EXCLUSIVE: Indie stalwart Cassian Elwes is making a move into management via his Elevated banner, kicking off with signing Best Sellers director Lina Roessler, whose debut feature starring Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza screened in the Berlin Film Festival’s Special Gala section this week. It’s the first time the film producer and former co-head of William Morris Independent has moved into the management space.
Coming off the back of producing Best Sellers with his daughter Arielle – also a first working partnership between the two – the father-daughter duo are currently in the early stages of development with Roessler’s next project, said to be an “ambitious” and “wildly different” one from her feature debut.
Elwes, who has produced eight films with female directors in the last 20 months, said that while the initial round of management signings are female helmers, the plan is to include male talent as well. He’s been a regular fixture in the gender politics conversation in the business and founded the Horizon Award, which promotes and supports the next generation of female directors, with producers Lynette Howell Taylor and Christine Vachon.
Best Sellers follows Caine as a has-been author on a wild book tour with his young editor played by Plaza. She’s trying to save her father’s boutique publishing house but Caine’s character would prefer to live out his days with a bottle of scotch, a cigar and his orange Tabby cat. The project, which is being shopped internationally by Foresight Unlimited, has been hot seller this week at the European Film Market, scoring key deals including Universal Pictures Content Group for the UK, Germany, France and Latin America among others. CAA Media Finance and Elevated Films are handling domestic.
Los Angeles-based Arielle Elwes, a lead producer on the film, first discovered the Anthony Grieco-penned script when she was working at The Weinstein Company for former distribution chief Erik Lomis. Lomis, who was involved in the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting Award, wanted a younger person’s perspective and asked Arielle to read scripts and report back. When she read Best Sellers, she recalls being “overwhelmed” by it and immediately called her father to help track down Grieco and option it. The script went onto win a Nicholl Fellowship in 2015.
“I think the main reason why I loved the script so much is that the story is very much a father-daughter story and the character Lucy [played by Plaza] is trying to make her father proud and that’s very much how I feel,” she said.
Cassian Elwes managed to seal a deal with Canadian writer Grieco and then found director Roessler when volunteering at the Toronto Film Festival’s Talent Lab in 2017. Filmmakers at that edition were required to make a short film about themselves and Roessler’s, he said, “was like watching a Wes Anderson movie and I immediately loved it.”
The father-daughter team moved in fast to attach the fledgling Canadian helmer and when she boarded, Roessler, Arielle Elwes and Grieco meticulously worked through the development of the script while Cassian helped pull the financing together. In 2019, he was working with Caine on Medieval in the Czech Republic when he pitched the actor the project, which Caine immediately said yes to. Medieval director Petr Jáki and his partner Marty Barab were also interested in investing with their company R.U. Robot. Canadian producer Jonathan Vanger for Wishing Tree Prods. and Pierre Even for Item 7 brought in Telefilm, and the project was financed between those investments along with the Canadian provincial and federal tax credits.
But what of the working relationship between father and daughter? In short, the two loved the experience and Best Sellers looks set to be the beginning of many projects on which the duo will collaborate. While Arielle won’t officially join the Elevated banner, she will have involvement in some projects the company is working on, and vice versa, but will continue to produce independently.
In the pipeline, the pair will team on Roessler’s next project as well as YA horror-comedy pic Claire at 16, based on the upcoming Don Roff novel from Baker & Taylor and starring Riverdale’s Madelaine Petsch.
“I’m so fortunate that I get to be part of projects that he’s working on and he gets to be part of projects that I’m working on, which are movies that I love and champion that he might not necessarily look at in the same way I do,” Arielle Elwes said. “Having someone that you trust is essential in this industry because it’s rare to find that and I feel very lucky that I get to work with him.”
Some might question the dynamic as potential nepotism, but Cassian asserts that he is a mentor to many young people in the business. He points to the success his own career benefited from thanks to his stepfather, the late producer Elliott Kastner.
“I was fortunate in my life that my stepfather took me under his wing and really taught me how to make movies and I recognize this,” he said. “So what I decided to do in my life is try to mentor as many people as I possibly can and help them in a way that he helped me. And as much as I am constantly giving advice to my children, I’m giving advice to lots of other people too. What I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is that the most important thing that I can do in the business is help as many people – as many women, actually – as possible, get forward in their career.”
Best Sellers is Canadian-UK co-production produced by Vanger, Even, Arielle Elwes, Cassian Elwes and Wayne Marc Godfrey in the UK and exec produced by Jere Hausfater, Mark Damon, Jákl and Barab.