A Harrowing Adventure, An Epic Romance

With his novel The Mountain Between Us, author Charles Martin fashioned a suspenseful, affecting tale that examines how two strangers with distinctive personalities compromise and adapt to one another under extreme duress. That story—the unfolding tale of how two compelling protagonists make their way across a brutal landscape toward salvation, and ultimately, love—spoke to Oscar-nominated producer Peter Chernin (Hidden Figures) and is now brought to life on the Big Screen by director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, Omar) from a screenplay adaptation by Chris Weitz (About a Boy) and J. Mills Goodloe (The Age of Adaline).

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The Mountain Between Us stars Oscar winner Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs, The Reader) and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation, Luther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).

 

What if your life depended on a stranger?

After an incoming storm forces the cancellation of her flight to New York, talented photojournalist Alex Martin finds herself stuck in Idaho the night before her wedding. Scrambling to make it home in time, she hits upon a longshot idea and charters a plane to Denver in the hopes of catching the red-eye to New York that same night. Another stranded passenger, Ben Bass, a skilled British neurosurgeon due back on the East Coast to perform a critical, life-saving operation, tunes out his own misgivings about the plan and joins her.

As Alex and Ben fly ahead of inclement weather in a small Piper two-seater, their pilot suffers a massive stroke, and the small craft crashes in the deep snows of the Uinta Mountains in northeastern Utah. Trapped in the remote region with little hope of rescue, the two weary travelers embark on a terrifying and transformative pilgrimage across the unforgiving reaches of the vast, rugged terrain, fighting against the elements, animals and time. Under the most extreme circumstances imaginable, they gradually learn to trust one another, and a powerful connection grows between them—one that will reshape the course of their lives.

At its core, the tale offered an endearing exploration of humanity’s optimistic, loving and giving spirit that reminds us to always have hope and live in the present.

The veteran filmmaker optioned Martin’s novel five years ago aiming to translate the unusual love story built for the big screen, making a film in the tradition of such classics as Dr. Zhivago and Out of Africa.

“I was highly attracted to the idea of doing a love story with scale,” Chernin says. “I was just highly impacted by this story of essentially two broken or incomplete people who, through this experience, change their lives and grow into who they are. These are two people in the most extreme situation imaginable. The fact that they fall in love is one of the reasons that allows them to survive this extraordinary ordeal.”

chris_weitz_a_pScreenwriter Chris Weitz was born in New York City, the son of actress Susan Kohner and Berlin-born novelist/fashion designer John Weitz (born Hans Werner Weitz). eitz began his film career as a co-writer, along with his brother Paul Weitz, of the 1998 animated film Antz. The brothers co-wrote and directed About a Boy, which earned them an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. More recently, Weitz has written several feature films, including Cinderella for Disney, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for Lucasfilm. His young adult novel trilogy, The Young World, has been published by Little Brown, beginning in 2014.

J. Mills Goodloe at arrivals for THE AGE OF ADALINE Premiere, AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, New York, NY April 19, 2015. Photo By: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection

Screenwriter J.Mills Goodloe was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.His career began at Warner Bros. working for director Richard Donner whose credits include Superman, The Omen, Scrooged and the Lethal Weapon series. Goodloe was Donner’s assistant from 1992 to 1995 on Lethal Weapon 3 and Maverick.      

He wrote and directed A Gentleman’s Game , and wrote the screenplays for Pride (with with Terrance Howard and Bernie Mac), The Best Of Me, and Age Of Adaline. Goodloe is currently writing a film set in China during World War II for Lionsgate

By almost any account, Alex Martin and Ben Bass an unlikely pair. Both are exceedingly accomplished and committed to their respective professions, but there, the similarities end.

Alex is bold, fearless and feisty, a photojournalist known for her maverick methods and dogged determination. True to form, she cuts it close traveling back to New York and ends up stuck in Idaho the day before her wedding to long-term boyfriend Mark. When her flight is cancelled due to inclement weather, she is determined to find a solution, partnering with a stranger to charter a flight that will get them both closer to their destination.

Ben Bass is a renowned children’s neurosurgeon on his way to New York to perform a vital, complicated procedure the following morning. He is precise, methodical and disciplined, both in life and career and, though reluctant to board a small plane, he sees no other option. That decision sets in motion a harrowing series of events that will set the stage for Alex and Ben to forge a deep, unique and lasting bond.

Starring as Alex and Ben are two of the most respected actors working today: Academy Award winner Kate Winslet (The Reader) and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba (Luther).

“These are two serious, world-class actors,” Chernin says. “The idea of putting them together in this sort of intense, emotional story made it feel more special. Both of them came to this with a serious level of commitment. They were incredibly excited about playing off each other and deeply committed to making this story something of quality.”

Winslet has a nearly unparalleled resume studded with standout performances stretching back decades—she’s often said that she likes to play women she considers “ballsy,” a description that certainly applies to Alex. “She’s the kind of woman who won’t give up until she’s got her story,” Winslet says. “She’s one of those women who’s been in war zones before, worked around the clock, gone without sleep. She’s brave, extremely brave.”

In Alex, she says she saw the opportunity to portray a strong female protagonist whose mental strength and clarity become vitally important to her survival, a woman who is every bit as well drawn and alive as Ben. “When I first read the script, I was actually attracted to both Alex and Ben,” Winslet says. “I loved the idea that these two characters would sustain an entire film from start to finish. I’ve never read a script like that before. And I also really believe in what the story says—that you can change, as a person, in immeasurable ways, and it’s perfectly possible to experience something in your life and then never really be able to go back to the way your life was, or forward to what you thought your life was going to become. So much changes for these two characters through the experience that they share. I was very captivated by that.”

Likewise, Idris Elba, well known for searing turns on the BBC series Luther and in films such as Beasts of No Nation and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, was drawn to the role of Ben, a man as strong and capable as he is handsome. “The story and the extreme circumstances these two people find themselves in was very appealing to me,” he says. “It felt like something I could dramatically really get my teeth into. Also, I hadn’t done a romantic lead yet, so this is quite a departure.Mountain

“This movie examines the concept that there’s no perfect scenario to meet someone you’re going to fall in love with,” Elba adds. “In fact, sometimes the most extreme scenarios become a better place to understand if you can love someone or not because you’re facing them in a circumstance that isn’t comfortable. As an actor, you have to put yourself there as closely as you can to whatever the character is going through and Ben has gone through a lot. His personal life is in turmoil when we meet him and becomes ever more complicated on this mountain.”

To tell this gripping story of romance and survival, Chernin and producer Jenno Topping ultimately turned to acclaimed Palestinian director , the Oscar-nominated filmmaker known for his foreign-language dramas Omar and Paradise Now, both political dramas dealing with themes of occupation and oppression.

“The thing about Hany is that he leads with his heart, and he’s not afraid of all the colors and the emotional scale,” Topping says. “He wants to explore the outer limits of the emotional range that humans are capable of, whether that’s love or fear or danger or sorrow. And he communicates that so effectively. Once we realized that not only would he bring the quality that he brings to all his work, but that he also wanted to reach for a bigger, more muscular palette, we felt totally comfortable.”

“The script was about the good nature of human beings and their spirit to allow them to become better human beings, to survive, to be able to love, to be able to sacrifice.”

HanyAbu-AssadAfter having studied and worked as an airplane engineer in the Netherlands, Hany Abu-Assad began producing films. He worked on documentaries Dar O Dar for Channel 4 and Long Days in Gaza for the BBC, to name a few.

In 1992, Abu-Assad wrote and directed his first short, Paper House. Abu-Assad and Bero Beyer wrote Paradise Now in 1999 and shot the film in Nablus in 2004.  It received its World Premiere at the Berlin Film Festival 2005, where it was won the Blue Angel Award for Best European Film, the Berliner Morgenpost Readers’ Prize and the Amnesty International Award for Best Film. In 2006, it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, an Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film, and was nominated for a 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2011, Abu-Assad finished working on The Courier, and finished Omar in 2013.

In 2015 Abu-Assad completed his sixth feature film, The Idol, a drama inspired by the incredible journey of the artist Mohammad Assaf, a singer from Gaza who won the Arab Idol show in 2013.

In The Mountain Between Us, Abu-Assad saw the chance to direct an expansive, inherently cinematic story of a man and woman struggling against the elements that also functions as an intimate, moving two-hander. “The script was about the good nature of human beings and their spirit to allow them to become better human beings, to survive, to be able to love, to be able to sacrifice,” Abu-Assad says. “That felt to me like an interesting theme to dig into. This is indeed my biggest movie ever. There are a lot of differences from my small projects, but also a lot of similarities, and the principle is the same. In the end, whether it’s a small or big movie, it’s about storytelling.”

Winslet was familiar with the boundary-pushing director’s earlier films and was eager to collaborate with him. “I had seen Hany’s previous work and loved his storytelling,” she says. “It’s very, very simple and yet deals with extremely complex emotions that are often quite difficult to portray on film. They’re often bound up in conflict and tragedy and yet somehow, he is able to convey those things on film in a gentle way that is captivating and also humorous at times. It’s perfectly possible to find moments of great random humor in extreme situations or moments of great tragedy and sadness. And I really admire the way that he handles that in his filmmaking.”

The story of The Mountain Between Us is set dramatically into motion once the pilot of the plane Alex and Ben have charted suffers a stroke mid-flight, and the craft crashes—respected actor Beau Bridges appears in a brief but memorable term as the doomed man. When Ben first emerges from the wreckage, he takes in the full isolation and desperation of their predicament. Making matters worse, Alex is severely injured—she’s unconscious for nearly two days. Ben uses his medical training to tend to her wounds, and after she finally wakes, he suggests that they settle in and remain calm, that help surely will arrive shortly. It’s Alex who realizes that the pilot never filed a flight plan, meaning if they are to survive, they must take action—and quickly.

“Ben’s character is always erring much more on the side of caution than Alex,” Winslet says. “So, whereas he would have much preferred to stay put in that plane and wait in hopes of a rescue, Alex says, ‘We might just have to get ourselves out of this awful situation and either you’re with me or you’re not.’ Her courage to go out and start trying to make that journey to safety and back to civilization is the thing that actually does drive the story forward.”

To make it out of the mountains alive, Alex and Ben will have to cover miles and miles of punishing terrain. With meager supplies, they set out, accompanied by the pilot’s faithful dog. The going is slow, and along the way, the survivors become increasingly dependent on one another as they face a series of perilous situations. Her mental and his physical wherewithal are both needed to overcome the imminent danger they are in.

“They definitely clash over their strategic maneuvers throughout the story, but those are the things that bring them together,” Winslet says. “They have to work together. They have to get through those differences. And then it does take them to the point where they can’t be without one another.”

They also begin to learn intimate details about each other’s lives—though the expressive Alex is initially more forthcoming than the reserved Ben. She reveals that she’s only recently committed to marrying Mark, played by Dermot Mulroney, while introverted Ben, on the other hand, secretly and sparingly listens to classical music on his cell phone, a reminder of his loving wife who passed away from cancer years before. They selflessly begin to care for one another. No matter the threat, neither is willing to leave the other behind.

 “This film is about falling in love.”

“This film is about falling in love,” says producer David Ready. “At the outset of their relationship, it’s very much yin and yang. As they face the same jeopardy and challenges, their characters learn from one another and grow. Alex gets softer, Ben gets louder, braver, and they start to come together in order to survive.”

“This is a total romance,” adds Topping. “It’s such an incredibly beautiful part of the movie actually—when you go through something so extreme with someone, there is nobody else in the world who knows you like as intimately. If somebody loves you after that, after going through that and seeing it all, there will never be another human who you can connect in the same way.”

Much like Alex and Ben, Winslet and Elba approached their roles differently but with the same intense commitment to character. “I’m quite a lot about dialogue and making sure that we’ve got the lines down and that we know what we’re doing,” Winslet says. “Idris would be very much like, ‘Don’t worry about that stuff. It’s all about the energy. It’s all about the atmosphere.’ We had to kind of adapt to each other’s way of working because both ways of working were completely relevant and we needed both of those qualities to be able to get through [the experience of filming]. We did learn a lot from each other.”

“Kate brought a level of deepness and honesty about the emotions that Alex goes through,” Elba adds. “She’s very analytical about the words and the script, and we spent a lot of time breaking it down to the finest detail to make it ring true. When you’ve got two actors playing characters that go through something that is very real—survival, love—it’s important that you really look for the truth in that because the audience can see through it. Kate was very vigilant and very honest. She gave away stuff about herself to play this role. We both did. We had to.”

A story about a woman who has lost trust in herself and during the spy intrigue and the machinations she comes to find herself again.

11-years ago first-time producer Georgina Townsley, who has a proven track record in documentaries, conceptualised Unlocked and approached screenwriter Peter O’Brien to help her craft a London-set, female-driven espionage thriller.

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In casting the masterful CIA interrogator, the filmmakers sought an actress who could deeply inhabit the role and whose physicality the audience would buy within that role. Having already proven her acting abilities and physical mettle to audiences around the world with her unforgettable turns as Lizbeth Salander in the Millenium Trilogy and Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus, Naomi Rapace fit the bill perfectly.

“I needed to find a writer who could write for a woman. And I read hundreds of scripts but Peter’s really stood out. He understood women and he could write for a woman, a strong woman,” remembers Townsley.

Once the CIA’s top interrogator, Alice Racine’s (Naomi Rapace) career was sidelined when she failed “to unlock” a prisoner in time to save the lives of dozens of innocent people from a terrorist attack. Now leading a quiet life in London as a caseworker, Alice is unexpectedly called back into action when the CIA apprehends a suspect believed to have direct knowledge of another imminent attack. Alice successfully unlocks the suspect but before she can fully convey the recovered intelligence to her superiors, she gets a call from an old colleague at Langley which heightens her suspicions. Quickly realizing she’s been duped, she narrowly escapes, and finds herself on the run. Grasping that the CIA has been deeply compromised, Alice turns to the few she can trust as she seeks out the responsible parties and races against the clock to prevent a deadly biological attack on the citizens of London.

A deep-seated appreciation of the spy genre

Townsley attributes her deep-seated appreciation of the spy genre to her childhood dream of growing up to be a spy. “From a very young age, I was extremely interested in that world and how it operated, who you could trust, who you can’t trust, and the flow of information, how information is the currency in that world, and that there are different ways of getting that information,” she recalls.

peter_obrien_2011_a_pPeter O’Brien is a prolific screenwriter who has numerous studio projects in development. They include an adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s The Chancellor Manuscript for Paramount, with director Marc Forster attached; and a re-write of actioner Line of Sight for Warner Bros. with Ben Affleck as director. Peter also penned the feature film adaptation of The Jury for Fox 2000, based on the British miniseries by Peter Morgan. Most recently, Peter adapted the Linwood Barclay novel, Trust Your Eyes, a Hitchcockian thriller for Todd Phillips to direct.

Peter also wrote the game story for 2010’s Halo: Reach, the fourth installment in Microsoft’s iconic video game franchise and the last to be made by the game’s original developer, Bungie. Peter’s story and writing were lauded by fans and the gaming press, and the title’s launch broke the existing twenty-four hour record at over 200 million.

In 2002, Peter wrote and directed the twisty short thriller Self Storage, produced by Mark Gordon and Betsy Beers, and starring Rainn Wilson (The Office, Six Feet Under) and William Mapother (In the Bedroom, Another Earth, Lost). It won numerous Audience Favorite awards at festivals.

Peter graduated from Northwestern University with an English degree. He currently lives in San Francisco, having grown up in Marin County, California.

“Once I found Peter, we decided to go back to the old ways of looking at the storytelling of spy thrillers and how we wanted to keep the audience guessing. So the structure and the plot is very important as well as making sure that it’s very character-driven,” says Townsley.

“I love those kinds of movies so it was a good match from the beginning,” says O’Brien. “We worked on the script very hard for maybe close to a year and then sort of put it out into the Hollywood world and it was very, very well-received.”

Unlocked even topped 2008’s “The Black List” by which industry insiders declared it to be one of the year’s hottest unproduced screenplays. “It is something that people pay attention to so that sort of put this story on the map for us.” Despite such a prestigious accolade from the film community, the project would still have to undergo various incarnations and several false starts before at last going into production in the fall of 2014.

Eventually Townsley and O’Brien submitted the screenplay to producing powerhouse Lorenzo di Bonaventura and his partner Eric Howsam, both of whom were immediately taken by the intelligence of the script and its sharp dialogue and characterization. Duly impressed, the producers of the Transformers mega-franchise, one of the highest earning in cinema history, joined the project.

“We decided that we wanted a strong Hollywood producer on it and they are very much action-driven and spy-orientated. Lorenzo is one of the best producers out there, ” says Townsley. “From the very, very beginning, we were all on the same page, Erik, Lorenzo and I and Peter. It’s been a fun experience and I’ve learned a lot from them both because I came from a documentary background,” says Townsley.

Howsam recalls their initial read of the script nearly eight ago: “What was so unique and original about this piece of material is, yes, we’ve seen spy movies and spy thrillers but this had a female protagonist at the center of it, and it was so well-realized and rich and well done that we said, ‘look, we have to be a part of this.'”

Once on board, the two contributed to the further development of the script alongside Townsley and O’Brien and brought in their specific brand of expertise, garnered from producing some of the biggest action films of the past decade.”I think that we are able to add a layer to the movie that maybe didn’t exist before,” says Howsam.

While fleshing out the Unlocked script and its world of paranoia, subterfuge, double-crosses and unexpected narrative turns, the filmmakers looked to espionage classics such as Carol Reed’s 1947 noir The Third Man and Sydney Pollack’s conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor as well as more contemporary additions to the spy film pantheon, including the films of the Bourne franchise.

The spy genre has become more of a good guy/bad guy genre and this is really in a sense going back to — I guess the antecedents might be The Third Man — where you believe what the world is and you’re wrong, and you believe who you can trust and you’re wrong. So I think that’s where this is going to be really challenging and fun for the audience and feel fresh to the audience because it’s not how a lot of these thrillers are going to do it,” says di Bonaventura.

While unlocking a courier who works for a terror cell, Alice discovers that there’s a biological warfare plot underway and it’s up to her to stop it at all costs. To represent this potential threat accurately, O’Brien engaged in extensive research and consulted various experts, including the FBI’s WMD task force for the city of Los Angeles, which gave him perspective on what steps would taken in response to an actual biological attack. “We feel like what we’re representing in the film is a scenario that none of us want to happen but those are the stakes of the movie; she has to stop this,” emphasizes O’Brien.

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Along with the FBI, a CIA advisor and an ex-Navy Seal, all weighed in on the more technical sections of the script and helped O’Brien to nail the vernacular necessary to imbue the film with the authenticity he sought to deliver. “I had the right people to help me,” he says.

Although the script went through several incarnations over the years, the core of the story always remained the same. “Ironically, as frustrating as it has been that it took this long, it’s more topical today than when Peter first wrote it,” says di Bonaventura. “It’s funny because sometimes scripts get old because the subject/times change. In this case, times changed and just made it all the more real and present.”

An eerie testament to this topicality is the distinct similarity between the deadly Marburg Virus, the biological agent which this film explores, and the Ebola Virus, which devastated West Africa in 2014. “The Ebola outbreak certainly is tragic and it’s just coincidental that the public is being educated about what these organisms can do if there’s an outbreak or if they’re unleashed purposefully on people. It’s a very scary scenario but it is one that’s a very real concern,” says O’Brien.

Also coinciding with the final phase of the script’s development was the increased prevalence of terror attacks in recent years. We really sort of ripped it from the headlines of real life and I think when people do see the movie they’ll be able to relate to it because it does exist in a world that is out there right now. It’s not that it’s a scary place but our country needs to be vigilant and, thank God, there are people like Alice in the world protecting us in these situations,” says Howsam.

Finding The Financing

Howsam says: “On a movie like this, which is made outside of the studio system, you need to have the right financing.” This the Unlocked team found via Claudia Bluemhuber, CEO and Managing Partner of Silver Reel, who serves here concurrently as financier and producer. Di Bonaventura recalls, “she just had a real passion for the story and she immediately got what we were trying to do. So it made it sort of an easy decision for us.”

Bluemhuber, renowned for seeking out, financing and producing uniquely elevated, art-house material such as the BAFTA-nominated film Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson, was certain that Unlocked was a fitting addition to the Silver Reel slate. “It’s a very, very smart thriller and we loved the whole package,” she enthuses.

Bluemhuber also welcomed the opportunity to produce alongside Townsley, di Bonaventura and Howsam and is a true admirer of the sheer tenacity Townsley exhibited while shepherding this project from script to screen. “Alice is Georgina’s idea,” she compliments. “It’s to her credit that Alice is Alice and that this movie is where it is right now.”

Bluemhuber, renowned for seeking out, financing and producing uniquely elevated, art-house material such as the BAFTA-nominated film Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson, was certain that Unlocked was a fitting addition to the Silver Reel slate. “It’s a very, very smart thriller and we loved the whole package,” she enthuses.

Bluemhuber also welcomed the opportunity to produce alongside Townsley, di Bonaventura and Howsam and is a true admirer of the sheer tenacity Townsley exhibited while shepherding this project from script to screen. “Alice is Georgina’s idea,” she compliments. “It’s to her credit that Alice is Alice and that this movie is where it is right now.”

Securing The Right Director

“Once we got the script into a great place, it was just a matter of trying to get the right elements and putting them together to get the movie finally made,” says Howsam. Naturally, one such element was securing the ideal director for the film. With a stunning filmography which spans five decades and a multitude of genres, the award-winning, ever-versatile Michael Apted is at the helm of Unlocked.

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Michael Apted discusses a scene from Unlocked with Naomi Rapace during filming

From their first meeting with the legendary Apted, the producers were moved by the clarity of his vision of the film. “When we spoke to him, he was just incredibly smart about the script and what he wanted to do with it and how he envisioned the movie, and we knew we were in great hands,” remembers Howsam. “When we met, he had such a vivid vision of the movie and of the characters and of Alice. He just blew us away with his enthusiasm for the movie,” seconds Bluemhuber.

Apted has demonstrated repeatedly that one of his many directorial strengths is working with female leads. Under his deft direction, Coal Miner’s Daughter garnered Sissy Spacek an Academy Award for Best Actress while Gorillas in the Mist featured one of Sigourney Weaver’s top performances to date. As Unlocked is a female-driven thriller, the producers were certain that Apted could evoke a similarly bold performance from lead actress Rapace. “Here was a movie where we’re not trying to reinvent the spy genre but we have a female in the center of it. So this is a director who could really draw that performance out of it,” explains Howsam.

Although Apted had directed an installment of the James Bond franchise in the past, he welcomed working with di Bonaventura and Howsam given their more consistently action-oriented filmographies. “I think he was excited to work with us because we’ve done a lot of these bigger action movies and we know how to build a film and produce a film with those elements. So I think there was this opportunity to kind of marry our strengths together on this film, and it’s really worked out well,” says the latter. “I think it’s also interesting to work with a director who has a documentarian background, someone who’s able to bring a vitality and capture real life in a way.”

Apted views Unlocked as somewhat of a character piece with Orlando Bloom, Michael Douglas, Toni Collette and John Malkovich’s characters each having their own independent impact on Alice’s journey. I think that one of the great strengths of this movie is that we introduce characters throughout the film and we populate it with these great names and they obviously play a big piece in the plot of this movie at the same time,” says Howsam.

“It’s fantastic, a little surreal and truly thrilling just to see something come to life in the eyes of the director with his vision the director of photography with the way it looks actors breathing life into these characters for the first time,” says O’Brien.

Casting

In casting the masterful CIA interrogator, the filmmakers sought an actress who could deeply inhabit the role and whose physicality the audience would buy within that role. Having already proven her acting abilities and physical mettle to audiences around the world with her unforgettable turns as Lizbeth Salander in the Millenium Trilogy and Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus, Naomi Rapace fit the bill perfectly.

Rapace found the script to be well-written and unpredictable and relished the opportunity to play a character as complex and multi-layered as Alice. “She’s a CIA agent, she wants to do good and then something happened a couple of years ago that she can’t let go of, that she can’t get over so she’s kind of reversed into this corner of safety when the movie starts,” she says. “So this film is an action thriller with all the elements — it’s a spy movie, a thriller — but also it has for me, a deeper level of someone coming back to life and kind of awakening.”

O’Brien describes Alice as the typical reluctant hero. “But the reluctance is more about someone who’s had an incident in her past where she feels that she’s failed. In fact, she’s extraordinarily gifted as a CIA officer, extraordinarily smart, very good with weapons and combat and guns. But she has withdrawn somewhat into a safer position within the CIA and now she’s called up for this particular assignment. She does it reluctantly and in doing the assignment and interrogating this prisoner and unlocking this critical piece of information, she suddenly finds herself back on the front lines of her profession. It’s not a place she wants to be again but she rises to the occasion. So over the course of the movie all of her sort of dormant skill set comes out and we see, wow, this is what this woman is capable of,” he says.

After such a long period of development, O’Brien was understandably delighted to see filming underway and his characters finally coming to life. “The character is only halfway there with my words maybe but what Noomi’s done with Alice, I couldn’t be happier about it. She’s absolutely perfect, and I really can’t see anyone else in that role,” lauds O’Brien.

TONY

Academy Award nominee Toni Collette plays hard-charging M15 Agent Emily Knowles. Although the part of Knowles was originally written for a man, Apted decided that re-conceiving the role for an actress would put a fresher, more unique spin on it and on the key relationship between Knowles and Alice.

“It’s so exciting to have such a balanced and strong female character at the centre of this story meeting the boys head on. And I love the relationship Noomi’s character shares with mine.  It’s a supportive, smart, healthy, complex, caring connection. I play a mentor of sorts — a formidable and grounded woman who has given up so much for the job she loves,” says Collette.

“Knowles and Alice represent two people from different agencies and different governments who are working together and oftentimes without official knowledge of their superiors. There’s a lot of trading of information between governments and Alice and Knowles have developed a friendship where they trust each other in that way,” explains O’Brien.

“When you’re making a movie, you hope that you’re able to populate the movie with great character actors and these great actors, however big the role is or however small it is, and I think in this movie we absolutely were able to do that. And there’s an enormous talent pool out there that you’ve just got to search for, and if you can put it together in the right way, it will make the movie that much better,” says Howsam.

“It’s a story about a woman who has lost trust in herself and during the spy intrigue and the machinations and in the plot she comes to find herself again. And in that becomes re-empowered and reinvested and actually now is able to stop this horrific thing from recurring,” elaborates di Bonaventura.

“This should be a thrill ride, people say the edge of your seat, I always think it’s more about holding on to your seat. It should be a white-knuckler and it should keep you guessing through a lot of it because it’s very intricate. I think what’s interesting about it is it’s really an intelligent script and it’s really designed to be an entertaining movie so those two things don’t always go hand in hand in our business and in this case they do. So I think people are going to enjoy it and it’s also going to make them think, says di Bonaventura.

 

How easily one mistake can lead inexorably to the next and the next, and that slippery slope, and ending up in a place where we can become a completely different person because of the consequences of one error.

In order to get a real-world grasp of prison and the gangs that run these institutions,  Austin-based director/writer/producer Ric Roman Waugh went undercover as a volunteer parole agent in California.

”What started out as a simple research assignment became a two-year odyssey as doors kept opening, allowing me more and more access into this violent world,” says Waugh, whose film Shot Caller takes us into the hardcore culture of prison gangsters.

Writer/Producer and director Ric Roman Waugh with cinematographer Dana Gonzales during the filming of Shot Caller

”No one knew I was a filmmaker. They just saw me as a rookie cop, so nothing was censored. What I quickly learned is the guards might control the doors and gates, but the gangs run the prisons… And they run the streets as well, directly “from” prison. Shot Caller is an authentic look at our prison gangs and the law enforcement professionals who guard them inside prison walls and hunt them down on the streets.”

What is a Shot Caller?

Generally speaking, the shot caller is the top gang leader. Specifically in prison, the shot caller is an inmate who calls the shots, or as cons say, “has the keys.” The highest ranking shot caller calls the shots for his entire prison gang and race. Next are shot callers for each prison. Then shot callers for each housing unit, yard, and so on.

Elaborates executive producer Gary Michael Walters, “The shot caller is the person who holds the decision-making authority over life and death inside the prison. When the shot caller gives the green light, the trigger can be pulled, the shot can be fired. It takes ruthlessness. That’s the primal need. You have to be ruthless. You have to be a serious alpha dog to rise to the top.”

Proposes actor Jon Bernthal, “If you are the kind of man who gets to the sort of place in prison where you’re a shot caller, you’re very smart and you’re as good a politician as anybody in the public eye, and you know how to work the system, and beat the system, and it takes a lot of brains.”

Actor Emory Cohen agrees, “A shot caller is the boss. The guy who calls the shots and the guy 22 you answer to. The only difference out of prison in the societal world is that bosses have titles like CEO and vice president. Shot caller is the gang form of that.”

In director/screenwriter Ric Roman Waugh’s (Snitch) gritty crime thriller Shot Caller, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (“Game of Thrones”) plays Jacob Harlon, a successful Pasadena financier married to Kate (Lake Bell), with the perfect life and family.

All of that disappears one night behind the wheel when a drunk-driving accident results in the accidental death of Jacob’s best friend Tom (Max Greenfield).

Charged with vehicular manslaughter, Jacob is sentenced to prison, where he’s surrounded by cutthroat criminals. A fish out of water, he is forced to do the unimaginable to survive within the prison gang hierarchy where one wrong move can be your last.

He adopts the persona of “Money” and rises up within the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, his moral center eroding in the process. Upon release,

Money hits the treacherous streets of Los Angeles as a changed man and enters a deadly chess game with no-nonsense parole agent Kutcher (Omari Hardwick) and LA County gang-unit sheriff Sanchez (Benjamin Bratt), as his gang forces him to arrange an illegal arms deal if he wants to keep his family safe from gangster vengeance.

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Shot Caller is the third in a trilogy of prison films

Shot Caller is the third in a trilogy of prison films from Austin-based director/writer/producer Ric Roman Waugh, begun with Felon and continued with Snitch.

As Waugh was finishing Snitch, one night over dinner in Austin in 2012, Waugh told producer Jonathan King of Participant Media that he’d like to do a movie about a successful family man who makes one wrong decision that lands him in California’s current prison system, and there is no going back.

“This guy has a great life, great job. He’s married to a smart, beautiful woman. He’s got a great kid, a big house, good friends. Bad things don’t happen to him. And then he makes this terrible mistake,” says King. “This was a story where anyone could be in the position that Jacob is in at the beginning of the movie. It could happen to tons of people. It could happen to me. And it made me really ask, What would I do in this situation? And everyone I told the story to had the same reaction. What would I do in this situation? And it was a way to engage an audience in the expanding prison population of our country.”

Waugh became an undercover parole officer for two years when he was researching Felon, so he knew California’s criminal justice system with its overcrowded prisons, violent culture, and mandatory sentencing.

Comments King, “This is a very authentic picture of what prison culture is like, both the effects within the prisons themselves and also how they extend beyond the walls.”

King developed Waugh’s script for Shot Caller with Waugh for the next three years.

King recalls, “We talked a lot about movies that delve into a culture in a really authentic way, everything from Mean Streets to End of Watch, which is a very authentic movie about police culture in a way that we hadn’t seen before. We talked about transformation movies, because Jacob goes through this incredible transformation through the story, so we talked about Dallas Buyers Club, where you see Matthew McConaughey’s character become barely recognizable, both emotionally and physically. And there are prison movies that we love, like Jacques Audiard’s Un Prophete. And we loved the TV series `Oz.’”

As Waugh presented King with more and more research, King realized, “The most surprising thing to me about prison culture and gang culture was the organization and the extent of respect for the hierarchy within the organization, and the alliances. That sort of rigid structure that operates both within the prison walls and without. And the other thing that I found surprising is the impunity with which they operate: the control they have where it’s almost like the guards are taking their orders from the prisoners. In many ways they are. It’s sort of where the power lies.”

Waugh and King attached “Game of Thrones” star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to the film in the lead role of Jacob/Money.

The Danish actor was deep into his research of American prisons, discovering, “You expect people to be punished, but what I found when we did the research was that the word rehabilitation is being thrown around in the system, but I saw very little proof of that. I saw a system that completely dehumanizes the inmates and from what I saw, in many ways treats them worse than we treat farm animals. The thing is almost 2/3 of people that are put away, reoffend and often they go on to a worse crime.”

Shot Caller

In February 2015, they asked producer Jeff Stott to do a budget for the movie.

A month later, in March 2015, Waugh and King brought the package to Bold Films. Bold CEO Gary Michael Walters responded to the script immediately, becoming an executive producer on Shot Caller.

“For me, it was about the empathy, about thinking how that could happen to anyone. That could happen to me. How easily one mistake can lead inexorably to the next and the next, and that slippery slope, and ending up in a place where we can become a completely different person because of the consequences of one error.”

The more he learned about the prison environment, the more Walters wanted to make the movie: “What’s really interesting is that we are so affected by our environment as human beings, that it’s easy to lose your moral compass when you’re set in certain circumstances. What happens in the film isn’t that Jacob has an overnight transition, but each time a task is given, he has to keep descending into this criminal lifestyle until ultimately he becomes a criminal. And there’s also a social commentary aspect to the film in that prison in America is designed to punish. There is no longer this notion of reformation or rehabilitation. In reality, the prisons are crime schools and the soft criminal comes out a hardened criminal.”

Bold president Matthew Rhodes agrees, “It’s a world I’m not part of, most of civil society is not. For me, looking into that world is fearsome and scary and awe-inspiring and raw and real.”

Everything moved quickly now. Bold agreed to fully finance Shot Caller and put it into pre-production, lining up Relativity Media as the US distributor.

Bold brought the project to the Cannes Film Festival in May 2015.

Remembers Walters, “When we got to Cannes, we sold out in four days. I don’t want to say it sold itself, but in many respects the script was so strong and Nikolaj is such a rising star, and with the power of the US distributor already committed to a wide release, everyone wanted on board.”

With a tier 2 working budget of just under $10 million, it was decided that production would take place primarily in New Mexico, due to the state’s financial incentives for filmmaking and the access that was obtained to film in real, working prisons.

Producers Jeff Stott and Lisa Zambri would oversee production on the ground in New Mexico. Reflects Stott, “I liked the Greek tragedy of it – – human error that ultimately leads to a whole bunch of different choices. None of the choices are good. It ultimately leads to an existential choice of, `This is my lot in life and I’m happy here. I am living in this prison cell knowing I’ve  done everything I could for my family.’ In the larger scheme of things, we all make choices in our lives and we all have to live with those choices. You can fight it or you can learn to accept it.”

Reasons Zambri, “Obviously not everybody has been to jail. But I do think that everybody has been in a situation where they were a fish out of water, where they had to kind of fit into a situation that was completely over their head or foreign to them. This is probably one of the most extreme examples I’ve ever seen of someone needing to go through extreme changes to survive a situation. It kind of blew the doors open for me on just how the prison system works. It’s a very close, very accurate, very studied, very measured account of what would happen to an everyday man if he got put into prison. His choice is to either be this warrior or be this victim. And that’s the choice that anybody would be faced with. And he just can’t sustain the relationships that he had before this experience. Something in him gets too damaged and too hardened.”

Shot Caller filmed for 25 days during spring-summer 2015, mostly on location in numerous New Mexico settings, then moving on to Southern California. Many days, filming took place at more than one location, with more than 40 different locations featured.

Keeping It Real

Authenticity was the director’s mandate across the board. Says executive producer Gary Michael Walters, “The authenticity factor is sky high on this project. It gives you such a `you are there’ feeling. Ric did a lot of research and got amazing insight as to how the prisons and prison gangs operate.”

Recognizes production designer Guy Barnes, “Ric had a whole world in his mind already. It was just a matter of extracting that world from his mind, and getting it built. He had done a lot of research and had a look book all prepared to guide us.” Philosophically, says Barnes, “I think the whole thing about prison is you lose your moral compass, and unfortunately the environment contributes to that loss because it is not meant to rehabilitate. It’s the loss of the moral compass that is really the most important part of the whole story.”

Waugh brought intensity to an often testosterone-dominated set. Acknowledges Juan Pablo Raba, “He’s a man’s man, you know what I mean? He will just go on the set and say, `Everybody together, this is what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to do it. If you’re with me, you’re with me. So let’s go.’ It’s like a big brotherhood. Like everybody’s going in that direction and he’s the captain, he’s the leader, and he knows what he wants.” “It’s just realism, realism, realism,” comments Jon Bernthal. “Ric’s a soldier of authenticity. Just keep it real. Ric is not shy.”

By the end, “It’s a story that happens to a lot of people in the prison system and the fact is it’s a story about a broken system,” asserts Coster-Waldau. “It should be a place where we make sure that these people, once they reenter society, won’t reoffend. And the fact is the system does exactly the opposite. We believe we have prisons and law enforcement to keep us safe. The fact is, it’s not working. People go in for minor offenses. They come out and they reoffend and they go on to worse crimes. We like to think, `Hey, that could never happen to me.’ Or, `If I was in there, I would do it differently.’ But this is a story about a guy who has those beliefs and suddenly he’s just caught up in circumstances and just tries to survive. We all want the same things, you know: we want to be happy, we want to be able to take care of our family, we want to be loved, we want to love. It doesn’t change because you’re an inmate.”

By the end, “It’s a story that happens to a lot of people in the prison system and the fact is it’s a story about a broken system,” asserts Coster-Waldau.

“It should be a place where we make sure that these people, once they reenter society, won’t reoffend. And the fact is the system does exactly the opposite. We believe we have prisons and law enforcement to keep us safe. The fact is, it’s not working. People go in for minor offenses. They come out and they reoffend and they go on to worse crimes. We like to think, `Hey, that could never happen to me.’ Or, `If I was in there, I would do it differently.’ But this is a story about a guy who has those beliefs and suddenly he’s just caught up in circumstances and just tries to survive. We all want the same things, you know: we want to be happy, we want to be able to take care of our family, we want to be loved, we want to love. It doesn’t change because you’re an inmate.”

Reflects Jeffrey Donovan, “We’re all capable of making a mistake one day. You’re not paying attention, driving, texting, and all of a sudden you kill someone who was crossing a crosswalk. You take a plea deal and you say, `Okay I’ll take 10 months of prison.’ But because you killed someone, you go to a Level 3, which is where all the murderers are. And your life is over. I don’t think there’s been a movie that shows you that is a possibility in anyone’s life, today.”

Producer Jonathan King likewise ponders the social issues, reasoning, “The movie takes us through the process of this person transforming into someone who has to deal with prison to survive. I think it says that we have in some ways divided society into people who expect prison to have something to do with their life, and people who expect it not to. And this movie says, 23 `You can’t do that.’ There is no divide. This is all of us.”

“The theme,” identifies Benjamin Bratt, “is the possibility of redemption in the face of losing your moral center.”

Agrees executive producer Lisa Zambri, “It’s about how an extreme situation can change somebody forever, to the point where things that you love the most become casualties, and how unfortunate that is because it’s through one of our tried and true systems that we try to believe in as a society. When you look at it through Jacob’s eyes as he turns into Money, the story becomes a journey of a man who has to cut ties with his old life in order to survive this new version of how he sees the world.”

Producer Jeff Stott believes the movie’s philosophical underpinnings elevate it into a tale of adversity that resonates universally: “One day you’re playing basketball with your friends and the next day you’re locked up in an 8 x 10 cell. You can’t get any more existential than that. It’s Sisyphus with one hour a day in the sunlight.”

”Take these pages that are written and use them as a helpful input for a story that you want to tell.”

“The Snowman,” the seventh book in Jo Nesbø’s best-selling Harry Hole series, has enthralled global audiences since it was first published in 2007 and now makes it debut on the Big Screen under direction of Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), from a screenplay adaptation by Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Debt) and Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove, Drive) and Søren Sveistrup (Forbrydelsen, TV’s The Killing).

The frigid landscape as his hunting ground, a sociopath who calls himself “The Snowman Killer” has targeted the one person for whom he wants to show off his methodical, unthinkable skills: the lead investigator of an elite crime squad.  With cunningly simplistic baits such as “Mr. Policeman, I gave you all the clues…” he begs to have a worthy opponent to play his sick game.

For Detective Harry Hole ( Michael Fassbender), the murder of a young woman on the first snow of the winter feels like anything but a routine homicide case in his district.  From the start of the investigation, The Snowman has personally targeted him with taunts—ones that continue to accompany each new vicious murder.

Fearing an elusive serial killer long-thought dead may be active again, the detective enlists brilliant recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebeccas Ferguson), to help him connect decades-old cold cases to the brutal new ones.  Succeed, and they will lure out the psychopath that’s been watching them from the shadows for who knows how long.  Fail, and an unthinkable evil will strike once again during the very next snowfall.

Snowman 4The novel took the beleaguered detective and his creator to an entirely new level and readership, and it topped The New York Times Best-Seller list in U.S.—as well as marked Nesbø’s first No.1 in the U.K. charts and firmly establishing his place as one of the elite international crime writers.  Of course, Norwegians had known this for some time…it just took the rest of the world a few years to catch up.

“In some countries it was a breakthrough novel for me,” explains Nesbø, who has sold a staggering 34 million-plus books worldwide.  “With my third novel, ‘The Redbreast,’ I got a following of a high-brow crime audience, but then with ‘The Snowman,’ I had mainstream success.”

 

 

Novelist Jo Nesbø is a musician, songwriter, economist and author.  His first crime novel featuring Harry Hole was published in Norway in 1997 and was an instant hit, winning the Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel (an accolade shared with Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell).  He is the author of 10 Harry Hole novels, most recently 2017’s “The Thirst,” stand-alone novels “Headhunters” and “The Son” and several children’s books.  His books have been translated into 47 languages. In 2008, he established the Harry Hole Foundation, a charity to reduce illiteracy among children in the developing world.  He lives in Oslo.

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Jo Nesbø

For the majority of U.K. and U.S. readers, this was their first introduction to the cop, and they believed Nesbø to be an overnight success.  “The truth is that I had been in those countries and published for around 10 years,” he laughs.  “It was a bit like when Tom Waits had success with ‘Swordfish Trombone,’ a journalist asked him, ‘What did you do to finally find success?’  He said, ‘I didn’t do anything differently.  I’ve been here for 15 years.  It’s not me coming to you, it’s you coming to me.’”

Indeed, the world of Det. Hole is wholly iconic in Scandinavia, and his creator cultural royalty.  Today, fans from across the globe visit Norway to re-create the fictional path Hole has trodden on the icy streets of Oslo, paying homage to his favorite haunts—such as the iconic Schroder’s Café—as they try to get inside the mind of this most elusive of investigators.

Hole is to Oslo what Sherlock Holmes is to London, and likewise has spawned a mini industry; one can even book a Harry Hole tour.  “Harry’s become an institution in this world,” observes producer Robyn Slovo.  “He is undeniably an iconic character who is a laconic, difficult and introverted non-team player, but an intrepid and gifted policeman.  Still, he is reluctant to be pulled into this particular investigation instigated by somebody else,”

With “The Snowman’s” book-to-screen adaptation comes the exciting proposition that Europe could have its own cinematic detective series.  In fact, not since Holmes has the continent owned this genre.  In comparison to the States, detectives hunting serial killers is not a well-trodden narrative for European cinema; TV perhaps, but not the big screen.

The Snowman

The role presented Michael Fassbender with his first detective. “At the time of the script arriving at my door I didn’t know anything about him,” admits Fassbender. “It was a totally new world for me. Then I started to expose myself to the books and the world that Harry occupies, and I’ve become very fond of the character.”

The Screenwriters

Peter Straughan

Peter Straughan

Peter Straughan  is a BAFTA winner and Academy Award®-nominated screenwriter who wrote the screenplay for Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He became a sought-after screenwriter when he adapted Jon Ronson’s book The Men Who Stare at Goats for BBC Films.  His other screenplay credits include The Debt, adapted from the Israeli film Ha-Hov.

Straughan recently reteamed with Jon Ronson on Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank, which starred Michael Fassbender as a mysterious and eccentric musician.  Straughan adapted the Hilary Mantel novel Wolf Hall as a dramatic television series for Company Pictures and BBC Television, along with political satire Our Brand Is Crisis. Straughan’s adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch is just about to go into production, directed by John Crowley.  Other upcoming projects include Shackleton, which is set up at StudioCanal.  Tom Hardy will star as Ernest Shackleton, the British explorer who pioneered multiple expeditions to the Antarctic, and Smiley’s People from John le Carré’s novel for StudioCanal Films and Working Title Films.

Hossein Amini

Hossein Amini

Iranian-born screenwriter Hossein Amini (Screenplay By) was nominated for a BAFTA Award and an Oscar® in 1998 for his adaptation of Henry James’ classic novel Wings of a Dove. Amini also wrote the screenplay for the 1996 release Jude. Other credits include the 2002 release The Four Feathers, and Drive.

Most recently, Amini co-wrote Universal Pictures’ Snow White and the Huntsman and for his directorial debut he adapted Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Two Faces of January, which starred Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.

 

What is it about the investigator that enthralls readers all across the world?

Like so many of his literary associates, he is a wholly flawed man who struggles with a personal life littered with ragged cracks and dark crevices.  An alcoholic who is unreliable and disorganized, he has an innate inability to commit.  Still, for all his personal failings, he is the consummate detective: scrupulous, determined and creative—a man who will stop at nothing until justice has been served.  He is the genuine antihero, an impossible character, but impossible not to like.

“This is a man of many contradictions,” reveals Nesbø.  “He believes in the legal system, he believes in the Scandinavian democratic model; yet, he’s an outsider who doesn’t feel at home in Scandinavian society.  He cares for those who are close to him, but he doesn’t want anyone to be close to him.  He’s struggling between being a man who loves women—and one woman in particular—but who is trying to find a way to live his life alone.  He doesn’t want to be a member of the herd, and yet he has this deep social reflex that many of us have; we feel this urge to contribute to this herd.”

Harry Hole is brilliant-yet-flawed, rebellious-yet-loyal and anti-establishment, yet highly regarded by his fictional associates and real-world fans.  In turn, this created significant obstacles for anyone embarking on a big-screen adaptation.

“The challenge in adapting Harry to screen, aside from preserving those characteristics that make him so unique, was to avoid falling into a clichéd representation of a flawed policeman solving a crime,” explains Slovo.  “We’ve tried to make Harry unpredictable, original in his thinking, not terribly socialized, not exactly charismatic.  He’s definitely what might be described as difficult, and that is what’s been challenging in bringing him to life.  He’s not 100-percent action hero.  He’s a thinking man’s detective who is put in very dangerous and difficult situations.”

A story about a serial killer is not what would be considered usual fare for four producers whose accomplished work runs the gamut from Catch a Fire and Les Misérables to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Love Actually, but their allure to the material lay very much in the proposition of director Tomas Alfredson.

For Fassbender, there was never any question about wanting to portray Harry.  He had long hoped to shoot with Alfredson, but the opportunity had not arisen.  The challenge was timing.  Since 2009, he has been filming back to back, and The Snowman had to be squeezed into two other major productions—Assassin’s Creed and Alien: Covenant—with no room for scheduling error.

Fassbender was determined to make it work for the opportunity to work.  “The first thing that enticed me about the project was Tomas,” says the performer.  “Then I read the script and thought it was interesting.  I liked the character and this genre.”

The role presented Fassbender with his first detective.  “At the time of the script arriving at my door I didn’t know anything about him,” admits Fassbender.  “It was a totally new world for me.  Then I started to expose myself to the books and the world that Harry occupies, and I’ve become very fond of the character.”

That said, ahead of playing Harry, Fassbender was wary of reading the books.  “The script is independent of the book, and I didn’t want to get attached to things that were in the book but not in the script.  I did, however, read the beginning, to get an idea of where this character started, what Jo’s version of him was.  I just wanted to see where those raw characteristic traits were—the description of him and his physicality.

“It’s difficult to improve on someone’s experience of reading the book when you are making the film,” Fassbender continues.  “As a reader you are filling in a lot of the blanks.  The descriptions of the murders can be a lot more horrific and haunting because our imaginations are much more vivid, scary and twisted than what you see in cinema.”

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Alfredson discusses that his approach to filmmaking is to guide the audience through his work, but never decide what each individual should experience.

Tomas Alfredson came to prominence on the world stage when he directed the much-loved feature Let the Right One In (2008).  Now a cult favorite, the film screened at over 30 international film festivals and won several dozen awards worldwide. Following the success of Let the Right One In, Alfredson began work on his first international production, the adaptation of John le Carré’s beloved novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Tomas-Alfredson

Tomas Alfredson

“My films are each a piece of entertainment, but they cannot just be that.  I need them to be something else, too—to tell something about people or society, or a part of the world you haven’t seen before.  My goal is for people to react physically—to get scared, laugh or to sweat.  The more different the reactions, the better.  It’s lovely to meet with people from an audience and hear very different things. That’s when you’ve succeeded.”

This commitment to his craft leads the filmmaker to be quite selective in the stories he chooses to tell.  Alfredson admits he found Nesbø’s protagonist to be riveting.  “When I read a story, I try to find an animal for each character.  Is he or she a rabbit, wolf, dog or a cat?  Not visually, but the soul of a certain animal.  To me, Harry is an owl; he is someone people don’t see, but who sees everyone else.  He’s very smart and silent; he knows when to speak and when to interact. But he also feels alienated with the rest of the world.  His private life has fallen into pieces, and the only thing that works is his intuitive talent as an investigator.”

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Director Tomas Alfredson discusses a scene from The Snowman with actor Michael Fassbender

Slovo commends: “Tomas offers a particular interpretation on things, which means we could take a best-selling genre thriller and turn it into something unexpected.  Because it’s set in Scandinavia and Tomas is Scandinavian, the excitement was involved in his original take, not going the Scandi-Noir route.  We’d rather a route with a director who has proven himself to be good at noir, tension and at surprise.  He has also proven to himself to be particularly good at horror.  All those elements made it feel like a good fit.”

The Snowman does have that other element that previous books don’t have, and that is the horror element,” adds Nesbø.  “The title ‘The Snowman’ conveys a certain image, as does the idea of an innocent thing that is taken out of context and put in a new context; the more cozy and familiar it is, the scarier it becomes.”

Discussing handing over the reins of a cherished property to another creative team, the author reflects: “They chose a director who is a storyteller in his own right and who isn’t there just to give a version of the book, but who wanted to use the book as input for his story.  As a storyteller myself, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Tomas’ understanding and my trusting him made it easy for me to say ‘Take these pages that are written and use them as a helpful input for a story that you want to tell.”

Alongside Slovo and Working Title’s Bevan and Fellner, The Snowman team was joined by producer Piodor Gustafsson, who has worked with Alfredson for the past six years.

What Gustafsson so appreciated about the character of Harry was his deep sensitivity.

The producer explains: “Being very vulnerable makes Harry much more interesting than a hard-boiled detective.  As empathetic people, we see ourselves in him.  After solving a case, he’s been so infected by it that he can’t protect himself from the evil he’s had to approach.  He’s such a reluctant detective and doesn’t want to continue the work.  But he’s the best, and until someone who’s better than him comes along, he must continue.”

Blade Runner 2049 is a love letter to Blade Runner

Three decades after Ridley Scott’s cult sensation Blade Runner changed the face of cinema, the much-anticipated follow-up Blade Runner 2049 challenges our notions of who we are…and where we are headed.

blade-runner-2049

Three decades after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

With Ridley Scott as Executive Producer on Blade Runner 2049, this new incarnation based on characters from the Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is scripted by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, with visionary director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) at the helm.

Fancher co-wrote the screenplay of the 1982 Blade Runner with David Wobb Peoples, while a television and film writer and producer Green co-wrote the screenplay for Scott’s Alien Covenant.

Harrison Ford reprises his role of Rick Deckard, with Ryan Gosling as a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, who unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos; his discovery leads him on a quest to find Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

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Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford during the filming of Blade Runner (1982)

“What defines a human being?”

That is the question posed by director Denis Villeneuve.

It’s not the first time the value—and values—of humanity have been questioned.

Thirty-five years ago, the groundbreaking science fiction film Blade Runner hit theatre screens for the first time.

Directed by the legendary Ridley Scott and based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the movie thrust audiences into a future unlike anything they had ever experienced that is at once familiar and unfamiliar.

Back then, no one could have imagined how Blade Runner would go on to reverberate through modern culture, pioneering what became an entirely new genre: neo-noir cyberpunk.  Today, Scott’s visionary masterpiece is heralded as one of the best and most important motion pictures of all time, but its impact has gone beyond filmdom, to television, music, art, fashion, and even university courses.

Now, Blade Runner 2049 returns us to the world that has enthralled generations of fans in a film that is, at once, a long-awaited follow-up and a much-anticipated stand-alone moviegoing experience.

denis-villeneuve

Denis Villeneuve is an acclaimed, award-winning auteur whose films have been embraced by critics and audiences worldwide throughout his career.

Villeneuve, who counts himself among the first film’s devotees, says, “I vividly remember seeing ‘Blade Runner’ for the first time and being stunned by what I think is amongst the most powerful openings in the history of cinema—flying over the Los Angeles of 2019, and seeing that landscape of oil factories.  Ridley Scott presented such a strong image of what could be our future that was at the same time so seductive and so frightening.

“Aesthetically, ‘Blade Runner’ was a revolution,” he continues, “blending two genres that, at first glance, don’t go together—science fiction and film noir.  It was something never seen before, and it deeply influenced me.  It was part of my film education even before I knew I would become a filmmaker.”

Scott says that, even with all of its difficulties, he could never have predicted how iconic one of his earliest major features would come to be.  “You don’t think about that when you’re in the midst of it, but I knew for sure we had made something really special.”

Ryan Gosling, who plays the role of an LAPD blade runner called K, remarks, “The original film is haunting; it’s hard to shake.  It asks you to look at your idea of what it means to be human, and it makes you weigh your ability to recognize the hero from the villain.  It’s a nightmarish vision of the future that’s somehow grounded and feels possible, and yet it’s presented in this romantic, dreamlike way that sticks with you.  Time has proven its specialness.”

In Blade Runner 2049, K is sent on an assignment that, for very different reasons, could have more far-reaching consequences—calling into doubt the divide between people and replicants, between humanity and technology, which could lead to anarchy or even war.

But Blade Runner did more than blur the lines between humans and technology.  It also broached a range of societal concerns that have grown ever-more prevalent.  And with our planet now on the cusp of when that film was set, it seems more revelatory, and more relevant, than ever—foreshadowing issues of urban decay, climate change, genetic engineering, overpopulation, the divides of social and economic strata and more.

“It certainly was prescient in many ways,” says Ford, who turned Rick Deckard into one of his most indelible onscreen portraits and reprises the role in the sequel.  “I think as technology developed and people began to see some of the issues the film talked about play out in real life, there was even more reason to accept the themes that ‘Blade Runner’ dealt with.”

“‘Blade Runner’ was ahead of its time in so many ways,” producer Andrew A. Kosove agrees.  With its thought-provoking narrative and signature visual design—which Ridley Scott brilliantly conceived—the movie permeated our culture and changed our perceptions about the relationship between humanity and technology, which, in turn, caused us to question what makes us human.  I think that’s why it is so revered.”

That reverence understandably gave Kosove and his Alcon partner, producer Broderick Johnson, pause when they were approached about the possibility of a Blade Runner follow-up.  Johnson confirms, “We definitely had to think about taking on such an ambitious project, but we both loved the original so we decided we had to go for it.”

The idea of filming a new chapter of the Blade Runner story had come to Alcon through producer Bud Yorkin, who had been on the producing team of the earlier film, and his wife, producer Cynthia Sikes Yorkin.

HamptonFancher-e1463159136734

When Hampton Fancher’s good friend Brian Kelly got the rights to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, he turned to Fancher to write the screenplay, which eventually got the support of producer Michael Deeley. The final screenplay (co-written by David Wobb Peoples) became “Blade Runner,” directed by Ridley Scott. Released in 1982, it has since become a revered science fiction classic.

She relates, “It was a dream of Bud’s for many years to continue the story and I was so happy to support him in that pursuit.  Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see the completion of the film, but it was a wonderful gift for him to know it was going to be done.  And Andrew and Broderick were so respectful of Bud and involved us in every aspect of the production from the beginning.  They poured their hearts into this project, and I couldn’t have asked for better partners to realize this dream of ours.”

The initial step forward was to go back to the source.  Kosove explains, “The most important thing was for me and Broderick to go to London to meet with Ridley Scott.”

Scott, who came on board as an executive producer, affirms, Blade Runner was always meant to be a stand-alone feature, but we knew even then there was more story to tell.”

Scott reached out to screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who had co-written the Blade Runner screenplay.  Fancher recounts, “It was serendipity because I had literally just finished a short story set in the ‘Blade Runner’ universe.  I read Ridley just the first paragraph and it was obvious what it was.  All he said was, ‘Can you come to London?’  So that’s how it started.”

Picking up the story, Scott notes, “Hampton didn’t end up writing a conventional script; he wrote a novella, still with his beautiful style of dialogue.  Then we brought in Michael Green to turn it into a screenplay, and it evolved from there.”

Michael Green

Michael Green (Screenplay) is a television and film writer and producer. In 2017, in addition to his work on “Blade Runner 2049,” Green wrote the adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by Kenneth Branagh; and co-wrote “Alien: Covenant,” directed by Ridley Scott, as well as “Logan,” directed by James Mangold. His previous feature work includes co-writing “Green Lantern.”

When the opportunity to work on a new Blade Runner film came to screenwriter Michael Green, “I couldn’t say ‘yes’ loud enough or fast enough,” says the self-described avid fan of the first.  “Hampton and Ridley had formed the story DNA of what a new ‘Blade Runner’ film might be, and then I had the incredible opportunity to grow out those elements.  There are so many fascinating themes that run through the first film; one of them is about quantity of life.  Among the themes we wanted to explore in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ was quality of a life.  In both films, there are humans and there are replicants, and though in many respects they behave similarly, they have very different origins, as one is born and one is made.  Society places a greater inherent value on humans over replicants because someone born is believed to have a soul.  But what is the nature of a soul…and is it uniquely human?”

Denis Villeneuve recalls that when he was presented with the completed screenplay, “I was so moved.  The amount of trust Alcon had in me, to put this film in my hands…it was one of the greatest compliments of my career.”

Having worked with Villeneuve on the hit drama Prisoners, the producers were fully aware of the skills he could bring to the table.  “Denis is an amazing filmmaker with a total command of everything he wants to accomplish,”

Johnson states.  “We knew he would be perfect for this film, not only because of his ability to guide the performances, but also to generate tension and atmosphere, which is strong in all his films.  That was essential to making ‘Blade Runner 2049’ because the real magic of the film is its tension, its narrative, and its character-based drama.  Denis is one of the best at capturing all of that.”

Villeneuve reveals he had one caveat before agreeing to helm the film.

“I needed Ridley Scott’s blessing.  That was my only condition.”  He needn’t have worried; Scott did more than give his blessing.  “He said to me exactly what I needed to hear,” notes the director, “which was that I had total freedom, but if I ever needed him, I could call; he would be available any time.  And, in fact, every time I needed him, he was there.  I will always be grateful to him.”Blade Runner

In conceiving the overall look of the film, Villeneuve wanted to remain faithful to the spirit of the original.  He remarks, “My goal was to honor the film noir aesthetic of the first movie while giving the new film its own identity.”

To that end, the filmmakers emphasize that, while Blade Runner 2049 can be considered a sequel, it can also very much stand on its own as a singular motion picture.

“Even if you’ve never seen the first film, you will have no problem understanding the story,” Sikes Yorkin attests.  “The way it’s written and presented, you can absolutely be very entertained and absorbed in the drama without necessarily knowing everything that came before.”

In designing the new movie, the filmmakers had to imagine conditions on the planet three decades hence.

Villeneuve clarifies, Blade Runner was set in 2019, and it was prophetic in some ways, but we already know our 2019 will be quite different from that.  So we made the decision to create our own 2049—to propel the movie into its foreseeable future.  The world of ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is an extension of ‘Blade Runner’; it is not an extension of reality.”

Out of that understanding “came a lot of decisions about design,” he continues.  “We saw in ‘Blade Runner’ that nature was collapsing, so in 30 years’ time, the Earth will be even more brutal.  We are finding the same kind of oppressive atmosphere that we saw in the first film, but even thicker.  The environment will be more toxic; the oceans will be out of control; the weather will be harsher, colder…  We are dealing with even more severe climate conditions and that translates to everything from architecture to vehicles to clothing.”

Your Guide To What’s Happening On The Big Screen

Latest Releases /  South African Films /  Films Released in 2017  /  Top 20 Films Of 2016

July 2017 August 2017 / September 2017 /  November – December 2017

Upcoming Film Releases In South Africa: October 2017

Information provided by the film distributors in South Africa: Ster Kinekor, Times Media Films, UIP SA, and Black Sheep Films.  Dates subject to change, visit www.sterkinekor.comwww.cinemanouveau.co.za and www.numetro.co.za for cinemas where the films will be showing.    Report broken links

Showing from 6 October, 2017

Blade RunnerIn the neo-noir science fiction film Blade Runner 2049 Ryan Gosling plays Officer K,  a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, who unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years.It is directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) and written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Watch the trailer

the-big-sick-trailerA couple deals with their cultural differences as their relationship grows in the romantic comedy The Big Sick. Kumail is a Pakistani comic who meets an American graduate student named Emily at one of his stand-up shows. As their relationship blossoms, he soon becomes worried about what his traditional Muslim parents will think of her. When Emily suddenly comes down with an illness that leaves her in a coma, Kumail finds himself developing a bond with her deeply concerned mother and father. Directed by Michael Showalter, from a screenplay by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Watch the trailer

My Little PonyMy Little Pony: The Movie is an animated musical fantasy adventure comedy film based on the television series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, which was developed as part of the 2010 relaunch of the My Little Pony franchise by Hasbro. In order to stop a threat to the town of Ponyville, the “Mane 6” – Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rarity – embark on a journey beyond their home kingdom of Equestria, meeting new friends and overcoming challenges in the process. The film is being directed and written by Friendship Is Magic veterans Jayson Thiessen and Meghan McCarthy respectively, and stars the series’ regular voice cast of Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, and Cathy Weseluck, with guest performances by Emily Blunt, Kristin Chenoweth, Liev Schreiber, Michael Peña, Sia, Taye Diggs, Uzo Aduba, and Zoe Saldana. Watch the trailer

Good TimeIn the crime-drama Good Time Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a twisted odyssey through New York City’s underworld in an increasingly desperate-and dangerous-attempt to get his brother out of jail. Over the course of one adrenalized night, Constantine finds himself on a mad descent into violence and mayhem as he races against the clock to save his brother and himself, knowing their lives hang in the balance. This  crime-drama film is directed by Ben and Josh Safdie and written by Josh and Ronald Bronstein. Watch trailer

Wish UponWish Upon is a supernatural horror directed by John R. Leonetti, written by Barbara Marshall. Jonathan Shannon (Ryan Phillippe) gives his 17-year-old daughter Clare (Joey King) an old music box that promises to grant its owner seven wishes. Skeptical at first, Clare becomes seduced by its dark powers when her life starts to radically improve with each wish. Everything seems perfect until she realizes that every wish she makes causes the people who are closest to her to die in violent and elaborate ways. Watch trailer

Inconvenient Truth 2A decade after An Inconvenient Truth brought the climate crisis into the heart of popular culture, comes An Inconvenient Truth Sequel: Truth To Power , the riveting and rousing follow-up that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution. Former Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight, traveling around the world training an army of climate champions and influencing international climate policy. Cameras follow him behind the scenes – in moments both private and public, funny and poignant — as he pursues the inspirational idea that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion.

Showing from 13 October 2017

UnlockedAfter being tricked to provide information to the wrong side, a CIA interrogator finds herself at the center of a devastating biological attack on London in Unlocked.It stars Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Michael Douglas and is directed by Michael Apted and written by Peter O’Brien. Watch The Trailer

 

WHALE_MOVIEBased on the acclaimed book of the same title by Zakes Mda and adapted for the screen by Zola Maseko, The Whale Caller tells of a kelp-horn-blowing man (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube) who seems to be deeply drawn to a very particular whale. It tells the story of a love triangle between the titular Whale Caller, his beloved whale Sharisha, and Saluni, the village drunk who teaches him to open his heart to people again. Set in Hermanus, the scenic whale watching capital of South Africa, this is a vibrant tale of the New South Africa, with all of its challenges and complexities. It is about whales and nature. But above all, it is about people.  Watch the Trailer

In The Snowman Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman. He begins to suspect it’s the work of a serial killer.This British crime drama is directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Hossein Amini, based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø. Watch the Trailer

 

In the comedy The Last Word Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), a once-successful businesswoman, works with young local writer Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) to pen her life story. When the initial result doesn’t meet Lauler’s high expectations, she sets out to reshape the way she’ll be remembered, dragging Anne along as an unwilling accomplice. As their journey unfolds, the two women develop a strong bond which not only alters Harriet’s legacy but also Anne’s future. It is directed by Mark Pellington, from a screenplay by Stuart Ross Fink. Watch the trailer.

Shot CallerIn the crime thriller Shot Caller a newly released prison gangster (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is forced by the leaders of his gang to orchestrate a major crime with a brutal rival gang on the streets of Southern California. It is directed and written by Ric Roman Waugh. Watch the trailer

 

Showing from 20 October 2017

GeostormThe failure of climate-control satellites threatens to unleash a worldwide storm in the environmental disaster action film Geostorm. After an unprecedented series of natural disasters threatened the planet, the world’s leaders came together to create an intricate network of satellites to control the global climate and keep everyone safe.  But now, something has gone wrong: the system built to protect Earth is attacking it, and it becomes a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything and everyone along with it. Gerard Butler stars as Jake, a scientist who, along with his brother, Max, played by Jim Sturgess, is tasked with solving the satellite program’s malfunction.  Abbie Cornish stars as Secret Service agent Sarah Wilson; Alexandra Mara Lara as Ute Fassbinder, the ISS astronaut who runs the space station; Wu as Cheng, the Hong Kong-based supervisor for the Dutch Boy Program; Derbez as space station crew member Hernandez; with Garcia as U.S. President Andrew Palma; and Ed Harris as Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom. It is written, produced, and directed by Dean Devlin as his feature debut, starring Gerard Butler, Katheryn Winnick, Ed Harris and Jodi Lyn Brockton . Watch the trailer

MountainStranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive in the romance-disaster The Mountain Between Us. Stranded on a mountain after a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Idris Elba and Kate Winslet)  must work together to endure the extreme elements of the remote, snow-covered terrain. Realizing that help is not on the way, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing each other to survive and discovering their inner strength. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad and written by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, based on the novel of the same name by Charles Martin. Watch the trailer

Happy Death DayIn the slasher horror Happy Death Day a teen must relive the same day over and over again until she figures out who is trying to kill her and why. Directed by Christopher B. Landon and written by Landon and Scott Lobdell. Watch the trailer

 

 

 

Secret SuperstarSecret Superstar traces the journey of Insia, a 14 year old girl from Vadodara, whose dream of becoming a singer changes her life and of everyone around her. The Indian musical drama is written and directed by Advait Chandan. Starring : Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Tirth Sharma, Kabir Sheikh, Farrukh Jaffer and Aamir Khan.  Music : Amit Trivedi/ Lyrics : Kausar Munir.  Watch the trailer.

 

Boo-2-A-Madea-Halloween-Release-Date-OctoberBoo 2! A Madea Halloween is written, co-produced, directed by and starring Tyler Perry. It is the tenth film in the Madea series, the sequel to Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016) and the third Madea film (after Madea’s Witness Protection and Boo!) not adapted from the stage play.After venturing to a haunted campground, Madea, Bam and Hattie must run for their lives when monsters, goblins and the boogeyman appear. Watch Trailer

Showing from 27 October 2017

In the superhero actioner Thor: Ragnarok the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, and finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), his former ally and fellow Avenger. Thor’s quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization. It is the sequel to 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World and the seventeenth film installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film is directed by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi with a screenplay by Eric Pearson. Watch the trailer

 

 

Saw-JigsawIn the horror Jigsaw bodies are turning up around the city, each having met a uniquely gruesome demise. As the investigation proceeds, evidence points to one man: John Kramer. But how can this be? The man known as Jigsaw has been dead for over a decade.  is the eighth installment in the Saw franchise, picking up over a decade after the death of the Jigsaw killer during the investigation of a new succession of murders that fit his modus operandi. It is directed by Australian filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig (Predestination) , written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, and starring Tobin Bell, Mandela Van Peebles, Laura Vandervoort, Brittany Allen. Watch the trailer

the-journey-fr-670-380The Journey is a fictional account of the extraordinary story of two implacable enemies in Northern Ireland – firebrand Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall)  and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) – who are forced to take a short journey together in which they will take the biggest leap of faith and change the course of history. This British-Irish drama film was directed by Nick Hamm and written by Colin Bateman. Watch the trailer.

Vaya2The electrifying South African drama Vaya is is a masterful synthesis of big-city anxieties and aspirations It is directed by Nigerian filmmaker Akin Omotoso, who weaves together three separate stories to create a gripping yet compassionate portrait of small-town characters immersed in the intimidating, alluring, and dangerous world of big-city Johannesburg and Soweto. Beginning on a train travelling from the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg, Vaya focuses on three passengers and follows each of them into the city. They’re strangers to one another, yet bound by interlocking destinies and a shared naïveté. Imagine a South African spin on Amores Perros and you’re partway there. Nkulu (Sibusiso Msimang) is charged with retrieving his father’s remains from the capital and bringing them back home for burial. What he doesn’t know is that a whole other set of relatives have their own plans. Zanele (Zimkhitha Nyoka) is chaperoning a young girl who’s en route to reunite with her mother, a singer who manages a tavern. When Zanele meets the mother’s charismatic boyfriend, he promises that he can get her on TV as a dancer, but there’s more to this offer than meets the eye. Nhlanhla (Sihle Xaba), excited by the prospect of getting rich quick, is caught up in criminal activities — ranging from kidnapping to murder — the moment he gets off the train. Shifting effortlessly between scenes of intimacy and of bracing violence, Vayaexudes compassion for each of these small-town characters but does not hold back from plunging them into the urban snakepit that awaits. Watch the trailer

MarshallMarshall is a biopic directed by Reginald Hudlin and written by Michael and Jacob Koskoff. As the nation teeters on the brink of WWII, a nearly bankrupt NAACP sends Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) to conservative Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur against his wealthy socialite employer in a sexual assault and attempted murder trial that quickly became tabloid fodder. In need of a high profile victory but muzzled by a segregationist court, Marshall is partnered with Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad), a young Jewish lawyer who has never tried a case. Trailer

the-jungle-bunch-3D-movie-postThe Jungle Bunch is a French-American-British CGI animated film. Maurice may look like a penguin – but he’s a real tiger inside! Raised by a tigress, he’s the clumsiest Kung-Fu master ever. Along with his friends, The Jungle Bunch, he intends to maintain order and justice in the jungle, as his mother did before him. But Igor, an evil koala, wants to destroy the jungle once and for all, helped by his army of silly baboons… The Jungle Bunch – to the rescue.Trailer

Hotel salvationThe beautifully rendered Indian arthouse film Hotel Salvation marks the debut of young director Shubhashish Bhutiani, enacts a subtle family comedy-drama that anyone who has spent time with an ageing parent could relate to easily. An ominous dream convinces 77-year-old Dayanand Kumar (Adil Hussain) that his end could be near. He takes the news to his son Rajiv, knowing he wants to breathe his last in the holy city of Varanasi and end the cycle of rebirth, by attaining salvation. Being the dutiful son he is, Rajiv, is left with no choice but to drop everything and make the journey with his stubborn father. Daya and Rajiv check into Mukti Bhawan(Hotel Salvation) in Varanasi, a guesthouse devoted to people to die there. But as the days go by, Rajiv struggles to juggle his responsibilities back home, while Daya starts to bloom in the hotel.Rajiv gives his father a shot at salvation but as family bonds are tested, he finds himself torn, not knowing what he must do to keep his life together. Trailer

 

The world well knows Victoria, the iconic leader who ruled an empire spanning the world – but, who was Abdul?

Victoria & Abdul tells the extraordinary true story of the amazing and unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria  and a young clerk, Abdul Karim, who becomes her teacher, her spiritual advisor, and her devoted friend.

The story of their friendship, deliberately hidden for a century, is now told for moviegoers, with Academy Award winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) reuniting with Academy Award-nominated director Stephen Frears (The Queen), and returns to the role of Queen Victoria. The screenplay is by Academy Award nominee Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), based on journalist Shrabani Basu’s book Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant.

Victoria and Abdul

Judi Dench (left) as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal as Abdul

 

“She was the Queen of England and he was a humble clerk from India,” recounts author Shrabani Basu. “Their friendship would shock the palace and lead to a near-revolt against the Queen.”

In 2001 Basu was researching a book on the history of curry. She learned that Queen Victoria enjoyed eating curries. Basu visited Osborne House, Victoria’s Isle of Wight residence, and was most intrigued to see two portraits and one bronze bust of a regal-looking Indian man. In Victoria’s dressing room, she spotted another portrait of the Indian man, situated directly beneath that of Victoria’s beloved John Brown. On a larger scale, Osborne’s Durbar Room, crammed with treasures from India, was a monument to Victoria’s fascination with “the jewel in the crown;” even though she was the Empress of India, she never visited. Basu notes, “For safety reasons, she couldn’t go to India, so she had India come to her.”

Shrabani Basu

Born in Calcutta, Shrabani Basu grew up in Dhaka, Kathmandu, and Delhi. She graduated in history from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and completed her graduate studies at Delhi University. In 1983, she joined the newspaper The Times of India in its Mumbai offices as a trainee journalist. She moved to London in 1987, and since then has worked for the Calcutta-based newspaper group ABP. She continues to combine her journalistic career with her interest in the events of the past that shaped us; her creative passion is uncovering hidden stories from the 400-year history of India and Britain.

In 2006 she visited Balmoral, the Queen’s castle in the Scottish Highlands, where she saw Karim Cottage, the house that Victoria had built for Abdul. She realized there was an importance to the mysterious Indian man known as the Munshi (i.e., teacher), and she set herself the task of finding out what it was.

The Queen’s son Bertie, later King Edward VII, had destroyed all correspondence between his mother and the Munshi – but had not thought to touch her Hindustani journals. In those journals, Basu discovered the story of Queen Victoria and her beloved Munshi, Abdul Karim. Handwritten by Victoria in Urdu, the journals had sat in the Royal Archive, entirely left out of any and all Western versions of Victorian history because none of the historians read Urdu. Basu reports, “I can understand Urdu, though I can’t read the script. Abdul had written lines in Roman for Victoria, and I understood these. Where there was only Urdu script, I had it translated. There were 13 volumes.” From their pages the relationship of Victoria and Abdul emerged.

abdul1There was one further volume to be unearthed, as Basu’s investigation took her to Karachi, Pakistan. Abdul never had any children, but his grand-nephew led her to a journal, stored away in a trunk. Abdul had started the journal in 1887, when he was summoned all the way from India to serve at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee commemorating her 50 years on the throne. His diary gave Basu a firsthand account that confirmed much of what she had found in the Queen’s Urdu writings. “Finally,” she says, “I had found Abdul’s voice.”

The details captivated the author. She reports, “Abdul was 24 years old when he was sent from India to the U.K. He caught Victoria’s eye and was rapidly promoted. Extra English lessons were arranged for him so that they could converse more easily. He gave her lessons in Urdu every evening. He read Ghalib’s poetry to her. The two of them became inseparable.

“Her household plotted against him, threatening that the Prince of Wales [Bertie’s title at the time] would have to step in. Victoria stood by Abdul like a rock.”

Culling from the diary and the journals, Basu wrote Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant.

BAFTA Award-winning filmmaker Beeban Kidron of Cross Street Films read a newspaper article about the book in 2010 and was immediately taken with the tale. She remarks, “What intrigued me was that here was a previously untold history, a gem hidden away for over a century. It was a revelation that Queen Victoria had a very close relationship with not only a servant but a Muslim servant. The reaction within her royal household was quite telling, and relevant to what’s going on now in the world – about acknowledging tension between cultures and having open-mindedness.”

VICTORIA

Adapting the Book

Kidron’s Cross Street partner, Lee Hall, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of Billy Elliot, heard Basu on the radio and was equally intrigued. So the two arranged a meeting with her. By this point, Cross Street was not the only production company interested in optioning Basu’s book for a movie version. But their response to the story resonated with the author. Kidron remembers, “What interested Shrabani was how we saw Victoria & Abdul as a story of an outsider; it was a clash of class and culture, and we felt it would be invigorating to see Victoria’s world from the vantage point of an ordinary young man from Agra who made it to the top of an empire.

Lee Ha

Screenwriter Lee Hall

“Also, we saw this as a film that could play in the multiplexes, something funny and entertaining – a story about the royal family that audiences haven’t seen before – while also having something to say about prejudice.”

Basu granted Cross Street the rights, and Cross Street began further developing the project with Christine Langan at BBC Films, who was excited by the prospect of a mainstream film with a message. The turning point for the feature came when Kidron and Hall brought Victoria & Abdul to their longtime friend and frequent collaborator Eric Fellner, co-chair with Tim Bevan of one of the world’s leading film production companies, Working Title Films. The Academy Award-nominated producer remarks, “I saw this as a story for our times, and I knew that as screenwriter Lee had the skill to adapt Shrabani’s book. He gravitates towards stories that explore class, and being on the outside looking in – and vice versa.”

The producers set out to make a movie that would offer the sumptuous interiors, epic landscapes, and lavish costumes that audiences expect from a historical drama – while giving them a story of friendship and loyalty that they might not expect.

Kidron reflects, “It was energizing for us to make a movie that combined big scenes, requiring scores of extras who had to be costumed at 5 in the morning so we could be shooting by 8, with scenes of two people having intimate conversations that were serious and touching.

“The relationship between Victoria and Abdul speaks to, and about, different generations. Her age and his youth are no barrier to love, and they are both transformed by the experience, which was something new to them and something which we feel will be special for audiences as well.”

As with any historical tale that is made into a two-hour film, some events and people were conflated for dramatic purposes. Kidron notes, “We all talked about how the screenplay had to make a story out of the wealth of detail in Shrabani’s book, which is beautifully written and evocative but has a journalistic approach. Our picture is more of a fable; it is true to the spirit but by necessity has to create dramatic moments. Lee’s story is a delightful confection but at its heart stands a deeply touching relationship. That’s what he loves to do in his storytelling: make the audience laugh and then make them cry.

“Since Shrabani wrote her book with access to the diaries of both Victoria and Abdul, there is a generous flow of factual information running through the story which Lee taps into throughout. Much of what’s in the script, however ludicrous it might seem, comes from Queen Victoria herself!”

Basu states, “Lee has taken out just the right bits from the book, and he’s developed some parts and characters more. He’s certainly retained the humanity.”

The ability to parse both the weight of history and impart a witty perspective on same is a hallmark of Academy Award-nominated director Stephen Frears’ work. Kidron always wanted him to take the helm. She says, “I knew he would be great for Victoria & Abdul because he gets at the humor in situations yet he doesn’t lose sight of the seriousness.”

An Academy Award nominee and Tony Award winner, Lee Hall is an English playwright and screenwriter. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he attended Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he studied English literature. In 1997, his playwriting career was launched when his BBC Radio 4 play, the drama Spoonface Steinberg, was broadcast to great acclaim.

His first feature film screenplay was the story of a boy from Northeastern England who, in the face of opposition from his family and community, aspires to be a ballet dancer. Billy Elliot brought Mr. Hall an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. He also received BAFTA, Writers Guild of America, and London Critics’ Circle Film Award nominations; and won the British Independent Film Award for Best Original Screenplay.

He later adapted Billy Elliot for the stage, writing the book and lyrics; the music was written by Elton John, and the show was directed by Stephen Daldry, who had also directed the movie.

Mr. Hall’s newest play is Network, an adaptation of the 1976 film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet; the world premiere staging will open at London’s National Theatre November 2017, with Academy Award-nominated actor Bryan Cranston making his U.K. stage debut in the lead role of Howard Beale.

Director on board

The producers waited until Hall was a couple of drafts into the screenplay adaptation before taking the project to Frears. He was keen to board the project, responding to what he calls “a very good script which was full of lively, sparky writing. Lee writes in an elevated style, in a sophisticated manner which I love.”

Frears’ longtime producer, Academy Award nominee Tracey Seaward (The Queen), joined the project with him. She felt strongly that the film could explore themes the team had addressed before in their films, “such as race relations. On that topic, this story from over 100 years ago feels even more relevant now. First and foremost, this is an important story that Shrabani illuminated: a young Muslim becoming the loyal companion of an Anglo nation’s longest-surviving reigning monarch.”

Basu was consulted throughout the process, and as the filmmaking collective coalesced she realized that the story was being fielded by “a dream team. I could not have asked for more, or better – and the casting was the icing on the cake.”

Among film’s most versatile directors, Stephen Frears has always embraced a wide variety of styles, themes, and genres. His work has met with critical acclaim, bringing him nominations for Directors Guild of America and Golden Globe Awards. He has twice been nominated as Best Director at the Academy Awards, for The Grifters and The Queen.

Frears

Judi Dench reunites with director Stephen Frears, and returns to the role of Queen Victoria, in Victoria & Abdul.

Casting

When thoughts turned to identifying an actress who could embody the stature, pride, probing intelligence, wit, and fragility of “the Grandmother of Europe” there was really only one person anyone and everyone had in mind. Frears, having collaborated with Dame Judi Dench previously, knew her to be “a brilliant actress – and one who looks like Victoria!

“But she had portrayed Victoria already, in Mrs. Brown [1997], so I wondered that the idea might well be a nonstarter with her.”

Fortunately for all concerned, the Academy Award winner rather liked the prospect of returning to a fascinating woman she had portrayed at a later stage in life. Dench reveals, “I was very pleased that this suddenly came up. I had become absolutely absorbed in her story when we made Mrs. Brown and done all the homework, so, why say no? I admire Victoria as a remarkable person, and this was an irresistible story that had only recently come to light.

“With Shakespeare, you can come back to a play hoping that in the interim you’ve learnt something more about how to play the part. Whereas this was a proper progression for a real person. I had a sweet letter from [Mrs. Brown director] John Madden, who said he was so glad I would be revisiting Victoria.”

The two stories’ respective central relationships crystallized during very different eras in Victoria’s life, but Dench felt there was a connection. She explains, “Victoria was happy when she was with [her husband, Prince] Albert, and then [her Scottish aide] John Brown, and then Abdul. The continuity there is, she was relaxed, completely relaxed, in someone’s company without all the c—p of court, people saying, ‘You’ve got to be here at this time and there at that time.’”

When she met Abdul, Victoria was decades into her then-unprecedented reign of 63 years on the throne. “Victoria was a prisoner of convention, like most of us become,” reflects Frears.

Seaward adds, “Can you imagine ascending to the throne at age 18 and remaining there forever after? Yet, in her 70s, she becomes a quiet revolutionary, learning Urdu and reading the Koran. Already a fascinating lady, she became even more so in her last years. She was the Empress of India, but she realized that she needed to know more about India.”

Dench herself has felt a deep connection with India for several years, nurturing it ever since she filmed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel there. She states, “It’s completely my spiritual home. I can’t wait to go back.”

Another draw for the leading lady was the chance to reunite with a favorite director. She says, “He has taste, Stephen Frears, and I like him so much as a person. When working with him, you put yourself completely in his hands. He may be enigmatic, but you know it’s for the best. You want to please him.

“We have a shorthand. I know him so well that when he says after a take, ‘Do you want to go again?’ that’s usually because he wants to go again. Aside from all that, Stephen and I have very much the same sense of humor so we make each other laugh a lot!”

Victoria and Abdul

Since Victoria & Abdul highlights a rebellious streak in the character of Queen Victoria, as she bucks tradition, her household, and the culture of the time, Frears knew that the role would tap into Dench’s own “mischievous and subversive qualities.”

“That no one else could have played Victoria was brought home each and every day of filming,” marvels Kidron. “Judi has a phenomenal sense of humor and yet there is a seriousness to her at her core. So she can at once convey, and combine, funny and dramatic tones. Her contribution to the telling of the story is immeasurable.

Dench muses, “When you look at those great statues of Victoria, she does seem indomitable. With this story, we now learn about Victoria’s vulnerability.”

Casting the young man who would share the screen with a doyenne of acting called for a worldwide consideration of talent. “We were looking for a fresh face,” notes Kidron. “Ali was not known to us, but he is well-known in India. So when we went to Mumbai to read actors for this role with casting director Nandini Shrikent, he was among the many we saw.

“As Ali left the room, Stephen said, ‘I can see Queen Victoria being quite taken with him.’” Eventually, Fazal made his first-ever visit to the U.K. for a screen test in London.

Kidron muses, “Ali’s journey mirrored Abdul’s, both in a geographical regard – and in that he knocked the socks off of us and got the gig!”

Frears elaborates, “Ali was charming, attractive – all to the good. But it had been clear to me that there was a wide-eyed quality which the actor playing Abdul would have to be able to access. I felt we weren’t going to find that in an actor who had been born or brought up in England. Adeel Akhtar, who we had cast [as Abdul’s fellow Indian visitor, Mohammed] first, needed to convey a more seasoned perspective, and Adeel has been in England all his life. But for Abdul we needed innocence and amazement; they were crucial to the character, and Ali understood this.”

Fazal immersed himself in materials of the time period, spending two months on research including extensive handwriting and voice work. Further conversations with the director led the actor to a greater understanding of how the characterization could best progress. Fazal says, “Stephen is one of my favorite directors, and I wanted my performance to be consistent with his vision of the story.”

He reflects, “Abdul takes everything as it comes, and completely at face value. This does lead to some comedic moments because, unlike others, he means what he says. The Queen is so fond of him, and wants more of him. Stephen said to me, ‘Please watch Peter Sellers in a film called Being There,’ for reference – a beautiful movie…

The Latest DVD Releases.

DVD Of The Month: Martin Scorsese’s Masterful Silence

SILENCE

(L-R) Andrew Garfield as Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Liam Neeson as Father Ferreira

Silence is a labour of consummate passion that tells the story of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries who undertake a perilous journey to Japan to search for their missing mentor in Japan at a time when feudal lords and ruling Samurai were determined to eradicate Christianity in their midst; Christians were persecuted and tortured, forced to apostatize, that is, renounce their faith or face a prolonged and agonizing death. Based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 award-winning novel, it faithfully examines the spiritual and religious question of God’s silence in the face of human suffering, with a brilliant screenplay by Scorsese and Jay Cocks. Andrew Garfield delivers one of most powerful performances of his career as Father Rodrigues and will break your heart with his impassioned journey into the soul of a man whose belief is tested to the extreme. Equally brilliant is Adam Driver as Rodrigues’s fellow priest, and Liam Neeson adds authority as the all-important Father Ferreria.

Silence is a must-see and eye-opening odyssey into humanity that has never been more relevant than today, where people still contemplate faith and doubt, weakness, and the human condition.It is impossible to fully understand or explain the solitude of our souls, those moments when we take a journey into the essence of ourselves.With Silence, Scorsese poignantly shows that it is those silent, meditative moments that shape our humanity and respective destinies, and how important it is to respect and revere the differences that cause conflict and torment. It’s a film like Silence that showcases the transformative power of film, as well as the magical allure of the art of filmmaking at its best, and the craft of storytelling at its most powerful. Silence is most definitely a rewarding and meaningful cinematic experience, and equally important for those who feel lost in their lives and need to be reminded of how fragile the human condition is when darkness descends. Read more about Silence

Win A DVD Of The Sensational Local Film Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie

Johnny 1

With Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie,  writer-director Christiaan Olwagen delivers a refreshing film that is as radical as the Voëlvry music movement that rebelled against the autocratic dictates of the apartheid government and changed the hearts of a generation of South Africans who wanted to break free from oppressive separatism.

In the film a group of friends gather to celebrate the life and music of Johannes Kerkorrel, the lead singer of the Gereformeerde Blues Band, shortly after his suicide.

Bonus Features: Behind the scenes interviews with the cast and crew / Read the review

If you want to win a DVD of this must-have South African film, tell us in what year the Read more about the filmfilm takes place and send your answer and contact details to us before 15 October, 2017.  Enter Competition here

 

the-founder-movie-2016-trailer-michael-keatonThe Founder is a drama that tells the true story of how Ray Kroc, a salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald, who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California.  Impressed by the brothers’ speedy system of making the food at their San Bernardino hamburger stand and the crowds of patrons it attracted, Kroc immediately saw franchise potential and maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire.  And thus McDonald’s was born. The Founder is directed by John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side), based on an original screenplay by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler). Read more about the film / Watch the trailer

GOLD

Gold, inspired by actual events, is the epic tale of one man’s American dream and everything he’ll do to keep it from falling apart. Matthew McConaughey stars as Kenny Wells, who embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of America, so he sells his last possessions and drops off the edge of earth, heading to Indonesia where he teams up with this mythic geologist, the “river walker,” Mike Acosta, played by Edgar Ramirez – they battle nature, the NYC financial establishment, conspiracies inside of conspiracies, but most of all they test their faith in themselves. The screenplay for Gold was written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman (Friday Night Lights), who also serve as producers, and directed by Academy Award winner Stephen Gaghan (Syriana, Traffic)  Read more about the film / Trailer

sense of an endingThe Sense Of An Ending is a fascinating exploration of the sort of story we tell ourselves about our past.Tony Webster Jim Broadbent) leads a reclusive and quiet existence until long buried secrets from his past force him to face the flawed recollections of his younger self, the truth about his first love and the devastating consequences of decisions made a lifetime ago. “The Sense of an Ending is just one of those books I’ve always carried with me. Maybe I’m an old soul, but it just really speaks to me,” ‘says director Ritesh Batra, who was just one of a legion of fans enamored with Julian Barnes’s beautiful and beguiling novel, and brought it to life on film from a screenplay adaptation by playwright Nick Payne (Constellations) . Read more about the film / Trailer

Bleed for thisBleed for This is a 2016 American biographical sports film written and directed by Ben Younger and based on the life of former world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza, now known as Vinny Paz. Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza (Miles Teller), a local Providence boxer, shoots to stardom after winning two world title fights. After a near-fatal car accident leaves him with a broken neck, he is told he may never walk again. Against all odds and doctor’s orders, renowned trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) agrees to help Vinny return to the ring just a year after the accident for what could be the last fight of his life. Based on a true story.  Watch the trailer

Every family has secrets but the Green family is different – its secrets run deep. When Max (Anton Yelchin) goes missing, his mother (Catherine Keener) and three sisters (Riley Keough, Kaitlyn Dever and Annie Starke) learn that a dark past haunts more than one of the Green siblings.We Don’t Belong Here, previously entitled The Greens Are Gone, is an American drama film written and directed by Peer Pedersen. The film stars Catherine Keener, Kaitlyn Dever, Anton Yelchin (in his final film role), Riley Keough, Annie Starke, Cary Elwes and Maya Rudolph. Watch the trailer

Heartbeats 2Dance lovers will delight in Heartbeats. When a bubbly American hip hop dancer goes to India with her family for a wedding, she is impressed by a new dance style and falls in love with the man who introduced her to it. The film centers on a feisty Los Angeles hip-hop dancer Kelli (Krystal Ellsworth), who travels to India with her family for a wedding and falls in love a” both with a new style of dance, and with a determined young man (Amitash Pradhan) who introduces it to her. Trailer

 

The-Marine-5-movieThe Marine 5: Battleground is a 2017 American action film. It is the fifth installment of The Marine franchise and sees Mike “The Miz” Mizanin reprise his role from The Marine 3: Homefront and The Marine 4: Moving Target. While working as an EMT back stateside Jake Carter after responding to a distress call, finds himself caught up protecting a person of interest from a biker gang ruthlessly hunting them down. Trailer

SWANAfter mysterious visitors arrive in the Kingdom, Princess Alise, Lucas and their friends go undercover on a secret spy adventure to see if they can be trusted in the fun animated film The Swan Princess: Royalty Undercover.  They will need all of their superior detective skills as well as some super cool gadgets to solve the royal mystery and save the Kingdom. Trailer

 

 

Emojis help us express ourselves in ways we don’t have time to express, or don’t have the forethought to express, or are afraid to express.

Human beings have never been more connected.  With the smartphone, we are never out of touch from each other – and constantly in touch with people around the world.  And with a simple invention, we are now able to communicate with people who are separated from us by language, borders, oceans…

Now, Sony Pictures Animation takes you into the secret world inside your phone for a rollicking adventure in The Emoji Movie.

“Emojis help us express ourselves in ways we don’t have time to express, or don’t have the forethought to express, or are afraid to express,” says Tony Leondis, one of the writers and the director of The Emoji Movie.  “When I get a heart-eyes emoji from my mom, it actually means something – it makes me smile.  In this world of technology, the human heart has found a way to connect.”

Jailbreak, Gene, and Hi-5 on the wallpaper

Jailbreak, Gene, and Hi-5

Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression – except for Gene (T.J. Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak (Anna Faris). Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever.

The film is directed by by Tony Leondis from a screenplay by Tony Leondis & Eric Siegel and Mike White.  Story by Tony Leondis & Eric Siegel.

Eric Siegel (Screenplay / Story)  is currently writing the Untitled Twain/Tesla Project for CBS Films. He is the author of several plays including “Wish,” which received its world premiere off-Broadway in 1999 (Critics’ Pick, Backstage Magazine). His poem “Somethin’ Else” was published in Artillery magazine in 2013.

Mike White (Screenplay) is an award-winning writer, director, actor and producer. His writing credits range from the indie black comedies Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl and Year of the Dog and the recently released Beatriz at Dinner to main-stream comedy hits School of Rock, Orange County and Nacho Libre. His TV credits include the short-lived but critically praised “Freaks and Geeks” and “Pasadena.”

“Everybody’s using emojis – they’re part of our everyday life,” says producer Michelle Raimo Kouyate.  “I always enjoy animated movies that go inside a world that you deal with every day, but never gave a thought to.”

And for T.J. Miller, who voices the lead role of an emoji named Gene in the film, that’s the perfect jumping off point for a movie. “Parents use emojis with kids and kids use emojis with parents, so everyone is in on the joke from the get-go. From the first scene, you think, ‘Oh, I use that emoji all the time, my friend uses the dancing woman emoji,’” he says.  “And when you add the fun of having Sir Pooptrick Stewart playing Poop, Sofia Vergara playing Flamenca, Anna Faris playing Jailbreak – she’s so dynamic – Maya Rudolph is so funny, Steven Wright, one of my icons in the standup world,  Jennifer Coolidge and James Corden are never not funny… I was excited to join them because it seemed like the project had the elements to be a great and very surprising movie.”

Gene with T.J. Miller

Gene with T.J. Miller

At the center of The Emoji Movie is – no surprise – a phone, belonging to a teenage boy named Alex.  And at the center of his phone is Textopolis, where all emojis live.  “Textopolis is a hustling, bustling community that serves only one purpose: to help Alex communicate,” says Leondis.  “They wake up in the morning, go to their jobs, and each emoji has a central and very important role to play.”

All emojis are meant to be one thing – the single emotion that they are meant to express.  No matter how they might be feeling inside, Smiler’s always got to be smiling, Crier always has to cry even if he just won the lottery, and Christmas Tree has got to be… Christmassy.

But then there’s Gene, an emoji born expressing every possible emotion – which leads to everything going wrong for Gene.

Tony Leondis

Tony Leondis (Director / Screenplay / Story) is a film director who started his career storyboarding on Dreamworks Animation’s first film, The Prince of Egypt. He continued at the studio to work on El Dorado and Shrek and then worked as a storyboard artist at Disney Feature Animation until he was given the opportunity to co-write and direct the sequel to Lilo and Stitch for DisneyToon Studios which won an Annie Award for Best Direct to DVD Feature. Leondis was also nominated that year in the writing category for Kronk’s New Groove. Leondis went on to make his feature directing debut with MGM’s animated film Igor, as well as directing the Annie Award-winning DVD short, Kung Fu Panda 2: Secrets of the Masters.

 

“In a world populated by emojis only expressing one emotion, an emoji with every expression would be very threatening,” says Leondis.  “Not coincidentally, in our world, being different is sometimes threatening to other people.”

“The thing about Gene that really appealed to me is that he feels like he’s broken – not just different, but broken – and could be fixed somehow,” says Kouyate.  “As he goes on this journey to ‘fix’ himself, he realizes that he’s not broken at all – the thing that makes him different makes him stronger.  That’s the huge metaphor of the movie – and I think that’s a universal feeling.

With his friend Hi-5, Gene seeks out the codebreaker emoji Jailbreak, who promises that she can fix Gene – if they can just make their way to The Cloud.  Of course, that journey changes Gene, but not in the ways he expected.

“Gene goes from self-doubt, to accepting himself, to someone who celebrates his differences,” Leondis continues.  “Celebrating our differences is something that’s really important, even more today than ever.”

Gene’s journey has real-world complications.  Alex has been trying to get the courage to text a girl he likes – and if he doesn’t send the right emoji, it could spoil his chances forever.  When Gene’s journey puts the phone on the blink, Alex starts to believe that the only solution is to wipe his phone… and everyone in it.

“Gene and Alex’s journeys mirror each other,” says Leondis.  “It’s about a boy who’s trying to express himself to a girl, but doesn’t feel free enough to express his emotions.  Gene has all of these emotions but he’s told to suppress them, so he doesn’t know how to express his emotions either.”

Gene’s journey takes him through several of the world’s most popular apps – including Candy Crush Saga, Dropbox, Instagram, Just Dance, Spotify, Twitter, WeChat, and YouTube – with each app becoming its own distinct world as the three emojis make their way to The Cloud.  Popular apps Crackle, Facebook, Shazam, Snapchat, and Twitch also appear in the movie.

“We go through Candy Crush, where Gene’s in danger of being deleted – his worst nightmare,” explains Kouyate.  “We go into the Just Dance app, where Gene has to truly express himself.  We go to Spotify, where Gene rides on different kinds of music streams.  We go to YouTube, where thousands of videos play on screens all around them, and Instagram, where photographs come to 360-degree life.”

“It’s such a privilege to play in these worlds, which are such a huge part of everyone’s everyday life,” says Leondis.  “Every app that we picked needed to challenge Gene and move him forward on his journey emotionally, but also be a widely known, interesting app that a kid would have on his or her phone.  That’s how we merged our adventure through these apps with our story about communication and a little guy who just feels different.”

Gene walking through Textopolis

Gene walking through Textopolis

Visualising The World Of Emojis

For the look and design of The Emoji Movie, Leondis turned to production designer Carlos Zaragoza.  Zaragoza and Leondis worked closely with Visual Effects Supervisor David Alexander Smith to achieve the final look of the film.  “We have some of the best artists in the business working on this movie, all led by Carlos and Dave, and all were really committed to make the very best movie possible,” says Leondis.

The head of the art department, responsible for creating the entire look of everything on the screen, from the characters to the world, Zaragoza says while a movie about emojis would seem to be drawn from the current moment, the animators found inspiration in the oldest animation references.  “Ultimately, we are giving life to objects, food, musical notes – so for me, it was going back to the animated shorts of the 1930s, where everything was animated; objects had life.  That’s one of my favorite periods of animation, so I was happy to work in something like that.”

Zaragoza says that his greatest challenge was to bring over 300 emojis – some of the simplest designs around – to three-dimensional, expressive life.  “Emojis are graphic designs, icons, pictograms,” he says. “We use them to represent a concept, but they aren’t very complex.  But for our story, we needed a complex character who could convey so many different emotions – it’s so important to show how a character feels.  So we had to keep the graphic look while making them very versatile.”

Zaragoza’s team was also responsible for the look of the world inside the phone – Textopolis and each of the separate apps that Gene, Hi-5 and Jailbreak make their way through on their adventure.  “The fun of designing a movie is starting from scratch and designing something that never existed and is not in the real world,” says the production designer.  “I was lucky to lead an amazing design team. They are truly storytellers. Any individual design is helping to tell the story.”

“I liked the idea of going inside the phone, because I knew there would be a huge opportunity for creativity, a lot of places we could expand and create looks that we haven’t seen before,” says Smith.  “Each app is different and each character is fairly different.  We could mix that with a real-world feel in Alex’s world.”

“In design, sometimes you show the audience something familiar in a way they’ve never seen before to engage with them,” Zaragoza explains.  “That’s what we are doing with Textopolis.  It looks like a city, but it’s surreal, absurd.  Everything looks like an icon, an emoji: the buildings, the vehicles, the signs, objects… Fun and beautiful but, at the same time, a trap for someone who is different; the city looks like a golden cage.  We played with that a bit, giving everything rounded corners, graphic simplicity and a colorful appeal

Due to the many unique environments and the sheer amount of characters – over 250 individual emojis were created from scratch for the movie – making the film was often challenging, but to director Leondis, it was equal times fun and rewarding.  “The crew went above and beyond,” he says of the experience, “Sony is a fantastic place to make a movie.  My hope is that the joy we had in creating these amazing and colorful characters and worlds comes across to audiences as they see the film.”

 

 

The inspiring true story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become the symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Veteran producer Todd Lieberman of Mandeville Films was looking for a new script, and wanted to find something inspirational as well as entertaining.  “Stories that fill audiences with a sense of exultation were hard to come by,” Lieberman says. “Then I heard about Jeff. It was exactly what I was looking for.”

Jeff BaumanStanding at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Jeff Bauman had no intention of becoming a hero. But when a pair of improvised bombs exploded next to him, his life changed instantly. A passing photographer snapped a photo of the horrifying moment Jeff was rushed off the street. His lower right leg was gone. His lower left leg was stripped to the bone. That image went viral and Jeff suddenly became the face of a horrendous tragedy for people all over the world.

One man becomes a symbol of hope and determination for a wounded city in Stronger, a deeply personal account of the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath. Based on Jeff Bauman’s New York Times bestselling memoir, the film celebrates his unrelenting courage against unimaginable odds

Stronger is the inspiring true story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become the symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, directed by David Gordon Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express), from a screenplay by Boston local John Pollono (Small Engine Repair, Lost Girls) based on the best-selling book of the same name by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter.

Jake-Gyllenhaal stars as real life Boston Marathon Bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in Stronger

Todd Lieberman

Todd Lieberman is one of the leading producers in the entertainment industry today and a co-owner of Mandeville Films and Television. Mandeville enjoys a first look deal with Disney, which has been the company’s home for more than 20 years. Lieberman’s most recent release is Disney’s live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

Lieberman first heard Jeff’s story from a colleague who urged the young man to write a memoir. But at the time, Bauman was still at the beginning of his recovery and was understandably reluctant to revisit the ordeal he was working so hard to get past.

When they spoke, Lieberman was honest about what making a movie would entail. “I told him that his entire life was going to be opened up,” he says. “All the vulnerability and pain would be exposed. I wouldn’t do a whitewashed version. It had to be authentic and honest about the trauma, the emotion and the challenges he had to face. If he was willing to go there, I wanted to go with him. If not, I would understand.”

Eventually, Bauman decided to write his book, also titled Stronger, and agreed to option the film rights to Lieberman’s company. The producer already had a writer in mind to turn the memoir into a compelling screenplay: John Pollono. A successful playwright, Pollono’s screenwriting acumen was still largely untested, but he comes from the same corner of New England as Bauman. Raised in Londonderry, New Hampshire, Pollono had experienced the physical, cultural and emotional terrain of Jeff’s world firsthand and written about life there with gritty sensitivity and ironic humor in his plays.

John Pollono is an award-winning actor, playwright and screenwriter from New England (he graduated from the University of New Hampshire) who currently lives in Los Angeles. His plays have won the awards of L.A. Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Garland and LA Weekly and his last two New York productions, Small Engine Repair and Lost Girls, enjoyed successful, extended runs Off Broadway. Pollono’s latest play, Rules of Seconds, was a critical hit in downtown Los Angeles.

Pollono immediately connected with the material, and with Jeff and his family. “I know them,” he explains. “They’re like my family. I don’t know how anyone who didn’t come from that kind of neighborhood could have written this story. I felt a strong obligation to get this right. It was heart wrenching, but I had to do it.”

John Pollono

John Pollono

As he prepared his pitch for the film, Pollono discovered there was far more to Jeff’s story than what was in his book. Family dynamics, fundamental beliefs about what makes a man a man, and an unwavering sense of loyalty were essential to understanding him and his world. “The book had so much beautiful stuff in it,” Pollono says. “The more I dug into the story, the more tidbits I learned that filled it out as a movie. I loved that it was the story of an everyman who worked in the deli department at Costco. . He wasn’t an athlete. Jeff Bauman happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suddenly, he had to literally and figuratively get back on his feet. It made me ask myself how I would have dealt with this if it had happened to me.

After reading Pollono’s first draft, Lieberman knew he had made the right choice. “John delivered a script that was exceptional,” he says. “The dialogue was so authentic and so beautiful. It was beyond what we expected. He had found a way to seamlessly intertwine the tragedy and Jeff’s ability to find humor in his situation. And that’s exactly what we wanted. It ended up being No. 2 on the Hollywood Blacklist that year.”

Pollono continued to polish his screenplay for months, speaking with Bauman as often as possible. Hours on the phone helped break down Bauman’s natural reserve as the writer learned more about his life, before and after the bombing. “I also spent a lot of time speaking to the people around him,” says the writer. “He was still in the middle of all this at the time. Jeff’s come a long way, but he suffers from PTSD. He was still deep in that struggle, but he’s turned the corner now.”

Pollono is quick to point out that this is not a film about terrorism. It is the story of one man and what he has to overcome to get his life back on track. “We had to figure out how page 5 of 31 someone finds purpose in the middle of that without making it all dark and depressing,” he explains. “There’s a tendency toward gallows humor that runs deep in Boston and all over New England. We’re fighters and proud of it, so it had to have the kind of raw humor typical of the area.”

Pulling Together the Team

Finding a director who could make the most of the screenplay’s delicate balance of hope and despair was the next considerable hurdle. “That was challenging,” says Lieberman. “It’s an extremely dramatic story, but we had to build in release valves along the way so it isn’t overwhelming. That required someone who understood that sometimes the best way to get through tragedy is with humor. That’s very authentic to the way Jeff and his friends and family deal with each other. There’s lots of wisecracking to get through trying times.”

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David Gordon Green is a three-time Independent Spirit Award nominee whose 2003 film All the Real Girls won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. He won the award for Best Director at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival for the dramedy Prince Avalanche. His work ranges from hit comedies such as Pineapple Express and Your Highness to acclaimed dramas such as Joe, Our Brand Is Crisis, Snow Angels and Manglehorn. With his debut feature film, George Washington, Green garnered the Best First Film Award from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Green is currently working on the new Seeso series “There’s… Johnny!” the third season of Amazon’s “Red Oaks” and the second season of HBO’s “Vice Principals.” He is attached to direct the forthcoming Halloween reboot, co-writing with Danny McBride.

Director David Gordon Green has a reputation for unparalleled versatility, turning out films ranging from the outrageous stoner comedy Pineapple Express to the award-winning teen drama George Washington. Lieberman thought he would be perfect for this project.

But after working on a string of movies that dealt with serious subject matter, Green was hoping to turn his attention back to comedy. “I was looking to let loose a little bit,” he remembers. “Then I got a copy of this script. I was immediately swept away by the characters and the circumstances. I could see how the tension combined with the humorous aspects of John’s script would take it beyond the headlines.”

The final details fell into place when a call came out of the blue from Jake Gyllenhaal, saying he was interested in playing Bauman. He was also interested in producing the film, which would become the first release from his newly formed production company, Nine Stories Productions.

“I really loved the character and I was deeply moved by the script,” says the acclaimed actor. “It felt important to champion it. I wanted to make sure the movie got made. I was struck by Jeff’s journey and the fact that this isn’t a story about the bombing. It is a story about one human being moving through tragedy to hope.”

With their star in place, the filmmakers all headed to Chelmsford, Massachusetts, to get to know Bauman and his world better. An unpretentious hamlet with a population of about 34,000, Chelmsford is the kind of former factory town that once served as New England’s economic backbone.

“We went out for pizza and beer with a large group of people,” says Green. “We tried to keep it low key and down to earth. It helped us build real relationships with the people who knew the story best. We got mai tais with Jeff’s real-life best friends Big D and Sully at the Hong Kong, page 6 of 31 the restaurant in the movie. We were trying to get the flavor of their life. I was amazed by how open and welcoming they were, considering that a bunch of strangers knocked on their doors and said, hey, tell me everything.”

Green recalls being on hand for a particularly moving and personal moment in the Baumans’ life. “We were with Jeff’s daughter when she was taking her first steps,” says the director. “It was touching seeing this guy who is still learning to walk himself and here he is with his kid taking her first steps.”

Once filming was underway, Bauman continued to be a major resource for the production. Although he declined to visit the set, he was always available to provide personal insights and he received regular updates from the filmmakers, according to Lieberman. “John was always trying to add more of the life and authenticity of Jeff and his family,” says the producer. “Jeff liked the idea of his story getting out, but he didn’t want to relive it. I can’t imagine how difficult this has been for all of them.”

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Jeff Bauman

Finding Jeff Bauman

For Jake Gyllenhaal, finding the essence of his character turned out to be a lengthy and meticulous process. The actor was determined to pay tribute to Bauman’s extraordinary perseverance without losing his humanity and vulnerability, but Bauman’s innate stoicism sometimes made that difficult. “There’s definitely an attitude among Bostonians, particularly the men, to hold things close to the vest,” says Gyllenhaal. “To try and get Jeff to talk about his feelings was difficult. It wasn’t like he was hiding anything. It is just his natural state. So I had to find nonverbal clues in his rhythms or his approach to certain problems.”

The two met a number of times before and during production. “I spent a lot of time talking with him beforehand,” Gyllenhaal explains. “Once we began shooting, I still texted with him and talked with him, just not on set. There’s a part of him that is very boyish still. That’s why it’s so easy to fall for him. We all did. He’s not only charismatic but he’s so loving. He has a childlike sense of play. And, then at the same time, there’s a deep darkness underneath.”

Throughout much of the movie, Bauman is relearning to walk, but by the time Gyllenhaal met him, he was completely mobile thanks to the sophisticated prosthetic legs that were fabricated for him. “I found great clues to who Jeff is in his physicality,” the actor says. “Some psychological aspects of Jeff seem connected to his rhythms, his approach to his sentences and how he approaches people. His body language and particularly the sense of humor, which I think he depends on even in his darkest times, were very helpful.”

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Gyllenhaal deftly captures all of Bauman’s contradictions without ever resorting to mimicry, according to Lieberman. “Jake is one of the most versatile actors of his generation,” says the producer. “He’s lovable and vulnerable, but also capable of going to dark places. As Jake plays Jeff, he is a little bit life of the party, a little bit arrested development. He not only shifts easily between happiness and sadness, but he came to understand what it meant to have lost two legs above the knee. He spent an extraordinary amount of time with Jeff and other double amputees learning how to move realistically. Jake was 100 percent there at all times.”

Gyllenhaal’s enthusiasm and commitment set the tone for everyone on set. He never backed away from anything, no matter how difficult it was. Jake really got into the head of someone who went through a heart-breaking experience. The pain Jeff was experiencing is brought out in a nuanced performance by Jake who found it through his eyes and his facial expressions. It was pretty amazing.”

The actor says he often found himself wondering what he would have done in Jeff’s situation. “No matter how hard I tried to understand what he went through, I sometimes felt I was hitting a wall. I literally don’t think I would have survived what he has gone through.”

Stronger-Movie-TrailerWatching Gyllenhaal, Green and the other dig into the film was incredibly satisfying for Marker. Her partner was constantly aware of his responsibilities as both star and producer, she says. “Jake was always thinking of the best way to tell this story. Even when he was in a scene, he was thinking about what lens was being used. Was the angle correct? Is there another shot we need or a way to make this more dynamic? And David is incredibly generous and open. “What has made this collaboration so remarkable is that everyone has always been aware that this story is bigger than all of us. We have a responsibility to get it right.”

Lieberman believes that part of the reason Bauman’s story captured the world’s imagination is that he is a normal guy who was thrust into devastating circumstances. “One of the central questions of the movie — and something Jeff asked himself — is why did he become a symbol for so many people?” he says. “What does it mean to be a hero? Do you have to do something ‘heroic’? Or can you simply inspire others to reach deep and do things they might not think they are capable of?”

Although Jeff Bauman’s story is extreme, Green believes there is something universal in his experience. “The challenge of this movie for me was to make something that feels absolutely real and raw. It stays respectful to the truth, but is not a re-enactment. I want audiences to feel like they’ve dropped into these characters’ lives and to fall in love with them. I think people will be inspired by Jeff’s complex journey and the incredible love and support he received from Erin, his family and friends, and the people of Boston. And if they look at it and realize that they can turn to the people who care about them when tragedy, or even disappointment, strikes in their lives, that will make me happy.”

A warm tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of love and our ability to triumph despite everything that conspires against us.

Acclaimed journalist and writer, Anoeschka von Meck’s Vaselinetjie is a story about defining the meaning and origin of one’s identity and race within the turmoil of post Apartheid South Africa, and brought to life the Big Screen by director Corné Van Rooyen, (Hollywood in my Huis, Sy Klink Soos Lente ) who wrote the screenplay with René van Rooyen (Mooirivier).

”The moment I read this story I was plunged into silence because of the harrowing life in a South African orphanage and the troubled youth who are forced to grow up in ways I could never have imagined,”‘ says Corné Van Rooyen. ”However, the theme spoke to me on a much deeper and almost spiritual level: everyone has a purpose no matter how you were brought into this world. We can’t recreate our past, but we can navigate our future.”

”The film is a warm tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of love and our ability to triumph despite everything that conspires against us. In many ways, Vaselinetjie can be regarded as a youth film, but its mature themes will also resonate with a broader audience. Puberty is challenging, and Vaselinetjie’s journey is more traumatic than those of most people.”

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(Back) Royston Stoffels as a loving grandfather who raised Vaselintjie as his own child, writer-director Corné Van Rooyen, novelist Anoeschka von Meck, (front) Marguerite van Eeden as the 16-year-old Vaselinetjie who has adapted well to life in the orphanage, Nicole Bond, as 11-year-old Vaselinetjie, a naive girl who is bullied daily at her school in Eksteenfontein because she’s white, but her grandparents are coloured, and Shaleen Surtie-Richards as Granny Kitta, a 75-year-old brown woman from the Ricthersveld who raised Vaselinetjie as her own child and loves her granddaughter.

A Note From Writer-Director Corné Van Rooyen

The story follows the growing-up years of Helena Bosman. She’s a girl from a tiny town in the vast expanse of the semi-desert in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Her loving grandparents call her Vaselinetjie. She is their little angel from the veldt (bush), and she is the beginning and the end of their world. But Vaselinetjie is white and her grandparents are coloured (an ethnic group of people of bushman or mixed race decent). The coloured children at school brutally tease her, accusing her of being a fake and mock her because she looks different from them. When Vaselinetjie is 11 years old, and the bullying becomes increasingly aggressive, the welfare’s help is called in and she is sent to an orphanage outside of Johannesburg – a place where “Mandela’s reject children” must live and survive.

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Corné has directed over 60 hours of content for the SABC, BBC, National Geographic, kykNET and M-NET as well as several award-winning short films and commercials. Through Stage 5 Films and his own production company Red Letter Day Pictures, Corné released his first feature film as writer and director, namely ‘Hollywood in my Huis’. Corné directed his second feature film ‘Sy Klink Soos Lente’, which was released nationwide in September 2016. Prior to this, Corné worked at Cooked in Africa Films and directed ‘The Ride of Sir Harry Smith’, ‘The Ride’, ‘Mongol Derby,’ ‘Seasons at Terroir’, ‘Cadiz’, ‘Fresh Living TV’, ‘The Ride of the Peacemaker’ and ‘Exploring the Vine’, to name a few. Before Corné started his full-time film career, he was head of Directing at AFDA in Cape Town.

It’s a strange, hard, dangerous world of drop-out children and bad-tempered matrons; a world where children smoke leftover cigarette butts, fight each other with their fists and constantly run away. It’s a world where no one cares about anyone else, where you learn not to give a damn and no one gives a damn about you. Vaselinetjie soon forgets the values her grandparents taught her so she, for the first time, can fit in with her peers. It’s only when a much older Vaselinetjie falls in love with Texan Kirby, a rebellious orphanage boy, that she addresses her biggest challenge and fear: the truth about where she comes from. Vaselinetjie is a film about the search for identity and the long road of growing up to discover who one really is.

The film is set between 1994 and 2001, a time in South African history where the country was on the edge of irrevocable change. So, as the country comes of age, so does our main character, Vaselinetjie. In my opinion, the story could be a meditation on race, race-consciousness and the all-pervasive and persistent effects of Apartheid on our nation’s psyche. It’s a reminder that there was a time when race was a matter of life and death, often literally. However, Vaselinetjie’s life is not without redemption, which arrives in the form of her loving grandparents, the children’s irrepressible humour and a boy in the orphanage called Texan Kirby.

Themes such as lack of love, violence, rape, sex work, racism, drugs and suicide are addressed in a rather raw way.

However, at the end of the day, the film is also about youngsters looking for love and acceptance. The events and characters in the film are based on the author’s experiences as a care worker in a children’s home in Robertson in the Western Cape.

It was very important for me to be as authentic as possible in my casting process. My aim was to use non-professionals combined with regular actors – children and teenagers who can connect with the character’s goal and inner struggles on a personal level.

Considering the presence of children, my reference will always be the direction work of François Truffaut; in more recent times, the work of directors such as Abdellatif Kechiche, Nicolas Philibert, Lynne Ramsay and Jacques Doillon serves as inspiration. I believe professional actors can often propel one’s stories to new heights. However, when you strive for authenticity, you sometimes just can’t beat the real thing. The best way to describe the tone of this film would be ‘social realism through a poetic lens’.

On the one hand, highlighting specific story details and metaphors to communicate characters’ thoughts and feelings through using extreme close-ups, fluid camera work and silent moments lingering in frames within frames. On the other hand, a raw, non-judgmental and observational style with plenty of hand-held camerawork.

I believe images and the sounds should tell the story instead of dialogue or music. My top film references are ‘Ratcatcher’, ‘Girlhood’, ‘Water Lilies’, ‘Ida’ and ‘Mustang’. ‘

Vas’ is a film in which I could pour my soul, creativity and heart, but I also knos this film is much bigger than me. Although I have a strong directorial vision, I need to leave space for the magic of the process and the input of my highly talented and creative crew.

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Director Corné van Rooyen during filming.

The Novel

RENE VAN ROOYEN

René van Rooyen is the director, screenwriter and co-owner of the motion picture company Red Letter Day Pictures. She has more than eight years’ experience in directing and writing content for various drama, lifestyle and documentary series for Mzansi Magic, the SABC, kykNET and M-Net, as well as directing several films, including ‘Nantes’, the 2014 Silwerskerm Film Festival short film winner. René also co-wrote and co-produced the feature film ‘Hollywood in my Huis’ and ‘Vaselinetjie’ and was the director and screenwriter of the feature film ‘Mooirivier’. In 2013, she was one of 10 filmmakers selected for the NFVF Female Filmmakers Programme and wrote and directed a 25-minute dystopian short, ‘Pathology’, through Quizzical Pictures. That was the first project in which she was responsible for her own VFX composition. Her filmography also includes ‘The Ride’, ‘Bravo!’, ‘Shore Thing’ and ‘All Access’.

Acclaimed journalist and writer, Anoeschka von Meck, is driven to deliver work that is so inspiring that it results in changing readers’ outlooks while contributing to the process of their inner healing. As a human and writer she is passionate about the fact that the people of South Africa should be reconciled in order to be able to flourish together. “ ‘Vas’ is a photo of South Africa in a certain time. The main character’s strange name refers to two elements that are both available universally, but are especially relevant to our society. Firstly, it refers to a well-known, handy and affordable skin lotion that represents the care of parents (primarily those who struggle financially) for their children. It’s something that’s been known to South Africans for centuries.

More sinisterly, it also refers to something else that’s also been known to generations and is present in many homes. This is the sexual abuse of children where everyday household products are used as lubricants with which to damage young victims’ bodies. On the one hand it therefore speaks of nurturing, care and parents’ love against abuse, meaninglessness, namelessness and the sexual objectification of children.

‘Vaselinetjie’ as the name of the main character of this authentic human story contains within herself the entire spectrum of how one struggles to find one’s true identity, how life scars us and in this case, how she triumphantly overcomes the things she once used to be a victim of and rises above her circumstances. It’s not only the story of a South African orphanage who is uncertain about her race or heritage. It is the story of a nation. At the end of the story, Vaselinetjie isn’t ‘white’ or ‘brown’ or a ‘bastard’ anymore. She is herself. She is comfortable in her own skin, her own life, her own country.

Von Meck partly grew up in McGregor, but regards herself as primarily a Namibian as her parental home was in Henties Bay. She started her career as a journalist at ‘Die Republikein’ in Windhoek and worked as a senior journalist at ‘Rapport’ in Cape Town in later years. She has written three books to date of which ‘Vaselinetjie’ is the most well-known. In 2005, ‘Vaselinetjie’ received three literary prizes, namely the M.E.R. prize for Youth Literature, the Jan Rabie prize for Innovative Afrikaans Fiction and the M-Net prize for Afrikaans texts in short format.

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Journalist and writer, Anoeschka von Meck with the young cast who brought her characters to life

In the following year, ‘Vaselinetjie’ was included as part of the prestigious ‘International Board on Books for Young People’ and as a result, has had the honour of becoming part of a travelling exhibition of the best youth books in the world. This is a remarkable honour as few books that aren’t written in English, make it on this coveted list. ‘Vaselinetjie’ was also awarded with an ATKV Children’s Book Award for Grades 8 to 10 and the book is currently in its 21st print run.

As journalist, Von Meck has also won numerous awards and in 2014, she won the coveted and extremely competitive Hard News category for community newspapers. In 2016, Von Meck, who is fond of dirt roads, travelled on her own through South Africa as ‘Afrikaans se Boesemvriendin: Oppad met Afrikaans’ for Afrikaans.com. The goal was to shoot a series of interviews, from ‘Lekkersing in die Richtersveld tot Rosendal in die Vrystaat’ that demonstrates the beautiful variants of our beautiful language

A fascinating exploration of the sort of story we tell ourselves about our past.

“The Sense of an Ending is just one of those books I’ve always carried with me. Maybe I’m an old soul, but it just really speaks to me,” ‘says director Ritesh Batra, who was just one of a legion of fans enamored with Julian Barnes’s beautiful and beguiling novel, and brought it to life on film from a screenplay adaptation by playwright Nick Payne (Constellations) .

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Tony Webster leads a reclusive and quiet existence until long buried secrets from his past force him to face the flawed recollections of his younger self, the truth about his first love and the devastating consequences of decisions made a lifetime ago.

Julian BarnesConsisting of two parts, the novel concerns Tony, a man living a quiet and reclusive existence when a relic of his 60’s school days comes back to haunt him, forcing him to question everything that he thought he knew about his past and face the devastating consequences of his actions.

Winner of the Man Booker Prize that year, Barnes’s meditation on the fallacy of memory was notable not only for its nuance, but for an intricate structure set in two time periods and an unreliable narrator whose disclosures (or lack thereof) drive the pace of the narrative.

“On one hand it’s a psychological thriller, so people read it fairly quickly. On the other hand, it’s a novel that withholds things from you,” says Julian Barnes.

Adapting the Novel

Despite possessing a structure not immediately ripe for cinematic adaptation, award-winning playwright Nick Payne had also read the book and was intrigued by it.  During a meeting with production company Origin Pictures, he was asked if he’d read anything recently that he’d liked.  “I said ‘Well I’ve just finished this amazing book, The Sense of an Ending. ’It had won the Booker not long before so I assumed the rights would be unavailable but, miraculously, they were available.”

Founded in 2008 by former BBC Films head David Thompson with Ed Rubin as Head of Development, Origin Pictures already had such film production credits under their belt as Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, What We Did on our Holiday and Woman in Gold.  Thompson and Rubin snapped up the rights and Payne set out on the adaptation.

Ritesh Batra

Indian director Ritesh Batra first came onto the scene with his debut feature film The Lunchbox, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won Rail d’Or. Recently named one of Variety’s Ten Directors to Watch., he is currently in post on his film Our Souls At Night,” starring Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Matthias Schoenaerts, which will be released next year by Netflex.

The producers knew that to make Payne’s adaptation work they needed an innovative director able to translate the novel’s intricacies onto the screen in a way that was entirely relatable to the audience. Ritesh Batra, the director who had recently found success with the acclaimed film “The Lunchbox,” had also fallen for the book.

“Julian Barnes is one of those writers that when you read one book of his, you just go on a Julian Barnes spree” says Batra.  “I have always loved the book since I read it back in 2011. I tracked it down a little bit, found out that it was already in development and forgot about it.”

The story did not end there, however.

“About a year after that I think the producers had seen my last movie, ‘The Lunchbox,’ and came to me with an offer to direct,” Batra continues. “I was very curious to see what the writer had done with it. I read the script and obviously fell in love with it.”

Though the script was a finished draft at that point, Payne and Batra sat down and worked through a few remaining issues together. The relationship was a fruitful one. “We just bounced around the script between us for a while,” Batra recalls. “It’s nice to work with people who are secure with their talent and just really open.”

Meeting Julian Barnes for the first time was a more daunting experience, however. Batra remembers: “We sat down in his garden and I’m sitting there, having tea and cake. He started saying something to me and went on for a good 5 minutes and I didn’t hear a single word he said because I’m thinking ‘I’m having tea with Julian Barnes!’”

 If Batra was worried that he might be precious about the adaptation process, he was soon reassured by Barnes. “The last thing he said was ‘go ahead and betray me.’ I’m glad I caught that one.”

“The best way to be loyal as a filmmaker is to be disloyal to the book; I’ve always believed that,” says Barnes.  “As long as you’ve handed it over to highly talented people, you have to let them fly free with it.”

Being given carte blanche to stray from the rigid structures of a faithful adaptation was the main attraction for Payne. “The thing that really appealed was that you can structurally do something quite playful, like the novel,” notes Payne. “The screenplay is almost a coming-of-age story, but about someone who’s in their sixties. Often that genre is reserved for people who are younger, but I think people continue to change their entire life.”

Nick Payne

Nick Payne studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama and the University of York, making his debut at the Royal Court theatre in September 2010 with his comedy “Wanderlust.” Payne won the prestigious George Devine Award in 2009 with his play “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet.”In January 2012, Payne’s play “Constellations” opened at the Royal Court Upstairs starring Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins and directed by Michael Longhurst. The play transferred to the West End in November 2012 where it received universally glowing reviews. It also won the Evening Standard Best Play Award and was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best New Play. Payne is currently under commission at the Royal Court and Manhattan Theatre Club/Alfred P Sloan Foundation writing a new play about Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, Paul Dirac. He is playwright in residence at the Donmar Warehouse.

The aim of Batra’s direction and Payne’s script was to stay faithful to the essence of the book, but extrapolate place and character in such a way as to fill the screen in a cinematic sense. “A film can be a complement to a book but when you’re adapting something, all you can do is bring yourself to it,” continues Batra.

Because of the internalized narrative of Tony’s narration in the book, Payne and Batra’s collaboration needed to flesh out minor characters into fully formed roles, as well as to build on Tony’s perception of other characters to fully realize the emotional weight of each scene.

Joe Alwyn, who plays young Tony’s tragic school friend and rival Adrian, felt that the information gleaned from both the book and the script was enough to be able to fully realize his character, who is only described from memory in the novel. “The book is amazing because it gives you a mine of information, even though it is very internal and told from Tony’s perspective. But the script then does bring its own unique structure.”

Freya Mavor, who plays the young Veronica, Tony’s first love, really felt that the more fleshed out secondary characters added something to the story. “What Nick’s done really well is that these characters that are passing by in the book – the daughter, his friends, Margaret – they all become these pillars in the script.”

“I think that’s a feat to be able to do that and still remain so true to the book’s essence and feeling,” Mavor continues. “It’s a really fabulous adaptation.”

Harriet Walter, who plays Margaret, agrees that the development of characters such as her own is a definite benefit to the story: “Screen adaptations of novels often provide the richest roles for women and older people.  I suppose because the authors are often experienced people who tell the story through an experienced observer.  But it is also quite difficult to successfully adapt the subjectivity of that observer into a protagonist in a movie.  What I find exceptional about this script is that some characters are more fleshed out than in the book.  They have their own autonomy and therefore a different version of the truth from Tony’s.  I think that Nick and Ritesh have done a great job with that, bringing more focus on to Tony’s family, my character, his ex-wife Margaret who in many ways knows Tony better than he knows himself, and their daughter Susie…her story points us and Tony into the future.”

Changes to the more fully formed characters in the story, such as Charlotte Rampling and Freya Mavor’s Veronica, also came about through working with the actors on set, explains Ritesh Batra. “The Veronica in the book is a tragic figure that really works within the book, but our Veronica is someone who is full of life, and her life is more interesting than Tony’s.”

Similarly, each actor brought their own interpretation to the role that necessitated changes in the script, compared to the story.  Continues Batra: “Emily Mortimer, who plays Sarah Ford, is in many early versions of the story a seductress, but of course Emily brought such a great sophistication to the part that she really brought herself to it.”

The script is imbibed with Payne and Batra’s own relationship to the story too, and what they feel are the most important themes within it. Batra had a particularly close emotional connection to the thoughts and feelings of the older generation displayed within it.  “I shared a room growing up with my granddad. Sadly he died when I was 18,” explains Batra. “I saw his sort of loneliness and his regret and everything he went through in that stage in life. I got to see it in close quarters so I’d like to think I can bring something to a story like this.”

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Our Sense Of An Ending

“People like to fill in gaps in novels. Sometimes they fill them in wrongly, but that’s equally instructive to the novelist,” says Julian Barnes.

There is much left unsaid and unknown in Barnes’s novel, due to the one-sided nature of a lone narrator and the unreliability of his memory. This functions well in literary form, but presents new challenges for cinematic adaptation.

As such, Nick Payne and Ritesh Batra sought to embellish the story and characters to fill out a film script, but were mindful of retaining that air of mystery, to stay true to the tone of the novel.

“I probably didn’t realize it would be such a challenge. I think the bit that really appealed was that it was about memory, but not in a way that film normally is,” says Payne. “It’s a kind of everyday memory where everyday people have mythologised retrospectively how badly they treated people.”

This was appealing to Michelle Dockery. “A lot of the film is quite ambiguous and some things are left quite open for the audience to decide what they feel about a character. I like that it’s not all set from the beginning.”

The trick for Payne was to craft a script that would make sure that ambiguity was at the heart of the story, and Batra’s aim was to pick this up and ensure that the actors also bought into this with their performance.

Even the title itself holds a sense of ambiguity for Harriet Walter. “It’s a suitably enigmatic title.  It contains the idea of making sense of an ending, the sense that one’s own life is coming to an end.  And it contains the idea that we put an end to certain stories in our lives to wrap them up, but we can get that so wrong.”

Charlotte Rampling explains further. “I think we’ve all have our own versions of the story in our heads about what actually happened, because Julian Barnes doesn’t really give us many tips. And so we weave in and out of the story creating impressions through our own memories.”

“I hope there will be an awful lot of discussion about what the themes are. They’re all there up for grabs; people can find their own meanings and themes in the story,” says Jim Broadbent. “I think it is part of the nature of the whole film, this question of memory and history.”

“When you get to our age, memories are very far away! We have told certain stories for so long, it is a shock to be confronted with another version from someone else,” adds Walter.

Ultimately, the past we choose to forget and the nostalgia we each hold in our own lives are the reasons audiences will identify with Tony’s story.

“’The Sense of an Ending’ is a really a fascinating exploration of the sort of story we tell ourselves about our past,” says Freya Mavor.

“We lock away certain events of our lives until the time comes for us to remember.  Then memory comes hammering on the door, a wake up call to make peace with the past,” continues Charlotte Rampling. “The story is about discovering certain sides of yourself that maybe you haven’t had a chance to reconnect with.”

Billy Howle agrees. “We all have regrets and things we are reluctant to discuss or even remember ourselves.  And so our memories fool us, really, to protect us.”

Nick Payne sees something quite positive in Tony’s redemption and conscious choice to face up to the past he had chosen to forget.  “He is given the opportunity to look back over his entire life and see it in a completely different way. I think there’s something quite optimistic about that. History is not infallible; it’s fluid and can change. You never run out of a second chance.”

What do the filmmakers hope audiences will take away from the film?

“I hope that (moviegoers) can walk away with a sense of a very particular kind of longing that Tony feels,” continues Nick Payne.

For Batra, the hope is more about making a film that complements the book, yet stands up as a film in its own right.

“I really hope we populated Julian’s universe in a way that’s true to the movie and the book as well.  He’s just a wonderfully generous man and I hope the movie and the book can exist together as complements.”

 

A classic, capitalist, American story.

For producer Don Handfield, The Founder began with a song.  Back in 2004, when he was casually listening to “Boom, Like That,” a single from the just-released solo album from Dire Strait’s singer-songwriter Mark Knopfler, the producer, who is partners with actor/producer Jeremy Renner in their Los Angeles-based production company, The Combine, was instantly intrigued.

The lyrics of the song – Knopfler’s reflections from reading Ray Kroc’s autobiography – detail how the milkshake mixer salesman from Illinois first visited the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino and pitched them the idea of franchising their restaurant.  Curious about the man at the center of the song, Handfield remembers thinking, Who was this guy? What is this about?  Like everyone, Handfield was familiar with the ubiquitous fast-food restaurant, but he wanted to know more about its story of how it all began.

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Michael Keaton stars as the maverick American entrepreneur Ray Kroc, who transformed McDonald’s from a San Bernardino hamburger stand into a global empire now with over 35,000 locations around the world.Once he took on the character of Ray Kroc, Michael Keaton says everything just clicked into place. “The first time I heard about this project and started reading the script, my first thought was, why has no one told this story before?” the actor reflects. “This is a classic, capitalist, American story. And everyone has a connection to McDonald’s – no matter what you may feel about them as an adult. It’s a childhood connection. It’s not just a hamburger or food. McDonald’s was the biggest shift in popular culture and fast food that there will ever be. It wasn’t just about a hamburger. It’s where America was at the time and how it changed everything.”

The Founder is a drama that tells the true story of how Ray Kroc, a salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald, who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California.  Impressed by the brothers’ speedy system of making the food at their San Bernardino hamburger stand and the crowds of patrons it attracted, Kroc immediately saw franchise potential and maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire.  And thus McDonald’s was born.

The Founder is directed by John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side), based on an original screenplay by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler).

Don Handfield and Jeremy Renner

Don Handfield and Jeremy Renner

Handfield says he read every book and article he could find on Ray Kroc.

“Like today’s Silicon Valley startups, it was such a fascinating story about two brothers who created something and then the business guy comes in and takes it to the next level.  And often the split between the founders and the business guy is a violent one.  This story had all the echoes and machinations of that.”

 

Research Begins into the lives of Ray Kroc and the McDonald brothers

As Handfield continued doing research into Ray Kroc and the McDonald brothers, the characters and theme of the kind of movie Handfield wanted to make began to gestate.  According to Handfield, there are two forms of capitalism represented by Ray Kroc and the McDonald brothers.

“The McDonald brothers were very much like sustainable capitalism, like, we’re going to make great product. We’re going to leave a minimal footprint. We’re going to take care of our employees – I guess you would call it sustainable capitalism.  And on the flip side you have Ray Kroc, who, if you could drop him in the jungle he’d cut down every tree and come out with a suitcase full of cash.”  At the heart of Handfield’s interest was the story of two idealist entrepreneurs facing off against a ruthless entrepreneur would stop at nothing to succeed.  Still, Handfield admits, he does admire Ray Kroc, a man who at the age of 52 still had the drive and stamina and confidence to do whatever it took to start an empire.

Handfield says he chased the story for five years before serendipity arrived in the form of a random Internet search.  While doing a Google search late one night, he came across a small article with an interview with Dick McDonald that mentioned he owned a small motel in Massachusetts.  He called the current owner of the hotel and said he was a producer and wanted to make a movie about the McDonald family, and the owner passed that message along to the McDonald’s family.  That lead ultimately led him to Jason French, the grandson of Dick McDonald who said he’d been waiting 50 years for someone to call and tell this story. Dick and his brother Mac had passed away several years earlier so French was informally appointed by the family to handle discussions with the Hollywood producer. For such an iconic part of American history, Handfield was surprised to learn that in all that time, no reporter, journalist, or movie producer, had ever reached out to them.

Excited to have the true story of the founding of McDonald’s told from their point of view, French and the members of his family shared archival materials and McDonald’s memorabilia with Handfield, including letters between the McDonald brothers and Ray Kroc, archival photographs, various designs and mock-ups, as well as Dictaphone recordings of their conversations.  “This was all stuff that was valuable when we began to create the story,” Handfield relates.  “The story was never going to be a movie about fast food.  To me the story was always about capitalism.”

“This is unbelievable for our family to have this story being told and bringing to light how everything came about and how McDonald’s was formed,” says Jason French. French says his grandfather and great uncle were great innovators, creating processes that would be put into effect not only in his own restaurants, but that created the standards for fast food restaurants everywhere. “My grandfather was a man that had so many thoughts, dreams and came up with so many things before their time, it’s unbelievable.  He was a guy who thought how can we make it better? How can we do it faster? And how can we make things move more effectively?”

Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc

Securing The Film Rights

A decade after Handfield first heard Mark Knopfler sing the lyrics to the fateful tune, I’m going to San Bernardino ring-a-ding-ding / Milkshake mixers that’s my thing now / These guys bought a heap ‘o my stuff / And I gotta see a good thing shooting up now, the producer had finally secured film rights from the McDonald’s family.  With a movie concept in place, Handfield and his producing partner Jeremy Renner brought the project to veteran producer Aaron Ryder, the co-president of production at FilmNation Entertainment, who immediately loved the idea.  “It’s exactly the type of film that we do,” Ryder says about the New York-based film production and distribution company.  “It’s a movie about America and capitalism.  It’s about the pursuit and the erosion of integrity, and determination of succeeding.  It’s a story that shows the American dream: that you can succeed despite the odds by just sheer force of will.”

Choosing a screenwriter who could take a legendary story and transform it into a character piece

The project quickly began to fall into place.  Before bringing in a director to visualize  the film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, the producers felt they needed to have the right script. In choosing a screenwriter who could take a legendary story and transform it into a character piece, the producers met with several writers until they found one whose vision for the project resonated with them.

In 2013, Handfield contacted screenwriter Robert Siegel, who had just written “The Wrestler,” and whose sensibility he thought might be a perfect match to trace the rise of Ray Kroc from a hustling  salesman into the chairman of a global fast food  empire.  “We talked with a bunch of writers about how they would go about this,” Handfield recalls.  “And Rob’s take was in making it the McDonald brothers’ story but from the point of view of Ray Kroc, and I think that was a really original and powerful way to approach it.”

RobertSiegel.RGB_

Robert Siegel is a New York-based screenwriter and director. He is the writer of the Darren Aronofsky-directed film “The Wrestler,” for which Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei earned Academy Award® nominations. His directorial debut, “Big Fan,” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. From 1996 to 2003, Siegel served as editor-in-chief of the satirical publication The Onion, where he won the 1999 Thurber Prize For American Humor and edited the number-one New York Times bestselling book Our Dumb Century.

“I like to write kind of big American stories,” proclaims the screenwriter who is also known for writing and directing the Spirit Award nominated comedy-drama “Big Fan” with Patton Oswalt.  “And the genesis of McDonald’s touched on all these big American themes: the car culture, the ‘50s, the rise of the suburbs, and fast food, and capitalism, and greed.  There’s such an epicness to the story.  It’s such a big untold story.  It was kind of the birth of fast food which has had reverberation on how we eat, and where we eat, and who we eat with.”

Siegel instantly responded to the character and saw incredible potential.  He says, “Ray Kroc is such a big, complicated, larger than life, polarizing figure who does whatever it takes to get his way.”  Armed with hundreds of pages of research materials about Ray Kroc and McDonald’s, the writer also explored the general landscape of America in the 1950s.  “Post World War Two the country was just exploding,” Siegel says.  “It was just rock and roll, car culture, youth culture, and drive-ins.  And here you have this man who is completely out of time.  It’s an Elvis Presley world and Ray’s a Bing Crosby man.”  However much a fish out of water he was in that era, Siegel notes that Ray Kroc would go on to be one of the major drivers of ‘50s culture, and on through the ‘60s, ‘70s and beyond.

For Siegel, the origin story of Ray Kroc and McDonald’s reminded him of another corporate titan, Mark Zuckerberg, and the problematic founding of the social media site Facebook as depicted in David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network.”   “I tend to gravitate toward dark,” Siegel expresses.  “I like dark, complicated, messed up characters.  And when Don [Handfield] and I started talking, we really saw things in a similar way, about building this portrait of this larger than life guy who changed America, and changed the world, and left a lot of human wreckage in his wake.” In crafting the screenplay Siegel also sought inspiration from films such as “There Will Be Blood,” “Citizen Kane,” and “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” and books like Robert A. Caro’s book, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, all of which detail maverick titans of industry.

Ray Kroc 2

Ray Kroc lived a long life filled with many chapters, so creating the structure of the film was a challenge. Siegel explains, “There was no need to focus on the early years that much, so the starting point for the movie is this failed salesman who hadn’t achieved any success until he was already pretty much at retirement age.  At that time, he was in his mid-50s when he came upon the McDonald brothers.”

Combining a strong character study and themes of America in the 20th century, Siegel turned in his first draft of the script in eight weeks.  For Siegel, the defining moment in the story that set him in motion is when Ray Kroc first lays eyes on McDonald’s.  “That’s his burning bush moment,” he muses.  “He’s this guy who’s just been literally wandering in the desert, wandering the back roads of America selling these Multimixers for decades with no pot of gold.  There’s no reason to think this guy is headed for anything special.  He’s at a point in his life when he should be retiring.  So when he sees this booming restaurant in the middle of this dusty, desert town of San Bernardino, he feels like, this is my purpose, this is my calling.”

Ray Kroc had always wanted to be a success, and when he meets the McDonald brothers he realizes he has the opportunity to do something great and prove all of his naysayers wrong. “It’s redemption, I think, for the lonely, miserable life on the road as a traveling salesman,” Siegel contemplates.  He adds that one of the admirable things about the visionary entrepreneur is that whenever he was beaten down, he would just get back up.  “Even in the face of all this evidence that he was unremarkable, and absolutely not destined for anything special, he believed there must be a purposes to all of this. A reason why he was grinding it out.  That’s the name of his biography, ‘Grinding it Out,’ and that’s what he was. He was a grinder and he had this drive. He always felt that there was some sort of destiny, and always had faith that this was all for something.”

The film’s title, “The Founder,” refers to the oft-cited description of Ray Kroc as the founder of McDonald’s, but for the filmmakers it was infused with irony.

“Ray wasn’t the founder of McDonald’s,” Don Handfield asserts.  “He didn’t create the Speedee System. He didn’t create the restaurant.  But without Ray Kroc, McDonald’s would not have been the worldwide global brand it is today.  Screenwriter Robert Siegel echoes that sentiment. “Ray certainly admires the McDonald brothers,” the screenwriter allows.  “They’ve done something he was never able to do, which is come up with an original idea.  They also thought big and had ambition. But Ray thought huge! He wanted 2,000, 3,000 franchises, which at the time sounded insane.  So he was not the founder. But he called himself the founder.  As soon as he acquired the company, he went about slowly rewriting the history of the company, and kind of wrote them out of their own story.”

Director on board

With a script they felt was ready to be fully realized on screen, the producers partnered with award-winning writer, director, and producer John Lee Hancock, to direct the film. Aaron Ryder says that in addition to being a seasoned writer and director, Hancock is one of Hollywood’s most amiable guys.  “He’s someone who knows exactly what he wants to do, and who surrounds himself with collaborators with whom he’s worked for the last ten or fifteen years,” Ryder says.  The multi-hyphenate artist has directed a long string of critically acclaimed and successful films such as the sports dramas “The Rookie” and “The Blind Side,” and most recently the 1960s period drama, “Saving Mr. Banks,” starring Tom Hanks as filmmaker-businessman, Walt Disney.  Don Handfield says “I thought he was perfect for it because in some ways, he’s like the Frank Capra or Norman Rockwell of our time.  He’s this guy who tells these very American stories in a very timeless way.  What better guy to tell this big origin story that takes place in America than John Lee Hancock?”

John Lee Hancock on the set of The Founder with actor Michael Keaton.

Director John Lee Hancock on the set of THE FOUNDER with Michael Keaton Photo: Daniel McFadden

In his last film, “Saving Mr. Banks,” Hancock created 1906 Australia and 1961 Los Angeles, so he was familiar with the notion of creating a believable world in an earlier time period.   With “The Founder,” that period is 1954-1961, a time in America when much of the country was quickly catching on to the idea of mass production.  In this optimistic post war period of Elvis Presley, a new modern suburbia of interstate highways, roadside motels, and fast food was also first coming into existence.   “It’s always a lot of fun to do films set in the past,” Hancock says.  “Because of the cars, because of the clothing, and also looking for anachronisms.  It’s definitely easier to do a contemporary movie, but there’s something satisfying about being able to time travel.”

Hoping to provide audiences with great characters and an entertaining experience, the filmmakers behind “The Founder” also believe that the story of Ray Kroc and the McDonald brothers will serve to humanize the ubiquitous global fast food chain. “I think when people learn about the story behind McDonald’s, that it will give the company a human feel that I think they’ve lost in the past five decades,” producer Don Handfield observes.  “The McDonald’s Corporation might be unsettled by the prospect of a warts-and-all movie about Ray Kroc, but I think they’ll pleased when they see the movie.  Every time I pass by a McDonald’s now I don’t see this massive corporation that makes fast food.  I see two brothers who loved each other and who wanted to make fast food for families that was affordable and good.”  Even though “The Founder” presents the candid origin story of the fast food chain, producer Aaron Ryder believes that McDonald’s should be very excited about “The Founder.” “Every time I read the script, I wanted to go out and eat a McDonald’s hamburger! Every person in the United States has some sort of relationship or familiarity with McDonald’s.  And if you’re able to tap into that nostalgic feeling and get people to go back to that because they want to eat a McDonald’s hamburger, that’s going to help them.”

The goal of the movie, Handfield says, is not to vilify Ray Kroc or glorify the McDonald brothers.  “I think half the people will come out and go, ‘Ray Kroc’s an American hero,’ and half the people will come out and go, ‘Man, the McDonald brothers sure were American heroes,” he speculates.  “And I think that’s good.  I think Ray Kroc in some ways is just driven by desperation and fear. He didn’t want to be a failure. He wanted to be successful by any means necessary to get there.  And I think we’ve kind of adopted that as our national credo – it’s all about being successful at any cost.”

American Assassin Introduces Film Audiences To  One Of Contemporary Fiction’s Most Popular Heroes.

Based on the mega-bestselling book series by the late Vince Flynn, American Assassin  introduces film audiences to one of contemporary fiction’s most popular heroes working in the shadows: CIA super-agent Mitch Rapp, a 21st Century counter terrorist spymaster-in-the-making who, in a world of new rules, breaks all the old moulds.

Tragically, in 2013, Vince Flynn passed away at the age of 46 of prostate cancer. But before his death, he made a deal to bring Rapp’s post-millennial brand of spycraft to today’s movie audiences. Flynn continued writing throughout his fight against cancer, maintaining his dedication to Mitch Rapp’s millions of loyal fans.

Likewise, after Flynn’s passing, Producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Nick Wechsler remained as committed as ever to getting Rapp’s story to the screen, and  brought aboard a crack team of writers led by Stephen Schiff, known for his work on television’s multi-layered Soviet spy drama “The Americans,” to translate the story to the screen – Michael Finch (The November Man), Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back).

American Assassin.1.8

Mitch Rapp is not your mother’s spymaster. Forged out of tragedy in the Age of Terror, he is cut from a different kind of cloth than the more urbane, deferentially dutiful agents of yore. He is certainly smart, intrepid and efficiently deadly, but he’s also an impatient, rough-edged, highly individualistic freelancer in a world of career politicians. He is a man who, from the start, is short on trust, skeptical of unearned authority and refuses to let the bureaucratic clogs of the system get in his way. The producers found what they were seeking in 25 year-old Dylan O’Brien, who has never tackled a role like this one before. It was O’Brien’s turn as the maze-escaping Thomas in the hit dystopian series “The Maze Runner” that convinced them he had the blend of gutsiness and self-driven confidence to embody Rapp as a haunted young man.

American Assassin tells the story of a 21st Century counterterrorist spymaster-in-the-making who, in a world of new rules, breaks all the old moulds. But much as we’re in the midst of a new era of bold individualists, this is also a story of far-flung global agents discovering what truly matters: working together for the greater good.

A one-of-a-kind American assassin possessed of savage skills and a ferocious drive for payback is born in this non-stop action-espionage thriller rooted in the raw reality of today’s hard-to-detect enemies invisible black ops, high-level surveillance, portable nukes and murky agendas.

When Rapp’s promising future is torn apart by a shocking burst of violence, it ignites his career as a clandestine warrior on the frontlines of the Age of Terror. Now he must discover how to turn his blistering rage into fuel for hunting those who would destroy others’ dreams – in a world where clarity isn’t easy to come by.

American Assassin traces Rapp’s origins from heartbroken fiancé to cunning renegade to off-the charts CIA trainee to his first must-not-fail mission on the trail of 15 kilos of stolen plutonium. The film brings together rising star Dylan O’Brien – who creates the no-holds-barred Rapp for the first time on screen – with Oscar® nominee and Golden Globe® winner Michael Keaton as legendary CIA trainer Stan Hurley. Seeking to right his own devastating mistakes, Hurley prepares Rapp to join Orion, the most deeply concealed network within the CIA. But even as Hurley teaches Rapp that spy work can’t be personal, Rapp makes personal connections that help him penetrate a web of mercenaries, arms dealers, extremists and an angry ex-agent not unlike himself, all colluding to spark a new World War.

What Tom Clancy was to the 1980s espionage thriller – plying the raw material of the Cold War and the darkest recesses of American spy operations to craft fiercely entertaining stories – Vince Flynn became to a new millennia.

Film-American Assassin-Vince Flynn

As the world shifted into a dizzying, post-9/11 maze of menaces that were nearly impossible to see coming, Flynn shifted the spy novel with it. He steered away from an era of cool, East-West-divide techno-thrillers and into a brave new world of spontaneous, redhot threats that can come from anywhere. He saw early on that the global rise of terrorism against civilians meant the CIA would need a fresh kind of recruit. With terrorists emerging from diverse backgrounds and regions, intelligence agencies would put a new premium on spies capable of climbing inside the pitch-black minds of those motivated not so much by political aims as to light up the world with their fury.

That’s why he created the addictive Mitch Rapp series, focused on the unrelenting skills of one man – a man who uses his anger, idealism, pride and deeply personal venom to respond in kind to the vengeful, morally rootless threats that increasingly define these times.

71mc98K1FjLIn 1999, Flynn first introduced Rapp. He was already a veteran CIA asset reserved for the most precarious missions in Transfer of Power, in which a terrorist attack turns the entire White House into a hostage situation, with Rapp sent in as the last-ditch commando to save the very same U.S. government that rankles him. It was an instant hit, praised by Publisher’s Weekly as offering “endless intrigue.”

The book then set off a rapid-fire series encompassing 13 Mitch Rapp novels written by Flynn – as well as more subsequently written by Kyle Mills, chosen to keep the series going after Flynn’s untimely death.

Flynn quickly racked up endorsements from real-life intelligence community members stunned by the pinpoint accuracy of his novels. He wrote with an insider’s knowledge of how government agencies function, how covert operations go down, as well as how Washington’s political in-fighting and the machinations of global powers can generate a thick fog around the battle to keep Americans secure.

The Rapp series garnered fans of all stripes, from inside the beltway to foreign heads of state – from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to King Abdullah II of Jordan – and especially among American troops serving abroad, where barrack bunks are said to be littered with his paperbacks. Every single one of his books hit the New York Times bestseller list, with more than 12.5 million copies of the Rapp novels sold in the U.S., as well as traveling internationally to 20 different markets.

In 2010, Flynn responded to fans’ fervent calls to hit the rewind button – and at last he gave readers the story they wanted: Rapp’s origins, exploring how a lonely, emotionally-wounded kid fresh out of college became every terrorist’s worst nightmare.

This was American Assassin.

t would become one of his most critically praised and beloved books, as it laid out Rapp’s tormented past – the love he lost, the grief that spurred him and his recruitment into a top-secret program to train agents to work outside conventional rules.

This time Publisher’s Weekly said: “Flynn delivers his usual high-octane international thriller, but, in giving us Rapp’s back story, he’s infused it with more depth and heart.”

Bringing American Assassin To Movie Audiences

Tragically, in 2013, Vince Flynn passed away at the age of 46 of prostate cancer. But before his death, he made a deal with di Bonaventura and Wechsler to bring Rapp’s post-millennial brand of spycraft to today’s movie audiences.

Flynn continued writing throughout his fight against cancer, maintaining his dedication to Mitch Rapp’s millions of loyal fans. Likewise, after Flynn’s passing, di Bonaventura and Wechsler remained as committed as ever to getting Rapp’s story to the screen. It was clear that American Assassin had to be the first story out of the blocks.

“’American Assassin’ is the prequel to the entire series, so this was a great way for us to bring Mitch’s origin story to movie audiences, whether fans of the book or newcomers alike,” says di Bonaventura.

“By starting with Mitch as a young man in his 20s rather than with the savvy, war-torn veteran he becomes you get to see how his gravitas developed.”

Di Bonaventura continues: “This is at heart a story about how someone becomes a hero. That’s where Vince Flynn really shined. He wanted to take readers not only into the physical world of today’s intelligence agents, but also the emotional world of those men and women who are driven to protect the rest of us, to explore why some are so willing to go to any lengths of sacrifice even though no one may ever know what they’ve done to keep us safe. And that’s what ‘American Assassin’ does.”

The filmmakers brought aboard a crack team of writers led by Stephen Schiff, known for his work on television’s multi-layered Soviet spy drama “The Americans,” to translate the story to the screen – Michael Finch (The November Man), Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back)

Stephen SchiffStephen Schiff is a screenwriter, TV writer-producer, and journalist.  His film work includes Lolita, The Deep End of the Ocean, True Crime, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. In television, he has been, since 2013, a writer, consulting producer, co-executive producer, and (currently) executive producer of the acclaimed FX series The Americans. Before becoming a film and television writer, Schiff had an extensive career in journalism. A Pulitzer Prize finalist in Distinguished Criticism, Schiff was a staff writer at The New Yorker for nine years and was Vanity Fair’s Critic-at-Large for nine years before that. He has also been film critic of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, The Atlantic, Glamour, and The Boston Phoenix; a Correspondent on CBSTV’s newsmagazine West 57th; and a contributor to The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Conde Nast Traveler, and other publications.

13 August 2014 - Hollywood, California - Karl Gajdusek, Michael Finch. "The November Man" Los Angeles Premiere held at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Photo Credit: Byron Purvis/AdMedia (Newscom TagID: admphotostwo062173.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Michael Finch is an American screenwriter known for Predators, November Man, and Agent 47.  When not writing, Finch teaches screenwriting at the University of California at San Diego’s Masters of Fine Arts program.

 

 

 

 

ed-zwick-pawn-sacrifice-680x467Edward Zwick began his feature film career directing About Last Night. He went on to direct the Academy Award winning films Glory and  Legends on the Fall. Zwick also directed Courage Under Fire, The Siege, The Last Samurai , Blood Diamond, Defiance, Love & Other Drugs, Pawn Sacrifice and most recently Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Currently Marshall Herskovitz and Zwick are Executive Producers on the series Nashville.

 

marshall-herskovitzMarshall Herskovitz is a writer, producer, and director who has won numerous awards for his work in television and film. Born in Philadelphia, he attended Brandeis University then moved to Los Angeles in 1975, where he attended the American Film Institute and met his longtime creative partner Edward Zwick. In the years since, he has helped create such TV series as thirtysomething, My SoCalled Life, and Once and Again. He currently serves as the Showrunner for Nashville on CMT

 

 

 

The decision was made to move Rapp’s origins to the present-day to reflect Flynn’s love for of-the moment stories in a world that is changing second by second.

The emphasis also switched to the new character of Ghost as the story’s villain – a character who reflects just how blurry global terror can be now, coming from the least expected people and places, and who also serves as a kind of dark mirror for Rapp as he forges his persona. Other changes were made to maximize pace and visual excitement in a 2-hour span – but from day one the foundation was about staying true to the spirit of Flynn’s creation.

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Michael Keaton was drawn to a mix of elements that are very 2017 but with Flynn’s unique POV on modern espionage. “The script made real changes from the book – but I felt it kept the core of what Vince was trying to say while complicating things morally and globally in a very intriguing way,” he says.

For Nick Wechsler going fully contemporary was in sync with Flynn’s work. “What appealed to me most about the entire Mitch Rapp series is that it’s not about villains from the past. It’s about the villains and chaos that we see in the world right now,” he says. “I felt that could be very exciting on screen.”

Wechsler continues: “Part of what people love about Mitch is that he is never afraid of getting at the truth, and that is equally true whether he is confronting terrorists, politicians or those deemed to be his superiors. He’s just a no B.S. character. And because Mitch doesn’t suffer fools on any side, he will evolve into a kind of secret Sheriff of the entire Western world, keeping the worst evil at bay.”

Stephen Schiff sees “American Assassin” as a coming-of-age story of sorts: “At the beginning, Mitch is a boy really, not unlike people we all know – our friends, brothers, sons and daughters. He has unique skills and abilities but we don’t learn of those until later. When tragedy strikes, he begins his journey to become a man. All of the characters he comes to meet help form him into who he will become, but he has his own path to follow, his own pain and passion and drive. Only he can create the Mitch Rapp that will be – the American Assassin.”

To give the film that edgy, current immediacy and to line it wall-to-wall with pulse-pounding set pieces that hit the high bar of today’s action epics, di Bonaventura and Wechsler went in search of a director as adept at probing drama as taut suspense. That’s what led them to Michael Cuesta.

Cuesta

Cuesta , an Emmy Award-winning Director/Executive Producer who directed such thepilots as for Homeland and Dexter, creates the film as a rough but riveting transcontinental journey that careens from Washington D.C. to Istanbul to Rome to the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier…and right into the moral gray zones of our world in 2017.

Says Cuesta: “This is the origin story of Mitch Rapp – as he transforms from a man seeking personal vengeance to a professional who operates with a fierce sense of justice. I’m excited to have fans of the books and everyone else get to see Dylan O’Brien become Mitch. Dylan has a very contemporary appeal as an action star for this millennia, and I think audiences are going to love his interaction with Michael Keaton who nails Hurley’s tough-guy persona like a 21st Century John Wayne.”

Cuesta was attracted to a story that is both global in nature and bucks the stereotypes to explore the drives and consequences of terror on a more personal level. He was also drawn to the story’s mounting momentum and wanted that acceleration to be real and visceral for the audience without every becoming comic book or fantastical.

“I love that there’s a real sense of geopolitical movement as well as psychological movement in this story. My approach was to never overtly stylize the story – but rather to ground things in reality, as Flynn did in his books, even in the most intense action,” the director elaborates.

For all of the quite literally high-explosive sequences, Cuesta wanted to indeed make things personal for the audience. “I love edge-of-your-seat thrillers but I believe action has to be earned,” he explains.

“An irony is that even the most extreme, cutting-edge action can feel boring if you don’t care about the characters caught up in it. So that’s why from the start we felt this film had to center on Mitch’s appeal as a person. He’s a guy you’d follow anywhere, into the most hazardous situations.”

The production’s commitment to Vince Flynn’s perspective made a big impression on Flynn’s widow, Lysa Flynn, who became an early supporter of the film. She believes Vince would have gotten a huge kick out of seeing Rapp – a character who hit home so hard that some fans even believed Vince himself was Mitch in disguise – become flesh-and-blood from the page.

“I truly wish Vince could have been here to see this happen,” says Lysa Flynn. “If he were here, I know he would have been on set talking to everyone behind the camera as much as in front of it. He really appreciated a strong work ethic, and I saw people at every level working so hard to make this movie. It’s been awesome to see.”

When she visited the set, Lysa was moved not only by the work ethic but also by the insight she could feel the actors bringing to her husband’s characters. “It was really important to me that the characters stay true to what mattered to Vince. My feeling was that it was OK to change the story in all kinds of ways, but doing justice to his characters is what I cared about most. And I really felt that was there. When I met the actors playing the characters, I was even more convinced,” she says.

She notes that the production’s emphasis on keeping the story contemporary to 2017 fits with Flynn’s penchan for always staying one step ahead of the game. “Vince always did lots of research and that was one of his favorite parts of writing. He loved learning,” she explains. “I think Vince had sort of a 6th sense when it came to looking into the future, and that’s part of what makes his books so relevant.”

There is no escaping your greatest fear in the horror thriller IT.

“Fear is universal; it’s something we can all relate to.  And what could be more terrifying than something that doesn’t just attack you, but attacks you with what frightens you most?” says acclaimed director Andy Muschietti, who made his feature debut with the horror hit Mama, based on his own short film of the same name, and now brings Stephen King’s seminal bestseller IT to the big screen for the first time.

IT 2

The enigmatically short title refers to the story’s central villain, an ancient shapeshifter that takes the form of its victims’ deepest fears and comes out of hibernation every 27 years to feed on the most vulnerable residents of Derry, Maine: the children.

For as long as their town has existed, Derry has been the entity’s hunting ground, emerging from the sewers every 27 years to feed on the terrors of its chosen prey: Derry’s children.  Banding together over one horrifying and exhilarating summer, the Losers form a close bond to help them overcome their own fears and stop a new killing cycle that began on a rainy day, with a small boy chasing a paper boat as it swept down a storm drain…and into the hands of Pennywise the Clown.

The terror of “IT” is embodied in the malevolent clown, Pennywise—devourer of children, connoisseur of fear.

Bill Skarsgård, who took on the villainous role, says, “I was very familiar with IT and the character of Pennywise growing up.  The way I look at it, he needs children to believe in what they’re seeing and to be afraid in order to consume them because fear seasons the flesh.  To me, as a kid and even now, that is the most frightening concept ever.”

The filmmakers knew the actor cast as Pennywise would have a significant impact on virtually every aspect of the film.  After an extensive process, Bill Skarsgård landed the coveted role.  “What we found with Bill,” Barbara Muschietti says, “was that his instincts were totally aligned with how Andy saw Pennywise.”

When Skarsgård’s incarnation of the mythic character was complete, the filmmakers were intent on sequestering their Pennywise away from the seven actors forming the Losers’ Club, at least initially, not wanting to diminish their first reactions.

Katzenberg attests, “We kept the kids from seeing Pennywise until they were actually in a scene with him.  I think it just added another layer to their process in terms of learning who Pennywise is and being really scared.”

Muschietti gave a great deal of thought to how he was going to reveal Pennywise onscreen.  “It’s an iconic moment in the book that many people will be waiting to see,” the director acknowledges.  “The scene is mesmerizing; the first appearance of Pennywise is intriguing and charismatic, but at the same time, you know there’s something wrong about him.  But he’s also shrouded in a kind of magic that is quite unsettling.”

That unsettling feeling is something to which Barbara Muschietti could relate.  “Clearly, the first time we see Pennywise is an incredibly important scene and, speaking for myself, it’s something that stays with you.  From the first time I read the book, it was very difficult for me to look at a storm drain and not think of Pennywise lurking,” she smiles.  “We wanted to create an image you will never forget.”

IT3

In the film,  seven young outcasts, who dub themselves “the Losers’ Club,” band together to do battle with the mysterious being they call by the all-encompassing pronoun: It.  But It goes by another name…a name that has become iconic in the annals of horror: Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

The septet of middle schoolers who call themselves the Losers’ Club are the heart and soul of “IT.”  Individually, these adolescents are ill-equipped to handle school bullies, much less a powerful, shapeshifting entity.  But together they possess a special courage that is forged by their friendship and determination to save one another, and their town, by standing up to a horrific threat that has gone unchallenged for centuries.

The director affirms, “The Losers find strength in being together, and it’s interesting to watch how the dynamic of the group changes throughout the film—alternating leadership roles and positions of strength.  They all have their moment.  It’s a beautiful story, and especially in times of adversity, you see humanity, trust and love rise to the surface.”

An Instant Classic

First published in 1986, IT became an instant classic and the top-selling book of that year.  Captivating readers for more than three decades, the perennial bestseller continues to be counted among the best and most influential works of the undisputed master of literary horror, inspiring numerous film and television projects in the years that have followed.

andy-muschietti

Andy Muschietti

“I am a big fan of Stephen King, who was my favorite author growing up, so ‘IT’ was a dream project for me,” states Muschietti,  who studied at the prestigious FUC in Buenos Aires and worked in Argentina as a story-boarder, a task he combined with script writing, before he began his career as a commercial director in Buenos Aires with the iconic production company Cuatro Cabezas.

“As someone who loves making scary movies, I have always been fascinated by fear, and probably the time when you’re the most terrified is when you’re a child watching your first horror movie.  It’s a feeling you won’t have again for the rest of your life, so it’s become a bit of a chimeric quest for me to bring that sensation back.  That helps me create because I believe you can only scare other people with what scares you, too.”

There is another layer to the story that is trademark Stephen King.  There is arguably no writer who is better at juxtaposing unmitigated horror with the experience of growing up—and perhaps never more perfectly than in the tender coming-of-age tale at the heart of “IT.”

“We knew from the very beginning of this process that ‘IT’ was more than just a horror story and the movie had to reflect the different tones of the novel.  It’s set at a certain time in these young characters’ lives when they are truly coming of age, so we wanted the film to capture the charm of those character-driven moments, but in turn be utterly petrifying,” says producer Seth Grahame-Smith emphasizes, a New York Times best-selling author, screenwriter, and producer of film and television, whose novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies debuted at #3 on The New York Times bestseller list, and led to him being credited as the master of the mash-up literary genre.

Producer David Katzenberg agrees.  “Over the course of the film, there are times when each of those elements comes to the fore, so it’s an interesting balance between emotion and fear.  It was important for the pacing of the film and the storytelling to get both aspects right.”

Andy Muschietti’s sister and creative partner, producer Barbara Muschietti, who produced the smash hit “Mama,” and co-wrote the feature along with director Andy Muschietti and Neil Gross, credits the screenwriters of IT with finding that balance.

“Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman were able to capture the touching facets of friendship between the Losers’ Club and even a brush with the first love of adolescence.  But make no mistake: you are going to be scared,” she smiles.

Chase-Palmer3Chase Palmer is a Brooklyn-based writer/director.  His current projects include writing/directing the psychological horror film Black Lung; adapting the New York Times series The Outlaw Ocean for Netflix and Appian Way; the Gotham Group-produced bio-hacker drama series “Biopunk, which he created; and the Hitchcockian fantasia Number Thirteen, about young Alfred Hitchcock’s lost first film.

 

Cary FukunagaCary Fukunaga’s work as a writer, director, and cinematographer has taken him from the Arctic Circle to Haiti and East Africa. His television work includes directing and executive producing the first season of HBO’s acclaimed mystery drama True Detective, for which he won an Emmy for outstanding directing. Fukunaga made his feature film writing and directing debut with the critically acclaimed Sin Nombre, followed by the film adaptation of Jane Eyre.  His third film, Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation, was an official selection at the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto film festivals. Fukunaga is currently in production on Maniac, set to premiere in late 2018.

Gary DaubermanGary Dauberman wrote the screenplay for Annabelle and the sequel Annabelle: Creation, based on the terrifyingly creepy doll that first appeared in James Wan’s hugely successful horror thriller The Conjuring. Staying in The Conjuring universe, Dauberman wrote the screenplay for the upcoming horror thriller The Nun, from a story he wrote with Wan.  He also serves as an executive producer on the film, which is slated for release on July 13, 2018. For television, Dauberman is currently adapting the Valiant graphic novel Dr. Mirage into a one-hour series for the CW

 

 

 

Developing IT

In developing the project, the filmmaking team—which also included producers Roy Lee and Dan Lin—knew that bringing such a richly told, thousand-plus-page book to the screen would be an enormous challenge, so the decision was made to focus on the first half, when the Losers’ Club are all still children…and Pennywise’s prime prey.  Nevertheless, Dauberman remarks,

“The biggest challenge of adapting even half of a novel as beloved as IT comes from trying to pick from among the many indelible passages that have stayed with us since we first read the book.”

Grahame-Smith says, “We all felt a great responsibility to be true to the spirit of the novel because it’s a book that has been very important to Stephen King fans—and that includes everyone who worked so hard to finally bring it to the big screen.”

“It was a truly collaborative process,” Dauberman recalls, “and Andy was very forthcoming with ideas.  One of the things we discussed most was how the individual scares the Losers face define who they are.  He thought a lot about how that informed their actions, extrapolating everything, of course, from seeds he found in the novel.”

“Andy had a clear vision for the film,” Katzenberg attests.  “He obviously knows horror,” the producer continues, referencing Muschietti’s work on the hit film ‘Mama,’ “but he also nailed the contrasting tones and how to bring them together in a cohesive way.  He was a fantastic choice to direct this project.”

There was one more important change the filmmakers agreed upon in adapting the screenplay.  Though King had set the first part of his novel in the 1950s, the decision was made to move the timeframe of the story to the 1980s.

Barbara Muschietti explains, “The `50s is when Stephen King grew up, so that was his generation and the book reflects the fears of his formative years.  Stephen always says, ‘Write what you know.’  So we wanted to make the film about what we know—growing up in the 80s—and to evoke the kind of things we were afraid of then.”

Andy Muschietti offers, “In the `50s, kids were frightened of very different things, like the classic monsters they saw in the movies of that time, and those are some of the forms Pennywise takes in the original story.  The reimagining of fears in this movie is very layered and deep and even fans of the book might be surprised where we go in the film.”

King reveals he had a very specific reason for introducing the heroes in his novel as children.

stephenking“There is a borderline, a zone, between kids who are too old to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but they are still afraid there could be something under the bed when the lights are out.  I wanted to take these kids and put them in this situation where they are the only ones who have the capacity to see and actually battle this creature because they still believe in monsters.  And yet, at the same time, they are older than little kids who are totally powerless, so they are able to take some action.”

Author Stephen King notes, “The filmmakers went in a direction that’s a little different from the novel, but the important thing is they kept the core idea that Pennywise gets to these kids by finding out what they’re most afraid of and being that thing.  Andy understood that; he understood that completely, and I think he did us proud.”

Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is the epitome of what he envisioned as the new model of digitally empowered indie filmmaking.

After directing nearly three decades of era-defining films, Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh surprised Hollywood four years ago when he announced his retirement from moviemaking. Switching gears, Soderbergh shifted his focus to television and earned two Emmy wins for HBO’s Behind the Candelabra and two Emmy nominations for directing the acclaimed series The Knick.   The turbocharged heist comedy Logan Lucky by first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt marks the filmmaker’s return to the big screen, a decision he ascribes to “a convergence of a couple of things, one technological, and one creative.”

Steven Soderbergh is a writer, director, producer, cinematographer, and editor. He earned the Academy Award in 2000 for directing Traffic, the same year he was nominated for Erin Brockovich. Soderbergh earlier gained an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for sex, lies, and videotape, his feature film directorial debut. The film also won the Palme d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. Among his other credits are the films Side Effects, Magic Mike, Haywire, Contagion, And Everything is Going Fine, The Girlfriend Experience, The Informant!, Che, the Ocean’s trilogy, The Good German, Bubble, Equilibrium, Solaris, Full Frontal, The Limey, Out of Sight, Gray’s Anatomy, Schizopolis, The Underneath, King of the Hill and Kafka.

 

“On the technological front,” he says, “we’re reaching a point in the digital landscape where a small company can put a movie into wide release without involvement from major studios. I was having conversations about the future of feature film distribution when this script came over the transom.”

The screenplay, given to him by his wife, Jules Asner, was written by their friend Rebecca Blunt. “I was initially asked to help find a director for the script but I was very excited by what I read,” says Soderbergh.

“After a couple of weeks, I admitted that I really didn’t want anybody else to direct Logan Lucky because I saw the movie very clearly from what was on the page. It’s kind of a cousin to an Ocean’s film, but it’s also an inversion of those movies because these characters have no money and no technology. They live in very pressured economic circumstances, so a couple of garbage bags full of cash can turn their lives around.”

“I also like the fact that when the movie starts out, these characters are not criminals,” he adds. “Unlike the Ocean’s crew, Jimmy Logan and his team have to learn on the job, so I also liked that aspect of the script. The story felt close enough to the kind of film that makes me comfortable but different enough to make me excited.”

Financed completely independently of the major studios, and distributed in the United States by Soderbergh’s new company Fingerprint Releasing, in association with Bleecker Street (Captain Fantastic, Trumbo), Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is the epitome of what he envisioned as the new model of digitally empowered indie filmmaking. “It’s a bit of an experiment,” he says.

“To test this distribution theory I needed a commercial movie with movie stars to justify a wide release in a situation that allows me absolute creative control over everything.”

In this turbocharged heist comedy from Academy Award®-winning director Steven Soderbergh, West Virginia family man Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) leads his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) in an elaborate scheme to rob North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway.

To help them break into the track’s underground cash-handling system, Jimmy recruits volatile demolition expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Further complicating the already risky plan, a scheduling mix-up forces the thieves to execute the job during the Coca-Cola 600, the track’s most popular NASCAR event of the year.

As they attempt to pull off the ambitious robbery, the down-on-their-luck Logans face a final hurdle when a relentless FBI agent (Hilary Swank) begins investigating the case.

An Auspicious Screenwriting Debut

The Logan Lucky script represents a remarkable effort by first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt. Like the characters in her script, Blunt grew up in West Virginia. She briefly attended UCLA before moving to New York to hone her writing skills.

Blunt says Logan Lucky’s working-class anti-hero was inspired by the remarkable background of her friend Channing Tatum.

“I wrote Jimmy Logan with Channing in mind because I see Jimmy as an alternative version of Chan’s own story,” she says. “Chan’s from a small southern town, I believe he won a football scholarship to play in Florida but ended up blowing out his knee before the season started, so he became a stripper. I thought of Logan Lucky as, ‘What if Chan hadn’t become a male stripper and had gone back home?’ I ran into Chan and his partner Reid at a bowling alley and mentioned the the idea to them — at the time I called it Hillbilly Heist — and Chan said, ‘That sounds great!’ I don’t know if he even remembers saying that and I never imagined all of this would really happen.”

Blunt fleshed out the film’s central plot based on a combination of news reports and her own imagination. “I heard about sinkholes at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is built on landfill. They brought in out-of-work coal miners to make repairs. With my West Virginia roots, I have a lot of sympathy for coal miners. I also had a fascination with pneumatic tubes from when I was a little kid and my mom would go to the drive-thru at the bank. She’d always let me put the money in the tube and it would magically take the money away to the teller.” Blunt gave the finished script to Soderbergh, “I wanted to see if Steven had any suggestions about directors I should go to with the script, since he’s made so many great heist movies,” Blunt says. “I was thinking he’d sworn off feature films so I was very surprised when he came back and said he wanted to direct it himself.”

A Heist Movie with Heart

A different kind of heist film featuring the kind of blue-collar workers not often seen on the big screen, Logan Lucky succeeds as a wry, witty popcorn action comedy burnished by Soderbergh’s uniquely skewed directorial flourishes.

“I’m hoping audiences enjoy Logan Lucky as something that’s pure entertainment and fun, but at the same time is not disposable,” Soderbergh says.

“I think there’s enough percolating under the surface of this film to have it resonate beyond the two hours you spend watching it. A lot of times, you’ll see a Hollywood picture that’s like sheer gossamer; it disappears from your brain as soon as it’s over. I feel like Logan Lucky is rooted enough in the real world that it won’t just disappear.”

Soderbergh says he also looks forward to test-driving a wide-release business model uncompromised by interference from the major studios. “With Logan Lucky,” he says, “I feel like the planets have kind of lined up for me to put out a movie in the way I’ve always fantasized I could.”

Meet the Logans

Soderbergh, who had worked with Channing Tatum on Magic Mike and its sequel, saw the actor as a natural for the role. “Chan’s got this everyman quality that’s very genuine,” he says. “He seems like a guy who not only would be fun to hang out with but who would totally have your back if something went sideways.”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage Mandatory Credit: Photo by C Barius/Trans Radial/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (8982455a) Channing Tatum "Logan Lucky" Film - 2017

Tatum says he jumped at the chance to reunite with the man who directed him in his breakthrough 2012 hit the minute he heard Soderbergh’s pitch. “We were doing Magic Mike XXL with Gregory Jacobs directing when Soderbergh told me he had a script about hillbillies 6 robbing NASCAR,” Tatum recalls. “I laughed because the idea of non-professional thieves robbing anything, much less a giant organization like NASCAR, sounded like fun. I love an underdog story. And this band of characters is amazing. They’re just enough outside of reality to make it fun.”

Beyond being intrigued by the storyline, Tatum says he simply wanted to collaborate with Soderbergh again. “I love the guy,” he says. “That’s the bottom line. But it’s a huge plus that he’s also a master filmmaker. His films are always so different from everything else out there.”

At screenwriter Blunt’s recommendation, Tatum prepared for the role by immersing himself in Appalachian subculture, including watching the jaw-dropping 2009 documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. “I also drank a lot of beers and ate a lot of pizza, just because I could,” jokes Tatum, who bulked up considerably for the part. “It’s a ‘character choice.’”

With Tatum on board, Soderbergh turned his attention to the role of Jimmy Logan’s younger brother Clyde. Numerous A-list actors expressed interest in the role but Soderbergh says he always pictured Adam Driver as the lugubrious West Virginia bartender with a prosthetic limb. “Like most people, I first saw Adam on ‘Girls,’” Soderbergh says. “I immediately watched everything else he did and realized, ‘This kid’s really good.’”

Driver describes Clyde as “the thinker in the family. He’s slow to act until he’s analyzed all the angles. He’s always idolized his brother Jimmy, but I think he sees himself as the caretaker of the family.”

Daniel Craig, Adam Driver and Channing Tatum

When the director sat down with Driver to discuss the part, he recalls the actor was particularly focused on perfecting Clyde’s speaking style. “We didn’t really talk about the role other than that he wanted to dive in and chase that West Virginia accent,” Soderbergh says.

Driver says he kept two people in mind as he developed his portrayal. “Clyde was a cross between [the actor] Sam Elliott and my Uncle Kenny. Mostly my Uncle Kenny. But if he had a kid with Sam Elliott, it’d be Clyde.”

After working with dialect coach Diego Daniel Pardo, the three-time Emmy nominee showed up on set and performed his first scene in character. “We had people in the crew who grew up in West Virginia and when they heard Adam talk they were stunned,” Soderbergh recalls. Even screenwriter Blunt was taken aback by Driver’s mastery of the regional accent. “Adam sounded exactly like my grandfather,” she says.

In addition to nailing his character’s patois, Driver had to acquire another impressive skill for his first major scene in the film. “I learned how to make a martini with one arm,” he says.

Jimmy and Clyde’s sister Mellie is played with steely charisma by Riley Keough. She wowed Soderbergh when they worked together on the 2016 Starz cable series “The Girlfriend Experience,” which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. “Mellie’s a very striking looking young lady with a beauty salon who’s also a gearhead,” Soderbergh explains. “She doesn’t have a lot of friends and keeps her own counsel, so the actress who played her needed to have a lot going on behind the eyes. That’s something Riley’s really good at. Riley as Mellie was the perfect accelerant to add into this mix of boys.”

Keough responded to the gritty characters and unique setting described in the Logan Lucky script. “I like the idea of regular people winning in life,” she says. “And being Southern myself, I thought doing a heist movie in the South was pretty cool. Plus, its got everything: it’s comedy, and it’s action, and it’s about family. Of course, Steven’s amazing so I wanted to work with him again.”

To get into character as a back roads speed demon, Keough took lessons from stunt coordinator Steve Kelso to master a new skill set: driving a car with manual transmission. “I didn’t know how to drive stick so he taught me,” she says. “We drove around in California first and then when I got to Atlanta we drove around in the Mustang you see in the movie. I don’t really drive that often, so it was really fun to go racing around in this sports car shifting gears.”

logan-lucky-uk-trailer

Gals with Gumption

In a story filled with unexpected twists, one of the most surprising revelations occurs in the third act, when two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank shows up as FBI Agent Sarah Grayson. Soderbergh, who produced the 2002 Christopher Nolan movie Insomnia, in which Swank stars as a young detective, enlisted the actress to deliver a jolt of eccentricity once the guys pull off their caper. “Hilary’s obviously great and I needed the movie to get a new weird energy at that point in the story,” Soderbergh says. “The FBI Agent needed to be as off-center as everybody else in the film, so I just told Hilary, ‘She needs to be odd.’”

Swank developed her own take on the dogged federal agent. “She’s no-nonsense, gets to the point and will not give up until she’s figured out the case — and will be happy to kick your ass along the way,” she says. “I like that Grayson thinks she’s smarter than everyone else. She basically thinks everyone else is an idiot.”

The needs of Jimmy Logan’s fractured nuclear family are what prompt him to embark on the ingenious scheme in the first place. Soderbergh cast Katie Holmes to play Jimmy Logan’s embittered ex-wife Bobbie Jo. “Katie embraced the idea that she couldn’t soften the character, because if she backs off from putting pressure on Jimmy then it dilutes the film,” Soderbergh explains. “When we met about the role, I told Katie, ‘You don’t get that mad at somebody who you are over. That’s all I’m going to say.’ And she said, ‘I know what you mean.’”

Holmes understood the dramatic underpinnings of her role. “I was excited to take on Bobbie Jo because I felt like she’s a survivor,” Holmes says. “There’s still love between her and Jimmy, but she also experienced a lot of disappointment and heartbreak. I just went for it.”

 

 

In a career spanning 50 years and over 80 books, King has amassed a towering reputation as one of our greatest storytellers.

40 years ago the journey of the eight-novel epic The Dark Tower began when Stephen King wrote the words: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,” sparking an entire universe that makes its long-awaited screen debut, telling of an eternal battle between good and evil, with the fate of multiple worlds at stake.

Stephen King

King is the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the 2014 National Medal of Arts.

KING 20“I started The Dark Tower when I was 22 years old, when I had just graduated from college, so it’s spanned my entire career,” says King.  Over time, he says, as the books and stories piled up, “I started to realize that I had all these characters that were referring back to this other world, Mid-World, the world of The Dark Tower.  It had become the centerpiece of my fictional universe –characters who showed up in other books would show up in The Dark Tower and vice versa.”  Even King himself would become a character in later novels.  The Dark Tower series of books would become the nexus for most of the King universe and crosses over into many of King’s other books.

There are other worlds than these. In Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, the ambitious and expansive story from one of the world’s most celebrated authors, the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

Dark Tower

In a career spanning 50 years and over 80 books, King has amassed a towering reputation as one of our greatest storytellers.  The author of innumerable bestsellers, he has been honored by the President of the United States with the National Medal for the Arts, by the National Book Foundation with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and countless awards and prizes.  His name is recognized everywhere as a master of blending our everyday world with the supernatural.

And there is one work that is at the center of his entire canon: The Dark Tower, the eight-novel epic telling of an eternal battle between good and evil, with the fate of multiple worlds at stake.  “I started The Dark Tower when I was 22 years old, when I had just graduated from college, so it’s spanned my entire career,” says King.  Over time, he says, as the books and stories piled up, “I started to realize that I had all these characters that were referring back to this other world, Mid-World, the world of The Dark Tower.  It had become the centerpiece of my fictional universe –characters who showed up in other books would show up in The Dark Tower and vice versa.”  Even King himself would become a character in later novels.  The Dark Tower series of books would become the nexus for most of the King universe and crosses over into many of King’s other books.

King was influenced to create his magnum opus by blending together several unlikely sources.

“I was very much under the influence of Lord of the Rings – even though I’m not crazy about elves and orcs and walking trees, I loved what Tolkien did.  And around that same time, I saw the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name was also an influence.  And there’s a poem by Robert Browning called ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,’ and I used that to start an epic fantasy.  I wrote the line ‘The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,’ and I didn’t know anything about where he lived, what Mid-World was or how it connected to our world or anything else.”

Idris Elba (L) discusses a shot with Director, Nikolaj Arcel (R)on the set of Columbia Pictures' THE DARK TOWER

Idris Elba (L) discusses a shot with Director, Nikolaj Arcel (R)on the set of Columbia Pictures’ THE DARK TOWER

Danish director Nikolaj Arcel was determined to be the one to bring The Dark Tower to the screen.

It’s an epic that has inspired millions of readers – not least of which was a young boy in Denmark whose imagination was sparked by the events in Mid-World. Now grown, director Nikolaj Arcel was determined to be the one to bring The Dark Tower to the screen.

Growing up with the Dark Tower books, Arcel became so immersed in the stories that the Danish native taught himself English. He recounts, “When I was about 13, there were almost no Stephen King stories translated into Danish. I became infatuated with the few books that I’d read in Danish, even at that age. And so I had to start picking up his English-version novels and I had to teach myself to read adult novel-style English at a very early age.  Stephen King taught me English.”

Arcel recalls that when he read The Gunslinger at 17, he was so into the novel that he creating a song, “The Gunslinger,” with his band. (And he still has it on cassette tape.)

For Arcel, the way King weaves together the personal and the larger-than-life elements of the story is why it’s connected to so many readers. “It’s as small as a 14 year-old boy, who has visions, who thinks he’s crazy, and it’s as big as a hero fighting a great villain and trying to save the entire universe.  It expands from the very intimate to the very epic.”

And at the center of the story is the Dark Tower.  “The Tower is a thing of beauty, it’s a thing of awe, with a powerful presence – it holds the whole world together.  I think it’s beyond our comprehension,” says Arcel, “I think every single fan of the books will have their own idea of what the Dark Tower is.”

So who better to ask what it is than the man who created it? “You have to imagine an axle or a spindle, with all of these worlds connected to it,” says King.  “You know what happens to a car if you cut the axle – it doesn’t run anymore.  The Tower is the stabilizing force, and the Gunslingers are this ancient group of knights dedicated to the idea of protecting the Tower.  But they have been wiped out – there’s only one left, Roland.  And standing opposite him is an agent of chaos who wants to bring the Tower down.”

“The Tower is a magnetic vortex holding the universes together, and if that Tower falls, the universe goes into anarchic chaos, blackness and demons come out and they take it all over,” says McConaughey.  “If that Tower maintains itself, it’s still holding a semblance of balance in the universe. So, what Walter’s going to do is bring down that Tower.”

Because this particular series of novels helped to shape Arcel’s entire artistic sensibilities, he became a perfect choice to direct. “I love films that take us to new worlds, have new ideas and mythologies, and world building,” he says. “Getting this chance to direct a movie of stories that I had dreamt about was incredible – especially coming directly off the boat from Denmark!”

Producer Erica Huggins recalls, “Nikolaj just wanted this project, he knew it well, and the moment we met him we knew he was the right guy.  He brought innocence to the project, and he also found his own way into how he would tell the story.”

That way in – Arcel’s vision – was to try to stay true to King’s “mix of modern day and the fantastic. This is what Stephen King does best.”

In The Dark Tower, the fantastical elements would take care of themselves; to make those feel like a Stephen King story, Arcel sought to keep it grounded.

“We had to keep it real; this world is so immense and so complex, and in the novels, at times, even abstract. I really wanted Mid-World, the characters and everything to feel as real as every day. I didn’t want to have some kind of lofty genre and have everyone speaking in odd ways. I wanted it to feel like anybody could take this journey to Mid-World, and understand it, and be there, and feel that these are real people.”

Arcel also wanted the emotional quality of King’s story to permeate the film. “It didn’t feel cynical, or cold; it felt like it was very much about family, friendship, and heart, and the bond of people coming together to fight for the greater good.”

The Screenplay Adaptation

When it came to the screenplay adaptation, because King’s approach is, in his words, so “instinctive” (“I’m not somebody who plans things out in advance,” he says), the filmmakers faced an unusual challenge in bringing The Dark Tower to the screen.

With so much material, where to begin? 

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Raised in Brooklyn Heights, New York, Akiva Goldsman (Screenplay / Producer) received his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and attended the graduate fiction-writing program at New York University. His feature writing credits include The Client, Batman Forever, A Time to Kill, Practical Magic, I,Robot, Cinderella Man, I Am Legend, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and A Beautiful Mind, for which he won an Academy Award®, Golden Globe, and Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award.

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Anders Thomas Jensen (Screenplay) is a Danish writer and director who writes both in Danish and English language. He has scripted 49 films (many for Susanne Bier, Nik Arcel and Lars von Trier),

“How do you present this to the moviegoing audience so they’ll understand it and feel like they’re immediately in the story, whether or not they’ve read the books?” King asks.

The answer for the screenwriters came in looking at The Dark Tower as a whole, drawing elements from several of the books in the series.  “It’s a classical thing – they call it in medias res, which means ‘begin in the middle of the story.’

You begin in the middle and then fill everybody in, and it just moves ahead like a freight train from that point,” King continues.

 

Jeff Pinkner

Jeff Pinkner (Screenplay / Executive Producer) is well known for his work as a writer-showrunner on “Alias” and “Fringe.” In features, Pinkner has recently written Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Venom for Sony Pictures

Not only did King himself bless the screenplay adaptation, which is by Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel; the author was intimately involved in every step of the creative process of the film and an invaluable creative partner throughout the entire process.

Casting of King’s iconic characters: Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger, and Walter, the man in black, the personification of an evil force.

Key to the film, obviously, would be in the casting of King’s iconic characters: Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger, and Walter, the man in black, the personification of an evil force.

Roland Deschain, AKA the Gunslinger, is the last of the long Line of Eld – a legacy of Gunslingers who are peacekeepers and protectors of the Tower, which protects the universe.  After the slaughter of the rest of the gunslingers, Roland is now on a quest to save what is left of his world by reaching the mysterious Tower.

“As the last in the line of protectors, Roland is very respected, but by the time we meet him his heart has been broken and blackened,” says Elba. “He’s basically a ghost looking for something he can’t find: The Man in Black, who has goaded and taunted him for years, and who destroyed Roland’s world and in it everyone he loved. On this journey, Roland is propelled by fury to take revenge against his old nemesis.”

Elba says he was excited to take on the role of the Gunslinger as he knew Stephen King to be a creator of deep, complex, and big-universe characters. “He is a very clever, master character builder,” says Elba. “Roland has had a massive journey throughout the books.”

Walter is Roland’s mystical foe and a modern day psychotic who destroyed the Mid-World. He is now on a mission to bring all worlds into chaos, which bringing down the Tower will do.

“The essence of the character is a casual and playful but ruthless and terrifying villain, all while seemingly in total control,” Howard continues. “Matthew McConaughey is the perfect embodiment for the role of the Man in Black – he’s incredibly charming, laid back, and mischievous with deep intensity.”

“Walter has traveled many worlds, throughout many ages – he knows contemporary New York and where he can buy a burger, and at the same time, with his sphere of magic, he can also go to the court of some king,” says Arcel.  “His plan for the universe is to bring about the age of the Crimson King – the devil.”

“Walter’s not just a guy with one dimensional evil; he has an interesting way of seeing the world, with a certain delight – even if on the wrong side of the light and dark spectrum,” Arcel continues. “We had a lot of fun with the character and Matthew and I added a lot of layers that were very true to the book – how Walter speaks and moves.”

Walter (Matthew McConaughey) and Roland (Idris Elba) in Columbia Pictures THE DARK TOWER.

Walter (Matthew McConaughey) and Roland (Idris Elba) in Columbia Pictures THE DARK TOWER.

McConaughey was excited by the opportunity to bring such a dynamic character to life.  “It’s an original – it was great that I could come in at the ground level and create a character, and hopefully be part of an original story where I am the author of the Man in Black.”

At the heart of the interplay between Walter and Roland is a dynamic that is both simple and complex.  Ultimately, McConaughey says, “Walter is the quintessential bad guy in the mythic battle of good versus evil.  If the Tower comes down, Walter takes the seat next to the Crimson King.”

But King has created a multilayered villain in Walter.  “Walter walks a fine line with Roland; it’s an interesting little affection that Walter has for Roland,” says McConaughey.  “He certainly doesn’t fully believe in Roland’s code of honor and valor and values.  But Walter enjoys the game, and he doesn’t want it to end too soon, even if he wins.  Roland is the most talented one out there, and when he’s down and losing it, through paranoia or pain, Walter resurrects him, lifts him up, so he stays in the game.”

Still, though Roland and Walter have been locked in this battle for an eternity, from McConaughey’s point of view, it’s been a one-sided battle.  “Walter can’t be touched,” he says.  “If someone comes at him, he may be a mirage – he might not even be what you think. He doesn’t even break a sweat.”

Between these battling forces comes a young boy from our world who could tip the balance either way.  14-year-old JAKE  (Tom Taylor)  lives an ordinary life in New York City with his mother Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) and stepfather Lon (Nicholas Pauling). Plagued by outlandish dreams that he doesn’t understand, he draws detailed sketches of otherworldly images which he sees: the Gunslinger, the Man in Black, and the unearthly world in which they live – Mid-World, in which he gets sight of the Tower.

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“In many ways, the story is seen through Jake’s eyes, and we’re seeing it in a compelling way because we believe, as he believes, that he might be crazy,” says Huggins. “It’s a terrifying journey that we take with him in the first part of the movie until he realizes that he’s not crazy, he really is seeing this other world, and he’s part of something bigger than himself.

For The Fans

Over the years, Stephen King has established an astounding fan base of die-hard disciples, and the writer has millions of followers on social media.  Because the Dark Tower series is the nexus for most of the King universe and crosses over into so many of King’s other books, it was important to the filmmakers to make a few sly nods to King’s other written works which the fans may recognize.

“We had a lot of fun planting hidden Stephen King references in the film,” says Arcel.  “I wanted fans to sitting in the audience, thinking, ‘Oh is that from another Stephen King story?’”

A gripping and passionate drama.

The Exception is a spy thriller and love story that mines a forgotten pocket of 20th century history to create a gripping and passionate drama,  based on the compelling novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss” by Alan Judd.

It marks British theatre director David Leveaux’s remarkable directorial debut, from a crackling screenplay adaptation by Simon Burke (Persuasion), transporting us to the relative peace of the exiled German Kaiser Wilhelm II’s post-Imperial court in Holland in 1940 as the Nazis invade Belgium and the Netherlands. The house and grounds at “Doorn” provide the backdrop as both Hitler and Churchill send envoys to the estate – a British spy and a Wehrmacht officer.

Events and fate conspire to bring the two envoys closer together than either had intended. And leave them facing choices between duty and desire.

”It was passionately important to me … to be able to show what happens when a person harbors any form of uninterrogated racism or bigotry … encounters a person who is willing to take that reflex prejudice and bigotry to the next level,” says Leveaux.

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Jai Courtney and Lily James in The Exception

A German officer (Jai Courtney) is sent to Holland to determine if the British Secret Service has infiltrated the home of Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) during the onset of World War II, but starts a lethally dangerous affair with a young Jewish Dutch woman (Lily James) with consequences neither they nor the Kaiser could have foreseen.

A Note From Director David Leveaux

DAVID LEVEAUXRecent theatre productions that Leveaux directed include: Closer (London) Romeo & Juliet with Orlando Bloom (Broadway), Rudolph(Tokyo Japan), CQ/CX (Atlantic Theatre Co. NY), The Late Middle Classes (Donmar), Passion Play (West End) Tales Of Ballycumber (Abbey Theatre, Dublin), Arcadia (West End & Broadway), A Doll’s House (Tokyo Japan), Three Sisters  (Abbey Theatre, Dublin).

Previous Broadway productions include: Cyrano with Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner, The Glass Menagerie with Jessica Lange and Fiddler On The Roof. Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers(Tony Award nom. for Outstanding Direction), Ninewith Antonio Banderas (Tony Award for Best Revival and nom. for outstanding Direction), Stoppard’s The Real Thing (Tony Award for Best Revival), Harold Pinter’s Betrayal with Juliette Binoche, Electra with Zoë Wanamaker (Tony Award nom.), Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christue with Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson (Tony Award for Best Revival) and A Moon For The Misbegotten with Kate Nelligan (Tony Award nom. for Outstanding Direction).

Until I read Alan Judd’s compelling novel, I had no idea that the last Kaiser of Germany had lived until 1941. I had just rather lazily assumed he’d ‘faded’ away sometime after he fled into exile in Holland in the closing weeks of the First World War in 1918. Part of the reason for this was of course that he seemed to be so much of ‘another’ generation – one shaped in the cultural context of the 19th Century – that it was inconceivable to me that he could have been alive when the conflict that would define our modern world in the 20th Century ignited.

alan-judd-8266Alan Judd is a novelist and biographer who has previously served in the army and the Foreign Office. Chosen as one of the original twenty Best Young British Novelists, Judd has since won the Royal Society of Literature’s Winifred Holtby Award, the Heinemann Award and the Guardian Fiction Award. His biography of the founder of MI6 was shortlisted for the Westminster Prize and two of his Charles Thoroughgood novels, Breed of Heroes and Legacy, were filmed for the BBC.  His forthcoming novel, Slipstream, is about the coming of age of a Canadian fighter pilot in World War Two.

 

But that was the central dramatic proposition of Judd’s story that first attracted me:  the collision of ‘two Germanys’ – two eras, and two radically different myths or ideas of nation, coming into a head on confrontation. And it was also what made it resonate in our own time when such questions of identity are again on the rise.

THE EXCEPTION 4But of course a film has to stand on its own feet, not merely lean on its source material for authority. It must justify its own existence. And in addition, I had no interest in making a ‘history lesson’.

What elevated it into a modern ‘fable’ – and therefore, for me, into a film – were the elements of the story that acquired a wider human resonance, and not merely the iteration of a sequence of events that once happened or representation of historical characters for its own sake.  To that end, our film inevitably began to evolve its own interests and themes.

That process naturally had to begin with the character of the Kaiser himself. And in the course of several discussions with Christopher Plummer and our writer, Simon Burke, one thing became very clear to us: that this was in no way to be an attempt to ‘redeem’ a man whose shared culpability for a war that killed millions is engraved in fact. Nor did we want to dodge the reflexive cultural anti-semitism, the hauteur, the irascible unreasonableness that were the very flaws that had led to his downfall and European catastrophe.  In fact, the further we went in this direction, the more ‘Shakespearean’ the character became in the sense that he is built upon so many contradictions: the absurdity the foolishness, the sorrow, of an intermittently Lear-like character looking back on a life of failure. Our purpose was not to redeem. But to show a man capable of re-acquiring his humanity for a moment and late in his life.

Christopher Plummer and JanetMcTeer in The Exception

ChristopherPlummer and JanetMcTeer in The Exception

That is not something limited to the last Kaiser. Nor does it depend on an exact historical representation of him. But the central idea of a man living in exile, with a hundred uniforms and no decisions to make other than what’s for dinner struck a chord for both Christopher and myself as being both poignant and funny, and oddly beautiful – a searing image of a kind of spiritual impotence locked into the rigidity of a uniform.

When I first visited House Doorn outside Utrecht with our producer, Judy Tossell, and Simon Burke, the image that came to mind on seeing that house, surrounded by a moat and woodland, was of a kind of forlorn 19th Century ‘Eden’ – a place where you could easily imagine the former monarch, inured against the noise and hurtling destruction of the outside world, oblivious even to its terrible darkness. And picture him urged on by the great love of his wife Hermine dedicating herself to nothing less than the restoration not only of his throne, but – to her mind –  of his very manhood. And then that ‘idyll’ being shattered as the machinery and armoury and gasoline of modern warfare snakes up the drive to deliver Heinrich Himmler and the clarity of pure evil to their doorstep.

Once that image took hold for me, it seemed obvious that ultimately – historical context aside – this film was going to have to do with the struggle of love over death. And it would depend as much – or more –  on the complex nuances of the human heart as upon the epic events that frame it.

The foundation of Judd’s book depends on the historical fact that the Kaiser was in exile in Holland at the time the Nazis invaded the country in 1940 and thus ‘re-acquired’ the problem of what to do with their former monarch – an issue that could well have become symbolically inflammatory from all sides.

THE EXCEPTION 1But the invented elements and characters, above all the young Dutch Jewish woman Mieke and the Wehrmacht officer Brandt on whose relationship much of the action of both Judd’s book and this film depends, were never intended as romantic ‘add-ons’ to adorn the thing with an ‘obligatory’ love story. In many ways, I felt they catalysed something absolutely central to the purpose of the film – namely the moment of decision when ideology, or even duty, must give way to the most moral question of all – what makes us human? Because it is at that point – and perhaps only at that point – that people who by any stretch of the imagination should have nothing in common, or even conceive of each other as enemies, find the unlikeliest but deepest of common bonds. And one of the challenges I was particularly drawn to in the film was to try to express the subtle processes by which people communicate – often in silent and coded ways – across the divide of difference, even when they are unaware that they are either sending or receiving those messages. The morse code that runs through the film was to that end intended to weave into the ‘love’ scenes as much as it emanates in reality from the spy story, the ‘ticking clock’ that supplies the pressure to expose the silent heart.

The character of Mieke was also a key, because dynamically she became a living challenge to the aridities of ideology and masculine codes of war. It was as if she brought an explosive and unsettling disorder into this very male world. I had what I would only half-jokingly call a ‘running gag’ about uniforms in the film. There are many of them, for obvious reasons, but they also beg the question that Mieke implicitly asks of Brandt: ‘ What kind of a man are you once the uniform comes off ?” Mieke’s silent witness to the absurdities and destructive vanity of war produced Simon’s scene of her standing in a doorway observing the Kaiser’s uniform collection with something like perplexity, before turning out the light.

THE EXCEPTION 2

I could hardly claim that ‘love over death’ is exactly an original theme for a movie….but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth saying over and over again. And in this case, we didn’t intend it to be limited to ‘romantic’ love. It was also meant to be unsettling, subversive, and sometimes damaged love – but stealthily emerging across generations and ideologies in a uniting rage against tyranny, and the dying of the light – even enthralling a culpable old man who I sometimes felt would almost rather have his youth restored than his throne. It’s messy but at least it’s human – and was certainly more interesting – and perhaps more ‘real’ –  to me than a story of ‘redemption’.  It is the flickers of grace that intermittently illuminate the darkest streams of history, and by which imperfect humanity trumps the ‘perfection’ of tyranny, that really interested me. And that grace – which to my mind lurks in Brandt and Mieke and Hermine as much as in the Kaiser –  is not limited to famous ‘heroes’. Or to ‘good’ men.

The usual – and probably wise – advice in adapting a story to film is to ‘open it up’ for visual range. But in this case, we increasingly found that the canvas actually felt larger the more the film was limited to the house, a clearing and a few other key locations. It was as if keeping the vast epic events of the war just outside the frame, with the enormous pressure of those unseen events bearing in on each character and each choice, seemed to magnify the stakes. The war would be present in every glance, or detail, or urgent fumbling of desire – because all these details are hurtling along on the edge of death.

SIMON BURKEScreenwriter Simon Burke was born into a London-Irish family in the post-industrial North of England; he left Oxford with a First in German and lived in Berlin for some years before settling in London. His debut play, The Lodger, won the prestigious Mobil Prize and was performed in Manchester, London and Europe.

He wrote the hit tv show Chancer – the TV debut of actor Clive Owen – and is well known for adapting classics including Tom Jones, Sons and Lovers, White Teeth and Jane Austen’s Persuasion, starring Sally Hawkins. He also created the Zen trilogy for Rufus Sewell as well as the London-New York love story Ny-Lon, starring Stephen Moyer and Rashida Jones.

His short film Jealousy, starring Paul Nicholls, has just been included in the film festivals in Palm Springs, Rome and Austin, Texas.

He is currently working on an adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s new novel The Accidental Apprentice and a film about the master forger Han van Meegeren for Steve Coogan’s company Baby Cow. Married with two children, he divides his time between Rome, Perugia and London.

And in that respect, I was also thinking of something I witnessed in the late 1980s when I was in my 20s and working in what was then East Berlin. I’ve no doubt that my experiences in Berlin at that time have everything to do with my immediate attraction to this story when I was lucky enough for it to come my way. But this one instance made an enormous impression on me:

The weekend before East Germany finally collapsed, there was a large march in East Berlin, and I was on it. It was a happy, optimistic, sunny day, full of children, and you genuinely felt revolution was not just in the air but on the streets.

Above all, it felt weirdly innocent. The march ended up in front of the ‘Volkskammer’, the East German Parliament. And there I saw a young boy dancing for joy on top of a prop coffin with the words ‘Stasi 1948-1989 RIP’ daubed on its side. It was a startling image, but one that more than anything else that day conveyed – in an improvised moment – the tectonic shifts that were taking place across Europe. I couldn’t invent anything that would better illustrate the fact that ‘history’ is sometimes expressed not in an epic sweep of facts and events, but in a detail like a boy dancing on a coffin, or, in the case of our film, a hand across a dinner table, a falling dress, or a glance.  Because that’s when we are there too.

Historical context

Fact and fiction: As described in the story, a detachment of Wehrmacht troops was indeed sent to guard the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, but Brandt is an imagined character. And Churchill did indeed offer the Kaiser asylum in the United Kingdom, but the invitation was conveyed to him in different circumstances to those described in the book and film. It was in fact the mayor of neighbouring town Utrecht who conveyed the secret message. As far as we know it is also fiction that the British smuggled a spy into the Kaiser’s household. Heinrich Himmler did not visit the Kaiser at Huis Doorn, but Hermann Göring did. An incident in the book and film during which Wilhelm’s wife Princess Hermine gives Himmler an envelope of money is based on a similar incident involving Goering.

 

 

”In a sense we set out to create a moving picture photo album of their memories. I hope it’s an honest portrait, a moving portrait and ultimately a portrait of how complicated, yet simple and powerful, love is.”

Every family has a story, but none quite like that of renowned celebrity gossip columnist Jeannette Walls, unveiling the deeply guarded secret she’d long kept of her childhood in The Glass Castle: a wildly gothic coming-of-age amid poverty, disaster, rebellion and estrangement from society that has now been adapted into a film by Hawaiin-born writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton and screenwriter Andrew Lanham.

“That’s the magic of storytelling — if one person is willing to be brave and tell their story, then that allows other people to be honest. I think there’s incredible value in coming to terms with your story, and I hope that the telling of my story will encourage other people to revisit their own.” –Jeannette Walls

Yet perhaps most amazing about Walls’s book, harrowing as it was, is its sense of deep family love, a love as vast and magical as her parents were strange and inexplicable. It allowed her to turn her youth into a grand adventure and an empowering journey towards redemption. Careening from hunger and crisis to starlit nights of enchantment, Walls found all the light and darkness of the world.

Destin Daniel Cretton on Adapting Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle

Author Jeannette Walls and Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton

Chronicling the adventures of an eccentric, resilient and tight-knit family, The Glass Castle is a remarkable story of unconditional love. Oscar® winner Brie Larson brings Jeannette Walls’s best-selling memoir to life as a young woman who, influenced by the joyfully wild nature of her deeply dysfunctional father (Woody Harrelson), found the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

brie-larson

To play Jeanette across the pendulum swing of her life would require three different actors, starting with the adult Jeanette, who is living out her dreams in New York and engaged to be married, only to be drawn back into her family’s powerfully strange orbit. Taking the role is Brie Larson, who recently riveted audiences as a mother and kidnapping victim trying to raise her son while imprisoned in a tin shed in Room, for which she won Academy Award® for Best Actress.

The book burst onto the literary scene and spent seven years on the bestseller list, captivating readers with its gripping story of a nomadic clan living by their parents’ passionately held if reckless rules. At the heart of its allure was Walls’s determination to survive, to get out and make her own life, but without letting go of the complicated affection she felt for two parents whose wildness was at once full of wonderment and a catastrophe. Walls’s book was the opposite of a lurid tell-all. Instead it was a love story, one full of cracked hearts, broken promises and unseen need, yet also one that dug to the bottom of how sustaining and transcendent love can be, no matter who you are or where you are from.

The story already played like cinema: a fairy tale spanning a life lived in cars and shacks to the heights of New York publishing. It’s something co-screenwriter and director Destin Daniel Cretton keyed into as soon as he read it. But Cretton, who broke out with the much-admired indie Short Term 12, also saw the story as relatable by anyone who has been both troubled and enlivened by their family.

“Destin, from the beginning, saw all the light, the happiness, the joy and the lessons, and he brought that,” Jeannette says. “He hasn’t whitewashed anything. He hasn’t left out the bad things. They’re all there. His script captured exactly what I tried to do with the book: to show the beauty and the ugliness, the bright and the dark of my childhood.”

Cretton explains his affinity for the book: “This is such a personal story to Jeannette, when I read it, it felt incredibly personal to me, too. My upbringing was not as crazy as hers, but I related to her exploration of love and its many facets and the way that families can have both beautiful times, and difficult, scary times. It felt real and relatable and so cathartic. It’s one of those stories that makes you feel more connected and not so alone in the world.”

He and co-screenwriter Andrew Lanham also saw it as a story of a highly successful, seemingly settled woman, the adult Jeannette, who must return to the muck and mire of her family history in order to reconcile her future. “We focused in on the idea of a young woman who is filing through her memories, trying to make sense of her life so far, and to finally make peace with the past and her parents. Ultimately, it is the story of a woman learning to love and accept herself,” says Cretton.

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Destin Daniel Cretton (Director/Screenwriter) was born and raised in Maui, Hawaii, where he spent three of his summers picking pineapples in the fields near his home. He has a BA in Communications from Point Loma Nazarene University and a MA in Film, TV, and New Media from San Diego State University. Destin’s feature film debut, I Am Not a Hipster, premiered at Sundance in 2012. His feature screenplay, Short Term 12 (based on the award-winning short of the same title), was one of five to win a 2010 Academy Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Along with his narrative work, Destin has directed two feature-length documentaries. Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey premiered on HBO Family in 2007, which won the Best Documentary Award at the 2006 Comic Con, and Born Without Arms, which premiered on TLC/Discovery in 2009.

Cretton found Walls’s ability to openly wonder about her parents’ truly extreme behavior, yet still have overwhelming compassion for them, especially powerful, and something he had to underline the entire production. “Every page of Jeannette’s book shows another side of these incredibly complicated characters and their relationships to each other. One moment you’re falling in love with a character, but then they do something to make you hate them, and then you turn the page and love them again. It’s all so deeply human.”

For Walls, Cretton had hit upon the one idea she felt had to come out of any screenplay adaptation: that her family, disorderly and difficult as it might be, reflects as much as any our universal human urge to hold tight to our loved ones no matter how much it tests us. Since publishing her book, she has found that many more people than she even imagined took that to heart.

“One the many blessings of having told my story in the book is that people not only get it, they sometimes get it even more than I do,” says Walls. “There are so many people out there with stories that, while not identical to mine, share something essential in common. In telling this story of both great hardships and great abundance, I not only reconnected with this childhood that I tried to pretend did not exist for a long time; I also connected with other people.”

Another person Walls’s story hit home with is Oscar® winner Brie Larson (Best Actress, Room, 2015), who portrays her as a young woman in The Glass Castle. Says Larson: “This is a story about family, about how you become the person you are and about accepting the fact that people don’t always love you in the way you need but you can forgive them. It’s very rare to be able to watch someone like Jeannette move from childhood into adulthood, seeing all the missed connections and moments that were misunderstood, and then to see her have the chance to regain some of what was lost. I really wanted to do right by her and her story.”

As time has passed, Walls feels even more strongly that the raw beauty of love can be found in nearly ever family, and every family has a story to tell. “Some people have accused me of being overly optimistic, but that’s how we survive our tough times, looking for the joy, because otherwise it might kill you,” she concludes. “That is why we tell stories. If we can share with one another the lessons of our survival – how on earth did you get through that? – then everyone feels they can get through it, too. If people leave the theaters thinking about their own family, I’ll be ecstatic.”

From L to R: Charlie Shotwell as "Young Brian," Sadie Sink as "Young Lori," Eden Grace Redfield as "Youngest Maureen" and Ella Anderson as "Young Jeannette". Photo by Jake Giles Netter.

From L to R: Charlie Shotwell as “Young Brian,” Sadie Sink as “Young Lori,” Eden Grace Redfield as “Youngest Maureen” and Ella Anderson as “Young Jeannette”. Photo by Jake Giles Netter.

The Story Behind The Story

Jeannette Walls had been working for many years as a New York columnist before she revealed her remarkably off-the-wall origins to anyone. She had come to learn by then that the heightened trials and tribulations she faced growing up were light-years outside the mainstream.

Her parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, fiery free spirits disdainful of all institutions from employers to schools, didn’t want it any other way, though their children would suffer mightily at times from their derelict ways. Walls spent her early years literally on the road, rootlessly wandering from Southwestern desert towns to mountain campgrounds without ever calling anywhere home. Her whole family was in thrall to their father, Rex, a devilishly charismatic, sometimes brilliant, self-taught man who, when sober, captured his children’s imaginations, teaching them science, showing them the world’s wonders and above all, exhorting them to embrace life fearlessly. Their mother Rose Mary, a bohemian painter and self-proclaimed “excitement addict” was equally charming, but even less committed to the responsibilities of caring for a family.

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“That’s the magic of storytelling — if one person is willing to be brave and tell their story, then that allows other people to be honest. I think there’s incredible value in coming to terms with your story, and I hope that the telling of my story will encourage other people to revisit their own.” –Jeannette Walls

 

Both parents believed in creating their own way of life, even if it meant being materially impoverished. When the money completely ran out and the romance of the wandering life started to fade, the family retreated to a declining West Virginia mining town, moving into the ramshackle house that would become the alter-ego of “the glass castle,” the amazing, solar-powered fantasy house that Rex Walls always promised he would build. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her siblings were increasingly forced to fend for themselves, supporting one another in their ingenious bids for their own survival, and encouraging one another to one day make their big escape.

Yet even when Jeannette did make her getaway, leaving Appalachia behind to become a writer in the big city, she could not really cut herself off from her family. The more she pursued her own life and relationships, the more she realized she had to come to grips with what the Walls family had been through together, all that she had seen on the margins of American society.

That’s when Walls began writing, an event that came full circle when the adult Jeannette’s reconciliation became the center of the film adaptation. The book’s success was extraordinary, garnering awards, selling more than 2.7 million copies and being translated into 22 languages.

Destin Daniel Cretton on the set of THE GLASS CASTLE. Photo by John Golden Britt.

Destin Daniel Cretton on the set of THE GLASS CASTLE. Photo by John Golden Britt.

Adapting the Book

The Glass Castle first came to Destin Daniel Cretton via Oscar®-nominated producer Gil Netter (Best Picture – Life of Pi, 2012; The Blind Side, 2009), who intuited that Cretton might be able to get inside Jeannette Walls’s story in a way no prospective filmmaker had with co-writer Andrew Lanham.

Andrew Lanham

Andrew Lanham (Screenwriter) received his MFA in screenwriting from The University of Texas at Austin. In 2010 he won the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, as well as the Drama and Latitude screenwriting awards at the Austin Film Festival, for his script The Jumper of Maine. He is currently working on adaptations of Just Mercy, again with Cretton, and The Land of Decoration.

Notes Walls: “There had been some early attempts at adaptation, but it was just not working out. At one point, I was advised that my book, as written, could never be made into a movie, that we’d have to make so many sacrifices, it would be an entirely different story. At the time, I settled on the notion that I might be able to live with that, but I still felt that even if a screenplay was not entirely faithful to my book, it should at least capture the essence of the book.”

Unsure of how things might progress, Walls says she was waiting for a miracle. “Well, that miracle happened for me, and it was named Gil Netter,” she says. “Gil got his hands on my book and made it all happen. He moved mountains, or in some cases, made sure that the mountains didn’t move. He is the one responsible for pushing this beast into existence and as it turns out, one of the most important and brilliant decisions that Gil made was getting Destin aboard.”

Cretton wanted to approach The Glass Castle not as a story of outrageous family dysfunction, but as one of the power of unconditional love. He didn’t see the Walls family as off-the-scale curiosities, but as sympathetic, fascinating, somewhat broken human beings like the rest of us. “I think that’s what the most successful storytelling does,” says Walls. “It takes down the barriers that so often we erect, thinking ‘Oh, I’m not like those people. They’re kind of weird.’ When you take down those barriers then you get all these deep emotional connections.”

Breaking down those barriers is why Cretton decided to start the adaptation with Jeannette in her mid-20s, just as events push her to piece together her history, to open her scarred heart to a series of vivid flashbacks. “That’s something I did in my 20s and it’s something lots of people do at that age. Whether it’s their first time seeing a therapist or taking that ‘Intro to Psychology’ class, it’s often a time to look back and see how you got where you are now and how your family impacted you. Everyone has that moment when you try figure out what made you who you are and how to reconcile the discord in your family with the love you feel for them. That’s where we find Jeannette.”

It was always essential to Cretton that Jeannette be 100% behind the project. Walls says she trusted him implicitly as they embarked on intense conversations about the nature of love, family, art and storytelling. “Destin is magical,” comments Walls. “He is the kindest, gentlest, most empathetic human being I’ve met. But you can’t let that kindness and that sensitivity fool you. The man has a mind like a steel trap. Destin sees everything. He sees the light and dark in all things, and that was so important. I always felt this story must not be an entirely dark story—but you also wouldn’t want to paint over the unsettling parts and make it an entirely light story. Destin has all the skills to mix both shades.”

Cretton notes that he did not attempt to create a perfect facsimile of the Walls’s lives or of her book, but rather present their story as a mirror of American family life. “This is storytelling, not the documentary truth, but hopefully, by adding new dimensions to Jeannette’s story, we are creating something fresh that can be enjoyed and embraced by a whole new group of people,” he says.

“Jeannette’s book touched so many people, and we definitely wanted to make The Glass Castle for everyone who loves the book, but we also wanted to make this movie for the Walls family. In a sense we set out to create a moving picture photo album of their memories. I hope it’s an honest portrait, a moving portrait and ultimately a portrait of how complicated, yet simple and powerful, love is.”

 

“We love pairing different worlds; the joy of magic and illusion clashing with the harsh realities of street life gave us a foundation which we could build an engaging story around.”

For filmmaker J.D. Dillard, Sleight came out of a desire to look at the seemingly-different worlds of magic and crime and develop an original premise which would weave the two together in a unique genre-bending film. Dillard made Sleight for $250 000, and he shot it in 16 days, and during the first 5 weeks of its release, the film spun its own magic at the box office and raked in $3,930,990.

“Magic’s always been a part of my life. It’s something I’ve loved since I was a kid. Sleight started as a short script – something Alex (Theurer, co-writer) and I wrote for fun. We realized that there was this natural relationship between magic and crime: they both require a certain degree of deception and that was became the premise for Sleight.”

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J.D Dillard is a writer and director working in Los Angeles, California. His breakout script The Death of John Archer Newman was featured on the Hit List, an annual collection of the industry’s highest voted screenplays, and put him on the year’s Young and Hungry list. Dillard and his writing partner, Alex Theurer, went on to set up a science fiction coming-of-age film with Paramount Pictures and JJ Abram’s production company, Bad Robot. In 2016, Dillard’s directorial debut, Sleight, a science fiction crime thriller, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and sold to Blumhouse & WWE Studios. The film, which Dillard co-wrote,was released worldwide on April 28th, 2017 (on 1 Sept , 2017 in South Africa). Currently, Dillard is in prep on Sweetheart, a science-fiction horror film with Jason Blum/Blumhouse that he co-wrote and will be directing in Q1 of 2017

The Concept: A young street magician is left to care for his little sister after their parents passing and turns to questionable activities to keep a roof over their heads. When he gets in too deep, his sister is kidnapped and he is forced to use his magic and brilliant mind to save her.

For director and co-writer Dillard, creating the character of Bo – and landing that character somewhere between the familiar and the fantastic – was a priority. “In so many stories, we’ve seen the young black kid who needs to resort to drug dealing. While it may seem overused, we wanted to hit this trope with a sense of empathy. Bo has everything going for him. He’s a brilliant student, a talented magician, and a role model to his little sister. When he loses his parents, a harsh reality sets in – maintaining a decent life for his sister is going to require personal sacrifice. I think Jacob struggles with something we all have – how do we best take care of the people around us while still not losing track of who we are and what we’re passionate about?”

‘’I grew up doing a lot of magic, and when Alex [Theurer] and I were playing around with worlds we’d like to dive into, magic had always been on the table. We explored this in a shorter format by writing a script for what would be a short film, a number of years ago, but could never really get the short off the ground. And then, when we put our heads together to think about something that we could self produce due to this growing frustration of being writers who have never seen their work on screen, it led us to think about a story that seemed just small enough that someone would be crazy enough to make it, and Sleight popped back into our head as the perfect vessel for that. The crime aspect of it wasn’t there in the very, very, very beginning. Immediately looking at what skill set you have as a magician, quite naturally we landed on the fact that there are more than a few points of intersection. There’s deceit, the ability to be a chameleon, and the salesmanship, and that intersection seemed like a fun place to tell a story.’’

Outside of film, screenwriter Alex Theurer is known for writing and producing six seasons of the Emmy award-winning documentary series Intervention. Currently, Theurer is in pre-production on Sweetheart, a survival horror film with Jason Blum/Blumhouse, that he co-wrote with J.D. Dillard and will be producing in the spring of 2017.

For co-writer Alex Theurer, other themes became apparent in the relationship between the two: illusionists/magicians and street criminals: finesse; charisma; risk and a need to be in control.

“We love pairing different worlds; the joy of magic and illusion clashing with the harsh realities of street life gave us a foundation which we could build an engaging story around.”

As the script developed, “balancing real-world drama and sci-fi elements was crucial and a primary goal of the film. We love playing with genre but it only works when you first identify the ‘beating heart’ of the story, which became our characters” states Theurer.

When Dillard and Theurer first began working on Sleight, it was very different from the movie you see on screen; it isn’t that Dillard and Theurer tacked a family story onto a genre-switching story, but, rather, just the reverse.

As Theurer notes, “We had kicked around the idea for Sleight for a couple of years. From the original concept, we modernized the criminal underbelly a little, but its core of a family drama has been there from the beginning.”

One of  their biggest challenges was balancing real-world drama and sci-fi elements into a story that could be believable in our world.

‘’The thing Alex and I have always talked about with this movie was that it was never going to be a crazy magic experience like The Prestige, and it was never going to be the most complicated and cool crime story like The Departed. That was never the goal with it. And honestly, in the writing process, very early on, we realized that, if we over-complicated any of those elements too much, it actually muddied the whole story because we were trying to spin one too many plates, throughout the entire thing. So, for us, the real joy of the movie is blending these pieces that we haven’t blended before, but in that process, there is a simplicity to each of the standalone arcs. For us, it was really just an experiment in plate spinning.’’

Dillard’s taste for genre-changing films might in part be a legacy of one of his first jobs – at JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot production company, learning from one of Hollywood’s best-known big-canvas storytellers.

‘’Bad Robot began in 2010 when I was hired as the company’s receptionist. While there’s plenty to learn from a director as talented as he is, his temperament and admiration for what he does have always been the most inspiring. I think that’s part of the reason there’s a palpable energy on his sets.

People are happy and excited to all be bringing the vision to life. I’d love to bring that energy to my own sets.”

”Writing has always been where my focus and where my head is at. Going to a company like Bad Robot, there was no ulterior motive. It wasn’t like, “I’m gonna put in X amount of time, and then ask for this.” It was really just being in an environment with people who are really inspiring, truly awesome, kind, generous and thoughtful. Simultaneously and more selfishly, it was about having a job that wouldn’t completely dominate my life, so that there was time to write and to grow a craft. My years as a receptionist there were truly that. I had the time and flexibility to keep my creative life afloat and healthy, but then also walking the halls of that company certainly leaves an impact on you. So many interesting people come in and out of that building. It’s hard not to be inspired when that’s the backdrop.’’

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Bringing the character of Bo to life required finding the right actor – one who could convey not only the fast handiwork of a practicing sleight-of-hand magician but also the moral center and drive to survive that Bo has in the face of all odds. Fortunately, Dillard and the production found the perfect actor for the part in Jacob Latimore (The Maze Hunter, Collateral Beauty).

Dillard made Sleight for less than half a million dollars, and he shot it in 16 days, doing six or eight pages a day, which seems crazy under any circumstances, but then you also have action and magic in the mix.

‘’We did have the benefit of knowing how much money we were shooting the movie for, at the writing stage. The movie was tailor made for what we knew we could spend. My memories of, “God, I wish we could have done this!,” aren’t too specific because it would have been put on the chopping block, even in its broadest conceit, if we knew we couldn’t do it. Where I see the tight grip of a small budget on the film really boils down to, “It would have been nice to have two days to shoot this scene, instead of one. It would have been great to have another take where the camera moved like this instead.” That’s where I see our budget and schedule. It’s not like there’s a giant missing scene from Sleight because we didn’t have the money to shoot it. We protected ourselves creatively by writing for our resources.’’

Even with trained magicians and talented filmmakers on set in seemingly every direction, making Sleight involved solving problems with ingenuity, not endless amounts of either money or computer power. As Dillard explains,“Regardless of what appeared on screen, Sleight was incredibly DIY because of our budget. Our visual effects are really minimal because we knew we wouldn’t be able to handle complex gags in post. Aside from the Alexa camera itself, there wasn’t much high tech on set.”

That reality of low-budget expediency and need actually wound up helping on the film’s fast-paced shooting days, as Dillard explains it: No actor ever had a problem finding or looking to precisely the spot where post-production magic would be added later. “It was pretty easy to have the actors react on set because there was almost always a practical component to our effects – so there was always something to look at, something to interact with. (In the script,) Bo always tells his audience that he’s not using strings and the funny thing is that on set, we used strings for nearly every levitation effect.”

Sleight also evolved into a comic book prequel.

Says Dillard: ‘’Honestly, that was a really incredible idea that came from Blumhouse. They, perhaps even quicker than Alex and I, picked up on the superhero aspect of this movie, and it just seemed like a really great avenue to expand the story a little bit. It was quite kismet that they mentioned Rob Guillory to do the illustration because I’ve been a fan of his for quite awhile. On the flipside, a very dear friend of ours, Ryan Parrot, is a very talented screenwriter and deeply as talented a comic book writer, so when this idea bubbled up, we reached out to Ryan to help bring this to life. It’s so cool to see Sleight existing in this different format.’’

 

A small story that affected a global event.

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Producer Doug Davison made his first big mark in Hollywood with the wildly successful haunted-house thriller The Grudge

In 2012, Quadrant Pictures’ producer Doug Davison was searching for ideas to develop when he met with then relatively unknown writer Gary Spinelli.  After a quick introduction and a few pitches, nothing seemed like a fit.  Then, just as Spinelli was leaving, he mentioned one more concept upon which he had been working.  The writer had recently seen Argo, which had piqued his interest in other untold CIA scandals of the era.  After a bit of research on key players of the time, he had come across a man called Barry Seal, a fascinating character in recent American history—one whose devilish swagger and zest for life affected all he met.

In Universal Pictures’ American Made, Tom Cruise reunites with his Edge of Tomorrow director, Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), in this international escapade based on the outrageous (and real) exploits of a hustler and pilot unexpectedly recruited by the CIA to run one of the biggest covert operations in U.S. history. From a screenplay by Gary Spinelli (Stash House)

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Pilots who are extremely passionate about the crafts they captain, Director Doug Liman and Tom Cruise, a professional pilot, felt as strongly about the airplanes in the film as they did the story itself. The director remains impressed with his star’s ability to handle numerous vessels. “Tom does all his own flying in the movie, and he even flew one of the airplanes to Colombia himself,” notes Liman. “I also don’t make a movie just to make a movie,” Cruise, who does all of his own flying in the movie, continues. “What interests me is the passion of cinema and storytelling, that’s when it gets very exciting. It’s not just a job; I love this too much and want to push myself and surround myself with people who have that same sensibility and sense of exploration to make movies.”

Spinelli was fascinated by the fact that Seal’s life in the late ’70s and early-to-mid ’80s allowed him to get away with illegal exploits for years—ones that would be impossible today.  Our 24-hour news cycle makes for a much more transparent world than the one the pilot inhabited, and we live our conspiracies as they unfold.  “Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies, and I was on the hunt to find a version of that when I found my American Made story.  I was looking for a little hidden piece of history,” he offers.  “A small story that affected a global event, and I came across Barry in Mena, Arkansas.”

For the next six months, Davison and Spinelli researched all things Seal.  As the two men dug deeper and uncovered the cross-connecting layers of the pilot’s life and times, they were surprised at how intricately involved Seal was in various facets of the U.S. government, as well as his double dealings with the Colombians and the Medellín Cartel.  In sum, Seal had an inordinate role in a scandal that shadowed Ronald Reagan’s eight years in office.

Davison vividly remembers the Iran-contra efforts as a fascinating and complex time in U.S. history.  The producer states: “The aspect of Barry’s story that really got to me was how he was working for our government to help fund the Contra war effort.”

Seal seized opportunities presented to him—however potentially illegal they appeared—to make money, lead an adrenaline-fueled life and, on one level, “help” the government accomplish its fluid mission of arming Nicaraguan freedom fighters against the Sandinistas.  As he wrote, Spinelli found in his elevated protagonist a cinematic character who—depending upon who is asked—was a rascal, a simple opportunist, a drug runner, an arms merchant or a complex character motivated by a litany of other reasons.  Still, Seal appears as such an amiable family man—and seemingly so naïve about his exploits—that it’s impossible not to like him.

After the research stage of developing American Made, Spinelli took several months and reworked the script.  In turn, Davison gave it to his friend, producer Kim Roth, then head of production at Imagine, who also fell in love with this story, and came on board the project alongside Imagine’s Academy Award®-winning producer Brian Grazer, who was similarly intrigued by Barry’s life and times.  Grazer has built his body of work with critical and commercial success sharing the tales of complex characters in films from American Gangster and 8 Mile to A Beautiful Mind.  With the simple Southern pilot, he’d found Imagine’s next antihero.

Roth’s first impression of the script was how audacious and larger than life Seal was.  She reflects: “Barry could walk into any room, anywhere, and win everybody over.”  Discussing her collaborators, she raves: “Gary has lived this story since he first went online and looked up ‘biggest CIA scandals’ and has been invaluable to this process.  He was on set every day working with Tom and Doug, tweaking and creating.”

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Doug Liman and Tom Cruise

The Tom and Doug of whom Roth speaks are none other than global superstar Tom Cruise and blockbuster director Doug Liman, who last collaborated on Edge of Tomorrow and were looking for their next project together.  When Grazer sent Liman and Cruise the script for consideration, they knew they’d hit upon their ideal next chapter.

Naturally, the tone began to change as Cruise, Liman and producers imagined what the film would look like with their imprint.  Says Davison: “When Tom and Doug joined the project, the storytelling shifted from a biopic to a more comedic tone, a slice-of-life spin on Barry’s choices.  The teaming of Tom and Doug was perfect for this story.”

Grazer has long been a fan of those who buck the system, and knew Liman was just the filmmaker for the big job ahead.  The producer reflects: “What’s so fascinating about Doug is that his work is impossible to pigeonhole.  Whereas some directors have a narrow comfort zone, a specific wheelhouse or genre in which they work, Doug reminded me of Barry in the sense that he is an authority-challenging risk-taker who refuses to do the same thing twice.  We knew he would be the ideal person to bring Gary’s brilliant screenplay to life, and that if we were fortunate enough to get Tom to rejoin him and tackle the lead role, they’d guarantee that American Made would become a riveting film that’s equal parts comedy, drama and intrigue.”

Liman, who refers to the film as “a fun lie based on a true story,” offers that he has long appreciated stories of improbable heroes working against the system.  “Barry Seal took the government, and our country, for an unbelievable ride,” reveals the filmmaker.  “Interpreting his story has the makings for an entertaining film that is equal parts satire, suspense and comedy—and always surprising.”

His producers found they weren’t the only ones to have deep fascination with how secret ops are accomplished at this level.  As the director’s father, Arthur L. Liman, was the chief counsel for the Senate investigation into the Iran-contra affair—and had actually questioned Oliver North during the hearings—his helming the film makes this story that much more personal.  Liman felt the connection to these memories as he developed and shot American Made, and truly appreciated his father’s discussion about the absurdity of the then-government’s tactics.

Liman loved the fact that, while so many films have been made about people being run over by the government, Seal’s story was one of someone “who screwed over the White House.  Barry is a zealot-like character who really did cross paths with so many household names from the ’80s—ranging from Ronald Reagan and Manuel Noriega to Bill Clinton and Oliver North.”

The quintessential American success story, Seal was recruited for surveillance activities on communist activities in Central America, and ultimately to deliver weapons to rebels in that area who were fighting communists.  The U.S. war on drugs and the war on communism had two fronts, and Seal knew them equally well.  “He was a real opportunist, and he had an empty airplane on the way back,” continues the director.  “If it absolutely had to be there overnight and it was illegal, Barry Seal was your guy.  Since he was conducting illegal operations with the CIA’s help, he could get in and out of the country undetected.  Well, there was no point flying back with an empty airplane, so Barry thought he might as well bring drugs back with it.  So he ended up working for both the U.S. government and for the Colombian drug cartel at the same time, and unbeknownst to the other.  He played both sides, and became fabulously wealthy while he was doing it.  Still, it was never about the money for Barry.  It was about the excitement, the challenge and all about the flying.”

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Seal’s tale is so impossible to believe that it requires the satiric, ironic and often tragically funny tone and P.O.V. that American Made adopts.  Roth notes: “Not only is Doug such a great filmmaker and storyteller, he wanted to tell a movie about this period for some time now.  Doug found there were so many amusing stories and escapades that could be told from Barry’s point of view, it clicked for him.”

Pilots themselves, Cruise and Liman gravitated toward the human elements in Barry’s life, as Barry tries desperately to keep a normal family in the midst of challenging choices.  He is crazy about his wife, Lucy, and will do whatever it takes to keep her and their kids happy.  Their marriage is passionate, but practical.  Of course, these characters are inspired by members of the Seal family; but, just like with any film, the team would take a great deal of creative license in telling the story.

Cruise admits that he gravitated toward this wild story because he’d never met a character like this one.  He shares: “Mark Twain’s one of my favorite writers, and I think he informed the tone of Gary’s writing.  Barry Seal lived in a very unique time that we’ll never have again in aviation, or in history.  He had this incredibly adventurous life, and one that is just beyond belief.  He was a character walking through history.  It was just too outrageous to believe, and in this day and age, it’s something that will never happen again.”

Not only was Cruise fascinated by Seal’s pioneering spirit, but also how dichotomous this man was.  “Barry was a great pilot, and a man who loved his family,” he states.  “Still, he’s very much an antihero who wanted an adventurous life.  I don’t condone the things he did, but you can’t help but see that he had this wish fulfillment.  He was someone who lived beyond the rules in a way that was unique to that time period in aviation.  Today, everything’s very controlled and corporate, and air spaces are contained.  The things that he and his other pilots were able to do were outrageous.”

As the production unfolded, the producers were gobsmacked by the efforts of their star and director.  Raves Roth: “The teaming of Doug and Tom is extraordinary, and unlike anything I have ever seen before.  This work is also not for the faint of heart.  They are tireless and tenacious in their work ethic, and it’s been so inspiring.”

Davison agrees with Roth, commending: “The energy between Tom and Doug is amazing.  It’s fun and moves very fast.  Doug said from the beginning he wanted this movie experience for the crew working on it to be an adventure, and he delivered.”

So intimately involved with the production were Cruise and Liman, that Spinelli shared a house with them while the production was on location in Georgia (they even had a chore chart to handle housekeeping duties).  The trio would discuss plot points and story beats well into the morning, then be up at the crack of dawn to begin production again.  As Liman puts it, “It was a film-school-boot-camp teamwork experience unlike any I’ve ever had.”

“Doug and Tom try to make things better and never settle,” gives Spinelli.  “I have always felt like part of their team, as the three of us were always working toward the same goal: to make the best movie we possibly could.”

The final piece of the puzzle would come when Cross Creek Pictures’ principal Tyler Thompson and former Cross Creek executive Brian Oliver, of Black Swan, Everest and Black Mass fame, joined the production as producers and financiers.  Cross Creek, which has an output deal with Universal Pictures, was just as fascinated by the nature of Baton Rouge native Seal.

Thompson appreciated just how the team was crafting a comic, irreverent and entertaining film with substance: “Gary and Doug did such a great job at capturing the essence of who Barry Seal was, and we just wanted to be a part of it.  We have a lot of Louisiana roots and, considering that we know people who actually knew Barry, it excited us about the project.  We ended up coming to terms on it.”

Over the course of development, Roth met with Debbie Seal, Barry’s widow, to get her blessing on the film and hear her thoughts and recollections on their life together.  Graciously, Mrs. Seal shared with Roth many photos and home videos of Barry and their family over the years.  It was obvious in this meeting that he was still the love of Debbie’s life.  Says Roth: “We have always addressed the tone being in awe of Barry and not bringing a lot of judgment or morality to his story.”

For Cruise, this longtime labor of love wouldn’t have been possible without the support of occasional-roommates Spinelli and Liman.  Of his director, he reflects: “Doug brings a unique humanity to his films.  He comes up with ideas as we’re working, and the friendship that we have allows us to trust one another—where we’re willing to try anything.  We push each other, and he’s someone who wants to make great films and to entertain an audience.

“I also don’t make a movie just to make a movie,” Cruise, who does all of his own flying in the movie, continues.  “What interests me is the passion of cinema and storytelling, that’s when it gets very exciting.  It’s not just a job; I love this too much and want to push myself and surround myself with people who have that same sensibility and sense of exploration to make movies.”

An Exceptional Film About An Extraordinary Artist.

Review by Daniel Dercksen (30/8/17)

Rating: 5/5

If there’s one film that will change the way you see the world, it’s the superbly crafted masterwork Maudie from British filmmaker Aisling Walsh, featuring a consummate performance from Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis , one of North America’s preeminent Art Naïve painters who showed people how to see the ‘bigger picture’ from her tiny corner of the small world.

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This profound exploration of a tortured artist and wounded soul will steal your heart and capture your imagination, showing how a woman living humbly in a 10 x 12 foot house in impoverished circumstances was consumed by artistic expression, and whose unique vision of the world outside her window enriched her life and those who were fortunate enough to enter her life.

It’s a rare film that draws you into the intimate mindscape of a crippled woman and spurned outsider who never became a victim of her disposition, but whose loving heart and kindness made the world a better place for her outsider-husband who shared her life, and now, through the honest and endearing screenplay by Canadian screenwriter and filmmaker Sherry White, the impassioned interpretation and vision of director Walsh, and Oscar-worthy performances by Hawkins and Ethan Hawke as Maud’s husband, we can share Maud’s uniqueness.

It shows how a woman who had nothing, and one who asked for even less, was blessed with the unique gift of being content, and whose creative instinct fed her passion.

Maudie is truly an exceptional and rewarding film about the ultimate power of love, loving who you are, loving those who do not understand the meaning of true love, and being  loved for what you give to others unconditionally.

It is said that ‘’ýou can never be alone if you love the person you are alone with,’’ and if this true, Maudie shows how Maud was happy being alone, despite her illness and was content with herself and where she managed to make a home for herself; she was equally pleased when she found love in the most unexpected circumstances and she embraced it with all the love in her heart.

Her world might have had a cloud of gloom over it, but her paintings showed the world to be a marvellous tapestry of colour, endowing it with her simplistic style; Maud’s paintings brought happiness into people’s life, just as her art rewarded her with a ray of sunshine.

Hawkins’ radiant performance is truly one where an artist takes complete ownership of her character; for the role and journey of becoming Maud, Hawkins, who was torn between an art career and acting as a young student, spend much of 2015 preparing for the role and took painting classes with an Art Naïve painter before filming and painted some of the paintings used on camera and when you see Sally as Maud painting.

There are times in the film where Hawkins is so brittle that you fear she might crack like a porcelain doll and want to help her along, but you know that Maud is solid and secure on her wobbling legs and that this tiny creature walks as tall as 10 giants.

It’s a performance that will not only steal your heart, but break it into a thousand pieces.

Ethan Hawke is equally mesmerising of Maud’s husband, perfectly bringing to life a man who did not know how to love and become his own person until a tiny, fragile woman stepped into his heart.

The films reminds of Hector Babenco’s brilliant Ironweed, with Mery Streep and Jack Nicholson as two unfortunate outsiders whose tragic romance triumphs despite all the odds.

What makes Maudie a really great film is that is never becomes indulgent or sentimental, it has an honesty that allows you to become a part of the Maud’s journey, and creates a profound insight into the human condition and humanity without clobbering you over the head with it.

It’s a significant and dignified film anyone who has ever felt the need to make a difference in the world or feel that they don’t belong, can easily relate to.

Watch Maudie and see for yourself why artistic expression in art and film is important in our lives. Colour your world with this wonderful film.

Read more about the film

 

”As long as I have a brush in my hand and a window in front of me, I’m all right..”

Based on a true story, the outstanding independent film Maudie charts the unlikely romance between Maud Lewis, a folk artist who blossoms in later life, and the curmudgeonly recluse, Everett.

The film is directed by Aisling Walsh from a screenplay by Sherry White, with Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Mrs Brown, The Hollow Crown< Happy Go Lucky) as Maude Summers and Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets Society, Boyhood,) as the hardened reclusive bachelor, Everett Lewis.

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Director Aisling Walsh’ Vision Statement

I first read the screenplay in a hotel room in Cardiff in Wales. It had been sent to me earlier that day. Often the first time I read a script I read as fast as I can. Keep turning the pages. Whatever stays with you after that first read is the thing that will haunt you. Whatever that picture or pictures are will stay with you. Maud Lewis started to haunt me that evening. Everything about her. I got online. I started to search for her pictures. With me that means I am half way there – half way to saying yes I want in. I was fascinated by her struggle to be an artist having trained as one myself.

The first picture I found was a black and white photograph of Maud towards the end of her life. She was standing hunched in the doorway of her little house. You can see her small painting table beside the window. Everett is standing outside with some logs in his arms. I couldn’t get the image of a wounded bird and a scarecrow out of my mind. Maud and Everett – outsiders. Loners. Silent.

The second picture I found was her painting of ‘Three Black Cats’ Then I kept going.

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More paintings all beautifully composed and colourful. The landscape. Everett. Children. Animals. What she saw from the window of her little house. Seasons changing. Time passing. Then I found an image of the interior of the house. This crazy colourful interior that told the story of Maud’s life in her 12’X12′ surroundings. Of Everett’s life. Of a marriage. A portrait of two outsiders. Two loners that find one another.

Maud’s struggle to be the artist she wanted to be grabbed hold of me. I knew I had to try and make this film. In a notebook I always carry I wrote a name down. Sally Hawkins. I knew that if I was going to make this film I had to make it with Sally. We had adored working together some years before and maybe this was the project we had been searching for ever since that first time.

I spoke to the producers. We arranged to meet. We needed to be sure we were going to like one another. Needed to know we were making the same film. A few days later I emailed Sally. I sent her those first two pictures I had found. The photograph of Maud and Everett and the painting of the Three Cats. I was hoping they would speak to her like they had to me. I wanted her on this journey with me. She replied. One word. Yes.

On a Sunday afternoon some weeks later I found a two minute clip of a documentary film that had been made about Maud in the late 1960’s. I heard Maud speaking. That happy hopeful voice. Her beautiful smile. Her walk. How she painted. Fast free strokes. Then Everett comes on screen. He too speaks. You see him working. Moving around the house. Cycling away on his bicycle. Another amazing moment for me.

Some months later I went to Halifax and visited Maud’s house in the Art Gallery there. I wanted to start where my producers had started some years before. I wanted to go alone. I was still trying to find my Maud. Still trying to understand Everett. I stood in the doorway of the house. Suddenly it all made sense. Being there alone surrounded by her paintings was a unique experience. It was private. Quiet. A moment that was mine.

I revisited that house many times in the course of making the film. I first met my director of photographer Guy Godfree there. I took my Production Designer John Hand there. Sally and Ethan both visited it. To stand in that 12’X12′ house surrounded by Maud’s paintings is something that was so special. Maud had somehow brought us all together.

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Director Aisling Walsh with Sally Howkins during the filming of Maudie

Maud Lewis: Her Life And Art

Maud Lewis exemplified the simple life. But simple doesn’t mean dull. The simplicity of her paintings, brushed initially with scrounged paint from local fishermen onto ubiquitous green boards and post cards, continue to evoke feelings of innocence, of child-like exuberance as enduring as the spring times she loved to paint. And today she still captures audiences intrigued by everyday scenes as diverse as hard- working oxen and whimsical butterflies.

Maud Dowley Lewis was born March 7, 1903 in South Ohio, a community near Yarmouth. Her father Jack would provide a moderately prosperous living as a respected craftsman, making harnesses and serving as a blacksmith. Agnes, her mother, favored artistic pursuits including painting, folk carving and music. Born disfigured with sloped shoulders and her chin resting on her chest, Maud led a confined but happy home life after she quit school at 14, perhaps in part to escape the mocking of her peers.

“What is life without love or friendship?” she once confided to a friend. Her mother lovingly taught her to play the piano before juvenile rheumatoid arthritis crippled her hands. Physical deformity may have been her lot, but even more tragic was the loss of both her parents within two years. Who would care for Maud?

Thankfully, an aunt who lived in Digby took her in. There she would later answer a newspaper ad that would determine the course of her life. A man named Everett Lewis wanted a housekeeper for his cottage in Marshalltown.

She married him in 1938 at the age of thirty-four and would never travel more than an hour’s drive from her birthplace.

“I ain’t much for traveling anyway,” she said later, “as long as I have a brush in my hand and a window in front of me, I’m all right.”

Maud Summers

Cameo cigarettes added their share of comfort as well. Although short in stature with hands gnarled by arthritis as the years passed, she stood tall when she plied her brush over green-backed particle board. Everett Lewis, a stingy, parsimonious but certainly hard- working man, kept house and made meals allowing Maud to spend most of her time delving into her world of wonder and creating fanciful works of art.

Maud gathered images from her happy childhood and limited excursions in a Model T with Everett to paint cheerful images on dust pans, scallop shells and even on her house.

They would settle into a routine where Everett enjoyed peddling and haggling over the paintings Maud would love to paint. The happiness she painted first attracted neighbors, then tourists and eventually even international attention.

It started with a Star Weekly newspaper article and then a 1965 CBC Telescope program featuring her unique works.

Her notoriety began to bloom like the cherry trees that garnished several of her paintings. Orders came in so fast that the paint hardly had time to dry–one reason you may notice fingerprints on some edges of her paintings. Her style became as fanciful as her subjects.

She painted a world often without shadows, autumn leaves on winter landscapes, and even 3- legged oxen. Was she adding humour in her subtle, shy way?

Her gentle nature and magnetic smile might give that away. Awkwardly bent over a painting, she may have been squinting and intense, but her inner joy escaped onto her panels with unrivaled determination and vitality.

Small wonder her work garnered the attention of even the Nixon White House.

Ever pragmatic, Maud wrote to ask that funds be forwarded before she sent the requested two panels to the President! Today her work unequivocally demands status as “important art” in numerous fine-art collections around the world.

Much like her American counterpart, Anna Marie Robertson (Grandma Moses), Maud was uniquely creative, self-taught, specialized in painting everyday rural life, loved animals and appreciated the beauty of nature.

Both initially sold their paintings for just a few dollars, but saw their work increase dramatically over the years.

The works of Grandma Moses command prices in the $30,000 to $600,000 range. Of comparable quality, Maud’s paintings currently fetch $6,000 to$20,000, holding much promise for the future.

Not formally trained, Maud adopted a style that emerged from inside the heart of a true artist. As such, she could produce images of enduring quality and appeal, images that transformed her maritime surroundings into painted visions. The irresistible charm of her art had triumphed over the arrows of adversity.

Wayne & Jocelyn Cameron & the Mayberry Fine Art Gallery www.mayberryfineart.com

PAINTED

Re-Creating The Painted House

By Aisling Walsh

One of the biggest challenges on Maudie was how to re-create The Painted House. How to do it. Where to put it in the landscape and how to alter it as it would have done over the course of the 30 years that Maud lived there.

Filming in Newfoundland in the autumn has it challenges too. September/October is typhoon season. There can be horizontal rain for days on end with fierce winds. With that in mind we discussed building the house in a studio and replicating it in part out in the landscape. It sounded like a really neat idea until I started to think about how our two actors would respond to this slightly false space heavily lit from above. A false landscape created in some way outside the windows and door. It was never going to work. So the solution was simple. I decided we had to build the house in the landscape much as it would have been and brave the weather as it came at us.

After a lot of searching we found a location about half an hour outside St John’s that was perfect. It was a dirt road, you could happily look in every direction and the landscape would change beautifully with the seasons as we filmed. We visited the site several time and at all times of the day and evening before committing to it.

My Production Designer John Hand and I wanted to replicate the house as close as we could to the original. It was important to get as close as we could to Maud’s world as she lived it. I wanted every detail to be as close to the original as possible. From the paintings to the furniture to every little item that existed in the reference photographs we had and what is in the original house at The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. So the hunt for those items in Newfoundland began. The stove in the original house is so iconic. We would need to find one unpainted, as it would have been at the start of Maud’s life in the house and then paint it as Maud did in the 1950’s. The cuckoo clock and the framed photograph of Everett that hang on the back wall were vital to replicate. The calendars that Maud collected over the years that were a huge source of imagery for her. The simple table and chairs. Then we had to work out how to achieve painting the interior walls, the window and the door as well as the exterior of the house as Maud had done. We would have to shoot in chronologically – start in 1930’s when as far as we could discover the house was dark and dreary and very basic. This was how and where Everett Lewis had lived for most of his adult life.

There are no records of how Maud started painting the interior of the house. No records of the first mark she made and how that might have developed. I decided that first mark had to be something that came from the landscape around her. So we chose a simple tree. Simple flowers followed this tree then by a scene – a chicken in the yard.

Sherry’s script gave us some great indications too. From a certain point on in our story Maud painted every day. She progressed from small cards to the walls of the house. She painted the door and the window. She also painted at least one 10″X12″ painting every day.

The Art Galley of Nova Scotia was another fantastic source for us. We learned there that Maud’s only selfportrait as far as they knew was a mirror that hung on the wall behind her. She painted flowers in a circular cluster. Whenever Maud stood and looked at her reflection this is the self-portrait she saw. At the gallery we were able to inspect everything in detail and measure every inch of the house.

We taped out the house to the exact measurements in a school classroom in St Johns. We taped out the window and door in another color. Then we sat in the space and tried to imagine how our two actors were going to feel in it. It was at 12’X12′ going to be too small to film in so we extended to 13’X13’5″. That way we had enough room and things we still within a good scale.

Guy Godfree DOP is the closest to Ethan’s height so we measured the ceiling using him and photographed it. The 6′ of the original house was too low but at 6’4″was too high and loose so we settled at 6.3 giving Ethan just enough room to stand straight.

It was decided at the outset to build the attic space in a more controlled environment. The gymnasium in the school we were using as Production Offices was chosen. This would also give us weather cover for a day or two if we needed it.

So construction started. We had to build the house in stages and ferry it out to our location. The skeleton of the house was built out on site. It was made secure in case of bad weather. The sheds and outhouses that Everett had were built out on site too. Behind the doors to the main shed two metal cargo containers were placed. There, containers hidden from view would become shelter for crew. Extra equipment could be stored and video village could be housed. It was important too that the house and the sheds would stand for a few months after main filming finished as we needed to return in the Winter to film some scenes in the snow.

In the school gymnasium the art department started to construct and paint the interior walls and door. These were constructed four times for the four different stages the house would go through across our time- line of 30 years. The final stage had also to be aged as in the last decade of her life Maud was unable to do anything around the house. I had always wanted the house to age as our characters aged. The doors inside and out as well as the storm door have to be constructed across four stages too.

To change the house from era to era took about a day. So scenes that were at the Orphanage in Aunt Ida’s etc. were scheduled to give the Art Department and the Construction Crew the time to do this. Final touch ups and additions were often made on the day. The dressing and props in the house also changed over the years, so this was added to.

The final stage of the house is as close as we could get to the original house in The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

When Sally and Ethan finally visited the Gallery towards the end of filming they couldn’t quite believe it. Our house and theirs were so similar. The house was left in its final stage and stood on site until January 2016 when the cast and crew returned to film some scenes in the snow. Across the two days filming the house had to change back to an earlier era. This change was done overnight so as the house was ready for filming the next day.

The house was finally taken down and stored in late January 2016 and the site on which it stood for 6 months returned to what it had been originally – a very ordinary piece of scrubland at the side of a dirt road.

Production Design Notes: By John Hand

There is a wonderful starting point already with Maud’s work. Her paintings and the painted house itself – colorful – hopeful and full of life. Her colors are almost always primary. Her composition is simple and true. Aisling loves the intimacy of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings. The detail of a shoe or the cover on a bed. A chair sitting in a room or flowers in a window. His colors are more muted. His landscapes wide and uncluttered. So we decided to start in muted shades – Everett’s colors – and slowly bring Maud’s colors into this world. As Maud and Everett’s relationship develops so does the color in their world.

Aisling also referenced the work of Bischoff and the Ashcan Painters of the 1930s. We also worked with references that Guy Godfree came with – some movies he loves – some old photographs from the archives in Halifax and some of his own still photographs taken over years depicting landscape – light – color – mood and atmosphere. All three of us are huge lovers of the still image. I love the feeling of some of Tarkovsky’s polaroids as well as the photographs of Norwegian photographer Elin Hoyland and of course Dorothea Lange who’s work in the 1930’s was a great reference for me. The detail – the patina – in her photographs was what we aimed to achieve. That worn out and down at heel feeling.

Sense of place is something that both Aisling and I feel so important. We need to have it to be able to work and create the world we are trying to place our story in. This was a challenge on Maudie as locations were sometimes hours apart. The town and shop were in different places as was Sandra’s house and somehow they all had to become part of our Maudie world and sit into it seamlessly. So I made a map of ‘Maudieland’ for our crew. They needed to know where the town of Digby was. Where Aunt Ida’s house was. How far Maud had to walk to the town – to Sandra’s house – to the wharf. A causeway that we found near Trinity linked everything together and this small location with the ocean beyond it became so important.

I wanted the decades to be seamless too and as time progressed to have the modern world get ever closer to Maud and Everett’s. An advertising hoarding placed in the field opposite their house and electricity poles appearing brought us into the 1950s and 1960’s.

The house had to develop too – each decade brought change. Maud’s paintings also to be develop from small simple flowers or birds on the back of a card to her iconic paintings – Two Oxen – Three Cats – Everett Hauling Logs. In simple terms it was creating a world where darkness became light and monotones became color

My Cousin Rachel is one of du Maurier’s most psychologically sophisticated works.  It really taps into all the discomforts of the mind, into our deepest emotions of love and death and their accompanying fears.

Steeped in a wonderfully powerful atmosphere of desire and suspicion, My Cousin Rachel tells the story of a rather naive young bachelor struggling to determine if his deceased guardian’s charming widow is either the woman of his dreams… or a cold-blooded killer and inheritance-chasing gold-digger.

Key to South African-born director Roger Michell’s adaptation is his decision to fully embrace the novel’s thrilling ambiguity, the spell of which du Maurier never breaks.  The story is the search for the truth, a search that delightfully torments the reader, torments Philip … and still continues to haunt the film’s final moments.

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The film is written for the screen and directed by Roger Michell, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier and stars Rachel Weisz (Youth, The Constant Gardner), Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay)

My Cousin Rachel was written in 1951 by Daphne du Maurier, whose outstanding work often combines suspense, passion and shockingly modern psychological portraits of men and women in intriguing and sometimes obsessive relationships.  So cinematic was her writing that Alfred Hitchcock made films from three of her novels:  JAMAICA INN, THE BIRDS and REBECCA.  Nicolas Roeg’s psychological horror masterpiece DON’T LOOK NOW is also based on a story by du Maurier.

On publication My Cousin Rachel instantly became one of du Maurier’s most popular books and 20th Century Fox snapped up the film rights, going straight into production with two of the hottest stars of the day, Richard Burton and Olivia De Havilland. Released in 1952 the film garnered four Oscar® nominations and a Golden Globe Award for the young Burton as “New Star of the Year.”

The son of an English diplomat, Roger Michell was born in South Africa and as a child lived in Beirut, Damascus and Prague. He started directing plays at school before going on to Cambridge where, in 1977, he won the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Buzz Goodbody Award at the National Student Drama Festival and a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe. Michell has directed plays at the National Theatre, the Old Vic, the Lyric Hammersmith, the Donmar Warehouse, Hampstead, the Royal Court, the Almeida, in the West End, on Broadway and elsewhere. For six years, Michell was Resident Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and in London. In the early 1990s, Michell began directing for film and television. Michell’s features as director have included Persuasion, Michell’s features as director have included Persuasion, My Night With Reg

“I think if you absolutely know one way or the other what Rachel has done, the story doesn’t work,” says Michell. “It’s exciting to make a film where part of the fun is knowing that people will leave the theatre debating… did she or didn’t she?  I hope people love the mystery of that as much as I do.  And I hope they enjoy going on a rollercoaster-ride with a this ill-matched couple who are thrown into a kind of emotional washing machine and find themselves churned about as they try to puzzle out each other’s motives, assumptions, values, each other’s sense of truth.”

“I think for Philip, Rachel feels like she comes from another world. And in a way, she really does.  She’s from a distant and exotic country. Her language, her clothes, her appetites, her understanding of the world are utterly foreign to him. She’s beautiful, articulate, fun, and completely disrespectful of stuffy contemporary convention. The book is set in the 19th Century, but written in 1950.  So I think of it as a kind of post-Freudian version of Jane Austen, if you will. On one level it’s a period thriller about falling in love and family estates and so on, but on another, it’s conversation about sexuality, about women’s freedom in a man’s world, about issues of women’s power.  I wanted Rachel to feel in part like a woman from 2017 who parachuted into that world … the woman who fell to earth”

Michell’s long-time producing partner Kevin Loader was impressed by the way the writer-director sprinkled seeds of doubt throughout the screenplay and used them to explore the gulf between romantic dreams and the realities of how power, money and social rules are tied up in relationships.

“The idea of the ‘mysterious outsider’ is so universally resonant, and a great narrative hook on which to build a film,” Loader notes.  “What emerged from Roger’s adaptation is a taut psychological thriller that’s full of observations on the nature of romantic love, infatuation and sexual relations between men and women, especially in closed societies.  And it leads to a climactic moment, shrouded in ambiguity as to who is culpable and who is not.”

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Loader was also struck by how completely contemporary Rachel seemed in Michell’s adaptation, chafing against the constrictions of 19th century English manners.  “Rachel is a very modern woman stuck in a rather antiquated, provincial world.  I think part of the reason Philip and others find her so difficult to comprehend is because she’s not like anyone they’ve met before,” says Loader.  “She’s headstrong, she plays her cards quite close to her chest and she takes pleasure in her own sexuality. All of these were quite shocking ideas for 1839.  I think that tension is something Daphne du Maurier was thinking about in the 1950s and that’s why it’s just as resonant now.”

Before taking the leap, it was vital to both Michell and Loader to get the blessing of Daphne du Maurier’s estate, and they were gratified to find her family highly enthusiastic about this particular adaptation.

Grace Browning, du Maurier’s granddaughter, says:  “Roger is a well-respected filmmaker, and the fact that he was adapting the book himself was interesting to me.  When I found out Rachel Weisz was attached, I felt she couldn’t be more right for this part.  She brings such truthfulness to all the characters she’s ever played.  Du Maurier was brilliant at writing women characters; there’s such depth to all of them, and I think any actress would relish the chance to play one.”

(l-r) Director Roger Michell and Rachel Weisz as "Rachel Ashley" on the set of MY COUSIN RACHEL. ©20th Century Fox. CR: Nicola Dove.

Director Roger Michell and Rachel Weisz as “Rachel Ashley” on the set of My Cousin Rachel

“Rachel (Weisz) was able to bring a haunting quality to the story, which is really the key to the whole film. You just don’t ever know for certain whether the character of Cousin Rachel is guilty or not.  Rachel (Weisz) carries that off brilliantly.  In one moment she’s charming, and in the next she’s furious but still seems as if she is hiding something. Every one of those moments is played with conviction,” says Michell.

For her part, Weisz remembers that as soon as she finished the script she urgently called Michell to ask him:  is she or isn’t she innocent?  His answer was galvanizing:  “Roger told me he didn’t know and he didn’t want to know for sure.  I thought that would be very exciting to explore and it made me really want to do this project,” says Weisz.

To play the part of Philip, Roger Michell was in search of one of a new generation of emotionally complex British actors, someone who could traverse seamlessly from vengefulness to romantic ecstasy to the most doubt-ridden torment.  “We watched a lot of films and Sam Claflin just popped out as exceptionally appropriate,” the writer-director remembers.  “We asked him to do a couple of screen tests and he was incredibly persuasive.  He’s sensitive, he’s smart, but he’s also youthful and vigorous.  He’s got the lot.”

For producer Kevin Loader, he brought two conflicting qualities essential for Philip Ashley:  “He had to have an almost puppy-like boyishness but also a charming manliness, and Sam has the facility to play both. A husband and a father in real life and a very together young person, he can be very strong and magnetic but he also has a natural boyishness about him.  He was just perfect for this innocent and naive young man who knows nothing about women.”

Claflin found the character full of fascination.  “I’ve loved playing Philip and entering his very ambiguous world,” he says.  “I feel I’ve been pushed and challenged in new ways.”

He especially enjoyed taking Philip through 180-degree shifts in his thinking about Rachel.  “Initially, Philip suspects Rachel of foul play, and he comes in with a lot of judgement against her,” notes Claflin.  “He’s made his mind up that he despises her before he even meets her.  But he’s slowly bewitched by her, due to her mysterious nature, and because she’s different to any of the women that he knows, though he doesn’t know many women at all. Soon, she has this incredible intriguing hold over him.”

Claflin admits he developed his own ideas about the truth of Rachel, but notes that Michell did not want to discuss them even for a second.  “Right from the beginning Roger said ‘I don’t even want to know your theories.  I want to leave it to the audience to decide.’ And that’s really what drew me to the film.  I’m so excited to hear other people’s thoughts about what really happened.  I hope it’s the kind of story where you can get lost within it and leave the theatre asking questions.”

Mystery was one element central to every detail of My Cousin Rachel.  Sums up Loader:  “My Cousin Rachel is one of du Maurier’s most psychologically sophisticated works.  It really taps into all the discomforts of the mind, into our deepest emotions of love and death and their accompanying fears.  There had to been an uneasiness beneath the surface throughout the film and that is why it was such great raw material for everyone to work with, both cast and crew.”

Daphne Du Maurier (1907 – 1989)

 She was one of the most popular writers of her times, capturing the zeitgeist, but Daphne du Maurier was also ahead of her times, and continues to be a major influence on modern novelists today– her novels show how the most gripping thrillers, no matter how packed with romantic intrigue, natural forces and adventure, can also illuminate our most private emotions, complex relationships and the power of the past.

Like many of her female characters, du Maurier was herself a bold woman who lived on her own terms.  She was born in 1907 into an artistic family — the granddaughter of famed caricaturist George du Maurier and the daughter of well-known stage actors George du Maurier and Muriel Beaumont. Raised amongst all manner of creative types, du Maurier’s frequent family visitors while growing up included J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, and novelist and screenwriter Edgar Wallace who wrote KING KONG, helping to further ignite a very eager and daring imagination.

By the time du Maurier was in her teens she was already getting short stories in print.  In 1931, she published her debut novel:  The Loving Spirit, the story of three generations of love and loss in a Cornwall family under the spell of the sea.  This was followed by a string of major literary successes including Jamaica Inn and Rebecca, both of which would become films directed by the rising master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.  Now a household name and the highest-paid author of the day – male or female — du Maurier continued to enjoy tremendous popularity with her novels Frenchman’s Creek, Hungry Hill, Mary Anne, The Scapegoat, The Glass Blowers, The Flight of the Falcon, The House on the Strand and Rule Britannia.

My Cousin Rachel was her 8th novel and one of her most talked-about, defining the sharp edge of her insight into the hidden human psyche and the complicated lives of smart, strong women for which she is now known for.  Though she was often mislabelled as a romance writer, du Maurier’s refusal to come down on one side or the other of Rachel’s guilt or innocence made the book something quite rare in its time – and helped to showcase the nervy modernism and psychological depths of her writing.

Today, du Maurier’s writing is instantly definable to her many fans.  Rachel Weisz elaborates: “du Maurier’s stories always have a tightly coiled plot, a thriller-like component, mystery and most especially very strong, interesting women.  That’s what makes them still so cinematic.”

Actor Iain Glen observes:  “I think it’s brave writing.  You could easily pen Rachel’s story so that it would fall clearly on one side or the other.  Du Maurier didn’t do that.  Instead, like the very best writing, she puts the onus on the audience as to what to think and feel about it.”

Grace Browning, Daphne du Maurier’s grand-daughter hopes that this new screen version will re-introduce the pleasures of du Maurier to some and bring her books to a new generation.

“I think there’s much more depth to her writing than many people initially think.  She hated that after Rebecca she was tainted with the romantic novelist moniker.  Many of her short stories are incredibly dark — you’d never think they’d been written by her.  Her common themes are jealousy, deception, the motivation of people and her characters,” Browning sums up.  “They are human themes that are always relevant and I think that’s why people keep reading her work.”

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The foundation of Annabelle’s sinister nature is centered on the ultimate tragedy, the loss of a child, and just how far her parents would go to assuage their grief.

After a chilling cameo in The Conjuring, followed by a starring role in her own film, it became clear to filmmakers that moviegoers were ready to uncover the origins of the doll that has both terrified and captivated them.  So, on the heels of his successful feature directing debut, last summer’s hit Lights Out, director David F. Sandberg was tapped to helm Annabelle: Creation, the next chapter in James Wan’s Conjuring universe produced by Peter Safran and Wan.

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In “Annabelle: Creation,” several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a doll maker and his wife welcome a nun and six girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home.  They soon become the target of the doll maker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.

Sandberg directed from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman, who also wrote “Annabelle.”

“I was already a big fan of ‘The Conjuring,’ it felt like a classic that stood out from a lot of other modern horror movies,” Sandberg says.  “I remember I was really intrigued by that world and excited to do my own sort of classic take within the genre.”

SANDBERGDavid F. Sandberg was born in 1981 in Jönköping, Sweden, and fell in love with film at a young age. In his late teens he worked in a video store, which allowed him to both delve more deeply into his passion and save up money to buy his first camcorder. He began making short films and submitting them to festivals which eventually led him to intern at a local film center, Film i Jönköpings län.

In 2013, Sandberg realized he had slipped away from his original dream of making horror and sci-fi films and decided to begin making short horror films in his apartment with his wife, Lotta Losten. Their second short film, “Lights Out,” became a viral hit with over 100 million views and quickly began making waves in Hollywood, where it was snatched up by a studio. The short went on to win the Best Director Award in the Bloody Cuts Horror Challenge and play in many film festivals around the world.

Sandberg’s directorial debut, “Lights Out,” was an adaptation of his own 2013 short film. The film, in which a woman is haunted by a creature that only appears when the lights go out, stars Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello and was released on July 22, 2016.

Safran states, “David is a natural filmmaker and an extraordinary addition to this universe.  He really understands how to craft scares and how to build characters.  He sees the movie in a holistic manner—how every piece fits together—and he brings a really fresh perspective to the world of Annabelle.”

“When I was directing the first ‘Conjuring’ and we were designing the Warrens’ haunted artifact room, I remember between myself, the studio and the producers, we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘You know, it would be incredible if we could tell the stories of each of these objects,’” Wan recalls, referring to the collection the couple had confiscated over their years of paranormal investigation.

“Even then, we felt that giving Annabelle that prologue opening was cool, but we sensed she had a lot more stories to tell.  Every time that doll appeared on screen for just those few minutes, people shifted in their seats.  Audiences react to her.”

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“It was clear that people hadn’t gotten their fill of Annabelle,” Safran adds.  “They loved her.  One of the comments we heard most was, ‘Who is Annabelle and where did she come from?’  We answered that question a little bit with the movie ‘Annabelle,’ but the origin story was the next logical place to go.”

To craft the story, the filmmakers turned to scribe Gary Dauberman, who had written “Annabelle” and was eager to dive back in.

“The first film I wrote extended the mythology of the doll,” he says.  “For this one, we wanted to dig into her history and see if we could find out how the evil started.

“Dolls are things that bring people joy, right?” he continues.  “They’re given as gifts, passed down through generations.  So I wanted to set that up for Annabelle by starting her out from a place of love—a happy family—in order to sort of lay the groundwork for a nice contrast to all the bad stuff that would follow.”

With a toy taking center stage, kids seemed an appropriate addition to the tale.  While batting around more ideas, Dauberman relates, “It was James who had the idea to make the kids orphans, and from there I had my playing field.  Then I just had to figure out what it is about this particular doll that makes it so haunting and evil.”

Sandberg says the sense of dread already attached to her carried over to the set of “Annabelle: Creation,” revealing, “even the actors were a little wary around her, asking me, ‘Do I have to touch the doll?  I don’t really want to touch it,’” he smiles.

In fact, at the request of certain cast members, the production brought in a Catholic priest to bless the set and the prop Annabelle dolls, much as they did before cameras rolled on “The Conjuring 2” and the most recent production, “The Nun.”

Just in case.

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The story opens in the mid-1940s, with the majority of the action set just over a decade later, in the mid-to-late `50s, accounting for the overall chronology already established in “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle.”  And since Annabelle was created out of love—a father’s love for his daughter—Dauberman centered the foundation of her sinister nature on the ultimate tragedy, the loss of a child, and just how far her parents would go to assuage their grief.

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Gary Dauberman wrote the screenplay for “Annabelle,” based on the seriously creepy doll that first appeared briefly in “The Conjuring.”  “Annabelle” was a massive hit, generating over $37 million at the domestic box office in its opening weekend and continuing on to make more than $256 million worldwide—one of the most profitable films of 2014.  Next, Dauberman penned the screenplay adaptation of Stephen King’s tome IT.  Directed by Andy Muschietti, the upcoming film is one of the most anticipated of the fall, based on the record-breaking audience who viewed the online trailer.

Dauberman also wrote the script for “The Nun,” from a story he wrote with James Wan, set in “The Conjuring” universe.  Dauberman is also serving as executive producer on the film, which recently wrapped production.

In television, Dauberman is currently adapting the Valiant graphic novel Dr. Mirage into a one-hour series for the CW.

Amplifying the aura of suspense in the film is the music.  One song in particular adds a good deal to the allure of the film, at least for Janice, who is drawn to Bee’s off-limits bedroom when she hears the tune coming from the record player, the seemingly innocent “You Are My Sunshine.”

Sandberg was inspired by the contrasting nature of that tune with the story, and also the music of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.  But it was “Annabelle: Creation” composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s score that helped him to create the ongoing and increasingly uncomfortable feel needed for the film.

“Ben was fully on board to do something unusual,” the director attests.  “He even booked a session with a professional orchestra just to create weird sounds with their instruments, so we would have something unique to work with.  We used a lot of it throughout the film.”

James WanJames Wan was thrilled with the manner in which Sandberg embraced and enhanced the horror-verse he began.  “David has given this film a very classic period look that takes it outside of the traditional horror films we’re familiar with in contemporary cinema,” Wan says, “and I think that’s been the key to keeping this universe feeling fresh and unique.  Each of these standalone movies has a very different flavor, yet they’re all connected.”

Peter Safran agrees.  “What James has built and David has continued with ‘Annabelle: Creation’ are films that tap into the fears we hold in our very makeup, our DNA.  We’re all drawn to the idea of this doll, this inanimate object that can somehow wreak such devastation.”

“These films are a great example of why we love to go to the movies,” Sandberg says.  “It’s a safe, shared environment where we can experience such a great range of emotions, from fear to excitement and more.  And in this case, we get to find out how another piece of this ‘Conjuring’ and ‘Annabelle’ world is tied together…and maybe even get a hint at what’s to come.”

A contemporary love story among musicians.

Though renowned for visually arresting storytelling, filmmaker Terence Malick has always been drawn to that most classic subject of all:  love – especially love that mirrors or cuts through life’s illusions, and with Song To Song, he continues a career that began with the dark romance between two 1950s Midwestern killers on the run in Badlands; explored the early days of America through Captain Smith and Pocahontas’ affair in The New World; and twined the overwhelming emotions of parental love with a story of creation in The Tree Of Life.

Terrence Malick with Ryan Gosling during the filming of Song To Song.

Song To Song is Malick’s ninth feature film, a new love story set against and inspired by the Austin, Texas rock and roll scene, the film follows four interconnected lovers as they tumble and clash in both their roller coaster musical careers and rule-breaking intimate lives. Amid a world driven by youth, passion, lust, drugs and creativity, the story hones in on one couple who find in each other a way to bust through all the wild distractions of our modern lives and seek satisfaction in a new way.

Song To Song’s love story unfolds in today’s America and among those chasing that most contemporary and perhaps maddest of dreams:  the rock star life.  Can one be a free, unfettered artist in today’s music scene – and lead an improvised, in-the-moment life, moving from one thrill to another, without ending up broken-hearted?

Filmed throughout Austin and at its world-famed music festivals by three-time Academy Award winner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, Song To Song features unexpected performances from some of contemporary cinema’s biggest stars including Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Natalie Portman – as well as a multi-generational array of musicians including Patti Smith, Lykke Li, the Black Lips, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iggy Pop, John Lydon and more.

Rooney Mara is Faye, an aspiring songwriter who likes playing with fire and is wrestling with her creative future while sampling a variety of lovers; Michael Fassbender is Cook, a controlling and sexually voracious music producer who can make people’s dreams come true; Ryan Gosling is BV, Cook’s protégé and rising songwriting star who falls hard for Faye while being professionally betrayed by Cook; and Natalie Portman is Rhonda, a struggling waitress who sees Cook as the solution to her family’s financial problems.  The couples will tangle and tumble in a love quadrangle that nearly upends them – then moves them toward a new understanding of their lives and each other.

Into The Heart Of Austin’s Rock and Roll Scene With Terrence Malick

Austin, Texas is a city of contrasts – where laid-back, bohemian vibes collide with the hard-core ambitions of artistic dreams, and where relaxed Texans have had to confront gentrification and corporatization, even as the music industry itself has shifted seismically.  Dubbed “the live music capital of the world,” and sometimes known as “alt-Nashville,” Austin is duly famed for its cavalcade of music festivals, clubs, dive bars and honkytonks.  But it is equally known for its masses of aspiring musical talents chasing an undefined, but ideally uninhibited, life of creative freedom, be it in the country, folk, blues, new wave, punk, Tejano or rock scenes.

It is that side of Austin that filmmaker Terrence Malick zeroes in on in Song To Song.  He has had the desire to make a contemporary love story among musicians for some time, and Austin became the backdrop to a story that cycles between concerts that lift one ever higher … and those moments after the show ends, when all that clarity and euphoria evaporate and musicians are left alone with themselves again, anticipating the next high.

In the early phases, Malick titled the film WEIGHTLESS, based on a quotation from Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves, an encapsulation of a central dilemma of the modern world, which was an underlying inspiration:

How can I proceed now, I said, without a self,weightless and visionless, through a world weightless, without illusion?

The couples in Song To Song live in a realm that mirrors the quotation, where identity can’t be pinned down, where they are supposedly free to shift constantly in moods and desires without anchor.  Yet they also seem to feel lost, adrift.  The core of the group is Faye, the young songwriter who yearns to leap fearlessly into life and love, to give herself fully over to her art.  Even so, she keeps wondering why she still feels so disconnected, so unsure of what the freedom she is chasing really means.  Can she touch something real – and how?

Malick first started talking to his producing team of Sarah Green, Nicolas Gonda and Ken Kao about the film that would become Song To Song while making Tree Of Life.   They were all exhilarated by the idea of making an Austin-based love story.

“Austin became a great microcosm for this story, these characters and Terry’s ideas,” says Gonda.  “It’s a place where artists and free spirits have been drawn to for decades but it’s experiencing such rapid growth and visible changes. It attracts people who don’t want to be put into a mold – it’s a place that can feel like a brand new beginning, though it also can’t escape the contradictions of our times.  That’s why I think these characters will be very relatable to people.  They’re each trying to make a life in Austin, and to make sense out of a world that can be exciting but also full of emptiness and uncertainty.  There’s this tug of war between how you can make a modern life yet stay true to who you are.”

Green adds her take: “To me this is the story of a tangled romantic quadrangle but also about the value of love and forgiveness.  Very much like the lives these characters are leading, the movie is fun, wild and extreme but then there’s this moment where things come to a head and the characters arrive at a deeper understanding of what they want.  When Rooney Mara’s character, Faye, says ‘I thought we could live song to song, kiss to kiss’ it’s a reflection of a kind of life many people feel they’d like to lead at one time, but then you realize that no matter how much you seek true freedom, free-fall isn’t the goal.”

Observes Kao: “I think this is really a film about self-discovery – and Austin is a the perfect place for these characters to find themselves.  It’s such a quickly growing city, it’s a great prism through which to see these characters also trying to grow.”

Perhaps no career has more highs in the moment than that of pop musicians caught up in the flow and adoration of public performances.  SONG TO SONG takes audiences into those moments, yet also illuminates what happens in the fraught spaces between performances.

Song To Son

“The characters are going from high to high,” notes Gonda.  “When they’re at music festivals, people are all coming together and it is non-stop energy.  But when the music stops and the festivals end, they are left with having to face themselves. Even with so many amazing distractions and temptations, they still have to confront the questions of what is the purpose and meaning of all this?”

Green, Gonda and Kao all see the film as a new chapter in Malick’s filmmaking journey – blending not only a strong narrative with beyond-words sensations but also combining playful dialogue with private inner monologues in ways that evoke the layered landscape of the heart.  Says Green: “Song To Song is a very active, fast-moving film.  There is an extraordinary intimacy in Terry’s choice to layer voice-over over the dialogue – so that you not only hear what the characters are saying, you hear what they are privately thinking as they say it.”

Gonda adds: “Terry has swung the pendulum from a very maximal style in Thin Red Line, New World and Tree Of Life to a style that can evoke the most intimate of emotions that we only feel in relationships.  Song To Song has a rhythm that is very contemporary, but it’s one of his most intimate films.”

For Kao, the way Malick keeps expanding and exploring is an inspiration.  “He’s still pushing himself, despite all his accomplishments,” he notes.  “This film has its own distinctive feeling to it and you see a continuing evolution in his film style.”

Song To Song is also his most overtly musical film.  Malick has always been passionate about music — and about the use of music, particularly classical music, from baroque to postmodern, as an inseparable partner to visual imagery.  But in Song To Song, popular music is the thread that knits the characters together. From the start, Malick started looking for ways to integrate Austin’s non-stop parade of performers, from striving local bands to icons passing through town at the big festivals, into the characters he was creating.

Even as the film was being cast, Malick and his small, nimble crew began shooting at Austin’s three largest festivals:  Austin City Limits Festival, inspired by the long-running PBS live music show of the same name, which runs every summer; South by Southwest, the massive (and massively influential) multi-media festival featuring music, movies and interactive arts that has taken place in March since 1987; and the indie-oriented Fun Fun Fun Fest, known for discovering emerging talent.

“Shooting at these festivals in a very freestyle, spontaneous way allowed us to give people the experience of what it’s like to actually be backstage before a show or right in front of the stage during the performance.  It’s a high-energy experience — it’s loud and it’s in your face,” says Green.  “Capturing that festival atmosphere is one of the things that makes this movie uniquely contemporary.”

As the production began attending festivals, they also began amassing a wide-ranging musical cast to join with the film’s Oscar-winning actors.

“We started reaching out to see which musicians might be interested in interacting with our characters – and we were delighted by how many said yes,” Green explains.  “It’s a very spontaneous kind of world and that worked incredibly well with how Terry likes to shoot.  We’ve been working with a very small crew for a long time now so we could just slip in and slip out of these backstage worlds.  Our lean production style leant itself beautifully to the innate changeability and chaos of music festivals.”

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Adds Gonda: “A remarkable alchemy happened when we started putting our cast together with the musicians.  Their energy became a catalyst, pushing everyone to be more real.”

For the cast, soaking in all the dreams and natural wonders and brisk development of Austin was an infinite source of inspiration.

Says Natalie Portman: “Austin has such a strong character, with all the music, the tech and film worlds, the outdoor vibe of the city and the way it feels sort of like an island in Texas. It was wonderful to shoot there and have the city really be a character in the film.”

Mara concurs:  “I loved, loved working in Austin. I had never been there before this movie and now I think about it all the time and miss it.”

Sums up Michael Fassbender:  “This was my first time in Austin and I really loved it — great city, great food, great music. Keep Austin Weird is the slogan of the city and they really try to do that.  The chance to hear so much live music was special – it was all fantastic to experience.”

 

 

 

Your Guide To What’s Happening On The Big Screen

Latest Releases /  South African Films /  Films Released in 2017  /  Top 20 Films Of 2016

July 2017 / August 2017 / October 2017 /  November – December 2017

Upcoming Film Releases In South Africa: September 2017

Information provided by the film distributors in South Africa: Ster Kinekor, Times Media Films, UIP SA, and Black Sheep Films.  Dates subject to change, visit www.sterkinekor.comwww.cinemanouveau.co.za and www.numetro.co.za for cinemas where the films will be showing.    Report broken links

Film Festival

The sixth annual Jozi Film Festival (JFF) will open this year’s festival at Rosebank’s Cinema Nouveau on Thursday, 21 September 2017 with the top 10 films selected from an Africa-wide search for filmmaking.  Films will screen at Rosebank’s Cinema Nouveau and The Bioscope in Maboneng from 21-24 September 2017.

South African

VaselinetjieThe Afrikaans film Vasselinetjie (22/9) tells the story of Helena ‘Vaselinetjie’ Bosman, a white girl raised by her loving coloured grandparents in a remote rural village in the Northern Cape, South Africa. However, upon learning that Vaselinetjie is not their biological grandchild, the welfare intervenes and decides to send Vaselinetjie to a state orphanage in the far away city of Johannesburg. Based on Anoeschka von Meck’s celebrated youth novel. It is a story about defining your identity and race within the turmoil of post Apartheid South Africa. Nicole Bond and Marguerite Van Eeden make their big screen debut as both older and younger Vaselinetjie. Other cast members include Arno Greeff, Elzet Nel, Elani Dekker, Marise Loots, Anchen Du Plessis, Daniah De Villies, Royston Stoffels and Shaleen Surtie-Richards. Written and directed by Corne Van Rooyen.

The electrifying South African drama Vaya goes on limited release at Cinema Nouveau, Rosebank in Johannesburg this Friday, 15 September before its release on 27 October, 2017.  This is to qualify for consideration as South Africa’s official entry for the 2018 Oscars Best Foreign Language Film.

Vaya2This masterful synthesis of big-city anxieties and aspirations is directed by Nigerian filmmaker Akin Omotoso, who weaves together three separate stories to create a gripping yet compassionate portrait of small-town characters immersed in the intimidating, alluring, and dangerous world of big-city Johannesburg and Soweto. Beginning on a train travelling from the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg, Vaya focuses on three passengers and follows each of them into the city. They’re strangers to one another, yet bound by interlocking destinies and a shared naïveté. Imagine a South African spin on Amores Perros and you’re partway there. Nkulu (Sibusiso Msimang) is charged with retrieving his father’s remains from the capital and bringing them back home for burial. What he doesn’t know is that a whole other set of relatives have their own plans. Zanele (Zimkhitha Nyoka) is chaperoning a young girl who’s en route to reunite with her mother, a singer who manages a tavern. When Zanele meets the mother’s charismatic boyfriend, he promises that he can get her on TV as a dancer, but there’s more to this offer than meets the eye. Nhlanhla (Sihle Xaba), excited by the prospect of getting rich quick, is caught up in criminal activities — ranging from kidnapping to murder — the moment he gets off the train. Shifting effortlessly between scenes of intimacy and of bracing violence, Vayaexudes compassion for each of these small-town characters but does not hold back from plunging them into the urban snakepit that awaits. Watch the trailer

Pop Lock and RollPop, Lock ‘n Roll (29/9) is a South African dance film about finding the strength the dance, always, despite life and its unexpected, and sometimes tragic curveballs.  Loaded with a love story and set in the club scene in Cape Town, it’s a feel good rags to riches film about Raps, a gifted young dancer from the Cape Flats who thinks all he needs is fame and money, but it all gets complicated when he falls in love with the gorgeous young wife of the gangster-come-producer who’s making his career happen.The cast is led by avid dance and Isidingo mainstay, Maurice Paige, and singer-songwriter and actress, Yasirah Bhelz; directed by founder of Joziewood Films, Ziggy Hofmeyr. The film features heart stopping dance feats accompanied by some of South Africa’s best produced dance music mixes – it is set to be a favourite for many a South African. Watch the trailer

Action / Adventure

American Made 1Tom Cruise and his Edge of Tomorrow director, Doug Liman, reteam for a new 1980s smuggler film American Made (1/9). Cruise plays a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America and soon finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States. The operation spawns the birth of the Medellin cartel and almost brings down the Reagan White House. Watch the Trailer

First Kill 2Trying to reconnect with his son Danny, big shot Wall Street broker Will (Bruce Willis) takes his family on a hunting trip to the cabin where he grew up in the action film First Kill (1/9). The trip takes a deadly turn when they go hunting and stumble upon several robbers and witness the murder of one of the criminals. After becoming entangled in a bank heist gone bad, which results in the kidnapping of Danny, Will is forced to help the kidnappers evade the police chief and recover the stolen loot in exchange for his son’s life. It is directed by Steven C. Miller and written by Nick Gordon. Watch the trailer.

inhumans-abc_7325Marvel’s The Inhumans will premiere in IMAX theaters on Sept. 1 before its official premiere on ABC on  Sept 29. It  explores the never-before-told epic adventure of the titular race from the Marvel comics, including Black Bolt, the enigmatic, commanding king of the Inhumans, with a voice so powerful that the slightest whisper can destroy a city. Anson Mount plays Black Bolt; Iwan Rheon plays Black Bolt’s younger brother, Maximus the Mad; Serinda Swan will play the queen, Medusa; and Ken Leung will play Karnak. Executive producers on the series are Scott Buck–who previously worked on the Marvel series “Iron Fist”– and Jeph Loeb, Marvel’s head of television. Jim Chory–who has worked on “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and the upcoming “Defenders” series among several other Marvel shows–also executive produces. Roel Reine will direct the first two episodes. Marvel Television and ABC Studios are co-producing. Trailer

American AssassinAmerican Assassin (15/9) deals with Black ops recruit and counter terrorism agent Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) who is reeling from the death of his fiancée in a terrorist attack when he is assigned to shadowy CIA figure Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to receive special training in tracking terrorists. Rapp and Hurley are then dispatched to join a Turkish agent on a mission to stop a mysterious operative from unleashing chaos of international proportions. Directed by Michael Cuesta, based on Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel of the same name.Watch the trailer

The Lego Ninjago MovieIn the big-screen The Lego Ninjago Movie  (29/9) adventure, the battle for Ninjago City calls to action young Lloyd, aka the Green Ninja, along with his friends, who are all secret warriors and LEGO Master Builders.  Led by kung fu master Wu (Jackie Chan) , as wise-cracking as he is wise, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon, the Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad.  Pitting mech against mech and father against son, the epic showdown will test this fierce but undisciplined team of modern-day ninjas who must learn to check their egos and pull together to unleash their true power. This Danish-American 3D computer-animated action-comedy martial arts film is directed by Charlie Bean and written by Dan and Kevin Hageman, Hilary Winston, Bob Logan and Paul Fisher. Based on the Lego Ninjago toy line, the film is the second spin-off installment from the 2014 film The Lego Movie, following The Lego Batman Movie. Watch the trailer

KINGSMAN_GOldenN_CIRCLE_1000-920x584In Kingsman: The Golden Circle (29/9) Eggsy (Taron Egerton), Merlin (Mark Strong), and Roxy (Sophie Cookson) head to the United States to join forces with Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart, after Kingsman’s headquarters is destroyed by Poppy (Julianne Moore), who is a member of the secret group “The Golden Circle” and also a notorious criminal mastermind. Kingsman: The Secret Service introduced the world to Kingsman – an independent, international intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion, whose ultimate goal is to keep the world safe. In The Golden Circle our heroes face a new challenge. When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, their journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US called Statesman, dating back to the day they were both founded. In a new adventure that tests their agents’ strength and wits to the limit, these two elite secret organizations band together to defeat a ruthless common enemy, in order to save the world, something that’s becoming a bit of a habit for Eggsy… This British-American action comedy spy film is directed by Matthew Vaughn, and is the sequel to 2015 film Kingsman: The Secret Service. The series is based on the comic book The Secret Service, created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar. Watch the trailer

Romance

Bounce BackFather, author and relationships expert, Matthew Taylor (Shemar Moore) is on a whirlwind book tour promoting his new best seller, The Bounce Back (1/9). He’s got it all figured out until he meets the acerbic Kristin Peralta (Nadine Velazquez), a talk show circuit therapist who’s convinced he’s nothing but a charlatan. Matthew’s life is turned upside down when he inadvertently falls for Kristin and has to face the painful truth of his past relationship. Directed by Youssef Delara. Watch the trailer

The ExceptionIn the romantic war drama The Exception (8/9) German soldier Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) goes on a mission to investigate exiled German Monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser lives in a secluded mansion in the Netherlands, and as Germany is taking over Holland, the country’s authorities are concerned that Dutch spies may be watching the Kaiser. As Brandt begins to infiltrate the Kaiser’s life in search of clues, he finds himself drawn into an unexpected and passionate romance with Mieke (Lily James), one of the Kaiser’s maids. It marks the directorial debut of David Leveaux. Watch the trailer. 

In the Nollywood film My Wife and I (15/9) Ebere (Omoni Oboli) and Toyosi (Ramsey Nouah) have been married for 17 years and have two teenagers. Ebere is a career woman/strict mother while Toyosi is a farmer/cool dad. They hit a bump in their relationship and at the insistence of their parents, go to pastor Theophilus (Seyi Law) for counselling. This comedy deals with the trials and tribulations of the duo who are successful in every other aspect of their lives, except their marriage. Directed by Bunmi Ajakaiye and written by Chinaza Onuzo, My wife and I also features Ngozi Nwosu, Rachael Oniga, Seyi Law, Jemima Osunde, Bolanle Ninalowo, Dorcas Shola Fapson, Sambasa Nzeribe and Dozie Onyezuruika. Watch the trailer

 

Home AgainIn the romantic comedy Home Again (15/9) a recently separated mother of two (Reese Whitherspoon)  starts a new life in Los Angeles, which is complicated by her decision to house three young, charismatic guys (Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Reid Scott). It was written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer in her directorial debut. Watch the trailer.

 

Victoria and AbdulVictoria & Abdul (29/9) is a biopic directed by Stephen Frears and written by Lee Hall. It is based on the book of same name by Shrabani Basu, and on the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria (judi Dench) and her Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Abdul Karim arrives from India to participate in Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. The young clerk is surprised to find favor with the queen herself. As Victoria questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance that her household and inner circle try to destroy. As their friendship deepens, the queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes, joyfully reclaiming her humanity. Watch the trailer

Crime – Drama

SleightAfter his mother’s death, a young street magician (Jacob Latimore) turns to dealing drugs at parties to support his little sister in Sleight (1/9). When she is kidnapped by his supplier, he uses his sleight of hand and keen intelligence to find her. The film is directed by J.D. Dillard, written by Dillard and Alex Theurer and stars Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Dulé Hill, Storm Reid, Sasheer Zamata and Michael Villar. The film was released on April 28, 2017, by WWE Studios and Blumhouse Tilt. The film received generally positive reviews from critics and grossed $3 million worldwide, against its $250,000 budget. Trailer

Luchnow CentralSet against the backdrop of a jail, Lucknow Central (15/9) stars Farhan Akhtar playing a prisoner who forms a band along with other jail inmates. The walls are full of positive thoughts to inspire the prisoners, giving them an opportunity to improve and change their bad habits and start life afresh. directed by Ranjit Tiwari.

Comedy

Fun Mom DinnerThe comedy Fun Mom Dinner (1/9) is set in an unspecified corner of suburban Los Angeles, the kind of neighborhood where the families own SUVs, have big lots and are mostly white, the story revolves around four families whose kids all go to the same cozy elementary school. Harried mother-of-two Emily (Katie Aselton) was a high-powered lawyer before she met husband Tom (Adam Scott). However, now they’ve grown so distant and exhausted by parenthood, he can barely bring himself to kiss her on the mouth as he leaves in the morning. And that’s before her toddler throws the contents of his diaper in her face. Dope-smoking mom-of-four-boys Kate (Toni Collette), on the other hand, Emily’s best friend since college, has found a way to keep the love alive with her husband Andrew (Rob Huebel), thanks mostly to her willingness to dispense fellatio during commercial breaks and not giving a shit who she offends with her smart-ass ways.The screenplay by Julie Rudd (whose real-life husband Paul Rudd gets a wacky cameo as a medicinal marijuana dealer married to partner in legal-highs David Wain). Directed by Alethea Jones. Watch the trailer

Logan LuckyIn the heist comedy Logan Lucky (8/9) the Logans are a hardscrabble family from the hills of West Virginia, and their clan has been famous for its bad luck for nearly 90 years. But the conniving Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) decides its time to turn the family’s luck around, and with a little help from his friends, the Redneck Robbers, he plans to steal $14 million from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. It is directed by Steven Soderbergh from a screenplay by Rebecca Blunt. Watch the trailer.

 

 

Poster Boys posterIn the Indian Hindi  comedy Poster Boys (8/9) The world turns upside down for three men, Vinay Sharma (Bobby Deol), Arjun Singh (Shreyas Talpade) and Jaagavar Chaudhary (Sunny Deol),when they find their pictures on a poster promoting ‘nasbandi’ vasectomy. And then, starts their journey of getting humiliated by their families and society; rebelling against the system which landed them in this confusing mess in the first place. The film is co-produced and directed by Shreyas Talpade making his directorial debut. The film is an official remake of the 2014 Marathi hit Poshter Boyz which Shreyas had produced and acted in. It is inspired by a real life incident about three porters who found their pictures on a vasectomy poster. Trailer

EmojiThe 3D computer-animated buddy adventure comedy The Emoji Movie (22/9) centers on Gene, a multi-expressional emoji who lives in a phone, when he sets out on a journey to become a normal meh emoji like his parents, after causing a misconception emoji. Hidden inside a smartphone, the bustling city of Textopolis is home to all emojis. Each emoji has only one facial expression, except for Gene, an exuberant emoji with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his best friend Hi-5 and a notorious code breaker called Jailbreak. During their travels through the other apps, the three emojis discover a great danger that could threaten their phone’s very existence.written and directed by Tony Leondis. Watch the trailer

Human-Drama

9 11In 9/11 (8/9) a group of 5 people find themselves trapped in an elevator in the World Trade Center’s North Tower on 9/11. They work together, never giving up hope, to try to escape before the unthinkable happens. Directed by Martin Guigui from script he co-wrote with Steven Golebiowski. With Charlie Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Luis Guzman, Wood Harris and Olga Fonda.

 

Glass Castle 2In the drama The Glass Castle (8/9) a young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty. Four siblings must learn to take care of themselves as their responsibility-averse, free-spirit parents both inspire and inhibit them. When sober, the children’s brilliant and charismatic father captured their imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Meanwhile, their mother abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want to take on the work of raising a family. Written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the film is based on Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir of the same name. With Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. Watch the Trailer

Normanin Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (15/9) Norman (Richard Gere), a New York fixer, knows the right people and can get things done. When an Israeli dignitary named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) comes to the city, Norman decides to impress the man by buying him some very expensive shoes. It works and he establishes a strong connection to the man, but a few years later, when Eshel becomes the Israel prime minister, Norman can’t communicate with him anymore, and this threatens to destroy his reputation. Trailer

Stronger-Movie-TrailerIn the drama Stronger (22/9) Jake Gyllenhaal plays a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 who helps the police track down the killers while struggling to recover from devastating trauma. Written by John Pollono, based on the book of the same name by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter. Directed by David Gordon Green. Watch the Trailer

 

Sci-Fi Fantasy

Dark TowerJake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a young 11-year-old adventure seeker who discovers clues about another dimension called Mid-World in Dark Tower (8/9) Upon following the mystery, he is spirited away to the land Mid-World where he encounters the lone frontiersman knight Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) who is on a quest to reach the “Dark Tower” that resides in End-World and reach the nexus point between time and space that he hopes will save Mid-World from extinction. But with various monsters and a vicious sorcerer named Walter Padick (Matthew McConaughey) hot on their trail, the unlikely duo find that their quest may be difficult to complete. Science fantasy western horror film directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel, based on the series of novels of the same name by Stephen King. The film is a quasi-sequel to the The Dark Tower book series, following the ending of The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. Watch the trailer.

Horror

IT 2Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, It: Part 1 – The Losers’ Club (15/9) a group of outcast kids discover a shape-shifting entity, who may be linked to the recent cases of missing children in the town, but also face their own personal demons. The group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries. Directed by Andrés Muschietti, and written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman. It is intended to be the first installment in a planned duology, as well as being the second adaptation following Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 miniseries. With Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis. Watch the trailer

armed-response-master768In the action-horror film Armed Response (15/9) a team of trained operatives find themselves trapped inside an isolated military compound after its artificial intelligence is suddenly shut down. There, they begin to experience strange and horrific phenomena as they attempt to uncover what killed the previous team. Directed by John Stockwell (Kickboxer Veneance) With Dave Annable, Colby Lopez, Wesley Snipes and Eyas Younis. Trailer

National Theatre Live

ANGELS 1Marianne Elliott’s production of Tony Kushner’s stageplay Angels In America forms part of the NT Live Season. Part Two: Perestroika, (2/9) picks up right where Millennium Approaches left off. Prior is in his bed with the angel hovering over him. He tells the angel to go away. The first act also reconnects with the play’s other characters. Hannah, Joe’s mother, takes care of poor Harper, who’s having a really hard time with the fact that Joe left her for a man. Roy Cohn, dying of AIDS, checks into a hospital to meet his new nurse, Belize. And Joe and Louis finally consummate their relationship.

Yerma_Website-1The incredible Billie Piper (Penny DreadfulGreat Britain) returns in her Evening Standard Best Actress award-winning role in Yerma (22/9). A young woman is driven to the unthinkable by her desperate desire to have a child in Simon Stone’s radical production of Lorca’s achingly powerful masterpiece. The unmissable theatre phenomenon sold out at the Young Vic and critics call it ‘an extraordinary theatrical triumph’ (The Times) and ‘stunning, searing, unmissable’ (Mail on Sunday). Billie Piper’s lead performance is described as ‘spellbinding’ (The Evening Standard), ‘astonishing’ (iNews) and ‘devastatingly powerful’ (The Daily Telegraph). Set in contemporary London, Piper’s portrayal of a woman in her thirties desperate to conceive builds with elemental force to a staggering, shocking, climax. Please note this broadcast does not have an interval. Please note that this performance of Yerma includes strobe lighting and includes strong language. Trailer

Exhibition On Screen

Painting the Modern Garden Monet to MatisseUsing the work of Monet as a starting point, this landmark exhibition documentary Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse (30/9) examines the role gardens played in the evolution of art from the early 1860s through to the 1920s. It explores the intriguing relationship between the world’s greatest artists and horticulture.  It offers fresh insights from international gardening experts and art critics in order to bring the history of the garden’s relationship with art to life. Interviews with renowned modern artists Lachlan Goudie and Tania Kovats will also reveal how the relationship between the artist and the natural world continues to flourish in the 21st century. Watch the trailer

A story about a guy who is trying to protect his girl at all costs, against time itself.

US based Australian director and producer Paul Currie’s first encounter with the bewitching riddle of 2:22 came in the form of a bold, visionary script written by Todd Stein.

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Michiel Huisman and Teresa Palmer in 2.22

“Todd Stein had this wonderful karmic view of life”, recalls Currie. “When he first conceived of the story Todd had some medical issues, which put him into a really interesting frame of mind to write such a story. As soon as I read his script I thought: ‘This is something that’s in my DNA as a director’. Todd’s script was dark, but I felt that inside the thriller was an idea, a conceit around time and love through time, that was  expansive.”

In 2.22 New York City air traffic controller Dylan Branson (Michiel Huisman) is the embodiment of a guy at the top of his game, until one day at 2:22pm, a blinding flash of light paralyzes him for a few crucial seconds as two passenger planes barely avoid a mid-air collision. Suspended from his job, Dylan begins to notice the increasingly ominous repetition of sounds and events in his life that happen at exactly the same time every day. An underlying pattern builds, mysteriously drawing him into Grand Central Station every day 2:22pm. As he’s drawn into a complex relationship with a beautiful woman who works in an art gallery, Sarah (Teresa Palmer), disturbingly complicated by her ex-boyfriend Jonas (Sam Reid), Dylan must break the power of the past, and take control of time itself.

The Enigma of 2.22

Every day, on the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, Dylan Branson sees a businessman at the ticket counter reading a newspaper, a couple kissing, six school children, and a pregnant woman standing under the famous clock. It’s not always the same businessman, but it’s always the same pattern.

PaulCurrie

Director Paul Currie

Earlier in the day – other patterns play out and haunt Dylan – a plane flies overhead, glass shatters, a car screeches. It becomes clear to Dylan, and to Dylan alone, that these supposed random series of events, in this busy, noisy city, are not so random.

This is the enigma of 2:22.

For director Paul Currie, “the film is a mysterious love story, a romantic thriller about a guy who has a particular gift that could be considered part genius or insanity. A gift that  involves a dangerous secret that has to be unravelled in order to stop a devastating karmic pattern from continually repeating itself.”

“2:22 is about the fear of love. It’s also about the past that can secreretly haunt us all. It’s a story about a guy who is trying to protect his girl at all costs, against time itself. Time is both Dylan’s ally, and his enemy.”

Paul Currie is a founding shareholder of Lightstream Pictures. His directorial work spans commercials, TV series, feature films and the staging of massive live events. Currie directed and produced One Perfect Day, for which he was awarded Best Debut Director from the Screen Directors Association of Australia. He also produced the Australian action feature film Under The Gun, and co-authored the best selling book, A Hero’s Journey (forwarded by Bryce Courtney, author of The Power Of One).

He directed the ABC TV series Twenty-Something and Executive Produced the cop thriller Rampart and Max Rose.

Currie produced the $40M fantasy adventure film The Moon And The Sun, and co-produced the documentary Great Barrier Reef With David Attenborough. Paul Currie again recently collaborated with Bill Mechanic, producing the Mel Gibson directed award winning Hacksaw Ridge

From Page To Screen

The script was well thought of in Hollywood. It had previously been set up at a major studio and was likely going to go move to another major studio, but Currie was determined to give it a different type of life.

“I said to Todd: ‘We don’t have the money that a studio may be able to offer you up front, but I deeply connect to the themes and ideas of this movie and I will dedicate myself to getting this movie made, no matter what it takes.” That was how the journey began.”

Todd Stein is an award-winning screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon.  He broke into the film industry after winning the prestigious Monterey Screenwriting Award in 2003.  Since then, he has written scripts for Universal, Dreamworks, New Line Cinema, among others.  He presently has three projects in the pipeline along with 2:22 that include sci-fi thriller Tipping Point, to be directed by Ric Roman Waugh (Felon, Snitch) for Relativity Media; and the adaptation of the best-selling YA novel Unwind by author Neal Shusterman, to be directed by Roger Avary (Rules Of Attraction) for Constantin Films.

Currie continues “From the moment I first read the script, I realized that 2:22 was one of those rare commercial projects that appealed on many levels. I pitched Todd my take on how I saw the film from a director’s perspective, which in a nutshell, was to make an intelligent high-concept romantic thriller; a film that is highly cinematic, visceral and mysterious, offering viewers a compelling and thrilling ride from the first frame to the last.”

“Co-writer, Nathan Parker also came in at an important moment in our development to help us refine the characters and some of the nuances of the plot.  Nathan is a very talented writer with a proven track record writing fantastic independent films like “Moon”.   Nathan was instrumental in helping with the ultimate structure of the story and working the air traffic control sequences into the screenplay.  From a director’s and writers perspective, I’ve felt blessed to be working with two such passionate and talented craftspeople.”

Nathan Parker was born in London in 1974. His first produced screenplay, Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, received its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. Nathan won Best Screenplay for Moon from the Sitges Film Festival, a 2010 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and a Best First-Feature Length Screenplay from the Writers Guild of Great Britain.

His other credits include Blitz directed by Elliott Lester, and Equals.

Towards the end of 2013, Steve Hutensky, who’d acted as a consultant on the film when Currie was trying to set it up through a US based financier, came on board as a partner producer. Like Currie, Hutensky felt the pull of 2:22 and its mysterious, unique universe.

The financing structure that worked eventually came from a combination of government subsidies in Australia, equity from Screen Australia and Screen New South Wales, presales secured by international sales agent Good Universe, UK based financer Ingenious, as well as lead private equity investors 2929 Productions and Flywheel Entertainment.

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Filming would take place in Australia, with some location filming in New York. Hutensky says: “For us, it had always been about not necessarily letting the tax structure or the financing drive where we shot the film, but figuring out where we could make the highest quality film within our budget range.  It all just came into place naturally in Australia – Paul being an Australian director and producer , actress Teresa Palmer being Australian, having access to amazing crews, realizing we could convincingly double Sydney for New York – the creative pieces gelled so that it made sense to shoot in Sydney.”

Jodi Matterson soon came on board as an Australian based producer. Hutensky says: “In terms of an Australian producing partner, Jodi was the first name on my list. Luckily she loved the script.”

Matterson recalls: “When Steve and Paul sent me the script, I loved the idea of doing a thriller that had romance at its core, and that’s what I think really set 2:22 apart from other films in the genre. Having these characters whose bond and love is so strong that it transcends time – I thought it was a really interesting concept to build a film around.”

The producers knew the challenges they would face making a genre film outside of the Hollywood system. Hutensky says: “We were going to make, for a modest independent budget, a movie that would aim to compete with $30 to $35 million studio movies. It’s very ambitious to do that, and to do that within the time table and budget we needed to work .”

Matterson agrees. “It was always going to be a film where we wanted to get more up on screen than we had the resources for. We were making a film that competes with genre movies in America with twice our budget. The task was: “How do we do this in the most clever, out of the box way? ”

Key to the success of this bold undertaking would be the Australian based crew.

Engaging people like Barbara Gibbs, Line Producer, was crucial. Jodi Matterson explains: “Making any film in Australia, for me the first call is always Barbara Gibbs, one of the best, if not the best, line producers in the country.”

“With Barbara came the rest of the amazing, world-class crew that we managed to pull into the production. We were incredibly lucky.”

Producer Steve Hutensky credits the exceptional Australian crew, the exceptional cast, and believes that core to the cohesion and passion of the team as a whole was the script, which Paul Currie had so carefully shepherded. Hutensky says: “I think that’s what drew the crew, the actors, the financiers. The script resonated with people in a deep way.”

Director Paul Currie feels that his promise of persistence to Todd Stein, more than five years earlier, was realized to the best of everyone’s ability and resources. “We have all done our best to create a film that, we hope is fresh and original. Everyone has pushed it to the ‘nth’ degree from pre-production right through to the very end of a long and exhausting post production process.”

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Director Paul Currie and actor Michiel Huisman during the filming of 2.22

The Crew

Many of the Australian based crew of 2:22 had worked on THE MOON AND THE SUN,  which had primarily filmed in Australia, and on which Paul Currie was a producer with Bill Mechanic and Steve Hutensky an executive producer.

Common key crew members included Production Designer Michelle McGahey, Costume Designer Lizzy Gardiner, and Hair and Makeup Lead Shane Thomas, and Director of Photography David Eggby.

Lead cast and key crew are universal in their adulation of the entire Australian team. David Eggby says of the camera and lighting department: “I can’t fault them. Australia has got some great technicians, all very experienced, very well equipped. It’s a very talented, a very good team.”

Michiel Huisman feels that: “We had an amazing crew. I don’t know if that’s an Australian thing or if it was unique to our movie, but it felt like a great collaboration between all the departments. It was addictive, I was happy every morning when they picked me up at 5:30am!”

Teresa Palmer says of working in her home country: “It feels more like a collaborative process – I think because typically I’m doing a smaller budget movie in Australia. There’s a certain camaraderie that you find with Australian crews, a partnership in that we’re all working together to create this thing that we all love. I saw how happy the crew of 2:22 were coming to work, how they went above and beyond for the film.”

Actor Sam Reid says: “The crew did such an incredible job with the production design, the costume design, the hair and makeup, the visual effects – some of the best talent in Australia put this world, this very specific New York high art world together, in such a stylized and beautiful way.”

For Paul Currie: “We can do reasonably priced quality genre films in Australia that can work well in the international market. We’ve got the people and the expertise to do them, and to do them for a budget that makes Australian teams competitive in a global market, and that’s very exciting.”

The art and craft of filmmaking and storytelling at its ultimate best!

The story and characters audiences know and love come home to spectacular life in the live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast, a stunning, cinematic event celebrating one of the most beloved tales ever told that is available on DVD, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray and iTunes Store South Africa.

Beauty and The Beast on Blu-Ray is an absolute must for any collector!  You will fall in love with Disney’s magic and musicals all over again as the insightful featurettes take you on a captivating journey into the art and craft of filmmaking and storytelling at its ultimate best!   Read more about the live-action film

Scroll down for details on the Blu Ray features and enter our Beauty and The Beast competition where you can win DVs of the animated classic of Beauty and the Beast as well as the live-action feature!

Emma Watson stars as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast in Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic directed by Bill Condon.

Emma Watson stars as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio’s animated classic directed by Bill Condon.

Beauty and the Beast is the fantastic journey of Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a Beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart of the true Prince within.

The film stars: Emma Watson as Belle; Dan Stevens as the Beast; Luke Evans as Gaston, the handsome, but shallow villager who woos Belle; Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s father; Josh Gad as LeFou, Gaston’s long-suffering aide-de-camp; Ewan McGregor as Lumière, the candelabra; Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, the harpsichord; Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe, the wardrobe; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, the feather duster; Hattie Morahan as the enchantress; and Nathan Mack as Chip, the teacup; with Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, the mantel clock; and Emma Thompson as the teapot, Mrs. Potts.

Directed by Bill Condon based on the 1991 animated film, “Beauty and the Beast,” the screenplay is written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos and produced by Mandeville Films’ David Hoberman, p.g.a. and Todd Lieberman, p.g.a. with Jeffrey Silver, Thomas Schumacher and Don Hahn serving as executive producers. Alan Menken, who won two Academy Awards® (Best Original Score and Best Song) for the animated film, provides the score, which includes new recordings of the original songs written by Menken and Howard Ashman, as well as three new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice.

Bonus Features on Blu Ray 

  • Enchanted Table Read – Join the cast for the movie’s elaborately staged table read, complete with singing and dancing to live music, set pieces and more.
  • A Beauty of a Tale – Explore the process of transforming a beloved animated film into a new live-action classic.
  • The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast – Emma Watson introduces several of the talented women in all aspects of production who helped bring this enchanted tale to life.
  • From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences – See what goes into making some of the best-known moments from Beauty and the Beast
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” – Learn more about Beast’s childhood in an alternate version of this beautiful song, introduced by director Bill Condon.
  • “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video – Award-winning artists Ariana Grande and John Legend perform a moving version of this iconic song.
  • Making the Music Video – Go on set to capture the magic as it happens in Ariana Grande and John Legend’s “Beauty and the Beast” music video. “Beauty and the Beast”
  • Disney Song Selection – Jump directly to all your favorite songs and sing along with the movie.

COMPETITION: Win a DVD of the animated classic and live-action feature of Beauty and The Beast

BEAUTY

Tell us who wrote the screenplay for the live-action feature of Beauty and The Beast and send your answer and contact details to us before September 15.  Enter competition here

 

 

A blistering blend of sleek action, gritty sexuality and dazzling style.

When screenwriter Kurt Johnstad was approached to pen the script for Atomic Blonde as an adaptation of the initial graphic novel in the series, his interest stemmed from his personal connections to Berlin.

The writer of 300 recalls: “My father had been a pilot for Pan Am and was based in West Berlin during the ’60s, and then again in the ’80s.  So I got to spend a lot of time there before the Wall fell.  My sister still lives there today with her family.”

Atomic Blonde (2017)

During pre-production, when director David Leitch saw what Charlize Theron was capable of, he would actually construct a seven-and-one-half-minute, one-camera fight scene in which Broughton systematically takes out her would-be killers in an abandoned building. Every single shot in which one sees Broughton fighting is Theron in the film. She has a background in ballet training and trained up to five hours a day for three months—as well as memorizing days of intricate choreography—that allowed her to pull it off. Audiences have never seen her this intense, exposed and raw. In fact, Theron began training less than two months out from Mad Max: Fury Road and sparred against Keanu Reeves at Leitch and Stahelski’s training facility for stunt performers and actors (87Eleven Action Design) while Reeves trained for John Wick: Chapter 2.

Oscar winner Charlize Theron explodes into summer in Atomic Blonde, a breakneck action-thriller that follows MI6’s most elite spy through a ticking time bomb of a city simmering with revolution and double-crossing hives of traitors.

The crown jewel of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, Agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is equal parts spycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on her impossible mission.  Sent alone into Berlin to deliver a priceless dossier out of the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James MacAvoy) to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies.

A blistering blend of sleek action, gritty sexuality and dazzling style, Atomic Blonde is directed by David Leitch (co-director, John Wick; director of upcoming Deadpool 2), who has imagined a world as brutal and deadly as it is real.  The film is based on the Oni Press graphic novel series “The Coldest City” written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart.

Kurt Johnstad

Kurt Johnstad

Kurt Johnstad’s teenage years found him in West Berlin’s sectors, but also going over to the East.  “Only one train line and one highway connected East and West,” he recalls.  Johnstad appreciated how Berlin then was unbelievably colorful.  It was this magnet for artists, musicians and anarchists…a pulsing destination set against the oppressive thumb of communism.  “Creatively, it was a powerful place to be in; the art and music scenes were thriving.  But I also noticed how it felt like an outpost where danger was lurking.  I wanted to try and convey that heightened sense of peril.

“I would also travel through other Soviet-bloc countries and see how people were enduring their daily lives behind the Iron Curtain,” Johnstad continues.  “Many people gave their lives even to try to escape, and I would always think of them in telling this story.  History has always had individuals at its center, especially during an event like the stunning end of the geopolitical chess game that was the Cold War.”

Kurt Johnstad is a product of a Midwestern childhood where he was raised on a working cattle farm and received an arts education from the California School of the Arts.  After a decade as an assistant director, Johnstad made the transition to screenwriting. Starting with an early collaboration with Zack Snyder, their groundbreaking film 300 launched Johnstad onto Hollywood’s radar. Johnstad wrote the Relativity Media-released hit film Act of Valor directed by Scott Waugh and Mouse McCoy. This was followed by Noam Murro’s blockbuster 300 Rise of an Empire for Warner Bros.  Next to begin filming this winter is the drama The Last Photograph for Snyder.  Recognition of his super busy career trajectory came in 2011 as Johnstad was selected as one of Variety’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch.”  His ongoing writing work with numerous filmmakers has Johnstad in the business with companies such as Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, New Regency, Sony Pictures, Focus Features, Lionsgate and Legendary Pictures, as well as notable production companies as Cruel Films, Lin Pictures, Temple Hill Entertainment, Denver and Delilah Films, Matt Tolmach Productions, Mad Chance Productions, Thunder Road Films, and Imagine Entertainment.

Antony Johnston

Antony Johnston

It was also a personal mission for Antony Johnston, who embarked on graphic novel series The Coldest City in 2008, on a creative impulse to explore his long-held interest in Cold War espionage.

At the time, spy thrillers were an uncommon genre for graphic novels, and he had little expectation that the story would be published, much less strike such a chord with readers.

The writer reveals his inspiration: “I’ve always loved the genre, having read quite a lot of John le Carré and enjoyed the James Bond movies and the Harry Palmer movies like Funeral in Berlin.  I’ve never forgotten the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I remember watching it unfold on live television, and it felt like such a momentous occasion—something that could lead to global peace and a brighter future.  I figured that the anticipation of it could make for an exciting backdrop to a spy story.”

Antony Johnston is an award-winning, The New York Times best-selling author of graphic novels, video games and books, with titles including “The Coldest City,” the epic series “Wasteland,” Marvel’s superhero “Daredevil,” and the seminal video game “Dead Space.”  He has adapted books by best-selling novelist Anthony Horowitz, collaborated with comics legend Alan Moore, and his titles have been translated throughout the world.  He lives and works in England.

Sam Hart (Based on the Oni Press Graphic Novel Series “The Coldest City,” Illustrated by)  was born in the U.K., and lives in Brazil.  His comic art credits include “Starship Troopers,” “Judge Dredd,” “Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood,” “Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur” and “Messenger: The Legend of Joan of Arc.”  He also draws storyboards and teaches narrative and concept art.

Sam Hart and Antony Johnston

Sam Hart and Antony Johnston

At the heart of the series is Lorraine Broughton, a woman who survives at all costs.  As a secret agent for MI6, Broughton is the ultimate, unapologetic warrior.  She is a skilled, sensual and savage super spy who isn’t just some mindless fantasy superheroine.  The chances of her success are slim to none in the Coldest City, and the second she touches down in Berlin, she’s left to her own devices.  It’s a mission that nothing she’s ever experienced with MI6 could ever prepare her for.  She must rely on gut, resourcefulness and resilience…using every bit of her training, intellect, charm and instinct to make it out alive.

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From Page To Screen

Producer Eric Gitter, through his stake in Oni Press, got an early look at “The Coldest City” and fell in love with the world creation.  He and his producing partner, Peter Schwerin, had experience adapting graphic novels into movies and television shows.

Still, Gitter admits: “We had never seen one which read so much like a film script as ‘The Coldest City’ did.  It was beautifully layered and complex, with a wonderfully nuanced lead character.  The story tapped into how this city was hopping with a thriving club scene, an underground punk community and fluid sexuality.  Antony is a rock star in his world, and this work was ideal for the big screen.”

“What was so striking about the graphic novel is that even though it was monochromatically rendered, it ripped away years of depictions of the city as dull and dry,” Schwerin adds.  “We felt a movie version could depict a colorful and vibrant rendition of a time and place that is so often thought of as dreary and gray.  There’s not the usual London Fog-overcoat aesthetic here; this is another world, with an eclectic sensibility and a blast of action and intensity.”

The setting for the story that would become Atomic Blonde represents a singular time and place in history: Berlin, right before the Wall came down after standing for 28 years.  Constructed in 1961 by the Communist East Berlin government to separate citizens from the city’s American, British and French sectors—which had been established via the 1945 Potsdam Conference agreement at the conclusion of WWII—the Wall had engendered a cloaked, segregated arena in which spies, operatives and Cold War players would wage battles both official and unsanctioned.

“It was a Wild West atmosphere,” marvels Charlize Theron, who began developing the script almost five years ago, with an eye to perform in the action-thriller.  “You had the Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi against the American CIA, British MI6 and French DGSE.  Graft, bribery, blackmail, violence—this was the daily diet for those agents at that time.”

The Oni Press team found an enthusiastic champion in Charlize Theron, who joined as producer with her production company, Denver & Delilah, A.J. Dix and Beth Kono in optioning the provocative material.

Theron’s team saw the opportunity to take a story that is relentless and committed, as well as tough and fun and sexy, and explore it fearlessly on screen.  In “The Coldest City,” they saw something explosive, wild and incredibly entertaining.

The Art Of Independent Filmmaking

Atomic Blonde Poster HRLeading independent film finance and production entity Sierra/Affinity, run by the film’s executive producers Nick Meyer and Marc Schaberg, financed and produced the film, licensing the rights to Focus Features and Universal for much of the world as well as to select high-end independent distributors.

Former Sierra executive Kelly McCormick, who now produces at 87Eleven Action Design, explains: “What makes Atomic Blonde so viable is the strong female protagonist played by Oscar winner Charlize Theron, a terrific story, and a world that was both relatable and iconic—here was a movie that was undeniable.”

The behind-the-scenes team knew Theron would give a performance that was just as blistering as it was intense and committed.  The actress has been kicking ass on screen for some time, and the character of Broughton is equal parts sensual, athletic and brilliant.  Not only does Theron star, as developer and producer of Atomic Blonde, she’s championed it from the start.  “What everyone found is that there is no ego involved in Charlize’s producing,” reveals McCormick.  “She’s highly disciplined, hard-working and likes to problem-solve together.  She made the experience that much more special for everyone.”

Helming Atomic Blonde

To helm Atomic Blonde, the production would turn to director David Leitch, fresh off the sleeper-hit success of John Wick, which Leitch co-directed with Chad Stahelski.  As co-founder of 87Eleven, Leitch has served as the second unit director on blockbusters from Jurassic World and Captain America: Civil War to Logan.  Leitch is not simply a “stunts guy.”  He has an undeniable and specific command of the intersection between massive action and intimate stories…and has helped to create an entirely new brand of filmmaking.

David-Leitch-and-Charlize-Theron-on-the-set-of-Atomic-Blonde

Charlize Theron and David Leitch on the set of Atomic Blonde

For his next film, Leitch was searching for another character with which audiences would be surprised by; a fresh take on cinematic action and adventure.  In MI6’s Broughton, he knew he had a unique female protagonist ready for her close-up.  Along with telling emotionally impactful, character-driven stories, the filmmaker believes in finding action where you wouldn’t dream it exists, and he uses locations and characters to create some of the most unique action in the world.  His mission is to get audiences to ask: “How in the hell did they do that?”

Still, Leitch is just as focused on Lorraine’s emotional arc.  He regards her as a spy who has seen the worst of humanity, but who is unexpectedly shown how to recapture her own.  “Broughton is a terrifically complex character, and through her this story offers a very modern take on the spy genre,” the director reflects.  “As a spy, she possesses ruthless resolve and discipline, but also tendencies and traits that most of us would find hard to understand.  She’s cool and stylish, maintaining a certain emotional detachment necessary for her deadly job, but there is a caring and pained humanity operating underneath the surface…and that bleeds through.”

Leitch, a longtime friend of Johnstad’s, appreciated the script’s combination of historical drama, espionage suspense and action.  The director walks us through his interest: “I grew up in the ’80s and quite clearly remember images of the Wall coming down and the significance of that, so right away I found the subject matter very compelling and interesting…especially because it is relevant with today’s politics.  I responded not only to the storytelling but also to the visual possibilities.”

Leitch worked with Johnstad and the film’s producers on the development of the script.  The screenwriter describes the process as “hands down, one of the best I’ve had.  Dave and I have a shorthand of friendship and respect.  I liked how he wanted to move a classic noir spy thriller into something new, to push the envelope and take some risks.”

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Casting

To incarnate the story’s international intrigue, a cast was convened from around the globe.  Accomplished U.K. actors, German film icons and a rising Algerian star were among those signed to charge up the story’s conflicts and confrontations.

Given that the rules of the spy game were being broken almost as soon as they were made up, the character of David Percival was crucial to the story.  Johnstad explains: “Cold War Berlin was made for this man’s particular talents and temperaments. As the chief of station for MI6, he operates essentially on his own.  He’s got his own small fiefdom, far from the prying eyes of London.  He readily sells and trades contraband with his network of contacts and associates on both sides of the Wall…and he enjoys himself!”

As Lorraine’s fellow MI6 operative, Percival is charming, conniving and merciless.  He is every bit her match, and she trusts him as far as she can throw him.  Percival is also Broughton’s only supposed ally in Berlin.  Still, she knows that he is operating with impunity in the city.  He runs the contraband game as well as anyone in town, and he has his pick of the illegal trade and relishes the environment that has allowed him to run wild.  When Lorraine arrives, he immediately gets alarmed.  This has been his territory for the past five years…and he’s not giving up control easily.

Selected for the part was star James McAvoy, whose small film Split recently passed $275 million at the worldwide box office.  The actor researched those who MI6 recruited in its early stages and found a telling fact he based his character on: The agency looked for people less likely to live long enough to divulge national secrets in later years.

McAvoy enjoyed the character from the moment he read the script.  The actor notes: “Percival is as far away from Bond and Bourne as one can get!  There’s a line Percival says, ‘I f—kin’ love Berlin!’  And he certainly does.  Percival represents the breed of operative who gets seduced by an environment, in this case the Dodge City of the espionage world.  The MI6 chief refers to him as having gone ‘feral,’ which is an apt description—for him and for others in the territory.”

The performer appreciated the edge, attitude and fearlessness of the script and its source material.  “It’s a different version of what we think of as the Cold War,” reveals McAvoy.  “There are so many interests all crowded into this one location, and the players all know each other.  They drink with their enemies and probably sleep with the same people.  It’s an exhilarating but dangerous game, and it has caused Percival to morph into an almost self-destructive figure.  But he’s all Broughton’s got to go on, and with.”

The film also stars John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, Kong: Skull Island) as CIA operative Emmett Kurzfeld, Til Schweiger (Inglourious Basterds, Head Full of Honey) as the enigmatic Watchmaker, Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes series, Snow White and the Huntsman) as the brilliant mark known only as Spyglass, Sofia Boutella (The Mummy, Kingsman: The Secret Service) as French intelligence agent Delphine Lasalle; Bill Skarsgård (Allegiant, upcoming It) as Merkel, Broughton’s contact in East Berlin; and Toby Jones (Captain America and The Hunger Games series) as MI6 investigator Eric Gray, the film is based on the Oni Press graphic novel series “The Coldest City” written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart.

 

An emotionally satisfying story about two people who think they hate each other but discover there might just be more that unites than divides them.

Tom O’Connor’s spec screenplay for The Hitman’s Bodyguard took some of the most popular tropes of hit action thrillers – including the freewheeling hitman who can’t miss and the dreamy bodyguard whose protection never fails – and irreverently crashed them right into one another.

Tom’s career in Hollywood began in 2011 with his spec script The Hitman’s Bodyguard. The script sold immediately and landed on that year’s Black List, and Tom has been a working writer for film and television ever since.

“Balancing the comedy and the action was really tricky, and that was something I played with a lot in the very beginning of the script because I knew I wanted it to be funny without being goofy or wacky,” O’Connor recalls.

“The story of The Hitman’s Bodyguard appealed to me in part because it’s got that old-school, classic buddy-comedy flavor to it – with two contrasting characters with completely clashing life attitudes — and that’s something I wanted to maintain, but in a modernized way,” says director Patrick Hughes, who was hand-picked by Sylvester Stallone to direct the Hollywood Blockbuster The Expendables 3.

HITMAN O CONNOR

Screenwriter Tom O’Çonnor’s career in Hollywood began in 2011 with his spec script The Hitman’s Bodyguard that took 6 years to reach the big screen.

O’Connor’s screenplay also attracted the attention of two of Hollywood’s most sought-after stars, who signed up to take the lead roles, hurtling the production forward.

The world’s top protection agent [Ryan Reynolds] is called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world’s most notorious hitmen [Samuel L. Jackson]. The relentless bodyguard and manipulative assassin have been on the opposite end of the bullet for years and are thrown together for a wildly outrageous 24 hours. During their raucous and hilarious adventure from England to the Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades and a merciless Eastern European dictator [Gary Oldman] who is out for blood. Salma Hayek joins the mayhem as Jackson’s equally notorious wife.

HITMAN 1

From the beginning, Reynolds played a big hand in carving out the character who disdains chaos but finds himself sucked into it. “Ryan worked very hard during pre-production, coming up with lots of creative concepts for Bryce and his whole philosophy of life,” says Producer Les Weldon. “Then he tapped into an intuitive comedic timing that really brings the character to life.  He compels you to root for this character who was once Mr. Efficient but has kind of broken down and lost his way.  His performance has an emotional core but it’s also very funny.”

Reynolds describes Bryce as “a man who suffered from extraordinary hubris and took a fall from grace.” He goes on: “Bryce lost a client which has sent him into a downward spiral of shame.  We find him two years after the incident and though he’s probably still the best in the business, he’s basically at a loss.  Then his ex-girlfriend asks him to do this job he really doesn’t want but that he needs.  In a nutshell, he has to protect a man who has spent the better part of a decade trying to kill him.”

That’s how Bryce comes to accompany his insufferable foe Kincaid through a maze of lethal obstacles, and ends up confronting himself in the process. “Bryce can be arrogant and prideful – and Kincaid pushes all those buttons,” Reynolds explains.  “He’s got Bryce’s number whether Bryce would like to admit that or not. Therein lies the connection that happens between these two guys. In a weird way Kincaid ends up making my character look at himself, and in the unsettling way only Sam Jackson can.”

The rapport with Jackson was immediate and led to both actors letting it fly, says Reynolds.  “Sam and I have a lot of moments where we just get to play, and that was important to creating the unique bond between our characters.  Sam is so good at improv, he can play ball with the best of them, and that is my background as well so we just got out there and had as much fun as we could.  We had a good thing going.”

Samuel L. Jackson admits it was Reynolds’s involvement that spurred him to sign onto the role.

“Ryan had been attached to the film and when my name popped up, it made sense.  It felt like a fun idea. I’ve enjoyed watching Ryan, I’ve known him on a personal level and I like him, so I thought we’d have interesting chemistry on screen,” Jackson says.

The uniting of two of audiences’ favorite and most unpredictable stars would next require a director capable of propelling the story’s perpetual series of wild-eyed action sequences and comic scenarios.

HITMAN HUGHES

Director Patrick Hughes

In the action-comedy tradition, the script offered a story of escalating stakes – but where one extreme situation after the next somehow brings the hitman and his bodyguard closer to the International Criminal Court … and each other.  That’s where Patrick Hughes came in; having worked with an all-star cast and plenty of action in Expendables 3, he had the high-adrenaline chops and was ready to try something different.  “Patrick was able to take the reins, be the field general with the actors and bring it all to life,” notes screenwriter Tom O’Connor.

Patrick Huges

Hughes saw the potential for a chemical reaction between Reynolds as the tightly-laced, by-the-book perfectionist Bryce and Jackson as the madcap, no-holds-barred Kincaid.  He was equally drawn by the fun of revisiting that staple of 80s and 90s blockbusters – the mismatched buddy comedy – in a fresh but cheeky way, replete with fast, frenetically calibrated action that could only be created in the 21st Century.

Early meetings with Ryan Reynolds helped to cement the dynamic between two men who believe – with good reason — they are mortal enemies, yet end up having each other’s backs in spite of themselves.

“Ryan and I both felt pretty adamant that at heart this is a redemption story for his character, Michael Bryce, facilitated by his job protecting Kincaid,” Hughes elaborates. “Bryce’s problem is that he’s way over-analytical about everything. He’s been trying to control all the elements in his life, from his job to his love life. Kincaid is the flip side of that – he’s loose and rock and roll and he always goes with his gut.  Kincaid becomes a kind of unwilling mentor to Bryce on this crazy journey, as they go from absolutely intending to murder each other to actually understanding one another and begrudgingly even learning something about relationships.”

HITMAN

The producers were thrilled by Hughes’ winking but fun-loving approach. “Patrick brought such a great sense of humor but also a sensibility for big entertainment,” says Weldon.  “He helped to guide Ryan and Sam into the kind of timing that allows them to play off each other with verve and gusto. Not only does Patrick understand comedy, he was able to deliver some epically fun action at the same time.”

Samuel L. Jackson says of what Hughes brought:  “It’s always good to have a director who brings this much enthusiasm and energy to the set.  Patrick kept us on our toes, yet gave us the freedom to just let go and do the things we needed to do to make this story work.”

Adds Reynolds:  “Patrick’s wisdom and style made him perfect for a movie like this, with its slightly heightened reality and playful tone. Patrick put that tone front and center and was the guy pushing us forward every day. He helped us to create incredible action sequences that are suspenseful but also uplifting and fun rather than dark. Each set piece is unique and it will be a real adventure for audiences.”

To create action that would meet a high bar – yet could be shot in-the-moment the way Hughes envisioned — the filmmakers recruited one of the greatest stunt minds in Hollywood:  British-born Greg Powell, who hails from a whole family of stunt experts and whose long list of credits ranges from the Bond action of Skyfall to the Harry Potter series to the superhero feats of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Powell has been performing stunts since the age of 14 and he has a love for coming up with inventive ideas in a field where surprise is everything — while also maintaining scrupulous safety.

Powell knew immediately that The Hitman’s Bodyguard was going to be an exhilarating challenge.  “The script was truly action-packed and the sheer number of different stunts was quite exciting for me,” he recalls.

“The biggest challenge was that with so many fights throughout the story, we had to find a way to keep each one fresh, different and fun.”

The stunt supervisor began by working with Reynolds and Jackson to match their character’s fighting styles up with their divergent personalities – with Bryce dealing blows with clean precision while Jackson is more gut-driven in his reactions. “They each see their characters in very specific ways so we really worked to design the stunts to match how Ryan and Sam see Bryce and Kincaid,” he explains. Powell was particularly fired-up by the chance to push the pedal to the floor with all the vehicular exploits in the film. “We’ve got cars, motorbikes, SUVs, police cars and even speedboats racing through the canals of Amsterdam – which is something you’ve probably never seen on film,” he muses.

For Patrick Hughes, having so many talented stunt people working coupled with the fact that he could utilize numerous types of  land and sea vehicles was like being a kid in the world’s greatest toy shop. “It was crazy fun,” he admits. “You really can’t be unhappy when you’re shooting in the middle of Amsterdam and doing boat, car and motorbike chases and shootouts. That’s every kid’s childhood dream.  I’ve fantasized about this since I was in film school.”

Yet for all the careful coordination of the action that hurtles the film forward at every turn, everyone agrees that the biggest focus of the production was on the fun and friction between Bryce and Kincaid.

Concludes Weldon:  “You can have all the fireworks, water action and car flipping in the world but at the end of the day, if you don’t have these very human relationships, the story wouldn’t work. We wanted to thrill audiences with original stunts, while being focused on drilling down into the essence of these two characters, so that it’s not only a wild spectacle but an emotionally satisfying story about two people who think they hate each other but discover there might just be more that unites than divides them.”

Add these titles to your Home Entertainment.

LIFEIf there’s one film you have to add to your collection, it’s the absolutely terrifying Life! It turns sci-fi inside out and offers some truly heart-stopping tension. Astronauts (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds) aboard the International Space Station are on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As members of the crew conduct their research, the rapidly evolving life-form proves far more intelligent and terrifying than anyone could have imagined.The excellent bonus features include some exciting behind the scenes featurettes that showcases the art of filmmaking.  Read more about the film 

BILLYIn Ang Lee’s superb Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, nineteen-year-old private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, what really happened to the squad is revealed, contrasting the realities of the war with America’s perceptions. Based on the novel by Ben Fountain. The first rate bonus features include the journey of filmmaker Ang Lee during the filming of of this groundbreaking film; how the cast was assembled, recreating the spectacular halftime show, the intense training and bonding experience of the combat soldiers, and deleted scenes.  Read more about the film 

pdc_hollars4

John Krasinski and Sharlto Copley

In the wacky comedy The Hollars aspiring artist John Hollar (John Krasinkski) returns to his middle America hometown on the eve of his mother’s (Margo Martindale)  brain surgery. Joined by his girlfriend, eight months pregnant (Anna Kendrick) with their first child, John is forced to navigate the crazy world he left behind as his dysfunctional family, high school pals, and over-eager ex flood back into his life ahead of his mother’s operation. If there’s one reason to see this film it is for South African actor Sharlto Copley as Hollar’s crazy brother.  The bonus features include audio commentary with John Krasinski and Margo Martindale,  featurettes on the making of the film as well as a Q and A at the LA Film Festival with the cast. Watch the trailer

chronically-metropolitan-9-2In the charming romantic comedy Chronically Metropolitan first-time novelist Fenton Dillane (Sholoh Fernandez) returns to New York City unannounced, ready to reclaim his lost love, Jessie (Ashley Benson),  who, unbeknownst to him, is engaged to be married. When Fenton enlists his headstrong sister, Layla (Mary-Louise Parker), and his drug-dealing best friend (Chris Noth) to help him win her back, his actions set in motion a chain of events that affect the lives of everyone around him for better and for worse. Watch the trailer

Supernatural Thrills

IncarnateIncarnate is a terrifying new take on films dealing with demonic possession.  A scientist with the ability to enter the subconscious minds of the possessed must save a young boy from the grips of a demon with powers never seen before, while facing the horrors of his past. It all begins when a single mother witnesses terrifying symptoms of demonic possession in her 11-year-old son (David Mazouz), a Vatican representative calls on wheelchair-bound scientist Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart) to rid him of the evil spirit. Driven by a personal agenda rooted in his own tragic past, Ember enters the boy’s unconscious mind where he confronts a demon as ferocious as it is ingenious. It was directed by Brad Peyton who gave us the disaster film San Andreas. Watch the trailer

VisionsVisions offer a thrilling explorations of the supernatural. Leaving her hectic city lifestyle behind, young mother-to-be Eveleigh (Isla Fisher), joins her husband David (Anson Mount), at their beautiful new vineyard home only to be plagued by terrifying noises and visions of a sinister hooded figure. No one else hears or sees these hallucinations, not even David, who grows increasingly worried about his wife’s well-being. Desperate to prove her sanity, Eveleigh hunts down locals who reveal the haunted history of the vineyard in which she now resides. But when the pieces come together, the answer is far different – and more dangerous to her and her baby – than she ever imagined…Watch The Trailer

A groundbreaking, cinematic event from three- time Oscar-winning director Ang Lee.

With Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ang Lee redefines what is possible in filmmaking and storytelling with the goal of further engaging the audience in an advanced cinematic experience.

Joined by two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll, Lee employs state-of-the-art cameras to shoot in native 3D, high resolution and a history-making frame rate that seemed impossible until now. He creates a new way for audiences to experience drama, presenting the heightened sensations that young soldiers feel on the battlefield and the home front.

“Since Pi, I discovered that in making a 3D movie [we need to be] adding not only dimension, but a higher resolution that comes along with a much higher frame rate than we are used to having. The whole experience is not just about extravaganza, not just about action—but actually about drama as well. The way we look at things, the way we want the audience to engage in a movie I think is more personal. It’s much more grand. I think the future is really exciting.”

Taiwan-born storymaker Ang Lee is one of the world’s most revered and honored film directors with a resume comprised of numerous awards and accomplishments. Lee moved to the United States in 1978. After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre from the University of Illinois, he went to New York University to complete a Masters of Fine Arts Degree in film production.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, based on the acclaimed bestselling novel by Ben Fountain, is told from the point of view of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, the film reveals what really happened to the squad – contrasting the realities of the war with America’s perceptions.

From Acclaimed Novel To Groundbreaking Film

While its development and use of technical breakthroughs may secure Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’s place in film history, it’s important to recognize that its achievements are securely driven by the drama of a human and compelling narrative.

The story is based on a novel that producer Rhodri Thomas at Ink Factory read eight months prior to its publication (it ultimately became a 2012 National Book Award finalist).

“A friend of mine, a publisher, gave me the manuscript and said, ‘You’ve got to read this book. It’ll change your life.’ Which turned out to be quite prophetic words. I read it on vacation and loved it—it had a particular magic that spoke so well about our times. It was anti-war but very much pro-soldier which is something that moved me deeply—and I wanted to tell this story.

Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain

After some inquiries my co-producer Stephen Cornwell and I found ourselves in dialogue with Ben Fountain the novel’s author.” “I thought it spoke to an era in which the whole country was going through the collective trauma of the Iraq war,” continues Cornwell, “a time that hadn’t really been addressed, recognized or reflected upon. And I thought that in the character Billy Lynn Ben had found a very engaging and sympathetic way to enter what it meant to experience that war. But when we initially reached out, Ben’s representatives said that it was way premature—they wanted to wait until the book was published. So Rhodri and I made a trip to Dallas and after spending some time with Ben were able to convince him it could be the movie it’s becoming.”

“So the Ink Factory optioned the book in 2012,” says Thomas, “and developed it with Film 4, the film arm of the UK broadcast Channel Four. They’re incredibly supportive of cinema–they like to take risks and six months before its publication they took a risk on this material. Happily, the book was phenomenally well-received. We then started developing the screenplay.

jean-christophe-castelli-1068317-24-03-2017-13-42-01After graduating from Harvard,  screenwriter Jean-Christophe Castelli worked as a 50 magazine editor and freelance writer, publishing articles in Vanity Fair, Esquire and Filmmaker, before moving into film. For seven years he was the story editor at the New York independent production company Good Machine. There he developed film projects with a number of directors, and began a long working relationship with Ang Lee with The Ice Storm. While pursuing his own writing, Castelli has continued to work with Lee, most recently as associate producer for Life of Pi and screenwriter for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

”With that screenplay, in 2013 we began work with TriStar—in fact they came to us because Tom Rothman, who at the time was running TriStar, was a fan of the book, which had been published by then. When Ang Lee signed on, we were thrilled—there was no one else that we could imagine telling the story quite as honestly and sensitively. What we didn’t imagine was that he was going to make it as a 3D, high frame rate spectacle—which, while quite a surprise, we embraced in an instant having been completely blown over by Life of Pi. Ang’s vision for the film was completely right from the get go—he’s a visionary director who saw in the material the ability to create an experience that was immersive and emotional in the newest possible way.”

Producer Marc Platt remembers receiving “a phone call one day from Tom Rothman, who said that he had a very special project to be directed by Ang Lee and ‘we’re not quite sure how to push it up the mountain.’ Ang is someone that I’ve always held in the highest regard as a filmmaker—back in my years as a production executive and President of Universal Pictures we made a film together called Ride With the Devil. So the moment he said Ang Lee of course I was interested. He asked me to read the screenplay first and then the novel. So I first read the screenplay and was immediately struck by what I saw to be the importance of the story that honored our soldiers by really explaining that none of us truly understands what the experience of a soldier actually is. That we can only project what we think it is. And that the best way to honor our soldiers is, in fact, to understand that they do their job, and they are just soldiers. And to give them the distance, respect and space to honor that experience in the way that is very unique to each of them. In this particular story, our group of soldiers is brought back [to the U.S.] to be honored for their heroic deeds. To be trophies if you will.”

“The genesis of the novel,” says novelist Ben Fountain, “began in 2004 during a Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game. This was three weeks after the general election when George W. Bush had beaten Kerry. I felt like I didn’t understand my country. Then, we had a bunch of people over at our house for Thanksgiving. We had the game on. Halftime comes and I’m sitting on the sofa. And everybody else gets up, ‘cause nobody watches the halftime show. But I stayed and started watching the halftime show—I mean really looking at it. And it’s very much the way I write it in the book: a surreal, pretty psychotic mash-up of American patriotism, exceptionalism, popular music, soft-core porn and militarism: lots of soldiers standing on the field with American flags and fireworks. I thought, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. But everybody else was okay with it, 3 the announcers on TV and everybody around, just another normal day in America. Since there were lots of soldiers in the field at that time, I wondered what it would be like to be a soldier who had been in combat who gets brought back to the US and dropped into this very artificial situation. What would that do to your head? I wanted the reader to feel like he or she is in Billy’s skin. And I think that’s what Ang’s trying to do too.”

Cornwell

Stephen Cornwell

“Adapting the novel,” notes Stephen Cornwell, “was a big challenge. And like any adaptation, it evolved. One of the big questions was how to place Billy at the center of the story. How to find a way of creating this character whom, in the novel, engages the reader with his internal dialogue. How do you make that work cinematically? How do you place this character, his experiences, observations and point of view in the center of the story without resorting to narration, something we didn’t want to do. So as we adapted it, we went on a journey of trying to find the best way to express Billy’s point of view: how do you realize that first person experience in a cinematic context? How do you evolve cinematic language and the way we experience film in ways that allow us to get inside Billy’s head and go on this journey with him?”

Initially, it was Billy Lynn’s story that captivated Lee, his literal and emotional journey and the complicated juxtaposition of the glorification of returning war heroes and the horrific nature of the war they’ve fought. It was the kind of story that he thought lent itself to a new filmmaking approach he had been considering, one that could really connect the audience to Billy Lynn in an immersive, organic way, the cinematic equivalent of the first person, internal narrative of the book.

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was a very compelling book. His observations of the absurdity of the over the top welcome home these warriors receive, the juxtaposition of this extravagant celebration of his heroism intercut with his battlefield service in Iraq, the irony of those two experiences side by side, it’s kind of an existential examination of what’s real and what’s not, there’s a sort of Zen quality to that comparison that fascinated me. I was attracted to the situation of the storytelling as well, the halftime show to celebrate the soldier in 2004 juxtaposed against the real battle – the drama, the conflict, a kind of coming of age story of a young soldier who has to sort it all out. It was great material to use this new technology I had been considering to really engage the audience. To me, when we see movies, it’s as if we’re watching someone’s story from a distance. My hope with this new technology is that it could allow for greater intimacy, to really convey the personal feelings of a conflicted young soldier. That’s why I call it ‘new cinema’ – because it’s a new way of making, watching and experiencing a movie and it seemed perfect for this project. It’s a great way to put Billy Lynn in the center of this halftime show that is very dramatic and an intriguing way to examine humanity and our society. About halfway through the book, I knew I wanted to do it,” Ang Lee remarks.

BILLY

Groundbreaking Technology

Ang Lee’s use of this new technology creates an immersive experience that is designed to allow the audience to deeply experience Billy Lynn’s emotional, physical and spiritual journey in a personal and profoundly encompassing way.

“The film explores what the reality of his experience is for this one soldier, Billy Lynn; the technology allows us to realize how he hears it, how he views it,” notes Producer Marc Platt. “This particular story is very well suited to the use of this technology. Depending on the scene the world can be rendered hyper real by the frame rate or it can be blended down to be a little bit more movie-like. When people are talking to Billy, particularly if it’s an intimate moment and they’re in a close up, their eye line would be directly at the camera, which is very unusual. When it’s the other person’s perception and we’re on Billy, it’s a more traditional eye line, a little bit to the side. The effect of that, particularly in a high frame rate is that when someone is looking right into camera you are in the space of Billy, seeing and hearing it the way he is and you’re feeling it in a visceral, intense way. Or if Billy is feeling separate from what’s around him, if he’s hearing what’s being said but he’s not processing it or feeling defensive about it and is in his own head space, it allows us to 4 isolate Billy, creating a feeling of subjectivity and it’s as if we the audience are sitting with him while things are being projected around him. These are just a few of the things that are being developed along with the high frame rate and high resolution that will make this a particularly singular cinematic experience.”

“What’s so exciting about the process,” says Stephen Cornwell, “is that Ang was fascinated by finding a way to explore a new language with cinema—the high frame rates, the three dimensions—not simply for special effects but to actually define a way to tell an emotional, character-driven story; embracing new technology as a tool to create a wholly new way of cinematic storytelling.”

Lee’s approach would create logistical and technological challenges never before encountered on a traditional movie – the team developed a new cinematic lexicon by necessity, every shooting day and on into post-production, but always in service of the story. And his careful use of this new approach allowed him to explore shifts of dimension, film speed and perspectives with brand new tools. The movie even set up its own lab in Atlanta in order to process a vast quantity of data, as Lee and Toll invariably relied on two cameras running at five times the normal speed with twice the amount of data running on each of those cameras. That translated into twenty times the data storage of a normal high-quality Hollywood film on a daily basis. Before cameras even rolled, Lee knew he was entering uncharted territory and yet he also believed that it was the best way to tell the story in an authentic way.

“I stepped into a new world with this movie, “Lee says. “The use of the high frame rate and high dynamic range will provide, I hope, a unique opportunity to feel the realities of war and peace through the protagonist’s eyes. It’s not a political statement as much as an opportunity to experience what the characters do on a human, emotional level. I thought that taking a platoon from the battlefield on to this Thanksgiving Day halftime show as some sort of celebration of valor would freak them out. The difference between the heroics that people project on them and their experiences on the battlefield where it’s just chaos, a fight for survival … the adrenaline level is extraordinary. Those two antithetical experiences next to each other seemed to be the perfect way to explore this new cinema. I didn’t have a proper name for it but early on, I was thinking the higher frame rate to view 3D more accurately could really explore what digital could do in terms of conveying the human condition. The way we see each other in life, the way we pick up nuances from each other is very different from how we’ve been depicted in film. So this approach seemed to be a direct way to carry on the soldier’s sensation, as he goes into what we call normal life. It was very dramatic and inspiring and I knew it would be very difficult, technologically and artistically. But I like a challenge and trying new things,” Lee says.

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“This movie was challenging on many different levels,” adds Platt. “We had logistical challenges— a large portion of it took place in a stadium and we needed another location to shoot war sequences. The tone of it was a challenge. And then on top of everything, of course, was Ang’s intention to undertake and employ a technology not heretofore utilized in cinematic history, which is to shoot the film at a frame rate of 120 frames per second, resolution of 4K, and 3D—to really explore that technology and develop a vocabulary, a cinematic grammar using that technology to tell a specific story, none of that had been done before. The vocabulary hadn’t been created. In fact it was actually created every day on the set. “

Lee’s new immersive cinema, Cornwell adds, has the potential to move the art form forward in a bold way. “I think what’s interesting is how you make cinema evolve,” says Stephen Cornwell, “how you speak to a younger generation along a broader spectrum, how you keep cinema fresh. In some ways the language of cinema hasn’t really evolved for a hundred years. The frame rate’s been the same. The way things are performed, spoken and constructed and the way narrative unfolds is something that we’ve all come to accept as norms. And what Ang has done is ask how do we evolve cinematic language to stay relevant, distinct and unique in the post digital age, in an age where cinema is plateauing, where story telling has become very familiar? To do that, we have to change the way people experience cinema, and that’s what Ang’s reaching for, what we’re all reaching for in this film. How people will respond—that is a new frontier. Personally, I think it’s going be an eye-opening extraordinary experience.”

 

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JOHN TOLL (DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY) began his career as a filmmaker working on documentary films while attending college in Los Angeles. He has earned two Best Cinematography Academy Awards® for his work on Braveheart and Legends of the Fall, also winning the ASC Award and the BAFTA for Braveheart.

The new immersive cinema allowed Lee to depict war in the sharpest, highest visual quality, which dovetailed with his belief that that for a soldier the war is real—everything else is not. Indeed, as early as 2010, CNN reported that a soldier who had returned from Afghanistan had vivid memories in flashback of a particularly gruesome fight with the Taliban.

Lee’s approach also provided several options from which to create multiple formats that will end up being shown in commercial theaters. It all came down to math, essentially. “There are a few reasons for that with one of the most important being that 120 is a multiple of 24, and that gave us the most options.” The film will be able to be shown in multiple formats, all of which will be more immersive and have more clarity than any film has before.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was shot in native 3D and not in 2D with later 3D conversion. On set the filmmakers and crew wore special glasses to watch the 3D monitors; Lee worked off of a fifty-five inch 3D monitor. “Ang, who can see things dramatically in ways that other creatives don’t, insisted on shooting in 3D rather than converting for 3D,” says Scot Barbour, Vice President of Production Technology for Sony. “One of the reasons is that it maintains textures. Imagine you’re shooting a film [in 2D] that will be released in 3D, but you never see it in 3D during production. Everything happens in front of you in two dimensions. No one ever witnesses it until the end.”

In the end, Ang Lee hopes that his new cinema will prove to be more than an exercise in innovative technology but rather a compelling and novel way to experience cinematic storytelling.

“The book was inspiring on a human, emotional level and I thought this approach was a chance to undergo this sensation in an immersive way that is artistically authentic and part of the communal experience we all hope for every time we go to the movies,” he says.

 

 

A terrifying thriller that feels like it could be in today’s headlines.

 Following the cult-hits Zombieland and Deadpool, screenwriting-partners Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick turn science-fiction into science-fact with Life, a terrifying sci-fi thriller about a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life form that could have caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Written by) have been partners since 2001. Their first feature collaboration was Zombieland, which they wrote and executive-produced for Columbia Pictures in 2009 and became one of Hollywood’s highest grossing zombie movies ($100M+). They wrote and executive-produced Twentieth Century Fox’s 2016 superhero action-comedy Deadpool, which became the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time ($782M+). The two also wrote Paramount Pictures’ G.I. Joe: Retaliation, that went on to gross nearly $400M worldwide.

 

Astronauts (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds) aboard the International Space Station are on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As members of the crew conduct their research, the rapidly evolving life-form proves far more intelligent and terrifying than anyone could have imagined.

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Real Fear

“Finding life on other planets is obviously extremely exciting, and I think we could be very close to that,” says Paul Wernick, who co-writes the film with his partner, Rhett Reese.  “I think that grounds the movie.”

“I think what’s scary about discovering extraterrestrial life is just that we don’t know if its intentions will be friendly or hostile, whether its intelligence will be high or low, whether it will exploit us or be exploited by us,” says Reese. “I think that’s a real fear – Stephen Hawking pointed out that extraterrestrial life may not be friendly or have the most pleasant designs on humanity.”

Reese and Wernick came up with an idea for a completely original alien creature.  “We had a vision for this alien whereby it began as a single-celled organism and then that cell divided many, many times, until it became a multi-cellular, complex organism that was able to navigate its environment,” says Reese.  “It’s not a higher intelligence – it’s a combination of cells that are not differentiated.  A human body has differentiated cells – muscle cells, nerve cells, blood cells, and all of these cells perform different functions.  In this particular alien, every cell performs every bodily function on its own. Every cell is an eye cell, a muscle cell, a nerve cell, and as such, the creature is very, very adaptable.”

Life is an original production that originated at Skydance, where it was overseen by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg, who developed and packaged the film.  Skydance then brought in Sony Pictures as the film’s production and distribution partner.

The approach to Life was to make a terrifying thriller that feels like it could be in today’s headlines.

It’s an idea that was with the film from its genesis. “Dana and I had an idea around the time period when Mars Curiosity had touched down,” says Ellison. “What if the Curiosity discovered single cell organism life on Mars and brought it back to the ISS for analysis.  Then, once it was introduced into an environment that was conducive to life, it started to grow… and what if, in the way that humanity does all of the time, with the best of intentions, it was probed, which turned it hostile.  This would fundamentally turn the movie into an incredibly tense, sci-fi horror movie set on the ISS, all at zero gravity.”

Director Daniel Espinosa says that before he was approached to direct Life, he had given some thought to the ways his filmmaking heroes approached science fiction. “I think the reason so many great directors have walked into science fiction is to work with the unknown – the fear or fascination with the unknown,” he says.  “We live in a world that is quite mundane, but in space, you enter an adventure – you don’t know how it looks, how it feels, what it can do to you, where it is.  It doesn’t make a sound.  That’s terrifying.”

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Daniel Espinosa is a filmmaker whose edgy, visceral approach to his work brings his films to life in a way that captivates audiences and takes them on a journey into his characters’ aesthetically chaotic world. Born in Chile, raised in Africa, and educated in Sweden, Espinosa’s international upbringing has given him an unaffected approach to his filmmaking, providing both him and his actors with a raw, kinetic energy that brings their stories to life. Espinosa graduated from the director’s program at the National Film School of Denmark in 2003, with his acclaimed and award-winning student final film, the dramatic short The Fighter.

After reading the script for Life, Espinosa saw a way to draw on the work of those icons and yet make a film that would bear his own personal stamp.  “This script felt more like a realistic science fiction – maybe science reality,” he says, noting that scientists have discovered proof of water on Mars, thousands of exoplanets revolving around other stars, and even waking 50,000-year-old microbes that have been hibernating inside crystals.

That gives the movie a sense of urgency, says producer and Skydance CEO David Ellison.  “One of the things that was very important early on from the genesis of this project was that you could feel like you could turn on the news and hear that this happened today,” he says.

“We’re not making a film that takes place a hundred years from now,” adds producer Dana Goldberg.  “We very much wanted to make a film that felt more like science fact than science fiction.”

“We are going to Mars to try to find other life forms.  So what happens when we actually find it?  What happens when we communicate or relate to it?” asks producer Bonnie Curtis.

“Occasionally, we as people tend to take beautiful, brilliant things and try to shape them to our will,” says Goldberg.  “But this life form feels threatened and decides it wants to survive.  The tables get turned.  Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.”

As Life would be differentiated by its commitment to a “science real” approach, the filmmakers took special effort to get it right.  “What I like about this movie is that it’s in the realm of the possible,” says producer Julie Lynn.  “We did a lot of work to keep it in the realm of the possible.  Talking to biologists, exobiologists, and geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford… we didn’t want the life form to be a person in a suit or a puppet.  We wanted it to be something that could evolve from a cellular piece, a tiny cell.  It’s not that it comes out with an intent to do harm; it is its own creature, and it is affected by what happens to it.”

“Rhett and Paul wrote a very scary, well-paced thriller, but it’s really fed by their investment in the characters,” says Lynn.  “These six astronauts are smart, industrious, tenacious, hardworking – and when things get hairy we care about what’s going to happen to them.”

The filmmakers could not ask for a more terrifying location to unleash this exploration of the unknown than the cramped, zero-gravity, inhospitable climate of the International Space Station.  “The International Space Station is one of the last fundamental idealistic acts that humanity has been able to put together over the past fifty years,” adds Espinosa.  “It’s one of the cores of humanity: exploration, the discovery of the unknown.  The movie is an homage and a tribute to that courage of meeting the unknown without fear.  But at the same time, it has an undercurrent of mankind’s history – we don’t have a great history in how we handle the unknown.  So the question is maybe not what does the unknown do to us, but what do we do to the unknown.  If we treat the unknown harshly, don’t you think the unknown will treat us harshly back?  If we treat the unknown with fear, don’t you think the unknown will respond to that fear?”

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“I think Daniel Espinosa wanted to create a world that was suffocating, in a way,” says Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars as David Jordan.  “In other movies, you can separate yourself from the reality of what you’re seeing.  Daniel wanted to create an environment where everything was truly alive.  Not only feeling that from the creature itself, but also truly alive emotionally.”

Gyllenhaal’s character, David Jordan, has the distance and remove of a man who has spent over 473 days on the International Space Station.  No one knows this home better than he does.  The new crew members joining him are there using his home in space as a base for their mission: to discover the first proof of life on Mars.

Gyllenhaal was intrigued not only by the script’s scares, but the larger ideas behind the characters.  “It was a beautifully paced, terrifying script.  It’s a fun idea – you think you know where it’s going, and then it evolves into something where you really, really don’t,” he says.  “The life form is literal, but it’s also an incredible metaphor for what can happen. Curiosity is one of the most important human traits, but I think searching too far can be full of hubris.  In that way, the life form is a repercussion for that kind of curiosity.”

‘Life represented a journey of discovery as the filmmakers – Espinosa, the screenwriters Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, and producers David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Bonnie Curtis, and Julie Lynn – consulted with astrobiologists, space medicine experts, and other scientists not only to create the realistic, zero-G world of the ISS that we all familiar with, but also to create a new life form that was wholly unique and original to film, but drew on very real biological principles that would inspire a terrifying creature.

In their research, they turned to two technical advisors: Dr. Kevin Fong and Dr. Adam Rutherford.

“Space is an extreme environment, like any of the extreme environments we’ve attempted to conquer in the 20th century – deserts, polar ice caps, our highest mountains,” says Fong, whose training as an astrophysicist and as a medical doctor made him uniquely suited to work with NASA’s Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston.  As an expert in space medicine – how to keep astronauts healthy and alive in space – both David Jordan and Miranda North would have training like Fong’s.  “What we know about extreme environments is that you can’t go there for long and it’s not without penalty – you come back literally less than the person you were.”

“As a doctor, when you’re looking at protecting human life in this environment, you’re really aware of how fragile it is.  When you add an extra threat by way of something alien, the questions become even harder,” Fong continues.  “It’s hard enough to stay alive up there on a routine mission when everything goes right.  When things start to go wrong, people start to die off pretty quickly.”

Hugh Derry would have training closer to that of Dr. Rutherford, a British geneticist who has published influential books on the creation of life and the use of genetic modification to make new life forms. “When you’re dealing with unknown agencies or unknown organisms, possibly dangerous, possibly infectious, there’s a number of protocols in place to stop any potential threat,” says Rutherford, describing Derry’s lab.  “You know these are rigorously enforced with smallpox and Ebola – there are tight regulations which are all managed by major organizations like the CDC.  In this case, it’s contained in an incubator, which is contained in a sealed lab, which is on the ISS in low-Earth orbit.  This seems like a sensible protocol at the time…”

LIFE“I worked with Ariyon a lot before we started filming,” Rutherford continues. “He wanted to understand the mindset of a scientist.  Finding proof of extraterrestrial life is the most important discovery in the history of science, but as a scientist, you’ve got to figure out what the hell it is and what you’re going to test, so you can explain what this thing is.”

Fong’s expertise came in helping the filmmakers understand how real astronauts might respond to the threat on board the ISS.  “I spent days watching the film scenes and thinking, ‘If you were the doctor on that mission, what would be happening?” says Fong. “These are scenarios I’ve played out in my head in theory, but when you see it played out with this high fidelity… it was fantastic.”

One of Fong’s suggestions comes as Jordan has to get outside the ISS very quickly.  However, the proper EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) suits take quite a long time to put on properly.  “We had to rethink that, think about the sort of spacesuit we’d use,” Fong recalls.  “We decided to use the launch suit, which isn’t quite up for the purpose of going on a spacewalk, which adds another edge to the threat of that scene.”

Fong and Rutherford say that while the discovery of life on Mars is definitely science fiction for now, the idea might not be all that far-fetched. “Mars is an object of fascination, because about four billion years ago, conditions on Mars were very similar to the conditions on Earth at that same time,” says Fong.  “The big question is whether life happened on Mars.  It had the conditions that would have allowed life to arise.”

The Mars of today is another story. “We don’t think that a life form would survive on the surface of Mars.  The atmosphere is too thin and it would be sterilized by ultraviolet radiation,” Rutherford notes.  Still, there could be ways that life could have survived for millennia, and Rutherford was able to suggest one possibility: “The idea was that the alien has been in hibernation, protected from the radiation beneath the surface of the planet.”

A vivid and all-too-relevant exploration of America’s recent past.

Controversial subject matter fuels great stories, and with Detroit, director Kathryn Bigelow adeptly balances an expertly crafted cinema verité filmic and up-close-and-personal approach with screenwriter/producer Mark Boal’s tension-packed “you are there” narrative.

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Director/Producer Kathryn Bigelow is a two-time Academy Award®-winner and an artist of singular talent. As a director and producer, she has crafted a body of work that challenges genre norms and offers viscerally stunning portraits of characters and conflicts. Mark Boal is a two-time Oscar winner for producing and writing Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, and a two-time Oscar-nominee for producing and writing Best Picture nominee Zero Dark Thirty, both his original screenplays directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Director Kathryn Bigelow memorably demonstrated in the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, and subsequently, in Best Picture nominee Zero Dark Thirty, that she and frequent collaborator, screenwriter/producer Mark Boal are no strangers to controversial subject matter.

Aided by a brilliant cast of film veterans and rising talent, including John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Captain America: Civil War),John Krasinski (13 Hours), Will Poulter (The Revenant), Algee Smith (Army Wives), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Jacob Lattimore (Collateral Beauty), Hannah Murray (Game of Thrones) and Kaitlyn Dever (Justified), Bigelow transports us back to the summer of 1967 into the boiling cauldron of civil unrest that ripped apart the city of Detroit.

The summer of 1967 was a pivotal moment in modern American history when the country was beset by growing political and social unrest: the escalation of the country’s military engagement in the Vietnam War and decades of racial injustice and repression. The epicenters of all this discontent and simmering rage proved to be the nation’s major cities with their systemic discrimination, racial disparities in housing and education, and growing unemployment in African-American communities.

Two nights after the Detroit rebellion began, a report of gunshots in the vicinity of a National Guard staging area prompted the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Army National Guard and a local private security guard to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel. Flouting procedural rules, several policemen forcefully and viciously interrogated motel guests, conducting a “death game” in an attempt to intimidate someone, anyone, into confessing. By the end of the night, three unarmed young men had been gunned down point blank, and several other men and women were brutally beaten.

No gun was ever found.

Into The Cauldron

After decades of neglect and broken promises, the city’s urban center erupted in rebellious violence, and the militaristic response to the unrest further fanned the flames of discord. The combination of mayhem and might sometimes blurred the distinction between victim and perpetrator.

Beyond the egregious loss, the biggest casualty, however, was innocence, as demonstrated by the film’s central dramatic story. The true-life events of what transpired one terrifying night at the Algiers Motel and its aftermath, though well-known at the time, have since been relegated to historical footnote.

In Bigelow’s expert hands, the incidents of that fateful night and what followed are resurrected and vividly reconstructed. This up-close-and-personal approach mirrors the technique Bigelow mastered in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. The cinematic medium, she contends, “speaks to the subconscious, inviting an almost active engagement from the viewer.”

In The Hurt Locker, Bigelow successfully put our boots on the ground in Iraq and in Zero Dark Thirty, directly inside Osama Bin Laden’s compound. “In this case, I wanted to place the viewer inside the Algiers Motel, so that they’re experiencing it in nearly real time.” In unearthing this largely forgotten but critical moment in recent American history, Bigelow and Boal sought to honor the survivors and those who perished in a way that was thoughtful and respectful.

Boal, who first brought the idea to Bigelow and Annapurna Pictures through his Page 1 Productions, conducted exhaustive research into the incident and spoke to everyone he could find who was still alive and involved in the urban rebellion on the streets of Detroit.

Because Kathryn Bigelow and Barry Ackroyd utilized a familiar cinema verité docu-style camera, she and editor Billy Goldenberg made the decision to mix existing footage into the film to enhance the strong, central narrative and immerse the viewer. “During the research process I found footage from the rebellion and it blended so perfectly with Barry’s work that it could be inserted into the film and provide an almost tactile authenticity.”

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Crafting The Screenplay

“On film, history can be a little antiseptic, especially if you are fifty years removed from it,” according to Boal. “Only when you meet the people involved do you begin to appreciate that history is really the story of the individuals. And that became the focus of my script.”

Beginning in 2014, Boal and his team of researchers interviewed dozens of participants in the actual disturbance, from African-American residents of the community to police and military personnel. His team of six full-time researchers, led by Pulitzer Prize-winning Detroit reporter, David Zeman, uncovered a trove of materials, including newspaper, radio and TV reportage, court records, FBI and Department of Justice investigation materials, contemporaneous accounts, sociological research, as well as documents that have never been publicly released from the Detroit Police Department and the University of Michigan.

Of the dozens of personal stories Boal came across, one stood out, the historical record of Larry Reed (portrayed in the film by Algee Smith), the lead singer in a popular up-and-coming singing group, The Dramatics, who had booked a room for the night at the Algiers motel for himself and his close friend, Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), in order to get them off the streets during curfew. “Larry had been pulled into this true crime story,” says Boal, “and it altered the course of the rest of his life; and that, in my mind, would form the film’s spine.”

Boal tracked down Reed, who had not spoken publicly about the incident in decades.

While initially hesitant, Reed eventually shared his wrenching experiences that night at the Algiers motel and Boal was so moved, he realized he had to bring this unjustly neglected moment of history to light. In addition to all the documentary evidence on the Algiers, he managed to find several other guests who also had been scarred into virtual silence by this terrifying incident.

Telling this ensemble story brought with it the onus of responsibility to tell it fairly and without judgment, says Bigelow, who also spoke to and spent time with the survivors. “When you’re making a story about a real-life event and you meet the witnesses to that event, you want to ensure that those experiences did not happen in vain; that you can convey the resonance of their story and impart it to the audience.”

Adds Boal, “when you choose to tell a real-life story such as this one, you have to come at it with a sense of personal responsibility both to history and even more so, the individuals involved, some of whom survived and others who did not. While we were making a fictional entertainment and not a documentary, we were freighted with the responsibility of honoring the past in a way that is thoughtful and respectful.”

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Prologue As Context

Before plunging into the Detroit uprising and the central narrative, Bigelow wanted to give the viewer some socio-historical background into what led up to the conflagration as well as some insight into the city’s cultural landscape in 1967. “Having been a longtime admirer of the work of the great African American artist Jacob Lawrence, his seminal series regarding the great migration seemed the right voice to describe the decades leading up to the civil unreast of the 1960’s, so that the viewer can better understand the anger and inequity that had been building over so many decades and put this country on a collision course.

We approached the Estate of Jacob Lawrence with an idea, to blend the panels into one another, one leading to the next. When the time came to add text, again we were in awe of the scope and complexity of what led to the turmoil of the 1960’s. This time we turned to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African American Research at Harvard University,” Bigelow shared.

Up Close And Personal

In addition to the voluminous research they conducted, the Detroit filmmakers were fortunate to have three witnesses on hand, all of whom had been involved in the Algiers Motel incident that fateful night in summer 1967. Their accounts gave the filmmakers unique insight into the unfolding chaos that developed over the course of the brutal interrogation.

Melvin Dismukes, Larry Reed and Julie Ann Hysell helped the film team piece together the events from differing perspectives. They were also brought on as consultants to help the filmmakers be as accurate as possible during shooting.

After fifty years, however, the truth about that night and his part in it has finally come to light, says Dismukes . “This movie, Detroit, will tell you what really happened.”

For Reed, Detroit is more than a film. It is a record of a pivotal moment in twentieth century American history. While for many years Reed was reticent to talk about that life altering night, when he was approached by the filmmakers, he felt he owed it to his friend and the others who lost their lives to come forward. “My purpose in opening up now is that people need to know what happened,” says Reed. “I don’t want this event to be forgotten, what my friend and I went through. It’s something that should never have happened.”

Hysell is thankful for the movie Detroit and the filmmakers’ sensitive but honest handling of what transpired. “I thought I’d have a hard time during filming because I don’t know that I’ve ever dealt with what happened that night. But Kathryn surrounded me with such a great group of people and they helped me through it. The only time I lost it was when they were filming the courtroom scene and the not guilty verdict was announced. I literally had to leave the set. I mean, those people were murdered. In cold blood. They were murdered and the cops were acquitted.

“That’s why this was such an important story to tell. I’d like people to look at this story and say, ‘yes, it’s time that things changed.’ That’s what I’d like to see happen.”

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Holding Up The Past As A Mirror

Any similarities to the nation’s present-day discussion of institutional racism and the events depicted in Detroit was purely intentional, say the filmmakers. “I think this is an important story to tell,” says producer/screenwriter Boal, “because one of the values of looking at the past is that it enables you to look at the present from another perspective. And to ask questions such as ‘how much has changed?’ And ‘how much has not changed?’”

The events of summer 1967 in Detroit and other major American cities “were not a unique moment in time,” Boal continues. “They were part of a continuum. And to the extent that we are made aware of that continuum, maybe we can be more thoughtful about it.”

The principal cast in Detroit came away with their own take on the film.

”I was very proud to work with filmmakers who are seeking to do more than simply entertain with their work, who are trying to raise awareness of real-life issues and problems in society,” says Will Poulter. “In order for us to move forward, it’s vitally important that the media and art highlight these issues.”

“When the movie ended, I wasn’t sure how I felt,” admits Algee Smith. “On the one hand, I felt happy to be a part of this important story. On the other, I felt sorrow for what the actual people had to go through and angry because of the injustice that followed. Let’s just say I was confused, though ultimately I felt immense gratitude that this story was told.”

According to Bigelow, “If the purpose of art is to agitate for change, if we are truly ready to start addressing the inequity of race in this country, we need to be willing to listen.I hope this film will encourage some small part of that dialogue, and we find a way to heal the wounds that have existed for far too long in this country.”

An unpretentious comedy, a film that does not take itself seriously

In the local action-comedy Finders Keepers, a strip joint janitor and a club patron strike up an unlikely friendship as they evade gangsters and Russian mobsters, and try to secure the release of a kidnapped stripper, by trading her for a lucky fish they had stolen

Finders Keepers was conceptualized by director Maynard Kraak back in 2012 when he set up West Five Films, but it was not until early 2014 that he brought his very good friend Strini Pillai,  onboard to write the screenplay – Pillai, who now resides in Australia, is an award winning film, television and stage actor who has branched out into writing and stand-up comedy.

Neels van Jaardsveld and Dalin Oliver in Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers is the pilot film project of the Emerging Black Film Maker initiative, run by the NFVF and the IDC. The film is the third film to be directed by Maynard Kraak, and the fourth that he has produced. The movie is being distributed in Southern Africa by Ster Kinekor Entertainment with the highly anticipated theatrical release of this comedy set for 18th August 2017. The film has already been picked up for US distribution by Tom Cat Films and sales agent Summer Hill Films will be representing international sales (a first sale has already been made). Participation in the NFVF Cannes catalogue would specifically be targeting potential international buyers. In particular, the film would benefit from a market screening in Cannes, and the sales agent would be able to utilize the opportunity to also invite buyers from their database of clients.

The Art Of Collaboration

Director Maynard Kraak

The screenplay is an original work, with the story by Maynard Kraak and Strini Pillai.

They both grew up in Cape Town in neighboring areas Penlyn Estate and Rylands Estate, but met for the first time when they started working on SABC series Generations within a couple of weeks of each other, and subsequently became firm friends.

Only a month difference in age, Kraak and Pillai were teenagers in the Eighties and both frequented a local movie theatre, the iconic Cine 400 in Rylands.

Here they were fed a healthy dose of 80’s popular culture comedies like Revenge of the Nerds, Weird Science, Bad Medicine and Porkies.

Strini-Pillai

Strini Pillai

So, when developing the screenplay, Maynard Kraak and Strini Pillai set out to create a film script that transported them back to their youth, with a film that is targeted predominantly at teenaged boys and young adult males.

Anyone who knows Strini personally, will acknowledge that he is one of the funniest people in the entertainment industry. His personality certainly permeates throughout the humour in the film.

Maynard Kraak on the other hand, has a love for comedy as well as Theatre of the Absurd. His first professional work as a director was his Absurdist stage play Bourgeoisie Gam and he has directed three television sitcom series: Let Heaven Wait, Parys Parys and Loitering in Jozi.

Having produced three feature films in Afrikaans (Vrou Soek Boer, Sonskyn Beperk, Knysna), Maynard Kraak has shifted his focus onto films in the English language.

Where he believes in creating content for the various language groups in South Africa, Maynard also feels strongly that we need to also make English language films, in particular films that can travel beyond our shores.

Finders Keepers is the first of a large slate of projects that West Five Films will be concentrating on over the next three years. The cornerstone of his local productions will be comedic films, with Maynard developing and strengthening relationships with the local comedy industry.

Bringing The Screenplay To Life

Once the screenplay and financing were finalized, long-time collaborator, casting director Thorsten Wedekind came on to cast the film. During the casting of the film, Maynard and Thorsten spent close on three months in auditions and call backs before being finalized.

While producing the film Knysna, Maynard Kraak discussed Finders Keepers with Neels van Jaarsveld (Knysna, Man Soos My Pa, Sonskyn Beperk, Bang Bang Club).

Then directly after that production, an approach was made to stand-up comic Dalin Oliver during the run of his successful one man show I Came, I Taught, I Left at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Maynard Kraak had been tracking the young comedian for a year, catching his stand up shows at venues in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Lise Slabber, who has risen to prominence in the Starz series Black Sails, is the Russian dancer Sonja, who works at the strip club Pussie Galore. She is the victim of manipulation on the part of the Russian mobster club owners, who have her young daughter.

Grant Swanby (Beyond the River, Modder en Bloed) is an award winning actor and here he makes a hilarious turn as the Russian gangster Kiril. Tyrel Meyer (I Now Pronounce You Black & White) is the younger Russian brother Fedor, the muscle in the criminal organization.

Cape Town comedian Stuart Taylor makes his acting debut as Jackie Jardine, the leader of the Seven’s gang that includes Irshaad Ally (Four Corners) and Khalil Kathrada (Alien Outpost). Clayton Evertson (Honey 3) is Lee, Jackie Jardine’s son. Siv Ngesi steps out of his comfort zone, as the conflicted camp bouncer SS. Then there is Matthew Dylan Roberts (Faith like Potatoes) as the swashbuckling bookie, Sweet George.

Even though the film is skewed towards the ridiculous, true to Maynard Kraak’s Absurd roots, the comedy still originates from a place of truth and honesty.  Finders Keepers is an unpretentious comedy, a film that does not take itself seriously, and aims to provide unashamedly, a vehicle to entertain and make one laugh out loud, without descending into vulgarity and crassness. Bottom line, the film is really very funny

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Creating The World Of Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers is set in Maynard Kraak’s hometown of Cape Town.

After twenty years living in various places including Johannesburg, the UK and the US, Maynard Kraak returned to Cape Town to shoot the action comedy.

As an ex-pat Capetonian, it was important to Kraak to return home to make a film.

Principal photography took place for 30 days in and around Cape Town.

During the development, it was Strini Pillai’s idea to introduce the fish character to the story. Other animals have been commonplace in films, but to have a fish that has to interact with the actors is something novel.

Maynard Kraak, embraced the idea, and engaged the services of Hilton Treves, one of the most experienced Visual Effects Supervisors in South Africa. A 3D fish was designed and animation was undertaken by Lung Animation, with lead animator Claudio Pavan sharing the Visual Effects Supervisor role.

It may have been easier and cheaper to cut Ishy the Fishy from the script, but instead, Maynard Kraak decided to take up the challenge and push out the envelope.

A true theatrical epic.

The National Theatre Live’s Angels in America:  Millennium Approaches (Part 1) and Angels in America: Perestroika (Part 2) will be screened on 19 August and 2 September respectively at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa.

Angels In America

James McArdle and Andrew Garfield in Angels in America – Millennium Approches (c) Helen Maybanks

ANGELS 1

Andrew Garfield (Prior) and Nathan Stewart-Jarre (Belize) in ‘Angels in America – Millennium Approaches

One of the theatre highlights of the year in the UK, the first installment also marks the 60th National Theatre Live broadcast to screens worldwide.

With cameras carefully positioned throughout the auditorium to ensure that cinema audiences get the ‘best seat in the house’, National Theatre Live broadcasts retain the feeling of live performance and a real sense of shared event.

Olivier and Tony award winning director Marianne Elliott (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, War Horse) directs this new staging of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning work. Angels in America follows the lives of a group of New Yorkers as they grapple with life and death, love and sex and heaven and hell against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis in Reagan’s America in the mid-1980s.

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Nathan Lane

Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spider-Man) plays Prior Walter, whose boyfriend Louis (James McArdle, Young Chekov trilogy) leaves him on discovering he has AIDS. Russell Tovey (Being Human, Him & Her) is Joe – a closeted Mormon married to Harper (Denise Gough, Paula, People, Places & Things) whose marriage is on the rocks due to his secret homosexuality. Nathan Lane (The Lion King, The Birdcage) plays Donald Trump’s mentor Roy Cohn, who is about to receive some devastating news that will change his life forever.

Emma Keith, head of National Theatre Live, said the team is looking forward to the show being shown in cinemas worldwide: ‘’It seems fitting that Angels in America is our 60th broadcast, as it really sums up what National Theatre Live is all about – bringing world class theatre to those who may not otherwise have had the chance to see it.

“An amazing cast, fantastic creative team and a play that has more than stood the test of time – which, in fact, seems more timely than ever – means that this broadcast really is unmissable.’’

Angels in America:  Millennium Approaches (Part 1) releases on Saturday, 19 August 2017 for four screenings only: on 19, 23, 24 August at 19:30 and on 20 August at 14:30.The running time of Part 1 is 3 hours and 40 minutes, including two 15 minute intervals.

Angels in America: Perestroika (Part 2) releases on Saturday 2 September also for four screenings only on 2, 6, 7 September at 19:30 and on 3 September at 14:30.The running time of Part 2 is 4 hours and 20 minutes, both including two 15 minute intervals.

Both films will show at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau cinemas in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, and at Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Durban.

For booking information visit www.sterkinekor.com and the Ster-Kinerkor App. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

ANGELS 2

Denise Gough and Russell Tovey

Inventive and Ingenious

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (1/ 8/ 17)

Eschewing circular narrative twists and sci-fi leanings, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is certainly an unusual film for the writer/director. It’s also undeniably one of his best.

Dunkirk

Dunkirk’s narrative is divided along the lines of land, sea and air, with each story arc somewhat intersecting by the end, although the land arc takes place over the course of a week, the sea over a day and the air over an hour. Viewers who miss those crucial time cues (presented via title cards in the beginning) may have a hard time consolidating the incongruity of the onscreen action.

It’s not a major gripe ultimately as Dunkirk is the sort of film that throws the audience into the thick of things as an accomplice and largely leaves them to their own devices to make sense of the unfolding events and respond as they see feel compelled.

Dunkirk is not a conventional war movie epic and is largely concentrated on individuals or small groups. The full scale of the surrounding backdrop of the Dunkirk evacuations is conveyed mostly through exchanges between characters. As a whole, dialogue is kept to a minimum, and the focus is on action and reaction.

It is almost documentary in its tone, resisting the emotional-manipulation cues and hackneyed character drama that usually accompany war films. There is no sense of ham-fisted patriotism and the film very much takes its tonal direction from Winston Churchill’s assertion – following the events depicted in it- that “we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.” It is a film about survival and duty, but without delusions of grandeur and/or faux Wilfred Owen posturing.

Key to the film’s success is how its components work together to create this tense, immersive effect. From a technical standpoint there’s nothing to moan about. The visuals are exceptionally rich without demanding attention. They utilize incredible detail and meticulous framing to enhance the captivating effect of the story rather than to pull you out and be scenic. The sound design too fits right in. There’s something to be said for the synergy that emerges from long-standing creative partnerships and the one between Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan continues to yield some of the finest soundtrack work to be found anywhere.

Bombastic when necessary, restrained for much of the time and subtly incorporating sound elements from the story and setting to create atmosphere and set the pace; it’s equal parts inventive and ingenious.

A complaint which has been leveled against Nolan’s work in the past has been the relative bloodlessness of his violence. In The Dark Knight Rises this was pushed to the point of absurdity when many character deaths appeared almost comical because of how coyly they were handled. With Dunkirk this subdued approach becomes a strength. The expected blood and gore in war films (from Saving Private Ryan to Hacksaw Ridge) has become such a well-worn trope that it largely ceases to be a shocking reflection of the realities of war and instead plays to horror genre gore-hounds. Nolan’s restraint here serves to keep the emphasis on the character’s survival rather than the anticipation of grisly demise, and it works. In fact the film rarely, if ever, actually shows the enemy forces, their looming presence is largely implied (but no less threatening, as the nail-biting opening sequence testifies).

Crucially important is that one watches Dunkirk on as large a screen as possible (ideally 4K or Imax) as a huge part of the film’s impact is lost on a smaller setup. It may seem a pernickety observation, but viewed at large scale, Dunkirk is an immersive, tense and harrowing experience.

On a smaller screen, the slightly patchy narrative, jarring moments and niggling cracks are allowed to push forward a bit more and detract from the experience. Which is to say in a sense, that Dunkirk is not a flawless film; but one intended to be experienced in an overwhelmed state with gut reactions ‘in the moment’; without time to weigh-out options and reflect. Seen at it’s best, there’s nothing quite like it.

Read more about the film

The most criminally underrated science fiction offering of the last decade

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt 

No one could have predicted that 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be as good as it was. Truth be told, I still consider it to be the most criminally underrated science fiction offering of the last decade.

Perhaps even more impressive and unexpected is just how good the two sequels (2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the new War for the Planet of the Apes) would turn out to be, rendering this new trilogy the first without a glaring weak point in quite some time.

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The strength of all three films lies in outstanding, empathetic characters, engrossing story-telling, resonant themes and a phenomenal use of CGI motion capture in order to serve the story rather than to be flashy. Although they never feel restrained, the scope of each entry never spirals out of control and has always been centered on the physical and emotional journey of a core group of characters.

All three films have really been about the relationship between chimpanzee Caesar (portrayed by Andy Serkis) and Maurice the Orangutan (Karin Konoval) as they struggle to build a just and free society for the increasingly intelligent apes, trying to come to terms with the nature of violence without succumbing to the self-destructive tendencies of humanity. In War this comes front and center as Caesar grapples with unbearable loss at the hands of Woody Harrelson’s thoroughly despicable Colonel.

Caesar serves as a vehicle for the filmmakers to look at the mythologizing of visionary revolutionary figures into near religious archetypes. Watching his journey from a carefree baby chimp swinging about in James Franco’s attic in Rise through to his current position as reluctant pacifist leader of the apes forced into armed struggle for survival has been utterly heart-breaking.

Themes of racism, intolerance, the burden of forgiveness, and the all-consuming destructive force of violence are examined in incredibly sophisticated ways; conveyed through the narrative rather than shoehorned-in by way of exposition. These are emotionally taxing and heavy films to be sure, but all the more important because of it.

What is particularly impressive is how the filmmakers have skirted the line between fan service and accessibility.

All three films are full of Easter eggs and clever references/setups to the originals, but understanding these are not a requisite to enjoying them, it just adds another layer of enjoyment. In fact each entry in this new trilogy can be watched as a self-contained story and thoroughly appreciated; a rarity in the piecemeal teaser approach of most franchise world-building these days.

 In a nutshell, you owe it to yourself to watch all three films of the new Planet of the Apes trilogy. From beginning to end, they form an emotional, cathartic and complex story which has something to say for itself.

In successfully wrapping up the series’ themes and character arcs in such a striking, powerful and unpredictable way, War in particular forms one of the strongest conclusions to a film trilogy ever.

Bring tissues.

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With all these ingredients, and under the helm of a visionary filmmaker, Baby Driver is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who takes a seat on this wild ride.

With its mixture of mph and music, the newest explosion of genre-crossing excitement from writer-director Edgar Wright, Baby Driver is an action thriller unlike any other.

Full of reversals, rewinds, fast forwards and heart-stopping skips, and inspired by the types of crime-and-chase movies that have thrilled moviegoers since Steve McQueen in a revved-up Mustang changed car pursuits forever, Baby Driver is a game-changing, lane-changing, hard-charging blast only Wright could have dreamed up.

Edgar-Wright-Directing-Baby-Driver

Edgar Wright had been thinking about how to cast Baby Driver for years before it went into production. Though he initially imagined Baby as short – “because I’m short,” he adds, laughing – he says meeting Ansel Elgort made him realize nobody else could play the title role. “The thing that really charmed me about him was the fact that he’s very musical, and he can play lots of instruments,” says Wright. “One of my favorite scenes with Ansel, he has his headphones in and he’s listening to Dave Brubeck, and starts playing piano on the table. There was something so beguiling and hypnotic about watching a 21-year-old actor play along to some jazz from the ‘50s. Ansel is fascinating in that regard.”

Baby (Ansel Elgort), an innocent-looking getaway driver who gets hardened criminals from point A to point B, with daredevil flair and a personal soundtrack running through his head. That’s because he’s got his escape route plotted to the beat of specific tunes that go from his well-curated iPod straight to his ears, and which translate into expertly timed hairpin turns, gear shifts and evasive maneuvers that leave his passengers on the ride of their lives.

Baby works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a kingpin on a lucky streak of brash daytime bank heists, thanks in part to his faith in Baby’s auto acumen. Doc’s go-to professionals include former Wall Street type turned outlaw Buddy (Jon Hamm), Buddy’s young, lawless and scandalous partner in crime Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and the impulsive, gun-slinging Bats (Jamie Foxx), whose suspicions about Baby – from his attitude to his aptitude – begin to create a dangerous rift in an until-then smooth-running operation.

Baby’s outward appearance – the sunglasses, the aloofness, the ever-present earbuds — may suggest a kid in over his head, but his catch-me-if-you-can skills are second to none. And yet the encroaching demand for his talents, and what he’s doing with them, begin to weigh on his sense of right and wrong, especially when he falls for a sweet, kind-eyed diner waitress named Debora (Lily James), and a doomed job threatens his chance at love and happiness away from his perilous profession.

Who Is Baby Driver?

Cool but a little naive. Young but with an old soul. goofy at times, but all business when it counts. Thrillingly good at his given task, but not always aware of the consequences of what he does. That’s Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, a character Edgar Wright created as a way for moviegoers to live vicariously through a criminal, but also experience the very real fallout of that world.

“The movie is structured so it opens with the dream of being a getaway driver, and very quickly turns into the nightmare of being a criminal,” says Wright. “The opening chase is sort of positioned as a clockwork act of precision. Everything goes right. Then very quickly, with subsequent situations, things start to go wrong, and very visceral consequences start to bear down. The storm clouds have been gathering during the movie. At some point, Baby’s luck is gonna run out.”

The Baby we meet at the beginning of the movie – hidden behind sunglasses, dialed in to his iPod playlist, then a hellion at the wheel – is like the greatest gang apprentice ever. “This kid’s a hotshot, but he’s also on the fringes of the gang,” says Wright. “He literally sits as far away from them as he can, because he really doesn’t want to be part of the group. He thinks, wrongly, that he can be a getaway driver but not be a criminal Like, ‘I’m just the courier. I don’t have anything to do with the bad stuff.’ The action scenes are kind of like Baby’s day job, and I think a lot of people that work in a job sometimes shield themselves in a different persona. Then when they’re home, they’re a different person.”

When Wright was dreaming up the role, he envisioned a riff on the strong silent type personified by Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen, but with the tension that it might all be a front. “You meet him, and he’s a badass in his profession, and then immediately afterwards you start to meet the real kid. It’s an interesting dichotomy, that he’s really good at a job that he should not be doing.”

The music that drives the Baby Driver is, to Wright, indicative of his twofold persona. Blasting his favorite tunes while he does his job looks cool, but it masks a defect tied to a tragedy. “He has this hearing defect, tinnitus, a whine in his ear caused by being in a car crash when he was young,” says Wright. “It has the effect of him not wanting to talk too much, because people with hearing defects can feel more self-conscious talking. But the other aspect of that is to listen to music, to drown out the whine. It becomes a security blanket, and then a full-blown obsession. He literally has to soundtrack his entire life because he can’t really do things without the right music playing.”

Baby is encouraged by his elderly deaf foster father (CJ Jones) to get out of his life of crime. Meeting the friendly, beautiful waitress Debora (Lily James) further articulates for him how misdirected his life is, and how much better it could be. But Baby has to make that leap, and cut ties with his profession. What will it cost?

“I just like the idea of a character having to choose between what he does very well, and what he ultimately wants to be,” says Wright.

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Strap In, Turn On, Hit Play

Edgar Wright was himself a Baby Driver-ish 21 years old when he was listening to “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and thinking, “This would make a great car chase.”

Years later, Wright made his chase, and the movie around it, what he now calls “a labor of love and a dream project. Two of my great passions brought together in one movie. I always wanted to do an action movie that was powered by music.” With producers Nira Park, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan on board, everyone was excited to take the cleverly crafted themes behind Wright’s action thriller and fuse them into one uniquely choreographed cinematic experience.

“There might be music, and there might be choreography, but this is not your everyday musical,” laughs Wright about his upended, re-imagined heist movie. “At the same time, we had to maintain the right sense of tone that is both intense and suspenseful, but most importantly fun and exciting.”

Says director of photography Bill Pope, Wright’s longtime collaborator, “It’s a postmodern musical. So there’s not singing and dancing in the street, but the world acts to music.”

Director Edgar Wright on the set of TriStar Pictures' BABY DRIVER.

Edgar Wright’s passion for cinema is reflected in everything he works on. Wright began his journey as a filmmaker in his hometown of Somerset, England where he made short films with a Super 8 camera as a young teenager. He soon after entered one of his animated short films, I Want to Get into the Movies, an allegory about wheelchair access, into a Comic Relief contest and won a Video 8 camera.Wright’s talent gained notice in the U.K. when he directed the entire two seasons of Spaced for Channel 4. The series served as a launching pad for the 2004 movie Shaun of the Dead, which Wright directed and co-wrote with Simon Pegg. It was followed by the action comedy Hot Fuzz, which Wright again directed and co-wrote with Simon Pegg. Wright’s next undertaking was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, based on the famous graphic novel. Wright co-wrote, produced and directed the film.In 2013, Wright, Pegg, and Frost reunited once more for The World’s End, which would go on to win the Empire Award for Best British Film, and officially brought the Cornetto Trilogy to a close.

Known for his innovative films, Wright revels in challenges that lead to one-of-a-kind visions on screen. Continues Pope, “Edgar’s movies are always challenging. His movies are complex, especially this one in particular, where you don’t just have a bank robbery scene with gunfire and squibs and cops showing up on time and cars crashing. You have rain. You have lightning. And the kicker, it’s all set to music, so the windshield wipers act to tempo. People die to tempo. The gunfire is on the beat, and it’s all usually in one shot. And it’s daring to have all of that choreographed.”

Choreographer Ryan Heffington describes the first day of shooting, which involved one of the largest pieces. “It was a street scene, where Baby would travel three blocks within the city in one take. We had to choreograph pedestrians. We had to choreograph café workers, children, dogs walking. It’s like this great play on reality, where it looks like a realistic scene, but everything happens to be in time and in rhythm.”

Says producer Nira Park, “The film is not just set to music because Edgar loves music. It’s a way of inviting audiences inside the mind of the main character, and to see the world through his eyes or ears. In coping with his traumatic past, Baby drowns out the world around him by always listening to music through stolen iPods.”

Continues Park, “It’s an action thriller executed in a way that’s never been done before – there are car chases, intense action sequences, shootouts, all to the beat of over 30 songs that Edgar put together before finalizing the script.”

Four years prior to the start of principal photography, Wright sat down with editor Paul Machliss and accumulated a playlist of over 30 songs that would inspire the script. “It’s something that’s very much a part of my previous films, and I thought of this idea of how to take that a stage further by having a character who listens to music the entire time.”

Ansel Elgort, who plays Baby, recalls how singular the project was from very early on. “Initially the script was given out on an iPad that had little ‘Baby Driver’ emojis that you could click, and the music would play as you read the script. The music drove the script, which is very much how this movie works. When you read it, you could feel the rhythm of the scenes already.”

Says Jon Hamm, who co-stars as heist man Buddy, “The musical element to it, which is very interesting, allows Edgar to really play with his incredibly developed skill set.”

The film’s second unit director and stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott says, “Edgar is such a visionary and his style is so unique, this project is a true testament to his creativity. I’ve said since the beginning that it would be a great film school exercise to take a mainstream song and choreograph anything to it, like a fight scene or a car chase. It’s not easy what we’re doing here. There’s a lot of nuance in this. I think you can watch this film a dozen times, and each time you’ll pick out something new, or some intricacy that’s innate in an Edgar Wright film.”

Wright even cared enough about the heists to meet with a technical consultant named Joe Loya, who in the early 90s was convicted for bank robbery and served a seven-year term. Loya wrote a book called The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber, which inspired Wright to meet Loya. “Loya helped solidify the authenticity of each heist,” says Park. “With all the added elements, Edgar wanted to make sure the heists felt very real and believable.”

BTS/ Director EDGAR WRIGHT with Lily James and Ansel Elgort (center) on the set of TriStar Pictures' BABY DRIVER.

Writer- Director Edgar Wright with Lily James and Ansel Elgort (center) on the set of TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver.

Casting Baby Driver

Edgar Wright had been thinking about how to cast Baby Driver for years before it went into production. Though he initially imagined Baby as short – “because I’m short,” he adds, laughing – he says meeting Ansel Elgort made him realize nobody else could play the title role.

“The thing that really charmed me about him was the fact that he’s very musical, and he can play lots of instruments,” says Wright. “One of my favorite scenes with Ansel, he has his headphones in and he’s listening to Dave Brubeck, and starts playing piano on the table. There was something so beguiling and hypnotic about watching a 21-year-old actor play along to some jazz from the ‘50s. Ansel is fascinating in that regard.”

Elgort explains that it was his and Edgar’s mutual love for music that connected them upon their first meeting in LA. “Edgar and I met in Los Angeles and we had lunch, and all we talked about was music,” says the actor. “At the time I didn’t even know what this film was about, but we both shared a love for music.”

Says Wright, “Ansel is actually obsessed with music, which the lead character in the movie is. His life is completely governed by music and living to the rhythm of the music he’s listening to, and Ansel has a dance background. And also he’s a great actor and a nice guy.”

Elgort was excited to take on the role of Baby, explaining, “I loved how eclectic the role was. He’s the getaway driver so I had to learn to drive, he has a deaf foster dad who he signs with, so I had to learn to sign, and his life moves through music so there’s the dance and choreography challenges too.”

BABY

Turn It Up

For a movie whose pump is primed by music, and specifically music chosen by its lead character, it’s not surprising that Wright had songs picked out before he’d ever written a word of Baby Driver. Tunes like “Bellbottoms” from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned, “Brighton Rock” by Queen and “Hocus Pocus” by Focus gave Wright the inspiration to dream up highly choreographed sequences. “The form of those songs starts to shape the scene,” says Wright. “’Bellbottoms’ has a long two-minute build before the rock really kicks in, so that’s perfect for a getaway driver waiting outside a bank. Then at the two-minute mark, the chase starts.”

But it’s not just car action that’s choreographed to music: Baby gets his own flat-footed, coffee-errand “number” on the streets of Atlanta, to the sounds of “Harlem Shuffle,” and even gun battles find themselves in synch with certain tracks. “The very first germ of the idea was how could I do an action movie that’s completely driven by music?” says Wright. “The music is the motivating factor.”

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 15:  Ryan Heffington attends Tim Headington & Elysium Bandini Present The 8th Annual PARADIS Benefitting The Art of Elysium during the 69th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 15, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Luca Teuchmann/Getty Images for Art of Elysium )

Ryan Heffington

To that end, finding the right choreographer was as crucial as any other job on the film, and that meant hiring Ryan Heffington. Best known as the choreographer behind the music videos for Sia’s “Chandelier” and Arcade Fire’s “We Exist”, Heffington gladly embraced the challenge to join Wright’s team for the first time to choreograph talent and crew in his feature film debut. Heffington’s partner in the process was assistant choreographer, Ryan Spencer, who has been involved in the arts since the age of 3, becoming an independent at 15 years old performing and choreographing talent nationally and internationally.

“Edgar is very specific about what he wants and he knows every single detail about the film but he puts his trust in the team he’s assembled and he really let me go to work which makes him a great collaborator and an amazing director,” says Heffington.

“I think the story mostly determined what we were doing. And Edgar had a lot of say in what he wanted in terms of movement and timing and the mood of it all. I did get to come up with a lot of original, ideas and movements. I think that along with Edgar’s direction it’s something that’s going to be really rich for the film.”

Elgort, like his six fellow heist co-stars, had some experience with music and choreography, something producers contemplated when casting the seasoned actors. “In casting these heist men we knew it would be necessary to have talent with experience in rhythm and who could pick up the choreography that was so vital to making this movie work,” explains Park.

“The actors all worked very hard to choreograph their scenes, but hopefully it’ll come off looking easy. I think that’s my job to help make it look natural and pedestrian,” adds Heffington.

Wright calls Heffington “an amazing genius,” who helped the actors think in counts, like dancers do. “Say for example people are shooting guns in time with the music, he would get them to memorize this part of the rhythm. Ryan would go up to Jon Hamm and say, ‘This next bit is you going da, da, da, da, da, da.’ Then you get that in your head. Then it cuts together with the song. It really works.”

Explains Heffington, “We started with rehearsals with Ansel back in LA about six months prior to filming to get an idea of what Ansel’s movement style was and his natural character without adding too much of Baby in it so we could determine where we could take this character.”

At the age of nine, Elgort’s mother took him to try out for The School of American Ballet, where he began his official dance training. He later attended the Professional Performing Arts School, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School and Stagedoor Manor summer camp, further establishing himself as a dancer and stage performer. When he is not filming, Elgort lends his talents to producing electronic dance music under the name “Ansolo.”

Elgort says, “I started with regular dialogue auditions before Edgar asked me to start dancing since Baby is always moving to the beat, whether it be in his own mind or dancing in front of a mirror like no one’s watching.”

BABY3

Behind The Wheel

With high-gear, precision driving essential to the heart-pounding fun of Baby Driver, the right action choreography, the right cars and the right stunt team had to be in place. Wright and three different storyboard artists began the process by drawing the car chase sequences, then turning them into animatics that provided a rough animation of how they would play out. “Those animatics are pretty close to the finished movie,” says Wright. “The next stage is working with a cinematographer, a stunt team, and a physical effects team. Which parts need a stunt driver? Which parts can be the actors? What rigs do we use?”

What Wright didn’t want to do is “hose the scene down,” meaning shoot with multiple cameras, grab millions of feet of film, then figure it out in the editing room. “The animatics became a great roadmap, because you knew how many shots you needed for a sequence,” says Wright. “It’s getting the maximum bang for your buck.”

 

An attack on your culture, is an attack on your identity.

”Identity, a sense of belonging and reconciliation are strong, universal themes in this powerful tale,” says producer-director Roberta Durant of Krotoa,  the poignant story of a feisty, bright, young eleven-year old girl, who is removed from her close-knit Khoi tribe to serve Jan van Riebeeck  at her uncle’s trading partner.

Krotoa is brought into the first Fort, established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. There she grows into a visionary young woman, who assimilates the Dutch language and culture so well that she rises to become an influential interpreter for van Riebeeck (Armand Aucamp ), who became the first Governor of the Cape Colony. Krotoa (Crystal Donna Roberts – ) ends up being rejected by her own Khoi people and destroyed by the Dutch, when she tries to find the middle way between the two cultures.

Krotoa 3

 

The history of South Africa, in the 17th century, is strongly intertwined with a Dutch history that deserves more attention. The Dutch’s wealth and strength, during its VOC period, is one-sided. The way in which the Dutch lived their lives in a colony, far from their homeland, and the complexity that this brought along on a social and political level, is under-exposed. The strong characters in this film each have an interesting and refreshing point of view on colonisation, therefore the story is not only rich in diversity, but also provides a unique perspective on a shared South African and Dutch history

The film, written by Kaye Ann Williams and Margaret Goldsmid, was created by a dynamic team of women, with acclaimed filmmaker Roberta Durrant as director and producer.

Roberta is the creator of various award-winning South African television series, including Ring of Lies, Home Affairs (nominated for two International Emmy Awards and as Best Drama at the Banff Film Festival), Montana, Izingane Zobaba, Sokhulu and Partners (nominated for an International Emmy Award and as Best Drama at the Africa Magic Awards), Shreds and Dreams, Saints and Sinners, Zbondiwe, Isikizi and Forced Love; as well as sitcoms like Sgudi Snaysi, Going Up, Madam and  Eve (won a Rose Award for Best comedy  at the Golden Rose Awards in Lucerne), SOS, Fishy Feshuns, Going Up Again, Mazinyo dot Q, and Stokvel. She is also responsible for the children’s film, Felix, which won seventeen international film awards, while other productions like Inside Out, Skilpoppe and Ingoma were also very well received. Ingoma won six SAFTA Awards in 2016.   She is also the producer of the new kykNET drama, Sara se Geheim.

The film conquered the hearts of international film lovers and critics, crowned with more than 8 International Awards, including Best Film at the Harlem International Film Festival held in New York.

This film, has already received six official selections at international film festivals, like the International Film Festival for Environment, Health, and Culture, World Film Awards, Artemis Women in Action Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. It has also won eight sought-after awards, including Best Film at the Harlem International Film Festival http://harlemfilmfestival.org/ an Award of Excellence at the International Film Festival for Women, Social Issues, and Zero Discrimination, a Best of Show Award at the Depth Of Field International Film Festival, a Platinum Award at the International Movie Awards, a Diamond Award at the Filmmakers World Festival, a Best of Show Award at the The IndieFEST Film Awards, an Award of Excellence Special Mention: Women Filmmakers at the Accolade Global Film Competition and a World Platinum Award at the World Woman Awards.

Director’s Statement

”The identity of someone, who is in between two cultures, is very relevant in any multicultural society. More specifically, discrimination between conflicting cultures and the (both strong and weak) position of a woman standing in between these cultures, are the two main threads of this story.”

In comparison to men, very few women have been acknowledged for having an impact on South African history. During the struggle, women like Ruth First, Lillian Ngoyi, Bettie du Toit and Sophia Williams-du Bruyn stood their ground in the fight against the apartheid government.

However, if we dig into South Africa’s rich history, we discover that there were other indigenous females – who contributed to the change and development of our great nation – even before the sisters who were involved in the struggle. One of these women, is the focus of this feature film. A tragic heroine – Krotoa: Eva of the Cape.

As the only recorded female interpreter of her time, she became the bridge between the Khoi people and the Dutch Settlers. She aided Jan van Riebeeck in his dealings with the natives and was instrumental in negotiating the end of the first Dutch-Khoi war. Her marriage to Danish surgeon and explorer, Pieter van Meerhof, is the first recorded inter-racial marriage between an indigenous woman and a European man. She was the first recorded indigenous woman to be baptised into the Christian religion of the colonialists. Pieternella, her daughter, birthed many Afrikaner, mixed-race and even black families, establishing Krotoa as a tangible bridge between all cultures in our country.

Krotoa

It is not only important to tell her story because of all these great achievements, but it is also necessary to highlight that she was caught between two ways of life and constantly forced to choose between these two cultures. The tension and mistrust created between Krotoa and her people, because of her skill as interpreter that was frequently used by Jan van Riebeeck and the VOC (The Dutch East India Company), led to the tragic end of this influential woman, but also to the great beginning of a nation. The footprint she left on South African society, although forgotten or unknown by some, still has an impact on all of us today.

The film is inspired by real-life historical events. The filmmaker tried to stay true to facts and deductions made about her life by various historians, while taking dramatic license.

Krotoa5

The contrast between the Dutch and the Khoi is, in keeping with our theme of Krotoa being caught between two worlds, created by the key-characters in her life: Her childhood sweetheart – Doman, her benefactor – Van Riebeeck and her lover / husband – Pieter van Meerhof.

Beginning-period – 1652:

Here Krotoa is a girl of eleven years old, and the visuals depict her innocence and freedom, living her life as a Khoi girl within her tribe. This contrasts with the Dutch fort environment, with its rigidity and strangeness, which she is thrust into as a young servant girl within the Dutch community.

Krotoa 1Period – 1659:

During this period, we see Krotoa blossoming into a young woman through the eyes of Van Riebeeck, who is attracted to her (not only sexually). This is contrasted in the same period when Krotoa loses control over her situation. For example: When she is imprisoned by Maria, coveted by Van Riebeeck and when she returns to her Khoi village in a state of shock, having been violated.

Period – 1662:

Here Krotoa is settled with Van Meerhof. The period before Van Riebeeck leaves and Wagenaar takes over as Governor, is one of reasonable balance, with Krotoa comfortable with her status as Van Meerhof’s partner and Van Riebeeck’s interpreter and negotiator. Once Van Riebeeck leaves and Wagenaar takes over, she is forced into baptism and marriage, and sent off to Robben Island when Van Meerhof – her husband – is put in charge of the penal colony there.

Period – 1665:

Krotoa’s life spirals out of control on Robben Island. In one moment of clarity, she dons her skins and tells the Dutch gathering at the fateful dinner the truth about her experience with the Dutch.

Period – 1672:

Krotoa is imprisoned on Robben Island in 1672.

Period – 1674:

Krotoa dies in prison, on Robben Island, in 1674.

 

Your Guide To What’s Happening On The Big Screen

Latest Releases /  South African Films /  Films Released in 2017  /  Top 20 Films Of 2016

July 2017 / September 2017/  October – December 2017

Upcoming Film Releases In South Africa: August 2017

Information provided by the film distributors in South Africa: Ster Kinekor, Times Media Films, UIP SA, and Black Sheep Films.  Dates subject to change, visit www.sterkinekor.comwww.cinemanouveau.co.za and www.numetro.co.za for cinemas where the films will be showing.    Report broken links

Local Is Lekker: New South African Films

KrotoaThe remarkable local drama  Krotoa (4/8) was inspired by real-life historical events and tells the story of a feisty, bright, young eleven-year old girl (Charis Williams), who is removed from her close-knit Khoi tribe to serve Jan van Riebeeck (Armand Aucamp), her uncle’s trading partner. She is brought into the first Fort, established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. There she grows into a visionary young woman, who assimilates the Dutch language and culture so well that she rises to become an influential interpreter for van Riebeeck, who became the first Governor of the Cape Colony. Krotoa (Crystal-Donna Roberts) ends up being rejected by her own Khoi people and destroyed by the Dutch, when she tries to find the middle way between the two cultures. The film, written by Kaye Ann Williams and Margaret Goldsmid, was created by a dynamic team of women, with acclaimed filmmaker Roberta Durrant as director and producer. Roberta is the creator of various award-winning South African television series and sitcoms, as well as the children’s film, Felix, which won seventeen international film awards. The film has already won eight coveted awards, including an Award of Excellence at the International Film Festival for Women, Social Issues and Zero Discrimination; a Best of Show at the Depth of Field International Film Festival; a Platinum Award at the International Movie Awards; a Diamond Award at the Filmmakers World Festival; a Best of Show at the IndieFEST Film Awards; an Award of Excellence Special Mention: Women Filmmakers at the Accolade Global Film Competition; a World Platinum Award at the World Woman Awards and an award for Best Film at the Harlem International Film Festival held in New York. Watch the trailer

Finders KeepersIn the local comedy Finders Keepers (18/8) Lonnie and Brian go on the run from the Cape Town underworld, after finding a box filled with cash and a valuable wrist watch. They steal a lucky fish to barter with the gangsters. Directed by Maynard Kraak. With Dalin Oliver, Neels Van Jaarsveld, Lise Slabber. Watch the trailer.

 

 

Animation

Son of BigfootIn Son Of Bigfoot (11/8) teenage outsider Adam sets out on an epic and daring quest to uncover the mystery behind his long-lost dad, only to find out that he is none other than the legendary Bigfoot! He has been hiding deep in the forest for years to protect himself and his family from HairCo., a giant corporation eager to run scientific experiments with his special DNA. As father and son start making up for lost time after the boy’s initial disbelief, Adam soon discovers that he too is gifted with superpowers beyond his imagination. But little do they know, HairCo. is on their tail as Adam’s traces have led them to Bigfoot!  This Belgian CGI-animated film is directed by Ben Stassen and Jeremy Degruson. Watch the Trailer

Action – Comedy

Baby DriverIn the action crime-comedy Baby Driver (4/8), Ansel Elgort (The Divergent Series, The Fault in Our Stars) is a talented getaway driver who relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his criminal lifestyle and make a clean break. Coerced into working for a mob boss (Kevin Spacey), Baby must face the music as a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.Written and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End) Watch the trailer

Hitmans BodyguardIn the action-comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard (18/8) the world’s top protection agent (Ryan Reynolds)  is called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world’s most notorious hit men. The relentless bodyguard and manipulative assassin have been on the opposite end of the bullet for years and are thrown together for a wildly outrageous 24 hours. During their journey from England to the Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades and a merciless Eastern European dictator who is out for blood. Action comedy film directed by Patrick Hughes and written by Tom O’Connor. With Gary Oldman and Samuel Jackson. Watch the trailer.

Sun City10 Days In Sun City (25/8) is the latest from Nigerian movie producer and actor comedian AY that is the 3rd installment of the hilarious ‘Akpos’ franchise (30 Days In Atlanta, A Trip To Jamaica).  It is directed by award-winning South Africa-based Nigerian, Adze Ugah, written by Kehinde Ogunlola and produced by AY. The movie features celebrities such as 2face Idibia, Adesua Etomi, Mercy Johnson, Falz The Bahd Guy, Uti Nwachukwu, Yvonne Jegede, Alexx Ekubo and veteran actor, Richard Mofe-Damijo. Also featured are South African comedienne, Thenjiwe Moseley, Amanda Du Pont, Celeste Ntuli and a bit of Hollywood spice, Miguel Nunez Jr. Watch the Trailer

Chick Flick

Girls TripIn Girls Trip  (4/8) four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. Sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.directed by Malcolm D. Lee. The film stars Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Larenz Tate. Watch the trailer

snatched-trailerWhen her boyfriend dumps her, Emily (Amy Schumer), a spontaneous woman in her 30s, persuades her ultra-cautious mom (Goldie Hawn),  to accompany her on a vacation to Ecuador in the action comedy Snatched (11/8). At Emily’s insistence, the pair seek out adventure, but suddenly find themselves kidnapped. When these two very different women are trapped on this wild journey, their bond as mother and daughter is tested and strengthened while they attempt to navigate the jungle and escape. Directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Amy Schumer, Katie Dippold, and Kim Caramele.  Watch the trailer.

Women In Love

below_her_mouth_-_h_2015Below Her Mouth (11/8) is a bold, uninhibited Canadian drama that begins with a passionate weekend affair between two women. Jasmine is a successful fashion editor living with her fiance. On a night out in the city with her best friend, she meets Dallas, a roofer recently out of a relationship. Surprised by the confidence with which Dallas pursues her, Jasmine turns Dallas down but can’t get her out of her head. When Jasmine finally succumbs, the two women embark on a steamy affair that forces them both to re-evaluate their lives. Directed By Ang Lee from a screenplay by Jean-Christophe Castelli.Directed by April Mullen, the film stars Natalie Krill as Jasmine and Erika Linder as Dallas, two women in Toronto who meet and begin a passionate love affair.  Watch the trailer

Drama

Family ManIn A Family Man (18/8) a Chicago personnel recruiter (Gerald Butler) is hungry to stay on top of his competitive profession, but when his son (Max Jenkins) is diagnosed with cancer, his priorities are called into question. Directed by Mark Williams and written by Bill Dubuque. Watch the Trailer

 

 

 

 

2.22In the thriller 2.22 (25/8) New York City air traffic controller Dylan Branson (Michiel Huisman) is the embodiment of a guy at the top of his game, until one day at 2:22pm, a blinding flash of light paralyzes him for a few crucial seconds as two passenger planes barely avoid a midair collision. Suspended from his job, Dylan begins to notice the increasingly ominous repetition of sounds and events in his life that happen at exactly the same time everyday. An underlying pattern builds, mysteriously drawing him into Grand Central Station everyday 2:22pm. As he’s drawn into a complex relationship with a beautiful woman who works in an art gallery, Sarah (Teresa Palmer), disturbingly complicated by her ex-boyfriend Jonas (Sam Reid), Dylan must break the power of the past, and take control of time itself.  Directed by Australian filmmaker Paul Currie (One Perfect Day)  and written by Nathan Parker and Todd Stein. Watch the trailer

Romance

My Cousin RachelIn the American-British romantic drama My Cousin Rachel (11/8) a young Englishman (Sam Claflin) finds his cousin Ambrose dead after traveling to Florence, Italy. He vows revenge against Ambrose’s missing wife Rachel (Rachel Weisz), blaming her for his untimely demise. When Philip meets Rachel for the first time, his mood suddenly changes as he finds himself falling for her seductive charm and beauty. As his obsession for her grows, Rachel now hatches a scheme to win back her late husband’s estate from the unsuspecting Philip. Written and directed by Roger Michell. This dark romance is based upon the 1951 novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. Watch the trailer

Horror

Annabelle 2Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home in Annabelle 2: Creation (18/8), soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle. Directed by David F. Sandberg, and written by Gary Dauberman. With Stephanie Sigman, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Miranda Otto. Watch the trailer

 

Live Theatre On The Big Screen

Angels in America 2Marianne Elliott’s production of Tony Kushner’s stageplay Angels In America forms part of the NT Live S4eason and will be screened in 2 parts. Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches (19/8) is set in America in the mid-1980s. In the midst of the AIDS crisis and a conservative Reagan administration, New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell. Andrew Garfield (Silence, Hacksaw Ridge) plays Prior Walter along with a cast including Denise Gough (People, Places and Things), Nathan Lane (The Producers), James McArdle (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Russell Tovey (The Pass). This new staging of Tony Kushner’s multi-award winning two-part play, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, is directed by Olivier and Tony award winning director Marianne Elliott (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and War Horse). Part One: Millennium Approaches was first performed at the National Theatre in 1992. Running Time: Part One is about 3 hours and 30 minutes, with two 15-minute intervals. Part Two: Perestroika, will be broadcast live from 2 September.

Exhibition On Screen: Art On The Big Screen

HokusaiBritish Museum presents: Hokusai, a documentary and exclusive private view of the British Museum exhibition, Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave (5/8). The documentary will be screened at Ster-Kinekor Cinema Nouveau sites nationwide, the art cinema that promises a unique and inspiring cinema experience for film lovers with an appreciation of the beauty and artistry of film.Filmed in Japan, the US and the UK, British Museum presents: Hokusai focuses on the work, life and times of Katsushika Hokusai, painter and printmaker of the Edo (Modern Tokyo) period. Hokusai is regarded Japan’s greatest artist, who influenced Monet, Van Gogh and other Impressionists.The film uses spectacular close-ups and expert insights to show his wide-ranging influence and legacy. Using pioneering 8K Ultra HD video technology, Hokusai’s paintings and prints are examined by world experts who are at the forefront of digital art history.The famous volcano Mount Fuji, which was a model for Hokusai in his quest for immortality during his later years, appears in the background of his most famous painting, ‘The Great Wave’, an image depicting an enormous wave threatening boats off the coast.Known as the father of manga, his drawings, prints and paintings show Hokusai’s generous, all-embracing view of humanity. Interestingly, he is the only painter with his own emoji.Through much tragedy, and poverty, he never stopped striving for perfection in his work.The documentary is introduced by arts presenter Andrew Graham-Dixon, and features artists David Hockney, Grayson Perry and Maggi Hambling, along with leading scholars of the day. He was a master, and as Hockney put it, “He was a prodigy, like Picasso.”The running time is approximately 90 minutes, including an interval. The  Hokusai releases on Saturday, 05 August, for four screenings only: on 05, 09 and 10 August at 19:30 and on 06 August at 14:30 at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau cinemas in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, and at Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Durban. Book your seats here / Watch Trailer

Renoir - Revered and ReviledThe Exhibition On Screen documentary Renoir – Revered and Reviled (26/8)  joins the longstanding debate over the merit of the artist’s ‘late period’ works. Was Renoir a self-indulgent fantasist? Or was Matisse right to declare his voluptuous female figures “the loveliest nudes ever painted”? Viewers will be able to decide for themselves, guided by a host of esteemed art experts and an up-close view of the collection itself. Watch the trailer

Western

Brimstone-2016-trailerThe western thriller Brimstone  (4/8) is a triumphant epic of survival and a tale of powerful womanhood and resistance against the unforgiving cruelty of a hell on earth. Our heroine is Liz (Dakota Fanning), carved from the beautiful wilderness, full of heart and grit, hunted by a vengeful Preacher (Guy Pearce) – a diabolical zealot and her twisted nemesis. But Liz is a genuine survivor; she’s no victim – a woman of fearsome strength who responds with astonishing bravery to claim the better life she and her daughter deserve. Fear not. Retribution is coming. A western thriller film conceived, written and directed by Martin Koolhoven. The film stars Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kit Harington and Carice van Houten. Watch the trailer

History Revisited

The Lost City Of ZBased on author David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller, The Lost City Of Z (11/8) tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett – supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and aide-de-camp (Robert Pattinson) – returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. An epically scaled tale of courage and passion, told in writer/director James Gray’s classic filmmaking style, The Lost City of Z is a stirring tribute to the exploratory spirit and a conflicted adventurer driven to the verge of obsession. Watch the trailer

maudie-108022The biographical romantic drama Maudie (25/8) is based on a true story, the unlikely romance in which the reclusive Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) hires a fragile yet determined woman named Maudie (Sally Hawkins) to be his housekeeper. Maudie, bright-eyed but hunched with crippled hands, yearns to be independent, to live away from her protective family and she also yearns, passionately, to create art. Unexpectedly, Everett finds himself falling in love. MAUDIE charts Everett’s efforts to protect himself from being hurt, Maudie’s deep and abiding love for this difficult man and her surprising rise to fame as a folk painter. Watch the trailer

Crime

DetroitA police raid in the period crime drama Detroit (18/8) in 1967 results in one of the largest citizen uprisings in United States history. The story is centered around The Algiers Motel Incident, which occurred in Detroit, Michigan on July 25, 1967, during the racially charged 12th Street Riot. It involves the death of three black men and the brutal beatings of nine other people: seven black men and two white women. Period crime drama directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal based on the The Algiers Motel Incident. Watch the trailer

Espionage -thriller

atomicblonde2.0Charlize Theron is Atomic Blonde (25/8), an undercover MI6 agent, sent alone into Berlin to retrieve a priceless dossier from within the destabilized city in an action spy thriller directed by David Leitch and written by Kurt Johnstad, based on Antony Johnston’s 2012 graphic novel. Equal parts spycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on an impossible mission, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through a deadly game of spies. Watch the Trailer

July 2017 / September to December 2017 

”I hope that Viceroy’s House will help people understand the logical consequences of the politics of hatred and division. That can’t be the future of humanity. That’s not something that people can be proud of.”

As a writer-director, Gurinder Chadha has repeatedly translated her personal experience as a Punjabi-British woman into uplifting, crowd-pleasing movies, from her ground-breaking 1993 debut Bhaji On The Beach to her box-office smash Bend It Like Beckham, and now brings us the epic historical drama Viceroy’s House, the astonishing true story of the final months of British rule in India.

VICEROY 1

Gurinder Chadha and cinematographer Ben Smithard scope out a shot on Viceroy’s House

A Personal Journey For Writer-Director, Gurinder Chadha

The 1947 Partition of India has always been part of Gurinder Chadha’s life. Though raised in West London, and born in Nairobi, Kenya 13 years after the controversial Mountbatten Plan struck a jagged line through the north-west of the freshly independent Union of India to create the Dominion of Pakistan, the British-Punjabi film-maker describes herself as someone who grew up “in the shadow of Partition”.

Her ancestors lived in the foothills of the Himalayas, now on the Pakistani side of the border. Her grandparents lived through the tumultuous events which saw sectarian violence between India’s minority population of Muslims (many of whom craved their own homeland) and the Hindu and Sikh majority, bring about the greatest refugee crisis the world has ever seen; in a vast diaspora, an estimated 14 million people were displaced during Partition and up to a million died. An independent India was a cause for celebration, and the creation of Pakistan was equally a cause for celebration amongst many millions of Muslims. But the process by which this was achieved was what caused such terrible suffering for so many Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.”

Gurinder ChadhaAs a writer-director, Chadha has repeatedly translated her personal experience as a Punjabi-British woman into uplifting, crowd-pleasing movies, from her ground-breaking 1993 debut Bhaji On The Beach to her box-office smash Bend It Like Beckham. This tragic aspect of her cultural and family background was something she’d always shied away from as a film-maker because, she says, “it was too dark, too traumatic.”

Then, in 2005, she took part in the BBC’s family-tree-exploring programme Who Do You Think You Are? which took her back to her ancestral homeland. “I was quite reticent in my feelings about Pakistan,” she recalls now. “ In the programme as I arrive in Pakistan, I say I prefer to refer to it as ‘pre-partition India’. But I was in Jhelum, trying to find my grandfather’s house, and eventually we found it with the help of the people who are now living there.” Chadha was struck by the warmth and generosity of the Pakistanis she encountered. “But what was so moving was that we met all these elderly people, and I’d ask, ‘how long have you been living here? Did you know my grandfather?’ And everyone I met said, ‘Oh I came in ’47. I came in ’47. I came in ’47’. So I got this real sense that an entire Sikh community had been expelled from Pakistan and replaced by another community, just as that new Muslim community had itself been expelled from India and their own ancestral homes. That really brought home to me the meaning of Partition.”

It was then Chadha realised that she had to confront her fears and make her movie about Partition. “I decided I wanted to make a film about what I call The People’s Partition,” she explains. “I didn’t just want to explore why Partition happened and focus on the political wrangles between public figures, I also wanted to make sure the audience understood the impact of Partition on ordinary people.”

Chadha therefore conceived the idea of setting her story entirely in Viceroy’s House, the British Raj’s seat of government in Delhi, to create an “Upstairs, Downstairs vision of Partition,” which would focus on the negotiations upstairs between Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, and the country’s political leaders Nehru, Gandhi and Jinnah, whilst interweaving the stories of the Indians downstairs (their hopes and fears in relation to how these negotiations will impact their own lives).

“In the film, Viceroy’s House is almost a character in its own right”, says Chadha “It was designed by Lutyens and took 17 years to build.  Its imposing architecture was an expression of Imperial power, intended to intimidate.  I’m sure that when it was completed in 1929, no one could have imagined that in less than 20 years it would become the home of the first President of India (and it remains the largest residence of any head of state anywhere in the world!).

Conceptualising The Story

As Chadha’s conception of how to tell the story developed, she approached Cameron McCracken (Executive Producer and Managing Director of Pathe in the UK) to help progress the project. He brought in the BBC, the BFI, Ingenious and Indian co-producer and co-financier, Reliance (the largest media company in India). Deepak Nayar also came aboard as lead producer.  This combination of British and Indian backers gave Chadha the opportunity to make the kind of film she grew up loving, but which she feels are now few and far between: the British historical epic. Whilst bowing down to their genius, Chadha sees her movie as being in the same tradition as David Lean’s A Passage To India (1984) and Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982).

“David Lean has always been one of my favourite film-makers,” she reveals. “I love those huge, epic-canvas British films. I think it’s sad that we don’t make those kind of epic, populist films as much because they somehow help define who we are as a nation. They tell us who we are by going back, looking at our history to understand our present.  That is exactly what I wanted to achieve here, to reach out to the broadest audience possible and remind them of this hugely important event that has been largely forgotten.” But whilst the film may be in the same tradition as other Raj movies, Chadha’s movie has a very different point of view. She is the first British Asian female director to examine the role of the British in India.

“Growing up in England, I was brought up with the commonly held historical narrative that in 1947, after a long freedom struggle led by Ghandi, the British wanted to hand India back, so they sent Mountbatten out there to do it, but we started fighting each other,” she continues. “And because of that, Mountbatten had no choice but to divide the country. So in a way the violence of Partition was our fault. This is the version of history portrayed in Attenborough’s seminal film Ghandhi. But now if you look at the evidence, that is a very one-sided interpretation.”

“After two hundred years of British in India, the Indians came together against their British rulers in the 1857 mutiny or first war of independence depending on which history book you read. The British won back control but were shocked at the strength of the mutineers and so instigated the British Imperial policy of ‘divide and rule’ and sowed the seeds of segregation between Hindus and Muslims.

The film opens with the quote:

“History is written by the victors”

“My intention is to examine how someone like me can look at new historical evidence and explore an alternative historical narrative to what I’d been taught as a girl.”

When the British grip on India started to weaken, conflict erupted in the growing power vacuum and the British accelerated their departure, perhaps genuinely believing it would reduce violence, or perhaps simply wanting to run away from the mess they had created, or perhaps there was an altogether different reason that the post war map of the world was presenting the Empire?”

As well as being a product of Partition, Chadha is also a former BBC journalist so felt a strong responsibility to work hard on the research and get the facts right. Which made writing the script for Viceroy’s House a journey of discovery in itself.

viceroys_house

In order to bring Chadha’s complex and finely poised script to life, she had to pull together an impressive ensemble of actors, beginning with the casting of ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten himself, a man vilified by some but still recognised as being utterly charming, embodying a “thoroughly British sense of civility and fairness,” as Chadha puts it. In her mind, nobody better represented that quality than Hugh Bonneville, perhaps best known as the on-screen epitome of ‘upstairs’ life in the role of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, in TV hit Downton Abbey (a show which Chadha reminds us hadn’t yet appeared on our TV screens when she started working on the script to Viceroy’s House 8 years ago). Another person who was pleased with this casting was Lady Pamela Mountbatten herself, who Chadha met with a few times while researching the film, and for whom the film was screened as a courtesy, once it was completed. “She was absolutely delighted,” says Chadha, “although she did say her father was slimmer than Hugh! She was quite overcome with the way the film brought back memories of that period of her life.” Pamela’s spirited mother Edwina, meanwhile, is portrayed by Gillian Anderson. “Gillian is an amazing actress, and I don’t use that word lightly,” Chadha says. Anderson studied film footage of Edwina and “really became her, the way she would hold her head and walk in a particular way.”

Writing The Screenplay

Initially, the prime source used by Chadha and her co-writer, Paul Mayeda Berges (who also happens to be Chadha’s husband), was Freedom At Midnight (1975). “Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre’s account of the British Raj’s final year is the seminal book on Partition,” says Chadha, whose father loved it and always kept it on his shelf.

Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Burges

“We spent a couple of years working on a script based on that book,” she says, “then one day I was in St. James’ Palace at a reception for the British-Asian Trust charity, of which Prince Charles is the Patron and I’m one of the ambassadors. Given that the Prince of Wales is actually Mountbatten’s great-nephew (Charles even considered the former Viceroy his “honorary grandfather”), I couldn’t resist telling him that I was making a film about his great-uncle. Prince Charles said, ‘You have to read this book, The Shadow of the Great Game by Narendra Singh, the Maharaja of Sarila and Mountbatten’s ADC [aide-de-camp or personal assistant], because it tells you what was really going on’.”

In a strange coincidence, only a few days later, Chadha was approached by an aspiring young actor in India while promoting the release of her latest film, and it turned out that he was the son of Narendra Singh. “He said, ‘my father has written a book on Partition and I read you’re making a film on the subject, and I really want you to have the book.’ And he gave me the same book!” (Years later, he would be rewarded with a part in the movie – as Mountbatten’s ADC!

By the end of the same week, Chadha was sitting with author Narendra Singh (by then a distinguished Indian diplomat, having spent 20 years as the Indian Ambassador to France), in a club in St.James. It turned out that, while researching another book (about the Maharajas) at the British Library in 1997, he’d happened upon two de-classified “Top Secret” documents from 1945/47 which revealed the concern about handing India back and political arguments suggesting how some of northern India could be annexed to serve British military and strategic interests in the region. He also came upon a map for partition that had been drawn up by the British government as early as 1946. The conclusion Singh drew from this was that, despite its public stance of neutrality, Britain was clandestinely supporting Jinnah’s idea of Partition as a way of protecting its oil interests in the Persian Gulf while at the same time blocking the Soviet Union’s access should a left-leaning newly-independent India gravitate towards the Russians.  The theory was that if the British supported the creation of a Muslim homeland separate from India then that new country would be indebted to Britain and help protect British interests in the region.  However, Singh was convinced that Mountbatten was not aware that Partition was the preferred outcome for many in the British government.

“That revelation took the script in a whole new direction” said Chadha, “and we brought on board a new co-writer, Moira Buffini (Jane Eyre).  Together we depicted a Mountbatten who was not the Machiavellian architect of Partition but a man caught up unwittingly in a bigger political game.”

That depiction will come as a shock to many.  Whilst he was attending the Toronto Film Festival, Chadha relates a story she was told by McCracken.  He was in a cab with a Sikh driver who asked what film he was working on. When he talked about Viceroy’s House the Sikh was almost apoplectic, telling McCracken to “make sure you tell the world what an evil man Mountbatten was. That man destroyed India!” People who still harbour such feelings for the last Viceroy, she thinks, “may well be unpersuaded by my interpretation of events, but I have read the documents and spoken to the people closest to Mountbatten at the time and it feels like the right interpretation.  In any event, what happened in 1947 has been pored over for the last 70 years and my interpretation is not the first and it will not be the last. But at least it will stimulate debate!

Aside from Mountbatten, Chadha was equally keen to ensure that all the protagonists were fairly treated. “One of the things I worked very hard to do was make sure that no Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs were singled out for blame for the violence of Partition.  That violence seemed to me to have arisen from a series of blunders on all sides. Whilst making the film it was vitally important to me that I could sit and watch this film in London, in Delhi and Lahore and not feel uncomfortable. I needed the film’s message of reconciliation to speak to Pakistanis, to Indians, and to the British; and to speak to people’s hearts as well as their heads.  To make a purely political film, I might just as well have made a documentary. But to reach a broader audience, I needed to entertain as well as educate.  That’s why I chose to interweave these political events with a love story – after all, even when the world is falling apart around our ears, life goes on – people’s hearts endure pain but also have huge capacity for love!”

The film’s narrative is fairly evenly split between the political wrangling of the real historical figures upstairs; and the emotional downstairs scenes, centred on the fictional romance between Jeet (a Hindu personal valet to Mountbatten), and Aalia (a Muslim translator for Mountbatten’s daughter Pamela).

“There’s a moment when Jinnah and Mountbatten are talking and some servants come in with tea and cakes,” Chadha says, providing an example of how she tried to maintain this balance. “Jinnah talks about Pakistan and the Muslim servant turns to his Sikh colleague, smiling and excited, and of course his colleague looks back, deeply upset. Normally in Raj movies, the servants would be wallpaper, but in mine I hope you feel these momentous political beats being discussed ‘upstairs’ by the leaders impacting on real people ‘downstairs’ with real emotion.”

Bringing It Home

Gurinder Chadha’s sense of responsibility to tell a story which wasn’t just truthful, but also reflected the experience of her own family during Partition, never waned. While filming those difficult scenes in the refugee camp, her nine-year-old son Ronak visited the set and said, “Mum, it’s so dirty and smelly here, and all these people look very upset. I don’t want to be here. Why are you doing this?” So Chadha told him the story of Partition. “I said, ‘my family, my grandma, my uncles and aunties, a lot of our relatives — this is where they were. They had to leave their home overnight and they ended up in a place like this. And that’s why I’m telling this story. So people understand what happened back then so it doesn’t happen again’. It was a very important moment for me, because it’s really for him. It’s for my children. It’s for that generation so whilst living a privileged life in leafy north London, they understand the context of our history.”

She strongly feels the film has a powerful resonance today, and a universal one, too. The refugee camp shoot coincided with the worldwide publication, on 2 September, 2015, of the shocking picture of the three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, who was found lifeless on a Turkish beach.

“Every day on the news we were watching Syrian and other refugees in camps, victims of the world’s great powers waging a proxy war in Syria. And when the little Syrian boy was found washed up on a beach it was heart-breaking, because it was like, ‘oh my god, I’m spending all this money to recreate misery for a thousand actors pretending to be refugees, recreating something that I’m seeing happen in real life all over again. That really was quite depressing.”

Almost a year later, on 23 June, 2016, while Chadha was cutting the film with editor Valerio Bonelli, the British public voted to withdraw from the European Union. “Valerio is Italian with an English wife and children who are Italian and English,” the director explains, “so as we were watching the drama of Brexit unfold, he was just devastated.”

Viceroys House

On the screen of their editing suite, Chadha’s downstairs characters agonised about their futures: would they have to move from their homes if they ended up on the wrong side of the border? Would their communities become divided? Bonelli himself was feeling a similar sense of disquiet.

“What really came home to him was what happens now to him and his family? Where does he belong?” Chadha says. “And so that went into the film, somehow. You’ve got a situation [with Brexit] where a nation was divided and you had the same thing – pushed to an extreme – with Partition. That’s one of my favourite things about the film. It’s not a stuffy period piece that belongs to 70 years ago. It is very relevant today.”

Chadha hopes that Viceroy’s House will help people understand, as she puts it, “the logical consequences of the politics of hatred and division. That can’t be the future of humanity. That’s not something that people can be proud of. So hopefully my film will appeal to those people who feel that politicians let them down when they peddle hate. It shows you the direct consequences of what can happen when you promote division. It ends in death, destruction and violence.”

Not that violence is something you see much of on screen in the movie. Chadha chose to focus her film on the 6 months leading up to Partition, rather than on Partition itself, and she made a very deliberate choice to keep much of the terrible violence of Partition out of frame.

“I did not want to recreate the full extent of the horror and risk alienating a broader audience,” she states. “I don’t like physical violence on screen in any event, but I also felt it just wasn’t the point of my story. It somehow felt like re-opening old wounds. So in the riot in the staff compound, I tried to make it more abstract – with the use of generic costumes, for example, so it was difficult to make out  who was attacking whom. I didn’t want the audience to think, ‘oh these are the Muslims killing the Hindus, or here come the Hindus killing the Muslims’. I just wanted to show that violence was erupting on all sides.”

“For similar reasons” says Chadha, “I did not want to end the film on a traumatic note.  Yes, the events surrounding Partition were terrible, but the 70th Anniversary this year is also a cause for celebration because Pakistan was born and India achieved its independence.  So I decided to end the film on a note of hope with Jeet and Aalia marrying”.

However, quite late on in the editing process, McCracken suggested that ending the film in 1947 with a wedding scene for Jeet and Aalia was too small. “He wanted the audience to feel the resonance of those distant events right now,” Chadha explains. “That ending didn’t feel right, because at that point of the film the audience is concerned with something much bigger than the fate of just Jeet and Aalia.” McCracken brought out an article Chadha had recently written for The Guardian newspaper, in which she wrote about her family and provided a photograph of her aunts and uncles as children around the time of Partition.

“He talked about using the photo, and I had the idea: why don’t we take a picture of them today? One was in Kenya, one was in Australia, two were here in the UK. So I got them to stand in the same poses and we dissolve from the young children in the first picture, to the elderly Sikhs they became in the second, and you realise, ‘oh my god, that’s them, they survived these horrible events. There’s hope!’ That’s what makes the film moving.”

So the ending of Viceroy’s House not only brings the 70-year-old events of the film firmly into the present, but also concentrates its epic vision into a simple, personal, intimate, family moment. “I think this final beat makes you re-examine everything you’ve just seen,” says Chadha. “Hopefully what that does for you as the audience is to make you feel like you’ve just witnessed something very personal. Jeet and Aalia being reunited is in one sense pure Hollywood. But it is also exactly what happened to my grandparents, reunited in a refugee camp!”

Initially, she confesses, she wasn’t sure about personalising the end of the movie in this way. “Because it made me feel too vulnerable. But actually I think what it does is, if there are any Muslims or Hindus or Sikhs who might feel, ‘Oh, this film didn’t tell my story,’ then at that moment they should feel, ‘Oh. Okay. It’s her story’.”

And here we perhaps find the heart of Viceroy’s House. As previously mentioned the film opens with the famous quote, “History is written by the victors” (most often attributed to Winston Churchill). But who is the victor here?  Perhaps the British Asian woman who got the chance to tell her own family’s story.

 

 

What’s New On The DVD Front

Logan – the defining chapter in the cinematic saga of The Wolverine

From visionary writer-director James Mangold comes the defining chapter in the cinematic saga of one of the greatest comic book heroes ever created. Logan sees Hugh Jackman reprise his iconic role as The Wolverine for one, final time in a raw, powerfully dramatic standalone story of sacrifice and redemption.

If there’s one reason to add this DVD to your collection, it’s for the absolutely insightful and intelligent audio commentary by writer-director James Mangold, taking us into the world and journey of writing and making the film. A must for aspirant screenwriters and filmmakers!

Logan

There’s no question that the movie absolutely will speak to those longtime fans of Wolverine, those who have followed Jackman’s portrayal over the last 17 years. In fact, it was critical for Jackman, as he said farewell to his extensive X-Man past, to put everything on the screen for this, his last mutant adventure. “There was a moment that I came to terms with the fact that this was my last one,” Jackman says. “I love this character, and he’s been amazing to me. I’d be lying if I said that I would have been okay if I didn’t feel everything was left on the table. And I mean everything. Every day, every scene was a kind of battle to get the best out of that character, to get the best out of me.”

Logan stars Hugh Jackman in the title role, alongside Patrick Stewart (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant and newcomer Dafne Keen. The film is directed by James Mangold (Walk the LineThe Wolverine); from a screenplay by Mangold and co-scripter Scott Frank (A Walk Among the TombstonesThe Wolverine) and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant).

It’s 2029. Mutants are gone—or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban and an ailing Professor X, whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request—that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny.

Go behind the scenes of Logan

Competition – Win a Jagveld DVD!

JAGVELDThe Afrikaans revenge-thriller Jagveld stars Leandie du Randt Bosch as a rough-and-tough farm girl Emma le Roux who is on her way home to the family farm in the Great Karoo when her car breaks down. Her path will crosses with Bosman and Baz and Jay. And Boela and AJ and Piet. Bosman (Neels Van Jaarsveld) is the mastermind of a drug syndicate and a psychopath; he is savage and violent.

If you want to add Jagveld to your collection of local films, tell us who wrote the film and send your answer with your contact details and ‘Jagveld’ in the subject line to us before August 15, 2017.  Enter competition here

 

Hidden Figures – NASA’s Wonder Women

Hidden Figures uncovers the incredible, untold yet true story of a brilliant group of Wonder Women who changed the foundations of the country for the better — by aiming for the stars.  The film recounts the vital history of an elite team of black female mathematicians at NASA who helped win the all-out space race against America’s rivals in the Soviet Union and, at the same time, sent the quest for equal rights and opportunity rocketing forwards.

hidden-figures

At last, the story of a visionary trio of women who crossed gender, race and professional lines on their way to pioneering cosmic travel comes to the screen starring Taraji P. Henson (Empire, Benjamin Button, Hustle And Flow), Octavia Spencer (Allegiant, Fruitvale Station, The Help), singer Janelle Monáe making her motion picture debut and Kevin Costner (Black Or White, Field Of Dreams, Dancing With Wolves).

Everyone knows about the Apollo missions.  We can all immediately list the bold male astronauts who took those first giant steps for humankind in space:  John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong.  Yet, remarkably, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson’s are names not taught in school or even known to most people — even though their daring, smarts and powerful roles as NASA’s ingenious “human computers” were indispensable to advances that allowed for human space flight.

Director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) brings the women’s rise to the top ranks of aerospace in the thrilling early days of NASA to life via a fast-moving, humor-filled, inspiring entertainment that illuminates both the gutsy quest for Earth’s first, seemingly impossible orbital flight and also the powerful things that can result when women unite.

The bonus features include a fascinating featurette on the life of Katherine Johnson and honoring her achievements, a wonderful audio commentary by director Theodre Melfi and Taraj P. Henson,  and filming in Georgia. Go Behind the scenes of Hidden Figures

M. Night Shyamalan’s Split delves into the mysterious recesses of one man’s fractured, gifted mind

Following last year’s breakout hit The Visit, Shyamalan reunites with producer Jason Blum (The Purge and Insidious series, The Gift) for Split,  being hailed as “Shyamalan’s most terrifying film to date, ” and “a masterful blend of Hitchcock and horror.”

split

Shyamalan felt there were only a handful of actors who could play the demanding role of a man with 23 personalities in Split. It was paramount for the writer/director that Kevin’s personalities not be viewed as caricatures but as fleshed out personas that audiences would embrace with sympathy. To that end, Shyamalan sought out James McAvoy—a dynamic actor who handles blockbuster roles and small, intimate parts with equal aplomb—to play the lead character’s many roles. Shyamalan saw James McAvoy as absolutely up for the challenge. “This is the most complex character I’ve ever written. I was thinking, ‘Does he understand what I’m asking him to do in this piece?’ And he did; I’ve never worked with an actor so fearless.”

Though Kevin (James Mcavoy, X-Men series, Wanted) has evidenced 23 personalities—each with unique physical attributes—to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, The Happening, TV’s Oz), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others.

Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch), Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him—as well as everyone around him—as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.

The bonus features include a featurette on writer-director Shyamalan and how he constructs a film, a look at how James Mcavoy transformed into the different characters and deleted scenes with commentary by Shyamalan. Go behind the scenes of Split

A Dog’s Purpose Takes Us Into The Soul Of A Loving Canine

Based on author W. Bruce Cameron’s beloved best-selling novel, A Dog’s Purpose shares the heartwarming and surprising story of one devoted dog who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he teaches to laugh and love.

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Given Hallström’s track record of inventive filmmaking, and having already directed an Amblin Entertainment (then DreamWorks) film, The 100-Foot Journey, it was a unanimous decision that the filmic version of this story could not be in better hands. The director claims it is no accident he was attracted to the material: “I made two movies about dogs previously—My Life as a Dog and Haichi—so this is my third dog story. If you have an interest in outsiders and emotions that seems irrational to humans, you can certainly relate to a dog’s feelings and a dog’s life.”

Over the course of five decades, a single voice—that of an indefatigable dog—takes us along a riveting and uplifting path that speaks to the heart of anyone who has ever loved an animal.  Although he is reincarnated in the bodies of multiple canines through the years, it is his unbreakable bond with a kindred spirit named Ethan that carries and inspires one dog throughout his journey to find a true purpose for his boy.

“I made two movies about dogs previously—My Life as a Dog and Haichi—so this is my third dog story,” says director Lasse Hallström, who claims it is no accident he was attracted to the material: . ”If you have an interest in outsiders and emotions that seems irrational to humans, you can certainly relate to a dog’s feelings and a dog’s life.”

A Dog’s Purpose is adapted for the screen by Cameron & Cathryn Michon (Muffin Top: A Love Story) and Audrey Wells (Shall We Dance) and Maya Forbes (Infinitely Polar Bear) & Wally Wolodarsky (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days).

Go behind the scenes of A Dog’s Purpose

 

 

“We want to take the audience on a very intense ride.  That’s the experience we want to give the audience—to make them feel that they’re actually there and allow them to feel what that would be like.”

Visionary storyteller and storymaker Christopher Nolan has taken audiences from the streets of Gotham City, to the infinite world of dreams, to the farthest reaches of space.

Now, for the first time, the innovative director/writer/producer has turned his camera to a real-life event, one that has resonated with him throughout his life: the miracle of Dunkirk.

christopher-nolan-dunkirk-on-set-1b2f00a0-11b0-426e-9254-b506b42e0afe

Seeing the event through the eyes of just a few individual characters was something that struck Branagh when he read the script. “Chris managed to weave together a very human story that brings all those personal moments together within this epic dimension,” the actor states. “He is quite brilliant in my view, a master filmmaker.”

Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces.  Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea, they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.

The story unfolds on land, sea and air.  RAF Spitfires engage the enemy in the skies above the Channel, trying to protect the defenseless men below.  Meanwhile, hundreds of small boats manned by both military and civilians are mounting a desperate rescue effort, risking their lives in a race against time to save even a fraction of their army.

Dunkirk features a multi generational ensemble cast, including Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy and Barry Keoghan, with Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy.  Nolan directed “Dunkirk” from his own screenplay, utilizing a mixture of IMAX® and 65mm film to bring the story to the screen.  The film was produced by Emma Thomas and Nolan, with Jake Myers serving as executive producer.

One of the greatest stories in human history

“Dunkirk” is based on the evacuation that—although it took place in the early months of World War II—had a direct impact on the outcome of the war.  Rather than make a battlefield drama, however, Nolan’s objective was to turn this historical moment into immediate, immersive cinema: a propulsive, ticking-clock, epic action thriller in which the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Says Nolan: “What happened at Dunkirk is one of the greatest stories in human history, the ultimate life-or-death race against time.  It was an extraordinarily suspenseful situation; that’s the reality.  Our aim with this movie was to throw the audience into that with an absolute respect for history, but also with a degree of intensity and, of course, a sense of entertainment, too.”

”It’s one of the great human stories, and it’s one of the most suspenseful situations that I had ever heard of in my life. You have 400,000 men – the entire British army – trapped on the beach at Dunkirk. Their backs to the sea, home is only 26 miles away and it’s impossible to get to. The enemy is closing in, and there’s a choice between annihilation and surrender. I just think it’s the more extraordinarily suspenseful situation. That, I think, speaks to a lot of things that I am interested in with film.

Nolan’s longtime producing partner, Emma Thomas, offers, “‘Dunkirk’ is a huge spectacle film, but also a very human story and, in that way, it’s universal.  Chris wanted to put the audience in the center of the experience along with the characters, whether they be the soldiers on the beach, the pilots in the air, or the civilians on the boats.”

The remarkable true story that inspired the fictional film is one that has fascinated Nolan for many years “and one I’ve been wanting to tell for quite some time,” he says.  “Like most British people, I was raised on the mythical story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the victory that was snatched from the jaws of defeat,” he relates.  “It’s a massive part of our culture.  It’s in our bones.”

Like many Britons of his generation, Nolan grew up with stories about Dunkirk in his household, where the specter of the war loomed large. “My grandfather was in the Air Force,” he said. “He did not participate in Dunkirk; he was a navigator in Lancaster and he died in the war.”

Nolan visited his grandfather’s grave, outside the French city of Lyon, while he wa in pre-production for “Dunkirk.” That connection was one of a few ways that the movie — his 10th feature, and his first British production since his 1998 debut “Following” — was his most personal to date.

“I try to only make films that I feel very connected with on some emotional level,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve taken on a real-life event, and there’s a huge responsibility that comes with that. But I suppose in some ways feel more personal.”

Much of that had to do with the family connection. “Growing up, I’d hear about my grandfather, and my father and my uncle were so affected by the war,” he said. “Certainly with the aerial sections of the film, it was very important to me to get those right. My dad used to be very scathing about movies you’d see with depictions of the Air Force if they weren’t right.”

But the event itself has stuck with him since childhood. “Dunkirk is something that you grow up with as a British person,” he said. “The telling of the story that you get is simplistic and mythical in a way, almost like a fairy tale. The interesting thing to me about doing this project is that the more I found out about it, the more extraordinary it actually seemed. Reality is messy, nothing is as simple as fishermen jumping in rowboats and picking up troops, but the reality of what actually happened on that beach and across the channel is one of the great stories.”

Dunkirk

Dunkirk is about the preservation of freedom.

The story began in late May 1940, when the British Expeditionary Force, along with French, Belgian and Canadian troops were forced back to the beaches of Dunkirk.  Though home was just 26 miles away, there was no easy way to reach it.  The shallow-drafted beach, with its 21-foot tide, prohibited the large British naval ships from rescuing the men.  But there was hope: a call had gone out for small boats to aid the effort and a flotilla of non-military “little ships” sailed out from the southern coast of England to bring the men home, codenamed Operation Dynamo.

The film’s historical consultant, Joshua Levine, author of the book Forgotten Voices of Dunkirk, emphasizes that the 1940 evacuation is far more than just a British story.  “It was a massive event that still has international significance.  Everything that’s celebrated about World War II—in Britain, in the United States, and all around the world—would not have happened without the Dunkirk evacuation taking place.  It was unbelievably important.  If the British army had been killed or taken prisoner, Britain would almost certainly have surrendered, and we’d likely be living in a very different world today.  To me, Dunkirk is about the preservation of freedom.  Once those ships were underway, the world still had a chance.”

Kenneth Branagh, who plays the British naval commander, agrees.  “Your life and mine would have been profoundly changed had that courageous, brave, patient, impossible moment not been lived through by people who stuck at it, and in so doing protected all of our futures.  Its place in our military, social, political, and emotional history can never be underestimated.  In a sense, you could look at an evacuation as being unheroic, but somehow it adds up to something phenomenally heroic about the human spirit.”

In fact, the rescue of their stranded army against seemingly impossible odds gave rise to a term that is a permanent part of the British cultural lexicon: “the Dunkirk spirit.”  Thomas defines, “It’s something English people pride themselves on: that sort of plucky grit and determination in the face of adversity.”

Mark Rylance, who plays the captain of one of the little ships, concurs, “It has a deep meaning for the English people.  We were the underdogs on that beach, but we rose to the occasion and eluded the superior forces of the enemy at that time.  The Dunkirk spirit has to do with that perseverance and endurance and also selflessness.”

Newcomer Fionn Whitehead, who takes on the role of one of the young British soldiers on the beach, says, “The Dunkirk spirit brings to my mind a sense of togetherness and a show of community—coming together to help out someone in trouble.”

It was with a friend on his small sailing boat—similar to those that formed the “little ships”—that Nolan and Thomas first visited Dunkirk during the mid-1990s.  The trip would give them a whole new appreciation for the seminal event they had only read about.  Hampered by rough seas and bad weather, the voyage across the Channel unexpectedly took 19 hours.  “It was a very arduous crossing,” Nolan recalls, “and that was with nobody dropping bombs on us.  What really stuck with me was just how extraordinary it was, the notion of civilians taking small boats into a war zone.  They could see the smoke and the fires for many miles, so their willingness to do that and what that says about communal spirit are extraordinary.”

Dunkirk 2

How to tell the story

Nolan continues, “In looking at how to tell the story, I came fairly early on to the idea of showing events from the land, sea and air: seeing the action from the perspectives of the men on the beach, the people coming to help on the boats, and the pilots trying to protect them from above.  I was immediately struck by the need to use a different time scale for each strand of the story because the guys on the beach are there for the better part of a week in the film, while the boat crossing takes place over the course of a long day, and the action in the Spitfires involves a single hour.  Each of those storylines—one week on land, one day at sea and one hour in the air—had different temporal characteristics, so in braiding them together editorially, I had to plot them out very carefully.  Intertwining these stories leads you through the events in a very subjective way and allows you to understand the journey each of the characters is on, while always trying to suggest that there are many other unseen journeys.  In an event of this magnitude, you can’t possibly get a comprehensive understanding of so many individual experiences in a single film.”

Researching the script, Nolan read several books and firsthand accounts.  He also consulted extensively with Levine, whom he says, “very quickly understood the tricky balance between entertainment and historical accuracy that we were trying to strike.  He also arranged for us to meet with some surviving veterans of Operation Dynamo.  It was a great, great honor to meet those people and hear about their experiences and discover what Dunkirk meant to them.”

“Nevertheless,” Thomas notes, “Chris felt strongly that he didn’t want to put words in the mouths of these real-life heroes, or have to change their stories for reasons of time or dramatic effect, and decided that the best way to approach the story was to use fictional characters inspired by those elements he discovered in doing his research.”

Seeing the event through the eyes of just a few individual characters was something that struck Branagh when he read the script.  “Chris managed to weave together a very human story that brings all those personal moments together within this epic dimension,” the actor states.  “He is quite brilliant in my view, a master filmmaker.”

Rylance adds, “I don’t imagine anyone else could have done a more faithful and essential telling of this story in a more thrilling and exciting way.  I think it makes for an extraordinary movie-going experience.”

Cast in his third Christopher Nolan film, Tom Hardy agrees.  “Time and time again, Chris consistently manages to raise the bar.  He is a true professional who doesn’t leave a stone unturned or dismiss an opportunity.  He’s always in control and set in his volition, but he is not inflexible.  That’s extremely powerful for an artist.  He’s generous, sensitive, funny and incredibly intelligent, and I trust him—if he says he’s going to do something, he will.”

To help him achieve his time-bending, threefold vision for the film, Nolan collaborated with his creative team, including director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema, production designer Nathan Crowley, costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, editor Lee Smith, special effects supervisor Scott Fisher and visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson.

Nolan’s primary goal was to put the audience directly onto the beach, onboard the boat traversing the Channel, and in the cockpit of the Spitfires.  He had been the first to use IMAX cameras in a major motion picture, for “The Dark Knight,” and has employed IMAX cameras on all of his subsequent films.  But for “Dunkirk,” he expanded the use of large format—shooting the entire film with a combination of IMAX and 65mm film, something, he confirms, “I’ve never done before, but ‘Dunkirk’ is a huge story and it demanded an enormous canvas.

“The reason we were shooting on IMAX film,” the director continues, “is that the immersive quality of the image is second to none.  When you sit in the movie theatre, the screen disappears and you really get a very tactile sense of the imagery.  That lends itself to incredible panoramas and large-scale action.  But we’ve also found over the years that if you use it for more intimate situations, it creates an immediacy that’s very engaging.  So our feeling was, if we could find a way to do it physically, the payoff would be well worth it.”

Another hallmark of Nolan’s films is his preference for capturing the action in-camera and eschewing digital effects and CGI as much as possible.  “To me,” he clarifies, “it’s always very important to try and work with real things and real people.  The resulting effect of that is very visceral and enveloping, and draws you into the story.”

That was equally true for the cast.  Cillian Murphy, working with the director for the fifth time, asserts, “I can only speak for myself, but I do think the rest of the actors would attest to this as well: when you’re in the environment and things are happening for real, it leads to a more honest, truthful portrayal of your character’s journey.”

Adding to the verisimilitude, the filmmakers, cast and crew were honored to have the opportunity to film a portion of “Dunkirk” on the actual beach and at the exact same time of year that the miraculous evacuation happened.  There were some logistical challenges, including inclement weather, rough seas, and the construction of the mole: a narrow, kilometer-long, wood-boarded breakwater that poked precariously out into the cold waters of the Channel.  Nevertheless, Thomas says it was the best possible choice.  “The beach at Dunkirk is a singular place,” she states.  “We looked at other options, but it became clear that it would be difficult to replicate exactly the look we needed anywhere else.  We all felt very lucky to be able to shoot at the location where the event occurred.”

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Visual Storytelling

Another interesting aspect of Dunkirk will be Nolan’s decision to aim for visual storytelling over dialogue and exposition:

”Yeah, you know it’s the kind of film where the visual aspect of the film is dominant right from the get-go. There’s dialogue in the film, but we really tried to approach the storytelling very much from a visual point of view, and an action and suspense point of view. Trying to create suspense visually — a visceral sense of what it would be like to be confronted by this awful paradoxical situation.”

”I think the visual nature of the storytelling is something I’m excited about. It’s something I value in films and film history; I’m an incredible lover of silent films. The challenge of taking on what I call a present-tense narrative – that is to say, we don’t learn a lot about the people we’re experiencing this with. We really just try to live in the moment and experience it with them, and look through their eyes. That was the challenge of the film, and as it is shaping up I think that, for me, is the thing that I challenged myself the most with and I am excited about that.”

“The events of Dunkirk are sacred ground,” Nolan reflects, “not to be ventured onto without great care.  It’s daunting for a filmmaker, but also irresistible.  There were moments when I looked at the very large re-creation of events we pulled off—the real little ships arriving, with naval destroyers in the sea, and rebuilding the mole—and it felt quite extraordinary.  To have that many different elements come together definitely made a lasting impression on me.”

Yet the filmmakers agree that their first priority was always to entertain, and every creative decision Nolan made was intended to transport audiences to that place and time.  “The thing Chris does in his movies, which I really appreciate, is that when you watch them in the cinema, you’re experiencing something you couldn’t really experience anywhere else,” Thomas states.

“We want to put people on the beach at Dunkirk, on the deck of the Moonstone and in the cockpit of a Spitfire,” Nolan concludes.  “We want to take the audience on a very intense ride.  That’s the experience we want to give the audience—to make them feel that they’re actually there and allow them to feel what that would be like.”

 

I was extremely conscious of the compromises and choices that must be made whenever history is brought to the screen.

Book and historical adaptations are hugely popular on the Big and Small screens and when the producers looked for a screenwriter for Churchill, London‐based  screenwriter  and  historian Alex von Tunzelmann was the ideal candidate to tackle the subject matter.

CHURCHILL WEBSITE

Churchill follows Britain’s iconic Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) in the days before the infamous  D‐Day landings in  June 1944.

As allied  forces stand on  the south coast of Britain, poised  to invade  Nazi‐occupied  Europe,  they  await  Churchill’s  decision  on  whether  the  invasion  will  actually  move  ahead.

Fearful of repeating his mistakes from World War I on the beaches of Gallipoli, exhausted by years of  war,  plagued  by  depression and  obsessed with  fulfilling  historical greatness,  Churchill is also  faced  with  constant  criticism  from  his  political  opponents;  General  Eisenhower  and  Field  Marshal  Montgomery.

Only the unflinching support of Churchill’s brilliant, unflappable wife Clementine (Miranda  Richardsoncan) halt the Prime  Minister’s physical and mental collapse and help lead him to greatness.

Churchill is  directed  by  Jonathan  Teplitzky  (The  Railway  Man,  Marcella)  from  an  original  screenplay  by  British  historian  Alex  von  Tunzelmann  (Medici:  Masters  of  Florence)  in  her  feature  debut.

Churchill - Publicity & Productions Still © Salon Churchill Ltd cs12- 06.06.16. sc 61,BEACH Churchill explains his depression, he might paint at the weekend. The people must feel unified, inspired, hopeful. END 2 . BEACH Churchill on a beach, he loses his hat, hears noises, the seawater turns red. Tells Clemmie he can’t let Galipoli happen again 26 BEACH Churchill on the beach, contemplating Katie Player Production Coordinator - Churchill 07795 313 846 katie.productionoffice@gmail.com Salon Churchill Ltd Unit 17 - Ground Floor Castlebrae Business Centre Peffer Place Edinburgh EH16 4BB stills credit Graeme Hunter Pictures, Sunnybank Cottages 117 Waterside Rd, Carmunnock, Glasgow. U.K. G76 9DU. m.07811946280 e. graemehunter@mac.com

How does a historian become a screenwriter? It was a natural evolution and a deep fondness for films for von Tunzelmann. Writing for The Guardian’s “Reel History” where she analyzed the accuracy of historical movies helped guide her in the direction of screenwriting.

I was commissioned to write this in 2013. I’ve really had a long interest in Churchill and that period. I’d been thinking about writing about it for ages, but my inclination as a historian was to consider a biography, which would have been a very different angle. But when the producer approached me to write a screenplay about Churchill, I knew it was a fantastic opportunity. They had stumbled across this story about him initially being opposed to D-Day, which was a good jumping off point and allowed me to explore some of the things that were interesting about his character.

We are very familiar with Churchill as the great hero of 1940, and that’s the popular image of him in the U.K. The movie is set in 1944, which is a very different period—the war has been going on for years—and it is a really different Churchill. That’s also when Lord Moran, his doctor, started dating the beginning of Churchill’s decline. There is an incredible kind of poignancy. Just when the Allies were really beginning to win the war—D-Day was going to turn the tide on the Western front—that Churchill himself personally was beginning to lose, fail, and have difficulties. That seemed to say something about the incredible toll war takes on you, even if you are fighting as a politician, not as a combatant.

I was extremely conscious of the compromises and choices that must be made whenever history is brought to the screen. I wanted to focus specifically on [the] profound concern Churchill had for the men he would send to war; how a leader deals with that responsibility and guilt, especially when in the past it has gone badly wrong.

Film and television adaptations on the life and work of Winston Churchill are not scarce. However, given the extensiveness of his contributions, it seems both difficult and simple to choose an area to focus on during his lifetime. Alex dug deep into the man behind the public persona to reveal the lesser-known side; the Great Prime Minister who remained utterly focused on his duty while coping with extreme doubt and severe depressive episodes at a moment when the fate of the world depended on him.

My priority was to get to the character of a man who acknowledged his lifelong struggle with depression and yet who could inspire a nation; who lived with the guilt of his failures and yet could push through that to victory. He [Churchill] wrote beautifully about his depression. He referred to it as the ‘Black Dog.’ There were days where he couldn’t get out of bed, and yet he achieved so much. I thought this might be inspiring to people struggling with [similar] issues.

I based the narrative largely on the incredibly candid war diaries of Alan Brooke, a senior officer in the British Army played in the film by Danny Webb. They really kind of paint a picture of a man whose powers were beginning to wane, who was becoming more vague and couldn’t get out of bed in the morning,” she says. “And I found that a sort of extraordinary idea, that just at the point where the Allies were beginning to win the war, that Churchill himself — maybe partly because of the huge, kind of physical effort he’d put in — was beginning to fail. Of course, he is often with his trademark cigar in “Churchill,” but also with a glass.

The film takes place as Churchill wrestles with his own demons and fears on the eve of D-Day, a pivotal Allied campaign he initially opposed that would prove to be the turning point of World War II. Also, given more attention than in most other films regarding the Prime Minister’s work, is his marriage to Clementine “Clemmie”

The film does explore the strains that Churchill put on his marriage, and Clemmie, as in real life, is no silent ‘angel in the house,’ but a woman of remarkable character, holding strong opinions which were quite independent of her husband’s.

The journey from ideas and research to completed shooting draft was no quick path. Von Tunzelmann began writing the script in 2013.

My apartment was covered in index cards written in different colored Sharpees all across the room. Over time as I reached completion of the script, the index cards slowly disappeared and my apartment returned to normal. I worked in the library a regular day nine-to-five, but I did slip from that sometimes waking at three a.m. with the answer and needing to write that down.

Understandably there was to be a level of artistic or dramatic license taken to convey those emotions. Were Churchill’s doubts about the Normandy invasion as severe as depicted?

I think they were pretty serious. On the night before the invasion, when the ships had sailed, Churchill famously said to Clementine, “Do you realize that by the time we wake up, 20,000 young men may be dead?” For him, that was the worry. It did recall the 1915 Gallipoli campaign and the amphibious landings in the Dardanelles. I think it’s so extraordinary—how he responded to the Gallipoli disaster by leaving political life and actually going and signing up for the army and fighting on the Western Front. I think that is an amazing response that you wouldn’t see any politician doing today!

Churchill

What were the most challenging aspects of the process for you?

The difficulty is the kind of four-dimensional game of chess that you’re trying to play. I was concerned with trying to be as accurate as we could be given that we were making a film for entertainment. I knew the essence of the story I wanted to tell and wanted it to be true to the sources that I found poignant—like Alanbrooke’s diaries at the time and some of Churchill’s secretaries’ memoirs—which made really excellent reading. And some of his own writing about his depression, which I found extremely poignant. I knew that those were the kind of aspects that I wanted to bring out. You know you’ll have to make certain compromises because real life doesn’t squish into three acts in a lovely, beautiful way. You know it is about determining what you think is really important, and then making the changes you have to make, with respect hopefully, for the truth of it.

But I did want to be true to that and I did care about respecting Churchill. Particularly this massively huge thing of portraying his depression, or at least giving a glimpse into that. We were very respectful about that because you can’t accurately diagnose a historical figure. It’s not possible to do because you can’t meet him or psychoanalyze him. All you’re going on is the clues in his writing, so I didn’t want to disrespect any aspect of that. But I also wanted to make that sympathetic, and I hope moving, because that is something to me that has huge resonance. Obviously most of us haven’t had to fight World War II, but a lot of us have experience with depression personally, or through a family member or friend, so I think that is an incredible thing. And I know some people may find that disrespectful—there is unfortunately still prejudice out there about how depression works—and they see that as making Churchill less of a hero, but in my mind, it makes him much more of a hero. I hope people find that inspiring.

If you would like to catch up on von Tunzelmann’s contributions to The Guardian’s “Reel History,” her pieces are collected in the 2015 book Reel History: The World According to the Movies. Her writing can also be seen on the Netflix drama Medici: Masters of Florence. Churchill is Alex’s first feature. Visit her website

 

Add These Titles To Your Collection

Jackie is a portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, seen through the eyes of the iconic First Lady, then Jacqueline Kennedy.

JackieThe poignant and captivating Jackie takes audiences on a personal journey into one of the most extraordinary events of American history – and also into a deeply stirring drama that illuminates in fascinating new ways the woman, the times and the ways we cope with and tell the stories of the most intensely public of tragedies. Chilean director Pablo Larraín draws an Oscar worthy performance from Natalie Portman, For Natalie Portman, who committed herself fully and fearlessly as to find the part of Jackie that still resonates with us now. “I think every individual will have their own experience of who Jackie is,” she concludes. “But the one thing I truly hope is that you see someone who is not just an icon but a very human, complex woman who found her own way through a situation few of us could imagine.” The film takes us behind closed doors in Jackie’s private, tightly-contained world. Suddenly alone, save for her family, confidante and priest, the First Lady faced a remarkable series of challenges as a wife, a mother and a reluctant part of the political machine: consoling her young children, planning her husband’s funeral, preparing for the next President to rapidly move into the White House and most remarkably, fighting to maintain control over how history would forever define her husband’s legacy.

Jackie Kennedy led a multi-faceted life of power and influence, but when it came to writing about her, screenwriter and journalist Noah Oppenheim came to feel there was one story that spoke to her psyche in the most compelling way – the very brief but remarkably consequential days that the First Lady spent nearly alone in the White House following her husband’s death. Read more about the film

Proudly South African filmmaking

REBELLIE 2In Chris Barnard’s poignant drama Die Rebellie Van Lafras Verwey Tobie Cronje takes on the title role of a man who has worked as a clerk in the Civil Service in Pretoria for thirty years. By day he sorts files and whiles away the mundane hours writing grandiose propaganda speeches and drilling imaginary platoons in the washroom, but unbeknownst to his colleagues he is also a clandestine parcel courier for a secret organization that recruited his services to complete their covert mission. The bonus features include a behind the scenes featurette.  Watch The Trailer

RIVERIn the captivating Beyond The River two men from vastly different walks of life have one thing in common: to win gold. But there are a few things in their way. One has a marriage on the verge of collapse. The other is on the run from the law, and his so-called life. Through a series of unexpected events, the two men find themselves attempting the three-day Dusi Canoe Marathon as a doubles pair. But there are a few things they must overcome, not least of which are the completely different worlds they come from. They realise that the dream they both desperately desire requires them to work together, both in the boat and beyond the river. Inspired by the true story of Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruickshanks, who together won gold in the 2014 Dusi, Beyond the River delivers a nail-biting adventure story about the triumph of the human spirit. Directed by Craig Freimond and written by Freimond and Robbie Thorpe. Freimond: “The film is quite different. I can’t think of too many films like it. It’s got a feel-good side to it,but it has also got a lot of depth. People who’ve seen it have responded to the story, the film itself, the actors, the landscapes. People will enjoy this movie.” The bonus features include a documentary on the real story and an interview with writer-director Craig Freimond.  Watch The Trailer

Action Packed Entertainment

InterrogationIn the thrilling Interrogation the FBI receives a threat that endangers the entire city, an interrogator (Adam Copeland) and an I.T. specialist (C.J Perry) are plunged into a series of mind games with a criminal mastermind, desperately racing against time to uncover the villain’s true agenda as they fight to protect thousands of lives. Copeland and Perry deliver a knockout blow in this electrifying thriller that crackles with edge-of-your-seat suspense. It is directed by Stephen Reynolds from a screenplay by Adam Rodin and Michael Finch. Watch the trailer

sleepless3In Sleepless undercover Las Vegas police officer Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) finds himself caught in a high-stakes web of corrupt cops, internal affairs and murderous gangsters. When a failed heist leads to the kidnapping of his teenage son (Octavius J. Johnson), Downs must race against time during a wild and restless night to save him and bring the criminals to justice. It has an age restriction of 16.   Watch The Trailer. 

 

Cross WarsArmed with a powerful ancient Cross amulet, Callan (Brian Austin Green) and his team of weapons experts battle local thugs and heinous criminals in Cross Wars. When a ruthless villain named Muerte (Danny Trejo) threatens to kill Callan’s crew, he and his team join forces with an all-girl crime-fighting squad led by Riley – who has an ancient amulet of her own! But Muerte is not working alone. He has resurrected the evil immortal Gunnar (Vinnie Jones) who has a plan more sinister than anyone can imagine. Can Callan prevent the looming apocalypse and save humanity? It’s enough to make a superhero all stressed out! It has an age restriction of 10 – 12 PGV. This action fantasy was written by Patrick Durham, John Sachar, and Tanner Wiley. Watch The Trailer

Drama

TicketIn the intriguing drama The Ticket, directed by Ido Fluk and written by Ido Fluk and Sharon Mashihi, a blind man (Dan Stevens) inexplicably regains his vision and becomes possessed by a drive to make a better life for himself. However, his new improvements — a nicer home, a higher paying job, tailored suits, luxury car — leave little room for the people who were part of his old, simpler life. As his relationships buckle under the strain of his snowballing ambition, it becomes uncertain if James can ever return from darkness. Watch the trailer

Family Viewing

AppleIn Apple Of My Eye A tragic accident causes a young equestrian (Avery Arendes) to lose her sight and her ability to connect with anyone or anything. Feeling hopeless and dejected, Bailey’s loving parents seek out various options to help her adjust, including enrolling her in a program for seeing-eye dogs, but she is unable to connect to anyone or anything. That is, until Charles (Burt Reynolds) the head trainer of South eastern Guide Dogs, trains Apple, a miniature horse, to be her companion and surrogate eyes. The bonus features include some bloopers and deleted scenes, as well as a Doggywood featurette. Watch the trailer

smurfsSmurfs: The Lost Village is a fun-filled animated, all-new take on the Smurfs. Best friends Smurfette (Demi Lovato), Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) and Hefty (Joe Manganiello) use a special map that guides them through the Forbidden Forest, an enchanted wonderland that’s filled with magical creatures. Their adventure leads them on a course to discover the biggest secret in Smurf history as they race against time and the evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) to find a mysterious village. There are many bonus features, including how to draw a Smurf, a village dance along, and filmmakers commentary.  Watch the trailer

Comedy

meet-the-blacksThe zany comedy horror film Meet The Blacks is directed by Deon Taylor, written by Taylor and Nicole DeMasi, and is a parody of the 2013 film The Purge. When some unexpected money comes his way, Carl Black (Mike Epps) moves his family from cold and windy Chicago to bright and sunny Beverly Hills, Calif. As the Blacks settle into their beautiful new home, they start to notice some strange behavior in the neighborhood. Nighttime is approaching, and President El Bama (George Lopez) announces that the annual purge is about to begin. Carl and his loved ones must now endure a 12-hour period of lawlessness before they can enjoy life once again. The bonus features include a making of featurette, outtakes and Hit The Gas Music Video. There is a 16 age restriction.  Watch the trailer

 

Not since Avatar has there been a 3D moviegoing experience that leaves viewers so breathless.

Based on the groundbreaking comic book series that inspired a generation of artists, writers and filmmakers comes the visually spectacular new adventure film from Luc Besson, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a vision a lifetime in the making.

Valerian

In the 28th century, Valerian (Dane DeHaan, The Amazing Spider-Man 2,Chronicle) and Laureline (Cara DeLevingne, Suicide Squad, Paper Towns) comprise a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense the two embark on a mission to the astonishing city of Alpha — an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with one another. There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, a dark force that threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

The Inspiration

Long before Luc Besson became one of the world’s foremost action auteurs — writing, producing and directing a string of iconic hits (The Professional, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita and Lucy) — he was a young boy transfixed by a comic-book series called “Valerian and Laureline,” which debuted the decade before he happened upon it.

“ When I was 10 years old, I’d go to the kiosk every Wednesday. One time, I found this magazine called ‘Pilote.’ Inside, I discovered ‘Valerian and Laureline.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this thing?’ That day, I fell in love with Laureline, and I wanted to be Valerian.”

Besson quickly became addicted to the engrossing graphic serials written by French author Pierre Christin and boldly illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières, devouring all 22 volumes.

“It was the 1970s, and it was the first time we saw this modern girl kicking ass,” he shares. “It was not about the superhero with the cape. This was much more light and free and enjoyable because Laureline and Valerian were like two normal cops today — except it’s the 28th century, and everything is weird and amazing.”

ComicFirst published by Dargaud in 1967, the comic-book series on which the film is based inspired Besson not only to imagine his seminal The Fifth Element, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets—Production Information 6 it has also influenced other filmmakers to create some of the most iconic science fiction movies of the last half-century.

With his love of “Valerian and Laureline” always in the back of his mind, Besson grew up to become the creative force behind such influential action films as La Femme Nikita and Léon: The Professional. It wasn’t until he started filming his cult-classic, retro-futuristic dystopian epic The Fifth Element, that he considered taking his childhood fantasy hero off the shelf and began toying with the idea of adapting the graphic novels into a movie.

Besson laughs: “JeanClaude Mézières, who designed The Fifth Element, said to me, ‘Why are you doing this? You should do Valerian!” Constrained by the relatively primitive visual effects technology available in the 1990s, Besson knew it would be some time before he was able to create the wondrous “Valerian and Laureline” universe he knew the source material deserved.

“When I went back to read the comic books again,” he recounts, “I decided it was impossible to make the films. The technology at the time was not good enough to re-create all these worlds and aliens.”

It would take a seismic jolt and a huge evolutionary leap forward in visual effects to enable the filmmaker to bring “Valerian and Laureline” to life. After James Cameron invited Besson to the set of his space epic, Avatar, the French director made up his mind. “When Avatar arrived, it made everything seem possible. I remember thinking, ‘One day I will come back to sci-fi with these new tools, where the only limit is your imagination. That’s when I decided to make Valerian.”

BESSON

A Visionary Approach: The World of Valerian

In order to bring his vision to life, Besson employed a unique approach to conceptualizing, creating and fleshing out the worlds and creatures that comprise Valerian universe.

Long before the cameras began rolling on the film’s production, Besson adopted a novel approach to formulating concept art for the film by building out the art in two distinct phases.

The first phase, commencing in 2010, entailed mobilizing hundreds of both amateur and professional artists to submit concept work via a competition. After narrowing down the general pool of admissions to a smaller group of designers in late 2010, Besson further pared down his selection to approximately twenty designers who met with him either in France, Los Angeles, or via Skype in order for Besson to share his vision of how to render cinematic the world of the comic book.

The artists then worked independently on developing their interpretations of Besson’s dream as a test to see if they would proceed to the second phase.

Ultimately, Besson selected six key artists to move to Phase 2 and further develop the drawings that Besson chose as part of the first phase of the concept art process.

From there, Besson provided directives and guidance to the six artists on how to combine, finesse and augment the selected drawings. By the end of the second phase, the drawings were predominantly the product of a collaborative effort between Besson and the six artists, with the exception of several drawings from the first phase, which were kept intact. This process lent itself to a thorough, thoughtful and comprehensive approach to creating painstakingly detailed designs that fit together into one cohesive vision.

A Wild Menagerie: The Species of Alpha Space Station

Also known as the City of a Thousand Planets, the Alpha Space Station is truly an intergalactic hub. “All the knowledge in the universe is there. It’s Wall Street, City of Science, United Nations, Broadway—everything is there,” explains Besson. “That makes it the most important place in the entire universe.”

Creatures

An ever-expanding metropolis, its population includes thousands of species from across the galaxy, many of which are rooted in the mythology established in the graphic novels. Besson’s fertile imagination gave birth to the creation of dozens of astonishing intergalactic characters, including the Mylea jellyfish, the massive 300-ton aquatic Bromosaur, and a Khodar’Khan by the name of Igon Siruss — voiced by Goodman — who is the criminal mastermind of the intra-dimensional trade center known as Big Market. Among the most memorable of the aliens are the Doghan Daguis — a species of multilingual information brokers who exist as a trio and make a giant impression, even though they stand just under four-feet tall. “They sell information and speak 8,000 languages,” Besson explains. “One of them starts a sentence, the next one continues the line, and the third one finishes it, because they’re one brain in three pieces. No one likes the Doghan Daguis, but you can’t kill them. If you kill one, you kill the information.”

Besson also conjured up a squad of ruthlessly efficient mechanized soldiers called K-Trons, which serve as the personal bodyguards of Commander Filitt. According to the writer/director: “They never talk and only have two functions. When the dot is green, everything’s okay. As soon as the dot turns red, you have five seconds to lie on the floor because they’re going to shoot everyone. That’s how simple they are. If you control the K-Trons, then you truly have the power.”

Lensing at Cité du Cinema: Outer Space, Outside Paris

“There is no way to make this kind of movie quickly,” sums Besson.

For three years, he supervised artists, illustrators and designers as they developed meticulous concept art. He spent another year and a half devising painstakingly detailed storyboards.

Principal photography began on January 5, 2016, with shooting wrapping in June. “I’m glad we took the time to do this right,”

Besson says. “I’m a longdistance runner. I don’t do 100 meters; my distance is 10 miles, so I’m used to long shoots. For The Big Blue, we spent 24 weeks under water and 22 weeks on land. Joan of Arc took 24 weeks. I’m stubborn, so 100 days of shooting for Valerian felt almost easy.”

Valerian was shot entirely at Besson’s Cité du Cinema in the suburbs of Paris.

Launched by Besson and his partners in 2012, this facility serves as the largest film complex in France, designed to compete with Rome’s Cinecittà film facility and England’s Pinewood Studios. With nine soundstages spread across 65 acres, Cité du Cinema has everything needed to build a fantastical cinematic universe, according to producer Besson-Silla.

Designed by Besson, the Cité du Cinema campus includes three film schools, a restaurant and a daycare center, all aimed at fostering a nurturing atmosphere for cast and crew alike. “Instead of having trailers, we have green rooms furnished like nice, cozy apartments,” Besson-Silla offers, proudly.

“We covered the walls with the designs from the film so the actors could get different scenes inside their minds. Then they’d just take the elevator down and go straight to the set.”

The bustling collegial atmosphere yielded a variety of unexpected surprises, like the time Besson alum Natalie Portman walked past Besson-Silla dressed as Jackie Kennedy for her role in Jackie.

“I also remember one very special night,” the producer reflects. “Herbie Hancock filmed that day and in the evening we said, ‘Herbie, we do have this piano…’ So this genius played for the whole crew. We had a lot of special little moments like that. Everybody was there to make a film, but in a good and nice way.”

Welcome to the 28th Century: A Unified Design Vision

To bring his childhood inspiration to life, Besson assembled a core team of longtime collaborators. “The most important thing was the coordination among the production designer, costume designer and the DP,” Besson states. “If you treat each of these elements separately, you’re in trouble. The synergy has to come from all three, so every day, I wanted the DP to see the costumes; I wanted the costume designer to see the sets. We were constantly exchanging information.”

This core team consisted of veteran costume designer Olivier Bériot, whose outfits graced Lucy and the Besson-produced thriller Taken; longtime cinematographer Thierry Arbogast; and production designer Hugues Tissandier, who had also previously teamed with Besson on Lucy.

Production wrapped, the boy who began dreaming of a space saga all those decades ago is satisfied he has done “Valerian and Laureline’s” creators justice.

Besson reflects that he has long envisioned Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as 3D escapist entertainment at its most mind-blowing: “I want people who work all day to see this movie in the theater and forget everything for two hours, like they went on a holiday.”

While the vintage source material remains inextricably embedded in the film, Besson has imprinted the science-fiction genre with his own unmistakably vibrant aesthetic. With a technology that has finally caught up to Besson’s vision, not since Avatar has there been a 3D moviegoing experience that leaves viewers so breathless.

The director took pains to ground the cavalcade of outlandish alien spectacle in a compelling human partnership. “We show you this crazy world in the 28th century, but the characters’ lives, feelings and emotions are ones that everybody can relate to,” he concludes. “You will love Valerian and Laureline because of who they are and what they go through together.”

Valerian behind

The Cast

Within minutes of meeting Dane DeHaan, who exploded onto the screen as Spidey’s nemesis in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Besson knew he had discovered the titular character of his boyhood inspiration. “I’d seen a couple of Dane’s films and liked him as an actor,” Besson says. “The first time I met him at a restaurant, he smiled, said ‘Hi,’ and that was it. I knew. The tone of his voice, the sparkle in his eyes and his smile — I thought ‘My God. This guy is Valerian.’”

DeHaan gravitated to the role because it gave him a chance to portray a swashbuckling space-age investigator who also happens to be a hopeless romantic. “Valerian has a huge crush on Laureline, but he has a history of being a player,” says the actor. “The movie’s not only about saving the universe, it’s also about Valerian’s mission to convince Laureline that they should spend the rest of their lives together.”

For the role of the intrepid Laureline, Besson needed to find an actress who could live up to the spirit of empowerment embodied by our heroine. Laureline is no shrinking violet, no damsel in distress — she is wholly equal to Valerian: brave, strong, whip-smart, and sharing in a 50/50 partnership in their crime-fighting endeavors. It would take someone wildly unique to embody the character that Besson had fallen in love with as a boy.

From then-unknown performers from Natalie Portman to Milla Jovovich, Besson has a knack for recognizing actresses with potential to break out as action stars.

By choosing his dream Laureline, Besson would place her in rarified ranks as the next global star. Ultimately, he chose model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne, who has made her mark on small dramas such as Paper Towns and big-budget blockbusters like Suicide Squad.

“I knew Cara from the modeling world, and my first concern was to make sure she was serious,” Besson notes. “Cara’s gorgeous, but I had to know if she had the capacity, physically. Could she act? Did she really want to?”

After allowing Delevingne a rigorous audition process, Besson determined the answer was a resounding “yes.” Recalls the British actress: “Luc put me Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets—Production Information 9 through trials like you’d have at drama school. He’d ask me to become an animal and that type of work. It was very old-school, and so very cool.”

 

 

It’s not just for canoeing people, it’s for everyone … It’s a true South African story.

Inspired by the true story of Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruickshanks, who together won gold in the 2014 Dusi, Beyond the River delivers a nail-biting adventure story about the triumph of the human spirit, and is now available on DVD.

The bonus features include a documentary on the real story, as well as an insightful behind the scenes doccie and interview with writer-director Craig Freimond.

RIVER

Lemogang Tsipa (When We Were Black, Traffic! and Jab), makes his debut as Duma Madlala., with Grant Swanby (Blood Diamond, Mandela-Long Walk to Freedom and Invictus) as Steve Andrews

Brought to the big screen by Heartlines and Quizzical Pictures, the movie was written by Craig Freimond and Robbie Thorpe, directed by Freimond and produced by Thorpe, Harriet Gavshon and Ronnie Apteker. The beautifully shot film showcases some of South Africa’s spectacular KwaZulu-Natal landscapes and has been funded by the National Lotteries Commission, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Film and Video Foundation and the KwaZulu Natal Film Commission.

Duma is a talented young man who feels trapped by his surroundings and finds himself on the wrong side of the law. After a near miss with the cops, he finds an escape in the world of canoeing, an old passion of his.

Steve is a nine-time Dusi gold medalist whose marriage is on the verge of collapse. His passion for the sport is fueled by his wanting to escape from something in his past that continues to haunt him.

Through a series of unexpected events, the two men find themselves attempting the three-day Dusi Canoe Marathon as a doubles pair. But there are a few things they must overcome, not least of which are the completely different worlds they come from. They realise that the dream they both desperately desire requires them to work together, both in the boat and beyond the river.

Starring Grant Swanby (Blood Diamond, Mandela-Long Walk to Freedom and Invictus) as Steve Andrews, and Lemogang Tsipa (When We Were Black, Traffic! and Jab), who makes his debut lead role as Duma Madlala. Other cast members include Israel Sipho Matseke Zulu, formerly Makoe (Yizo Yizo, Tsotsi and Gaz’lam), Emily Child (Shirley Adams and Village Voices), Mary Twala (Beat the Drum and Lucky), Kgosi Mongake (Invictus, The Bang Bang Club and Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom) and Garth Breytenbach (Black Sails and Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom).

RIVER 3

Beyond the River’s genesis was a powerpoint presentation that Piers Cruickshanks, academic head of the Johannesburg school Kingsmead gave at his school assembly. He had just competed in the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon with Siseko Ntondini, overcoming enormous obstacles along the way.

It was a perfect story for the NGO Heartlines which, like Participant Media, the American film production company founded in 2004 by Jeffrey Skoll, is dedicated to entertainment that inspires and compels social change.

Fellow canoeist Brad Fisher had alerted film makers Robbie Thorpe (producer of Vaya (2016), Tell Me Sweet Something (2015) and Material (2012) and Craig Freimond (writer/director of Material (2012), Jozi (2010) and Gums & Noses (2004) to the story, thinking initially it would make a good documentary, but Freimond and Robbie convinced him that it would be great material for a feature film.

According to Freimond, who wrote the screenplay together with Robbie Thorpe, “The film had a very strange genesis. My producer Robbie got a call from these canoeists, basically an older white guy and a younger black guy from very different circumstances, who got together to do the Dusi and had an amazing and unusual experience. What was essentially Piers and Siseko’s story needed more external drama, and more character drama, so we took both of those characters and essentially moved them quite far from Piers and Siseko.”

The story behind the Cruickshanks/Ntondini partnership was the creation of the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club by members of the Dabulamanzi Canoe club, based in Emmarentia, a leafy suburb of northern Johannesburg.

In 2013, when going for his 10th gold medal in the Dusi, Cruickshanks had a disastrous race, breaking his canoe, but running the last 30 kilometers with his boat to the finish. Ntondini, then 19, had progressed through the ranks at the Development Club, and had come 11th in the same race, just missing his first gold medal.

The following year’s competition would be a doubles race, and Ntondini asked Cruickshanks if they could do it together. They started training, but Ntondini developed a stress fracture in his leg which almost ruled them out. With the intervention of a zero gravity training machine, Ntondini was able to carry on training, and so they were able to start the race, but from right at the back of the batch.

Over the three-day race they managed to make up 53 places, and come seventh, winning Piers his seventh, and Siseko his first gold medal.

Says Swanby: “Beyond the River is one of those films you need to see on the big screen. It’s a genre movie, on one level, it’s a sport level, but on another level it’s about people it’s about togetherness about two men from totally diverse backgrounds working together to achieve an aim.”

“It’s my first time playing the lead in a film,” says Lemogang Tsipa. ”I felt like I was ready for something like this. It’s a really great dramatic story. I found it very challenging, not only playing those parts emotionally, but physically having to learn another skill, and not only look like a paddler but look like a professional paddler, one that can win gold.”

The Director of Photography was Trevor Calverley (Sink, 2016; Leading Lady 2014; Fanie Fourie’s Lobola, 2014; Material 2012).

Says Calverley, “I was very excited about the project. I enjoyed the script. A lot of challenges in the project, and it was interesting to try and solve those and get something that looks realistic on camera. Also, filming in one of the biggest droughts South Africa has had was a major challenge. A lot of the rigs we prepped just had to be abandoned because of the water levels.”

A big part of the challenge for Freimond was that the actors had to learn how to canoe: “Our leads had to be able to canoe, But we were more interested in finding the right actors and training them. We had Olympic canoeing Shaun Rubenstein who was their trainer.”

The two actors were both based in Cape Town and had to train throughout the cold Cape winter.

Said Tsipa: “It was about a four-month learning curve, The first two months we just kept going and falling in, going and falling in. We got to a point where we both doubted ourselves. It was incredibly tough.”

Another major challenge for Freimond was working on water: “Working on water was incredibly technically challenging. How do you film canoeing? Where’s the camera? What’s it on? You’re on a boat, they’re on a boat; you’re unstable, they’re unstable. We developed techniques where we would be on land with a very long lens, hold the front of the boat, they’re going, they’re canoeing, but obviously they’re not moving, but the water is flying, and then we started getting somewhere.”

Piers Cruickshanks and Siseko Ntondini were involved in the making of the film.

Piers was the stunt double for the actor playing himself. Ntondini played as an extra in many of the bigger scenes.

The film made extensive use of drones, as well as using footage from the actual Dusi (filmed by Big Shot Media) which they blended in with footage of the actors.

Nick Costaras was the editor, who managed to make the transitions seamless.

“It’s not just for canoeing people, it’s for everyone” says Grant Swanby. “Everyone who goes to see it is going to have a really amazing film experience.”

“It’s a true South African story” says Lemogang Tsipa. “You’ll see a lot of different sides of South Africa and the country.”

Freimond: “The film is quite different. I can’t think of too many films like it. It’s got a feel-good side to it, but it has also got a lot of depth. People who’ve seen it have responded to the story, the film itself, the actors, the landscapes. People will enjoy this movie.”

I liked his sense of adventure.

French director Jerôme Salle thrives on a sense of adventure, never more so than when making The Odyssey, his epic take on the life of naval officer Jacques Cousteau whose underwater exploits made him a celebrated name all over the world..

Odyssey Salle

Jérôme Salle was born in 1971 in Paris. He is a writer and director, known for The Tourist (2010), The Odyssey (2016) and The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch (2008).

Written by Jérôme Salle and Laurent Turner, The Odyssey it based on Capitaine de la Calypso by Albert Falco and Yves Paccalet, and My Father, The Captain by Jean-Michel Cousteau.

From 1949 to 1979, thirty years in the life of captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famous researcher, scientist, inventor, filmmaker whose greatest achievement is to have made the general public more curious – and accordingly closer – to the sea.

 

Before you had the idea of making a film on this subject, what did the name Cousteau conjure up for you?

It took me back to my childhood… I was brought up in the South of France, my parents had a sailing boat, and we used to sail to all the places where Cousteau first went diving, around the Embiez, Porquerolles, all those islands in the Var region.  I also remember his documentaries being shown on TV. Right from the start, the man and his work were linked to my own life…

Did you get to know Jacques Cousteau from making the film or did you have a good idea of who he was before you started?

I had a good idea, or at least my idea, which is important before you write the story. I did not change my mind about him while shooting the film, but it took me years to be able to understand who exactly he was. He was quite a complex character and quite secretive. It is a bit of a paradox because he was showing his face all over the world but he was only showing what he wanted to show and he was hiding a lot of things. That is why it took me so long to understand this man.

I liked his sense of adventure. He was a director and he was egocentric like every director has to be. He has to deal with his family as I have had to deal with my family and the long absences of shooting all over the world. Perhaps I am not such a great father because of my job and he had the same issue. When we were shooting the film, we had struggles with the budget and had to deal with the elements – it felt like the same kind of situation Cousteau had to deal with also over the years. There were so many parallels. And there were so many aspects that you could not plan advance and in a way that was inspiring – especially on a film like this.

Odyssey 2

The project took quite a long time to set up – we’ll come back to that – but how did the idea first come about?

It all began with one of my children.  I was talking about Cousteau at home and I saw my son had no idea what I was talking about.  He didn’t know a thing about Cousteau, had never heard of the films, the Calypso, nor the crew’s red hats!  It seems incredible, because for people of my generation, Captain Cousteau was almost like Jesus, one of the most famous men in the world… After talking about this with other people, I realised that he was sinking into oblivion as far as the under 20s and even the under 30s were concerned.  So I started to look at what had been written about him: on the internet, in books.   I watched the documentaries again, and I ended up experiencing a tremendous feeling of childhood nostalgia.  I also notices that apart from Wes Anderson’s film “The Life Aquatic”, no movie had ever tackled the extraordinary life of this man… So I began to unravel the details from there and I soon felt that there was a lot of mystery surrounding him:  very little was known about Jacques-Yves Cousteau.  He had total control over his image when filming himself with his crew, but never revealed anything intimate about himself.

Imagine that the next difficulty was choosing an angle for the story you wanted to tell, from such a full yet secretive life…

Absolutely, and I had such a hard job doing it, especially as in the meantime I directed two other films, “Largo Winch “and Zulu”.  It really took me several years to get a script I was happy with … Laurent Turner, the film’s co-writer, and I read everything which had been written about the man, then met the people who had known him, because all the grey areas surrounding Cousteau were stopping me from seeing who he really was – a man who lived several lives in the space of a single lifetime…

First we has to carry out a huge amount of investigative journalism before we could begin the work of a scriptwriter.   Once this was done, we settled down to write the script.  I thought it was a good screenplay – in the sense that we got great feedback from it – but I still felt a little frustrated.  I felt it was a little too classic in its approach, too much of a biopic.  I think it was meeting the actors that enabled me to develop it further.  Pierre Niney, whom I wanted to work with, reinforced my idea of giving more space to the role of Philippe Cousteau, one of Cousteau’s sons.

At this point, the opposition between Philippe and his father suddenly seemed an obvious basis for the story…   So then I wrote a completely new version, taking out the first part about Cousteau’s younger days.   This had the advantage of allowing me offer the role to Lambert Wilson, who – fortunately – agreed almost immediately.  While I was re-writing, I practically started from the scratch, and yet I wrote it all in one go in the space of three weeks.  Thanks to the new angle, I suddenly had a very clear idea of the story I wanted to tell.

But I have to emphasise that this was only possible because of all the hard work Laurent and I had been doing for several years!  I have been a scriptwriter, and I know only too well how often the authors of the early versions get forgotten, even though that is by far the most difficult part of the work.  I loved working with Laurent, but I think that at that point, for the re-writing, I needed to be alone with my subject.

Was it one of the most challenging films that you have done?

It was one of the most challenging for many reasons. First it was really difficult to make the movie happen at all. The shooting was challenging but less so than financing the film. It is always difficult to get the money to finance a movie. This one was more difficult because it was quite expensive for sure, but also may be because the shoot was quite risky – we were shooting underwater and on the water and people got cold feet because of that. We shot all over the world in Croatia, South Africa, the Bahamas and Antarctic.

Describe your casting process – did you have particular names in mind?

OdysseyI try not to have any actors in mind, partly because you might be disappointed with a ‘no’ – it happens. Obviously I started with Cousteau – and in previous versions of the script I started earlier in Cousteau’s life and I was looking for someone around 40 to 45 years old. I could not find anyone that I was happy with. And then, for other reasons, I decided to focus on the relationship between father and son and I deleted the first part of the script. That meant I was looking for an actor around 50 years old and Lambert [Wilson] was perfect for that role. For Pierre Niney, I met him before Lambert so he was attached a long time before. Audrey Tautou was quite easy because she is Simone [Cousteau’s wife]. She read the script and immediately said, ‘Yes’ – she understood right away who she was. Lambert has the physical presence but he did have to go on quite a tough diet to get the lean physique. Pierre was the reverse – he had to bulk up by going to the gym.

Have you worked out what you’re doing next?

I always have many projects in the pipeline but as yet I don’t know which one will be next. It took some time to come down from Cousteau. The mix is of my own projects and projects that are brought to me – and I would quite like one of the latter at this point because I am fed up with myself as a writer. I don’t want to be locked in to my work as a writer and, as a director, it is exciting to work with someone different for inspiration and to have someone to spark off. Like many of us in this profession I am always frightened that it will all be over and someone will come along say, ‘Stop it – what you’re doing is bullshit’. So far it has not happened!

Was your route in to the business a traditional one of going to film school?

No not at all. I left school at 16 because I wanted to travel. And I did that for a few years and subsequently became a press photographer. I then became an art director in different countries including a spell in the UK in London and in Germany. My dream had always been to be a film director. I was not ready when I was younger and, in any case, I did not have the courage. When I was 30, I thought if I do not do it now I never will – and I started off by writing short films. I always kept my job as an art director because by that time I was married and had children to support. My wife helped me out. Some how we managed – you must know the famous singer Jacques Brel who said that you get by on five per cent talent and 95 per cent hard work and I believe that, especially in our job.

Add These New Titles To Your Collection!

the-zookeepers-wifeThe absolutely superb The Zookeeper’s Wife is set in Poland 1939, the homeland of Antonina (portrayed by Ms. Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh, of The Broken Circle Breakdown). Devoted to each other, the couple thrive as personal and professional partners; the Warsaw Zoo flourishes under Jan’s stewardship and Antonina’s care. With reserves of energy, Antonina rises every day to tend to both her family and their menagerie, as the gates to the majestic zoo open in welcome……until the entrance is slammed shut and the zoo is crippled in an attack as the entire country is invaded by the Germans. Stunned, the couple is forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Golden Globe Award nominee Daniel Brühl of Captain America: Civil War). Heck envisions a new, selective breeding program for the zoo.Antonina and Jan fight back on their own terms, and covertly begin working with the Resistance – realizing that their zoo’s abandoned animal cages and underground tunnels, originally designed to safeguard animal life, can now secretly safeguard human life. As the couple puts into action plans to save lives out of what has become the Warsaw Ghetto, Antonina places herself and even her children at great risk. Read more about The Zookeeper’s Wife / Watch the trailer

COMPETITION: Win a DVD of the exciting new South African films Tess and Kalushi: The Solomon Mhlanga Story

Fifty shades 2Fifty Shades Darker, the second chapter based on the worldwide bestselling “Fifty Shades” phenomenon invites audiences to slip into something a shade darker.The story continues as a wounded Christian Grey tries to entice a cautious Anastasia Steele back into his life…and she demands a new arrangement before she will give him another chance. As the two begin to build trust and find stability, shadowy figures from Christian’s past start to circle them, determined to destroy any hopes for a future together. This dramatic thriller is directed by James Foley (FearHouse of Cards) and once again produced by Michael De Luca (Captain Phillips, The Social Network), Dana Brunetti (Captain Phillips, The Social Network) and Marcus Viscidi (We’re the MillersHow to Be Single), alongside E L James, the creator of the blockbuster series.  The screenplay is by E L James’ husband, Niall Leonard, based on the novel by James. The bonus features include deleted scenes, a ‘Tease to Fifty Shades Freed’ doccie, writing the screenplay, and a ‘Dark Reunion”. Read more about the film / Watch The Trailer

M79 Jessica Chastain stars in EuropaCorp's "Miss. Sloane". Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes © 2016 EuropaCorp Ð France 2 Cinema

Miss Sloane is a taut and twisting tale of a Washington powerbroker obsessed with victory. In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most sought-after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. Known equally for her cunning and her track record of success, she has always done whatever is required to win. But when she takes on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds that winning may come at too high a price. A cutthroat lobbyist on the verge of personal and professional burnout pushes legal and ethical boundaries to ensure the passage of a controversial law in Miss Sloane, a riveting political thriller from Academy Award®-nominated director John Madden. Pulling back the curtain on the secretive and powerful lobbying industry, Miss Sloane reveals how Capitol Hill games are played — and win!  Read more about Miss Sloane

the-wolves-at-the-door-2016-1The nail biting Wolves at the Door is loosely based on the Manson family murders.Four friends gather at an elegant home during the Summer of Love, 1969. Unbeknownst to them, deadly visitors are waiting outside.What begins as a simple farewell party turns to a night of primal terror as the intruders stalk and torment the four, who struggle for their lives against what appears to be a senseless attack. It was directed by renowned cinematographer John R. Leonetti from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle).

The-Great-Wall-Movie-SceneDirected by one of the most breathtaking visual stylists of our time, Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red LanternHeroHouse of Flying Daggers), the action-fantasy The Great Wall marks his first English-language production and the largest film ever shot entirely in China.In The Great Wall, Damon stars as William Garin, a battle-scarred mercenary and master archer taken captive by a secret army of elite warriors known as The Nameless Order.  In a vast military outpost called the Fortress City, they fight to protect humanity from supernatural forces upon one of the greatest defensive structures ever built: The Great Wall.  On his journey, Garin is joined by Pedro Pascal (Netflix’s Narcos, HBO’s Game of Thrones) as his sword-wielding sidekick, Pero Tovar, a tough, wise-cracking Spaniard who has become a brother-in-arms to William; and Willem Dafoe (PlatoonShadow of the VampireThe Grand Budapest Hotel) as Ballard, a shadowy prisoner inside the fortress who plans his escape from his longtime captors while hoping to pilfer their greatest weapon during his getaway. The bonus features include deleted and extended scenes. Read more about The Great Wall / Watch the trailer

 

 

Add these exciting local titles to your collection of South African Films!

Kalushi – The Solomon Mhlanga Story – a human drama that will break your heart

Kalushi

South African filmmaker, Mandla Walter Dube, makes his feature directorial debut with this powerful true story about a nineteen-year-old hawker, Solomon Mahlangu from the streets of Mamelodi a ghetto township outside Pretoria in South Africa, who was brutally beaten by police and fled into exile following the 1976 Soweto uprisings to join the liberation movement. He returns from military training in Angola en route to their mission, his friend and comrade, Mondi, loses control and shoots two innocent people on Goch Street in Johannesburg. Mondi is severely beaten & tortured; Kalushi is forced to stand trial under the common purpose doctrine. The state seeks the highest punishment from the court, Death by Hanging. Kalushi has his back against the wall and uses the courtroom as a final battlefield. His sacrifice immortalizes him into a hero of the struggle and an international icon of June 16, 1976. Read more about Kalushi: The Solomon Mhlanga Story

Tess is a gritty no-holds-barred drama.

TessTess is a hard-hitting journey into the heart of a young prostitute who sells her soul on the streets of Cape Town. Sassy twenty-year-old Tess (Christa Visser) sells her body on Cape Town’s streets.  She survives by popping painkillers by the bunch and through her wry humour.  But her life turns upside down when she falls pregnant. Though Tess tries to run, her past torments her. She begins to question her own sanity. Tess fights back, fighting her demons, searching for the truth. When she abandons her daily ritual of popping pills, awful pictures from her past ambush her mind. But Tess does not allow herself to collapse. Instead, she learns – perhaps because of the baby in her belly – to connect with the people around her. The Congolese refugee next door (Nse Ikpe-Etim0 treats her like a daughter. An impotent client shows her his heart. Tess finds sanctuary among strong women in a belly dance studio, and discovers she can dance up a storm. With new courage she tracks down her childhood friend, Dumi, who helps her to face the truth of her past. Read more about Tess

A taut and twisting tale of a Washington powerbroker obsessed with victory.

Jonathan Perera’s screenplay for Miss Sloane took filmmaker John Madden by surprise with its richly detailed portrait of an industry that remains shrouded in mystery. “While having a sense of the job description, I didn’t know exactly what a lobbyist did, which I imagine is true of a lot of people,” says Madden, acclaimed director of such diverse films as Mrs. Brown, The Debt and Academy Award winner Shakespeare in Love.

Perera is a UK citizen and former attorney, who left his law practice in his 20s to explore more creative aspirations. While working as an elementary school teacher in Asia, Jonathan wrote his first screenplay, the political thriller Miss Sloane, a taut and twisting tale of a Washington powerbroker obsessed with victory. Perera had never penned a screenplay before or even spent much time in the U.S.

“The script was intelligent, unexpected and very satisfying. It is set in a world where everything is strategy. The natural language of the characters is irony and indirection, which makes for an extremely clever — and very funny and surprising — film. The greatest weapon the script has is that it never lands exactly where you think it’s going to.”

SLOANE

In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most sought-after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. Known equally for her cunning and her track record of success, she has always done whatever is required to win. But when she takes on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds that winning may come at too high a price.

A cutthroat lobbyist on the verge of personal and professional burnout pushes legal and ethical boundaries to ensure the passage of a controversial law in Miss Sloane, a riveting political thriller from Academy Award®-nominated director John Madden. Pulling back the curtain on the secretive and powerful lobbying industry, Miss Sloane reveals how Capitol Hill games are played — and won.

Elite communications professionals, lobbyists make their living by influencing the decision-makers of the world, including the most powerful lawmakers in America.

Mysterious, secretive and fantastically powerful, even the origins of the term lobbyists is unclear, although some say it was coined by President Ulysses S. Grant to refer to special-interest representatives waiting to buttonhole him in the lobby of the Willard Hotel.

“The film defies a single description,” says Madden. “It is at once a political drama, an unpredictable and constantly surprising thriller, an exposé of a little examined, and even less well-understood mechanism of the political process, and above all, a riveting study of an extraordinary and obsessive character, defined as much by her intelligence and skills as by her gender. And most unexpected of all is its portrait of the emotional life of a heroine who would refuse to countenance that she even has one.”

“The film is about a seemingly unattainable political objective,” Madden continues. “It is an issue which has stubbornly refused to respond to legal challenge. It looks at the many tactics lobbyists use to influence people. Trying to overcome the insurmountable obstacles is the ride of the film, and it’s driven by Elizabeth Sloane. She takes no prisoners and employs tactics that might raise eyebrows. She rarely ever stops to rest. She is an utter obsessive, and obsessives are a very interesting breed to watch on film.”

Madden was perhaps most surprised by screenwriter Jonathan Perera. A U.K.- educated attorney who left his practice to try his hand at writing, Perera had never penned a screenplay before or even spent much time in the U.S.

“I’d expected a cocky, knowing, Santa Monica-dwelling film nerd,” says the director. “He’s nothing like that. He is very literate about film, but incredibly open, smart and direct, without the attitude that might go with such a precocious debut.”

Writing A Winning Screenplay

Perera was living in South Korea, teaching English at an elementary school, when he started preparing to write his first script. Instead of enrolling in film school, he read as many scripts as he could get hold of.

“I’d read the first 60 pages of a script. And then I’d go to work and think about how I would end it. In the evening, I’d read the latter sixty pages of the script and see how I did.”

An interview he heard on BBC News gave him the kernel of an idea that he needed to get started.

Jonathan Perera

JONATHAN PERERA (Writer) is a UK citizen and former attorney, who left his law practice in his 20s to explore more creative aspirations. While working as an elementary school teacher in Asia, Jonathan wrote his first screenplay, the political thriller Miss Sloane Shortly thereafter, the script was made into a feature film by Academy Award-nominated director John Madden

“It was a man named Jack Abramoff,” he remembers. “He was a lobbyist who had been sent to prison for some kind of wrongdoing. I didn’t know too much about the lobbying industry, but I knew that it could be a great basis for a film. I felt we hadn’t really seen an exploration of the influence peddling and power brokering that goes on behind the scenes in Washington.”

Miss Sloane takes the audience inside the s