochran and starring Emily Mortimer, while Greenwich Entertainment is bowing executive producer Jesse Eisenberg’s SXSW documentary The World Before Your Feet in New York, .

Also in limited release Thanksgiving weekend is Music Box Films bio-drama Becoming Astrid, opening Film Forum in New York and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles.

The Favourite
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Fox Searchlight

Producer Ceci Dempsey first had the script for The Favourite come into her orbit 20 years ago. The fact that it was a period story and some of its storyline made it a challenging sell early on. Along the way, Dempsey said that some had suggested toning down the lesbian side of the 18th century story set in England, but she resisted.

“It was with me for a long time before [production company] Element Pictures and I came together,” said Dempsey. “Period stories were out of fashion and there was a reluctance to the same sex portion [of the script]. Some people said to concentrate on the [story] of the [straight] Duke and Duchess.”

In the film, early 18th century England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance at return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics nor rabbit stand in her way.

“It was a bit more of a protracted process than we anticipated,” said Dempsey. “When Yorgos [Lanthimos] came along, there was more to be done. … Element had been talking to him about another project, and then they told him about this. He was very interested, so it was a bit of a happy accident.”

Lanthimos met the producing team but also had his script for The Lobster ready. That film “leapfrogged” The Favourite, according to Dempsey. Starring Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly and Rachel Weisz, The Lobster debuted at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. A24 released the title in May 2016, eventually grossing $8.7M domestically.

The Favourite was in development during The Lobster, and afterward it “crystallized,” Dempsey said. “Yorgos was very specific about the cast he wanted. The performances reflect in the film his ability to communicate with the cast. Then it was all about timing, and fortunately it did come together. We also had to be careful about light. He uses as little artificial light as possible and had to be conscious of dark palaces. In winter it can be [challenging].”

The Favourite’s main location was Hatfield House, a historic estate in Hertfordshire, England. Unlike similar stately homes in the U.K., this location allowed for the specific lighting Lanthimos wanted.

“It’s not part of the National Trust, which preserves [many of] these beautiful monuments,” explained Dempsey. “But as a result, we were able to light by candlelight, which was a major aspect in the decision-making process for using Hatfield House. The National Trust would allow for that.”

Dempsey added that the shoot came in ‘on-time and on budget.”

The British Film Institute supported the development of the script and Film4 also joined when Lanthimos took on the project (Film4 also supported The Lobster). Fox Searchlight and Waypoint Entertainment came on shortly afterward.

“Yorgos is a meticulous director,” said Dempsey. “He doesn’t like to deconstruct his process. You can see it in the film. Along with lighting, grading and sound are very important to him. … This whole period has been overlooked dramatically. Queen Anne was an ignored monarch, but it turns out she had a spicy life.”

Searchlight opens The Favourite in four theaters Friday: The Landmark and Arclight in Los Angeles along with Lincoln Square and Union Square in New York. The title then will head to seven more cities November 30 while expanding a bit in New York and L.A. to 35-40 cities. By December 14, The Favourite will be in between 600-700 going into the Christmas holiday.

Director-writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Lily Franky, Ando Sakura, Matsuoka Mayu, Kiki Kilin, Jyo Kairi, Sasaki Miyu
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia Pictures

Thanksgiving weekend’s rollout of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is the second Cannes Palme d’Or winner release for Magnolia Pictures in a row. The company distributed Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner The Square in August 2017, taking in $1.5M at the stateside box office.

Shoplifters follows an unlikely family. After one of their shoplifting sessions, Osamu and his son come across a little girl in the freezing cold. At first reluctant to shelter the girl, Osamu’s wife agrees to take care of her after learning of the hardships she faces. Although the family is poor, barely making enough money to survive through petty crime, they seem to live happily together until an unforeseen incident reveals hidden secrets, testing the bonds that unite them.

We’ve been fans of Kore-eda’s for many years and have wanted to work on another film of his since 2012 when we released I Wish,” Magnolia’s Neal Block said. “It was evident after the first screening in Cannes that this was the one – it’s a pinnacle in a career of pinnacles. Our intrepid acquisitions team closed on it hours before it won the Palme d’Or.”

Magnolia has been placing the Palme d’Or laurels “front and center” on all of its marketing material, according to Block. The company expects the win to be a boost with audiences.

“The cachet of the win will certainly sell some tickets as it did with The Square last year, but the Palme d’Or doesn’t portend financial success clearly. That will depend on the strength of the film and we think Shoplifters is as strong a film as we’ve had in a long time.”

The 2016 Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake, made $260K in theaters, while Dheepan, which took the top Cannes prize in 2015, came in at just under $260K; both likely found wider audiences on demand.

Despite a somewhat crowded arena of awards hopefuls, the Thanksgiving weekend seemed like a good fit for Shoplifters’ release.

Coming off the Telluride, Toronto and New York film festivals, it made sense to jump in and go for it. “Despite the competition, this is the right time to open,” noted Block. “We wouldn’t have gone in this busy period if the film wasn’t as universally beloved, or as omnipresent in the awards conversation, as it is.”

Magnolia is giving Shoplifters a traditional release. The title opens at IFC Center and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York as well as in L.A. at the Arclight and the Royal in addition to the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Shoplifters will roll out slowly through December, adding a few markets a week, and will go wider in January in the lead-up to Oscar nominations on January 22.

Write When You Get Work
Director-writer: Stacy Cochran
Cast: Emily Mortimer, Finn Wittrock, Rachel Keller, Scott Cohen, Jessica Hecht, James Ransone
Distributor: Abramorama


Writer-director Stacy Cochran first wrote an initial draft for Write When You Get Work back in 2012. The early title for the story, Rigorous & Exclusive, came from promotional material she had seen for a private prep school.

“I write fast but revise slowly,” explained Cochran. “I rewrote it every couple of years, switching critical elements until, finally in 2016, we found financing. I felt I had either written Write When You Get Work in a week or over a decade or somehow both.”

Set  at a New York City private school for girls, the thorny romantic comedy centers on Ruth Duffy, a woman working to put her tumultuous days behind her and establish a career on the lower rungs of the Upper East Side. Jonny Collins is the man she least wants to see, but his efforts to infiltrate her life seem unimpeded by locks or windows. And Nan Noble is a member of the entitled class whose pronouncements reveal the fears and cluelessness of life on the inside. The film is a love story that evolves into a heist.

This is the first feature directorial for Cochran since her 2001 film, Drop Back Ten. In the interim, her work with windmills in New York and Williamstown, MA, lead to a surprising path to complete her second feature. “From this lively pool, I found — eureka — a single investor who loved the material and decided to support my relentless if quixotic effort to get back to work. It was impossible to find financing — until it was simple.”

Principal cast joined via the traditional submission of script to agents “with fingers crossed,” noted Cochran, adding: “The casting director, Todd Thaler, and I have a terrific shorthand, and when a great actor appeared in our minds, like Emily Mortimer for instance, or walks into the room for the first time, like Tess Frazer or Andrew Schulz, there is a moment of electricity and the character becomes itself. We have a cast of truly extraordinary experienced actors in this movie, and some who are in a feature project for the first time.”

Write When You Get Work shot over 20 days on the Upper East Side and Locust Point in the Bronx, with D.P. Robert Elswit shooting on Super 16. There was at least some guerrilla takes during principal photography.

“I will divulge that we shot ‘Jonny receives a phone call from the school’ in no time, and with what I’ll call ‘on thespot’ permission,” Cochran said. “[Actor Finn Wittrock] went inside the deli, bought a bagel, Robert’s crew set up dolly track, Finn walked out, we shot it. We ran.”

The feature debuted in narrative competition at SXSW. A friend sent a link to Abramorama’s Richard Abramowitz and Karol Martesko-Fenster, which boarded the project for its release.

“I like to think it was ‘meant to be,’” Cochran said. “Their limber approach to the rocky landscape for independent movies, combined with their ethical and open approach to the business and to the world – for me, it was like a duffel bag full of bodega candy, in the best possible way.”

Write When You Get Work opens at Village East Cinemas in New York for a week on Friday. Then it will head to the Laemmle Noho in L.A. for a week beginning Friday, December 7.

The World Before Your Feet
Director: Jeremy Workman
Subject: Matt Green
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment

Greenwich Entertainment

Greenwich Entertainment saw Jeremy Workman’s documentary The World Before Your Feet following its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. The company was attracted to the film’s “life-affirming, inspiring [and] refreshing” qualities. Greenwich likens the person at the center of the film, Matt Green, to Thoreau, expressing a “radical freedom.”

“He’s also the 21st century personification and update of the flaneur, the urban wanderer, but with a more typically American sense of purpose,” observed Greenwich Entertainment’s Ed Arentz. “I can’t help but feel that audiences, particularly younger audiences, will be inspired by Matt’s example if not to actually walk out of a stifling job but know that they always can.”

There are 8,000 miles of roads and paths in New York City, and for the past six years Matt Green has been walking them all – every street, park, cemetery, beach and bridge. It’s a five-borough journey that stretches from the barbershops of the Bronx to the forests of Staten Island, from the Statue of Liberty to Times Square, with Matt amassing a surprisingly detailed knowledge of New York’s history and people along the way. Something of a modern-day Thoreau, Matt gave up his engineering job, his apartment and most of his possessions, sustaining his endeavor through couch-surfing, cat-sitting and a $15-a-day budget. He’s not sure exactly why he’s doing it, only knowing that there’s no other way he’d rather spend his days.

“The movie is probably one of the best advertisements for the city’s many charms and encourages one to marvel at this multifaceted and ever evolving urban experiment so it should engender a certain kind of pride and awe in America’s greatest city among not just New Yorkers,” noted Arentz. “In its own way, it’s very patriotic in a small ‘p’, non-Trumpian, way. There’s also a lot of former New Yorkers and New York lovers all over the country. This is a film that also will seem really novel to most New Yorkers that may not be at all familiar with many of the areas Matt’s peregrinations take him.”

The company hosted word-of-mouth screenings in the leadup to the release and what Arentz described as “fairly modestly scaled social media, print and radio advertising.” They also connected with affinity groups such as walking organizations and urban policy advocates. Added Arentz: “PMK, our publicists on the release really got it and have done a great job setting up interviews for filmmaker Jeremy Workman, subject Matt Green and executive producer Jesse Eisenberg.”

The World Before Your Feet opens today at the Quad on Wednesday and Friday in Los Angeles. The title will then platform to additional cities around the country as well as in the New York City suburbs. Said Arentz, “For smaller markets, we’ll be doing more one-offs and exploring theatrical on demand options to get this film as widely in seen as possible.”

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