Broadway at its best on the Big Screen

A once-off screening of one of Broadway’s most successful musicals in recent years, the Tony Award-winning musical, Newsies – the Broadway Musical sings and dances its way onto the big screen in South Africa for one night only – Wednesday, 22 February at 19:45.

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Jeremy Jordan reprises his Tony Award-Nominated performance as newsboy leader Jack Kelly.

Based on the 1992 musical film of the same name starring Christian Bale, Newsies tells a timeless story about the power of standing up for one’s rights. Boasting award-winning song and dance performances, Newsies – the Broadway Musical promises to be one of the event cinema highlights to be screened at Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas in 2017.

Newsies is inspired by the real-life ‘Newsboy Strike of 1899,’ when newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphan and runaway ‘newsies’ on a two-week-long action against publishing giants such as Pulitzer, Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers.

Set in New York City at the turn of the century, Newsies tells the rousing tale of ‘Jack Kelly’, a charismatic newsboy and leader of the ragged band of teenaged ‘newsies,’ who dreams only of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. When publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies the ‘newsies’ from across the city to strike for what they believe is right.

Since opening on Broadway in 2011, Newsies has played 1 711 performances between Broadway and the North American tour, to more than 2.5 million audience members in 65 cities across the country.

One of these performances, captured live at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in September, is being broadcast into cinemas across the globe in February, including here in South Africa, thanks to Ster-Kinekor.

Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie Styles (Katherine Plumber), Angela Grovey (Medda), Jacob Kemp (Davey), Zachary Sayle (Crutchie), Anthony Rosenthal or Vincent Crocilla (Les) and Matthew J. Schechter (Les) under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, North American Tour premiere Thursday October 30 Philadelphia

Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie Styles (Katherine Plumber), Angela Grovey (Medda), Jacob Kemp (Davey), Zachary Sayle (Crutchie), Anthony Rosenthal or Vincent Crocilla (Les) and Matthew J. Schechter (Les) under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, North American Tour premiere Thursday October 30 Philadelphia

In the filmed production, Jeremy Jordan reprises his Tony Award-Nominated performance as newsboy leader Jack Kelly. Joining Jordan in this high-energy show from the original Broadway cast include: Kara Lindsay as Katherine, Ben Fankhauser as Davey and Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Crutchie. They are joined by North American Tour stars Steve Blanchard as Joseph Pulitzer, Aisha de Haas as Medda Larkin and Ethan Steiner as Les, together with members of both the Broadway and North American Tour ensembles, who fill the stage with more ‘newsies’ and more dancing than ever before.

Tony-nominee director Jeff Calhoun has bulked up the cast, giving Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli even more jumps, flips, and kicks to work into the popular dance routines. The production features a Tony Award-winning score with music by eight-time Academy Award® winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, screenplay adaptation by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein and is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions. The entire creative team has reunited to bring this break-out smash musical, which includes such hit songs as ‘Santa Fe’, ‘Seize the Day’, ‘King of New York’ and ‘Carrying the Banner’, to cinema audiences around the world.

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Newsies – The Broadway Musical releases in South Africa exclusively for one screening only – on Wednesday, 22 February at 19:45 – at the four Nouveau sites: Brooklyn in Pretoria, Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Gateway in Durban and V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, and at the following Ster-Kinekor cinemas: Bedford Square, Sandton and Cedar Square in Johannesburg; Mimosa in Bloemfontein; Somerset in Somerset West; and at Blue Route in Cape Town.

Running for 150 minutes, the cinema broadcast also includes exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with select members of the cast and crew.

Bookings are now open for this once-off special cinema event.

For booking information, visit www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and @sterkinekor and on Facebook at Ster-Kinekor and Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

The discounts and benefits for cardholders of SK Club, Discovery Vitality and Edgars Club loyalty programmes apply for all live theatre productions. Special prices for school and group bookings are also available on request.

Love, thrills and chills

The Local Romance Vir Die Voëls Soars Triumphantly!

Vir Die Voëls  was inspired by the true story of Irma Humpel (Simoné Nortmann), a surly tomboy who ends up in a wedding dress, in front of the altar, with the boy who relentlessly teased her as a child. She has always believed that independence was the only form of freedom, until Sampie de Klerk (Francois Jacobs) came along and challenged her convictions on all levels. The film is set in the late 1970s and will make you feel nostalgic. It’s a film about a strong, mature woman and an equally strong man who respects that woman enough to fight for her love. It’s a story about inner conflict and preventing external circumstances and emotional baggage from getting in the way of future happiness. Director Quinton Krog’s visual sensibility is impeccable, drawing you into the story and on a journey you will always remember. If there’s one reason to see this outstanding South African film, it’s for the endearing performances and sizzling chemistry between Nortmann and Jacobs.  This is what romance is all about!  The bonus features include a behind the scenes feature. The film is in Afrikaans with English subtitles.  Read interview with director Quentin Krog.

Thrilling And Captivating 9th Life Of Louis Drax

the-9th-life-of-louis-drax_0If you are looking for a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat, The 9th Life Of Louis Drax is a suspense thriller and psychological mind bender that offers first rate entertainment and plenty food for thought, testing the fragile boundaries of fantasy and reality.  After surviving eight near-death accidents throughout his unlucky life, Louis Drax [Aiden Longworth] plunges off a steep cliff on his ninth birthday. While police investigate the cause of Louis’ near-fatal fall and the whereabouts of his violent father Peter [Aaron Paul], acclaimed neurologist Dr. Allan Pascal [Jamie Dornan] uses unorthodox techniques to try to tap into the boy’s unconscious mind and reveal the truth about the events that led to his condition. But as he’s drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of Louis’ seeming ability to cheat death, the doctor finds himself falling for Louis’ mother, Natalie [Sarah Gadon]. As new clues emerge in the case, a shocking revelation changes the fates of Louis Drax and everyone around him. Read more about the film

Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween Will Kill you With Laughter

tyler-perrys-boo-a-madea-hallowee-poster1-759x477Blending Tyler Perry’s distinctive humor with elements of horror, this hilarious culture clash between generations –Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween – heralds a fresh turn in the Tyler Perry/Madea franchise: a movie that blends Perry’s distinctive humor with elements of horror. As the film begins, divorced dad Brian (played by Perry) must leave his rebellious teen daughter Tiffany home alone on Halloween.  He enlists his aunt Madea, Uncle Joe (both also played by Perry), and friends Hattie and Aunt Bam to keep an eye on her.  Determined to meet her girlfriends at a nearby frat party, Tiffany tricks her four gullible chaperones with a frighteningly realistic ghost story that convinces them to stay in their rooms so she can sneak out. All hell and hilarity break loose when Madea, Hattie and Aunt Bam crash the party to bring their baby girl home. And when the women call the cops to break up the Halloween rager, the brothers of Beta Psi Alpha dress as ghosts and ghouls to terrorize them. But of course, the boys soon learn that they are messing with the wrong woman. “This is a whole new side of Madea because audiences don’t think of her as someone who gets scared,” says Perry. “Watching Madea running from ghosts had everyone on set cracking up. They chase her right into a church — a place she swore she’d never go unless they had a smoking section!” Read more about the film

IntruderIn the thriller Intruder a young woman’s quiet night in becomes a free-fall into fear in this disturbing home invasion thriller. After she lands her dream job, a young cellist (Louise Linton) settles in for a relaxing few days holed up in her apartment-but as a violent storm rages outside, she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her every move. Cleverly toying with the rules of suspense, director Travis Z wrings maximum terror from everyone’s worst nightmare: you may not be alone.  Watch the trailer

John Taylor (MORRIS CHESTNUT) and Anna Walsh (JAZ SINCLAIR); 2am... John lets the last catering staff out... heads up to bed and hears music; John finds Anna playing music in the living room in Screen Gems' WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS.

John Taylor (Morris Chestnut) and Anna Walsh (Jaz Sinclair); 2am… John lets the last catering staff out… heads up to bed and hears music; John finds Anna playing music in the living room…

In When The Bough Breaks John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) are a young, professional couple who desperately want a baby. After exhausting all other options, they finally hire Anna (Jaz Sinclair), the perfect woman to be their surrogate – but as she gets further along in her pregnancy, so too does her psychotic and dangerous fixation on the husband. The couple becomes caught up in Anna’s deadly game and must fight to regain control of their future before it’s too late. The bonus features include audio commentary with director John Cassar, writer Jack Olsen and actress Jaz Sinclair, as well as 9 deleted and extended scenes.  Watch the trailer

 

Fences is a story about broken dreams.

Two-time Academy Award-winning Denzel Washington co-produced, directs and stars in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences.

Theatre buffs will delight in the potent big screen adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, driven by crackling dialogue and strong characters, allowing us to take an emotional journey into the lives of bruised souls seeking ultimate redemption.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

A family drama set in the 1950s, Fences ran for 525 performances on Broadway, the longest residence there for any of Wilson’s plays, and collected the trifecta of playwriting honors: a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, and a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

A 2010 revival on Broadway, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, won Tony Awards for best revival, best actress in a play for Davis, and best actor in a play for Washington. Now, of course, Fences will become the first of Wilson’s plays to be made into a feature film, directed by Washington and starring him and Viola Davis.

During his lifetime, Wilson received two Pulitzer Prizes, for Fences and The Piano Lesson, and an astonishing eight Best Play awards from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. (Only King Hedley II and Gem of the Ocean went unrewarded.) All his works except Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf have received major revivals on or off Broadway, and his dramas are a staple of institutional nonprofit theaters from coast to coast and indeed across the Atlantic, where Britain’s National Theatre recently mounted an acclaimed production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It went on to win the Olivier Award, England’s equivalent of the Tony.

Wilson wrote his initial draft of the screenplay in the late 1980s and continued revising and refining it until his death. With Washington helming the film, Fences also posthumously honors Wilson’s longstanding desire that an African American direct the screen version.

Fences is the story of Troy Maxson, a mid-century Pittsburgh sanitation worker who once dreamed of a baseball career, but was too old when the major leagues began admitting black players. He tries to be a good husband and father, but his lost dream of glory eats at him, and causes him to make a decision that threatens to tear his family apart.

When and how did you first become aware of the work of August Wilson?

I saw Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 1984, the year it came out, and I remember all the great performances. But Charles Dutton, in particular, just blew me away [in the role of Levee]. I never heard of this guy and then I did research about him and found out he’d been in prison and started acting there and gone to Yale Drama School and all of that. When I saw that play, I didn’t know who August Wilson was. I didn’t know he was going to write all these other great plays, but somehow his voice was a familiar voice to me. I just remember that night in the theatre and just being amazed and moved.

What do you recall from when you saw the original Broadway production of Fences?

I related more to Cory [played by Courtney Vance] because I was closer in age to Cory. And I remember how fragile Mary Alice [as Rose] looked compared to James Earl Jones. I’d seen James do Othello with Christopher Plummer on Broadway. And I’d seen him do Oedipus the King up at St. John the Divine. In fact, I went backstage. He didn’t know me, but I guess he sensed I was a young actor, so he let me hang around. He was meeting people, and I’m walking around looking at his makeup, and he had all of his rings from the play. I started putting them on, and you know James is a big man, so the rings were like bracelets. I just remember how big he was and that voice, that power.
What about his performance as Troy? It was James Earl Jones, so you know I’m going to see it. My career started in the theater. I was one of those Lincoln Center Theatre snobs. We weren’t thinking about movies. I was going to be James Earl Jones one day, hopefully, and make $650 a week and do Othello. And, in fact, my first two roles were the Emperor Jones [by Eugene O’Neill] and Othello. So I was thinking about James and Paul Robeson. That was at least the benchmark to shoot for.

Did your own father remind you in any ways of Troy?

My father wasn’t a tough kind of a guy. He was really a gentle man. He was a very spiritual man, a minister. But, like Troy, he was concerned about practical things for his son. I remember him saying things to me like, “Get a good trade.” He worked for the Water Department in the City of New York. He worked upstate on the reservoirs. He’d get water samples. He talked about how he could get me in the Water Department and I could move up and be a supervisor in 30 years. And my mother’s like, “No, he’s going to college.”

What did your father think of you becoming an actor?

I don’t remember what he thought when I started, but I do remember going to visit him in Virginia after I had started to get work. It was embarrassing, because we went to a supermarket or something and he’s telling people there, “You know who this is?” Nobody knew who I was. But I am Denzel Washington, Jr., so he, Denzel Washington, Sr., was bragging about his son.
I’m glad for both of us that happened. I remember I was on my way to New York in April ’91, to meet with Spike Lee to work on Malcolm X and my brother was at the airport. And he says, “Come, sit down.” I said, “I don’t need to sit down. Who died?” And it was my father who was on his way to death. And I just remember that connection.

How does Troy fit into the life of his family?

Fences is a story about broken dreams and where does that energy go. It’s about what happens to a dream deferred, as Langston Hughes put it. What happens when you were good enough and you didn’t make it? Where does that energy go when you’re not able to express your talent? Troy could’ve been a Willie Stargell, a great slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but change came too late for Troy.
And being fueled with his bitterness, he wants the best for his son, but he could only see so far. Rose is saying, “Hey, Cory can get a chance to go to college with a football scholarship.” And all Troy could see was Cory getting a trade. He doesn’t understand the possibilities. He doesn’t see the future. Like Rose says to him, “The world is changing and you can’t even see it.” Troy’s just stuck in time, ill-equipped to handle a changing world and frustrated about missed opportunity.

At what point did you get to know August Wilson himself?

I didn’t get to know him too well. I spent a lovely day with him, sometime in the early 2000s. I flew up to Seattle, where he was living then. It rained all day and he just smoked cigarette after cigarette. And he was writing. He was writing Gem of the Ocean [his next-to-last play] and my agent suggested I go up there. So I went up there to see him and we just talked all day. And he talked about how he writes plays, and he locks the doors and shuts the windows and basically writes what the characters tell him to write. So I guess he was telling me, “Look, I’m not just writing something for you, I got to write what I’m compelled to write.” Which was fine with me. And I just remember that day. It was just a lovely day.

August Wilson, of course, passed away in 2005. He had completed all the plays in his American Century Cycle. But he did not live to see his screenplay of Fences brought to fruition. Did you have an extra sense of obligation in making the film?

Not for me. I had enough already. I didn’t need more motivation.

Where did the motivation come from?

It came from the material. And it came from August. I was just trying to serve August the best I could. I felt a responsibility to not screw it up. When in doubt, go to the source, you know? If there are 25,000 words in the screenplay, 24,900 of them are August Wilson’s. I may have added a line or an ad-lib here or there, but it’s August’s words.
On the one hand, for people in theater and literature, August Wilson is unquestionably among the greatest playwrights in world history. And yet, a lot of people will have this film as their introduction to Wilson’s entire body of work.

What do you hope they’ll take away from it?

When people ask me what I expect people to take away, I always say that it depends on what they bring to it. I know they’ll be entertained and enlightened. I know that they’ll see great performances, some great actors up there on screen. And they’ll hear a voice that they haven’t heard before, yet is familiar. The rhythm, the music of it.

For you as an actor, what was the difference between playing Troy on stage and on screen?

I couldn’t imagine trying to do this film, having not done it on stage first to figure out who Troy is. There was no time to be trying to figure that out when we’re shooting a movie. So, number one, I had time to know the character. And I knew that we did a production that worked, that we got the response from the audience and the accolades and all that kind of stuff. I knew it worked. I don’t know if that’s more pressure. It’s like, “Don’t screw it up now.” But all I knew is that I just had to get the camera in front of the actors and let them do what they’d been doing all along.
Were there things you were able to use from the stage production? When I steal, I steal from the best. I mean, the shape of the film was fundamentally the shape that we had found or at least the characters that we had found doing the play with [director] Kenny Leon. Now we could take it inside the Maxsons’ house. It’s not all in the backyard, the way it was on stage. We go to different places. But other than obviously Jovan Adepo [as Cory] and Saniyya Sidney [as Raynell], the little girl, nobody else had to catch up.

You shot in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where August Wilson grew up and nine of his plays, including Fences, are set. Was that the plan from the outset?

Once I got there and saw it. I didn’t know what the Hill was until I got there and started seeing and meeting the people. I wanted to be in Pittsburgh, no question, on the Hill.
The neighborhood, though, has changed a lot since the 1950s, when most of the film is set. Entire blocks of homes are gone. Businesses have shut down. What were the challenges getting the Hill in 2016 to resemble the Hill in 1957? The area where August lived, the lower Hill, was gone. We went further up and we found some streets that were intact. Just take the bars off the windows and change the cars.

You shot this film sequentially, which is relatively rare in motion pictures. Why was that important to you?

I’m an actor first and I know how important that is. I know how I felt as an actor. You get there on Day One and we’re going to shoot the end first. Well, you don’t even know how your character got there yet. So we did try to shoot in sequence whenever possible.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Stephen McKinley Henderson plays Jim Bono in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Stephen McKinley Henderson plays Jim Bono in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

Before we started this interview, you mentioned that you had a ritual of every day asking August Wilson—meaning, of course, the spirit or soul of August Wilson—what he thought of what you were doing.

It wasn’t just a ritual. If I didn’t have an answer to some problem or challenge or choice, sometimes I’d go, “Maybe that’s not what August wants.” That was throughout the process. Why didn’t he put this in there? Well, maybe he didn’t want it. Well, I wonder why. What would happen if you did? You know, sometimes you fiddle around with ideas like that until you realize, okay, that’s not a good idea. But you need to wake it up. You need to keep asking. I was just aware of not wanting to rely on our past success. We were very successful as a play and that’s great. Now we’re starting over or at least like to look at it that way. We’re starting fresh.

What do you think about August’s relationship with religion?

I like to use the word “spirituality” because “religion,” that’s when man gets in it. Oh, mine is right and yours isn’t, you know? August obviously has this spiritual essence, as do I. I try to make that a part of everything I do. I start my day with a prayer. I’m not telling you what you’re supposed to believe or I don’t even like that word religion. Because that’s, that’s a man-made thing, it smells like man to me.

Fences is set in a very precise time—1957, with a final scene in 1965. Do you find yourself thinking of how it can speak to the present day?

Malcolm X said that in order to know where you’re going, you got to know where you came from. So I think history is a big part of it—to embrace it, to acknowledge the struggles that were made, the sacrifices that were made before you got here. But you can’t force it. You can’t do anything on purpose to be “relevant.”

You spoke before about how the universal stems from the specific. In what way does this film hit universal chords? That’s what you do. You do what you do and then you see how it affected you or the feeling you got. I’m not trying to tell people what they should feel but, you know, August Wilson wrote a masterpiece, and God only knows how it affects people. And that’s the beauty of it. Come in, sit down, and we’ll find out or you’ll find out.

I’m happy now that Fences goes to the masses. I was reading about how much it is taught in schools. So a lot of young kids may know more about it than our generation might. So to be a part of spreading the words of August Wilson is an honor and I take it seriously and I know it’s a responsibility.

It’s part of our job, my job to, to share him with more people. So they’ll find out why he’s with the greatest ones. You’ve got Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee, August Wilson. I’m happy to do my part and to help share his brilliance with the world.

 

Atmospheric and visually breathtaking, the film is compelling and thought provoking.

From visionary director, Gore Verbinski, A Cure For Wellness is a chilling and mind-bending psychological thriller that explores the true meaning of wellness and the trappings of avarice and power, while asking what fulfillment really means.

Embarking on A Cure For Wellness, Verbinski wanted to make a thriller with the depth, insight and power of classics in the genre that he admired, such as The Shining (Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film), Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film) and Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film).

In the tradition of Verbinski’s indelible 2002 classic, The Ring, the Academy Award winning filmmaker brings his inimitable style and vision to A Cure For Wellness, from a screenplay by Justin Haythe, based on the story written by Haythe and Verbinski.

Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a driven Wall Street stockbroker who is sent by his firm to a remote alpine medical spa. Lockhart is on a mission to retrieve the company’s CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener), a patient at the spa, who has told his staff that he has no intention of returning to New York.

Lockhart arrives at the tranquil sanitarium where the residents are supposedly receiving a miracle cure.

In fact though, they seem to be getting sicker.

As he investigates the dark and baffling secrets behind the spa, he meets a young woman, the hauntingly beautiful Hannah (Mia Goth), a patient herself.

He also gets to know another patient, the eccentric Mrs. Watkins, played by Celia Imrie, who has done some detective work of her own.

Soon, Lockhart is diagnosed with the same condition as the other patients by the institution’s director, the ominous Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), and finds that he is trapped in the alpine retreat.

Lockhart begins to lose his grip on reality and has to endure unimaginable ordeals during the course of his own ‘treatment’.

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The Inspiration

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A graduate of the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA, Verbinski resides in Los Angeles with his family where he runs his production company, Blind Wink.

The idea of a quick fix cure, together with society’s malaise and the obsession with perfect health were topics that fascinated Verbinski, whose films include the hugely successful Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise and the Academy Award winning animated film, Rango.

“We started exploring the notion of a health spa in the Alps, a wellness center that doesn’t actually make you well,” says Verbinski, “and it slowly evolved from there. It became pretty clear to us that this was going to be a genre piece, and we started playing around with the concept of inevitability. It’s the sense that there is a sickness, a sort of black spot on your x-ray that won’t go away!”

Verbinski sat down with screenwriter Justin Haythe (The Lone Ranger, Revolutionary Road).

“I had an idea bouncing around in my head for some time from various influences and preoccupations, but it mostly came from a suspicion of medicine,” says Haythe, who was inspired by the work of German writer Thomas Mann and by psychiatrist Carl Jung. “The film really concerns the pollution of our minds and bodies in the modern world and our obsession with purity as a result of that.”

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Justin Haythe

A superb storyteller and a master of pacing, Gore creates an unsettling, ominous atmosphere throughout A Cure For Wellness, immersing the audience in the world of the spa, where nothing is clear or straightforward. “Well it is interesting, because I think the more enigmatic you make something, particularly in this genre, the more you can employ a sort of dream logic,” says Verbinski.

“Things can remain enigmatic because you sense there’s some other force, something inevitable happening. To me, that’s the big tease—to try to make everything feel like there’s this sickness that’s not going away; it is pulling you. You are pointing the camera down the corridor and leading the protagonist towards his ultimate epiphany. Once you have that working, you don’t need to have so much exposition, explaining how things work. You just feel like this is all happening for a reason.”

The opportunity of working with Gore was a formidable draw for everyone involved in the film, from the cast to the production team. Justin Haythe describes the experience as a pleasure. “He’s the best!  Gore is uncompromising,” says Haythe, “but only and always in pursuit of the best movie. Ego does not factor in. Design and sound have great power in this genre and Gore is a master of both.”

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What Ails Us: Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?

A Cure For Wellness is unsettling and utterly riveting, but it also contains insights into the purpose of life, looking at the way in which people often don’t take time to examine what they really want for themselves. “I think the movie is actually a comment on wellness,” says DeHaan.

“The ultimate question is: What is the sickness? Maybe the sickness is what happens when you give yourself over to ambition and selfish desires for wealth and wanting to advance in this world. I think it’s an interesting question to ask, especially in the world we live in today. Ultimately people want to be healthy and people want to be successful,” continues DeHaan.

“If it appears that those things could come quickly with just a simple treatment or a simple trick and that would make life easier, people want it. So I think that is why fad diets exist and different spa treatments that promise to make people better or cure them. But when you go in for those quick fixes, is that ultimately what you are being given? Probably not. Some people are so healthy it is unhealthy. And some people are so successful that it is detrimental to them as human beings, so I think it is about finding balance, and anytime that balance is thrown off, it can have the opposite effect that you want it to have.”

It’s a subject that Verbinski says is right at the heart of the movie. “I think that there’s a whole wellness industry preying upon us,” says Verbinski. “The patients at Volmer’s medical spa are confident that they are getting better, despite evidence to the contrary. The sanitarium is a place that heads of industry and oligarchs come to for a cure, people who do whatever they can to win at all costs,” comments the filmmaker.

“These are people who might be vulnerable to Dr. Volmer’s diagnosis, to being told: ‘you’re not well but there is a cure.’ But in fact it is all a great con, and it is the thing that keeps them there. We are exploring that sense of there being a sickness that we are all in denial of. It is perhaps the sickness of the modern man, if you will. We must at our core have a sense that something is not right, to battle the human condition.”

The film explores what it means to lead a life that is examined and meaningful. “We look at the universe; we look at the stars. We’re born onto a treadmill and then we could get hit by a bus and I think it’s interesting to say, wait, is that all it’s about? More than anything it’s saying: ask the question, what’s the point of it all? That is the existential crisis in its purest form. We are not providing the answer in this film, but we are saying: ‘maybe it’s time to pause, just take a moment.’”

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The Psychology Of Fear

 The evocative world created by Gore and his gifted team, the treatments that the patients undergo at Volmer’s spa, and the dramatic tension throughout the film, combine to create a gripping and terrifying cinematic experience. Like the best films in the genre, A Cure For Wellness leaves the audience unsettled and unnerved, questioning the darker side of human nature. It’s the kind of unease that lingers long after the closing credits have rolled.

“It’s like people telling ghost stories around a campfire,” says Verbinski, explaining why moviegoers enjoy watching an engrossing psychological thriller. “There’s something about a group of people, particularly strangers who are watching a film together, which creates that kind of powerful experience. It is not quite Schadenfreude because it’s not an overt enjoyment at somebody else’s demise, I would say, but for me the power of enigma is that if you don’t quite know what’s happening, you (the audience) let me inside your head. You know, when you’re eating pizza and everything’s great you’re going to forget about that meal right after you walk out of the cinema. We’re trying to give you a meal that you’re going to remember. But the process of not quite understanding something and leaning into it and trying to follow breadcrumbs, rather than a ‘hand on your back’ is quite a different kind of storytelling. You are asking: What is this all about? If I can get you nibbling breadcrumbs, that can do a lot more in terms of giving you something that’s going to stick with you.”

“It’s almost like a huge roller coaster, but the film is also asking a lot of important questions,” comments DeHaan. “At times, you are really feeling terrified. But if you are in a communal setting like a theater, you know you are safe and you know that what is happening on screen is completely removed from reality.”

“I just think this is an opportunity to watch a movie that is compelling but also frightening,” says DeHaan. “It’ll be a good time, and it’ll be fun, but it is also a movie that leaves an impression on you, and a movie that’ll shock you.  I don’t even want to talk about it too much. You just have to go and see it. It is almost like a dare. I dare you to go and see the movie!”

“This is a movie about Chinese history and culture … Yes, it is a monster movie, but I believed I could still express myself through it.  It is a fascinating story with interesting themes and emotions.” Zhang Yimou

Directed by one of the most breathtaking visual stylists of our time, Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers), the action-fantasy The Great Wall marks his first English-language production and the largest film ever shot entirely in China.

The Great Wall

Matt Damon (The Martian, The Bourne franchise) leads humanity’s greatest fight for survival in The Great Wall, from Legendary and Universal Pictures. When a mercenary warrior (Damon) is imprisoned within The Great Wall, he discovers the mystery behind one of the greatest wonders of our world. As wave after wave of marauding beasts, intent on devouring the world, besiege the massive structure, his quest for fortune turns into a journey toward heroism as he joins a huge army of elite warriors to confront this unimaginable and seemingly unstoppable force.

Damon describes the story as “historical fantasy.  It’s similar to the way Game of Thrones feels like it takes place in the Middle Ages.  Even though we know there weren’t White Walkers or dragons.  Likewise, ours is not quite The Great Wall that exists today.

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 (Platoon, Shadow of the Vampire, The 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.

Set in an alternate vision of ancient China (circa 1100 A.D., during the Song Dynasty), the story imagines that The Wall was built to defend against a mythical Chinese creature called the Tao Tei (historical spelling, “Taotie”), a malignant species and gargoyle-like figure from Chinese mythology that rises every 60 years from the heart of the Jade Mountain to attack in vast, swarming armies and feed on humankind.

“I remember being told when I was young that the magnificent Great Wall of China was the only manmade object one could see from space,” says producer and Legendary CEO Thomas Tull.  “True or not, I never forgot that, and when I set out to create a company known for its monster movies, I wanted to make one that combined my love of the genre set against this magnificent structure.

“I always wondered what was so important and compelling to have a country build a structure that big, that incredible,” Tull continues.  “At Legendary, we like monsters, so my geeky brain went to work on the idea of a country building this wall to keep monsters out.”

The thrilling adventure comes from an original screenplay by the writing duo Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro (Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Legacy).  It is based on a story by Max Brooks (World War Z) and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai, Love & Other Drugs).

MAX BROOKS (Story by) is the best-selling author of several novels, graphic novels and comic books.  His most notable novel, “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” (2006), is an original depiction of global war between mankind and zombies.

Born in Winnetka, Illinois, EDWARD ZWICK (Story by) Zwick began his feature-film career directing About Last Night and went on to direct the Academy Award-winning films Glory and Legends of the Fall,  as well as Courage Under Fire, The Siege, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance, Love & Other Drugs and Pawn Sacrifice.

MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ (Story by) is a writer, producer and director who has won numerous awards for his work in television and film.

CARLO BERNARD & DOUG MIRO (Screenplay by) have previously partnered on four screenplays, including John Dahl’s WWII adventure The Great Raid (2005); the ghostly thriller The Uninvited (2009); and a pair of Jerry Bruckheimer epics—Mike Newell’s sword-and-sandals spectacle Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) and Jon Turteltaub’s Medieval adventure The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010). They most recently co-created the new Netflix series Narcos.

TONY GILROY (Screenplay by) made his -film directorial debut with Michael Clayton. A veteran screenwriter, Gilroy also spent seven years working on the first three Bourne films—The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.  In 2012, Gilroy co-wrote and directed the fourth installment of the series, The Bourne Legacy.  He also wrote the screenplays for Dolores Claiborne, The Devil’s Advocate, and Armageddon. 

As Tull developed the idea with The Great Wall’s story and screenplay writers, he discussed the idea of a European soldier of fortune wandering Asia in the Middle Ages who comes upon a magnificent structure that covers the entire horizon.  When the mercenary approaches, he is told that the guardians are preparing for the attack.

“During the course of developing the screenplay, Western writers actually discovered the Chinese legend of a monster called the Taotie [historical spelling],” adds producer Peter Loehr, who has spent the last 25 years of his career working in China.  “The Taotie is actually quite well known in China.

“There’s a fantasy book called the ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ which dates back 2,500 years,” Loehr continues.  “In the book, they set out different types of monsters, goblins and demons, and the Tao Tei (our spelling) is one of them.  The Tao Tei, in the fantastical ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ as well as historical records, are portrayed as gluttonous.  They eat incessantly, so much so that when there’s nothing left to eat, they eat their own bodies.”

Producer Charles Roven, who is known for his indelible print on blockbusters from The Dark Knight trilogy (alongside Legendary), Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to the much-anticipated upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League, was brought onto the production by producers Tull and Jon Jashni.  He walks us through his initial involvement in the film: “Alex Gartner and I were invited into the project by Thomas and Jon; thereafter, we were part of the original story development.”

Roven reflects on his intrigue at the premise of The Great Wall: “At the time period of our story, the Chinese were among the greatest societies…creating things the West had never seen.  The gunpowder they’d invented motivates the mercenaries in our story, who are Western savages initially only out for themselves.  When they come across this secret society that is trying to preserve humanity, it makes them reevaluate everything.”

Producer Jashni explains that the production team long aimed to acknowledge and honor both a bygone historical period and a long-ago era of filmmaking—one in which the sets were built to scale.  “These structures were built, both then and now, to incite awe and respect,” he notes.  “We knew we wanted to depict the inner workings of The Wall as practical.  One might think of it as going inside a clock.  It seems to do something fairly simple from the outside, but what allows it to appear so simple is rather complex.  The audience might rightly assume that The Wall is merely capable of defending—by virtue of its height and its impenetrability—that which is protected behind it.  We wanted to surprise them by also having The Wall be able to ‘fight back’ in clever and unexpected ways.”

Zhang Yimou_64530

Zhang Yimou

“When we began this process, Legendary wanted to make a movie that was truly an East-West collaboration,” states Tull, who opened his Far East production base, Legendary East, in Beijing in 2012 and garnered success not long after with the Chinese release of Pacific Rim in 2013.  “A movie that was not just a local story, but one with global appeal as well.  We found the perfect director in Zhang Yimou, one of the best in the world.  What a privilege to be able to have him direct this.”

In fact, Zhang Yimou is one of the planet’s most celebrated filmmakers.  Among his two dozen feature credits, he directed the first Chinese production to earn a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award® nomination, Ju Dou (1990), with two more nominations for Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Hero (2002).

Among many career triumphs, he won global accolades for his magnificent staging of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympiad, a feat that fan and fellow filmmaker Steven Spielberg called “the grandest spectacle of the New Millennium from this creative genius.”  That accomplishment landed Zhang as runner-up for Time magazine’s 2008 Person of the Year.

“When I started learning about Chinese cinema 25 years ago, Zhang Yimou’s early work stood out to me,” offers Loehr, who speaks fluent Mandarin.  “His early work evolved into these great martial arts epics like Hero and House of Flying Daggers.  And who could forget the Olympics when you’re talking about that body of work?”

As Legendary considered filmmakers for this huge production, it required the ability to straddle two cultures, to tell a very Chinese story in a way that an international audience would love.  Loehr points out: “Zhang Yimou seemed like the natural choice because he had done that in his films.  He did it with the Olympics as well.  Here, he took something that was inherently Chinese and made something truly amazing.”

Roven agrees with his fellow producer, raving: “The Great Wall has all the visual splendor and spectacle of an extravagant film, and it is shot amazingly by one of the most iconic filmmakers working today.  His visuals are stunning, the colors that he uses are incredible, and the shots that he designs—whether they’re regular 24 frames or slow-motion—are art.”

The filmmaker also appreciated that Zhang Yimou embraced the throughline of cultural collaboration that permeated the story.  “Watching Yimou, with his cinematic vision, translate the script into a unique way of creating spectacle is an unforgettable memory.  He was quite interested in blending the cinema styles of Western tent-poles with Chinese filmmaking,” notes Roven.  “Here was material that was completely conducive to it, and we were thrilled that he wanted to join the production.”

Once the director was welcomed onto the team, Roven found him to be a unique collaborator, one whose thoughtful insights and fascinating inspirations brought life to The Great Wall’s story.  “Yimou contributed an enormous amount to what became the final vision of the movie,” says Roven.  “A few examples are the fog battle, as well as opening the film up with the climactic sequence away from The Wall.  It has been a great collaboration with Yimou and a thrilling experience working with our ‘East-meets-West’ crew.”

The-Great-Wall-Movie-Scene

“The Great Wall is in the lyrics of our National Anthem, so it symbolizes the same thing in the heart of all Chinese, which is our people, our country and our history,” reflects Zhang Yimou.  “We use it to express many things spiritual.  To all of us in China, The Great Wall is a symbol of China’s national spirit.  It resonates in every Chinese person, as a symbol of our traditions and our flesh-and-blood.”

The filmmaker believes that applies to this story as well.  “In the movie, The Great Wall symbolizes the safeguard of peace and national spirit,” he continues.  “I thought the screenplay was a special story, especially when you look at The Wall from a different angle.  The Wall was built to protect our homeland from invaders.  From this perspective, it makes little difference whether the enemy is people or monsters.”

For Zhang Yimou, to mount this undertaking would be to celebrate enormous pride.  “This is a movie about Chinese history and culture shot entirely on location in China,” he reflects.  “What attracted me most was the Chinese cultural elements.  Yes, it is a monster movie, but I believed I could still express myself through it.  It is a fascinating story with interesting themes and emotions.”

He elaborates on producer Loehr’s summary of the film’s antagonists: “For the monster Taotie, we did a great deal of research, including ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ the classic Chinese text and compilation of ancient myths, which is China’s oldest fantasy novel,” states Zhang.  “They were born because of human greed.  They eat massively.  We Chinese still use the word and terms to this day.  In traditional culture, ‘Taotie’ is a big eater.  So, it’s linked with great banquets and feasts in China.  Taotie has a cognitive position in Chinese culture.  Taotie exist because of humanity’s greed, so they are man’s worst enemy.  It’s the greediness of humanity that produced Tao Tei, and it now recoils on humans.”

According to Chinese mythology, fear of the monster led its image to be cast often on ancient and ritual bronze vessels, daggers and weapons.  Along with Taown, Hun Dun and Qiong Qi, it is one of the Four Fiends, prominent Chinese demons representing evil virtues.  So intimately are the Taotie imbedded into the culture, they have even been found on Chinese currency.

“To begin with, it has lots of mysteries,” he continues.  “What’s the story about the monsters?  How did they come into being?  What are their weaknesses?  How many years have humans fought against them?  What kinds of feelings and connections have been built among these warriors during the fight?  How do they survive, or do they die in the end?  There were many things to tell.  It is totally different from all other monster movies.”

Zhang Yimou appreciated the focus on such a cultural touchstone.  “What mattered most was the script,” he says.  “The script was written by Americans, and I provided suggestions from a Chinese perspective.  They welcomed and liked my ideas.  It was revised and polished, trying to make it acceptable and likable to both Westerners and Chinese.  That was the hardest job.”

“Every genre has its limitations, and that certainly applies to monster movies,” Zhang observes.  “You have to establish a set of rules. Taotie is an ancient monster that comes from our imagination.  The rest of this story stands on solid ground, based on actual history.  We didn’t want our characters to have supernatural powers.  In that case, there would be no limits.  So, what we did was to set strict and basic, but very real, limitations.  We placed ourselves in a realistic world, and we created an honest story.  We designed everything within those limits, such as the actions, the weapons.  Because The Great Wall is a very real object, a cornerstone that was built one brick at a time.  We approached the layers of our story in the same way.”

Tull, whose years-ago idea for a monster movie set on China’s Great Wall came to fruition and brought together two diverse cultures, concludes: “The Great Wall is something so iconic to China.  Now, we have a great big, intelligent and fun monster movie set on The Wall.  With the scope of everything that Zhang Yimou brought to the table, the colors, the scale, the weapons, the monsters it has so much eye candy.  I can’t wait until people get to see the movie.”

Zhang Yimou feels that The Great Wall has become an epic fantasy event that evokes the inspiration he felt when visiting China’s signature landmark as a teenager in 1967.  He ends: “The first time I saw The Great Wall was during China’s Cultural Revolution when I was 17.  I found it to be truly unbelievable.  In making this film, our balance was to integrate these Chinese elements and story concepts into a blockbuster.  Now, our film is the very first one made about The Wall in China with such a huge budget and grand scale.”

 

Chance For Ballet Lovers To See Prima Ballerina Svetlana Zakharova Dancing Her Iconic Roles Of Odette And Odile In Swan Lake On The Big Screen

The next ballet to be enjoyed from Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet company on the big screen is one of the classical ballets of all time, Tchaikovsky’s timeless Swan Lake, which releases on Saturday, 18 February for limited shows.

Swan Lake releases on South African screens on Saturday, 18 February for four screenings only – on 18, 22 and 23 February at 19:45, and on 19 February at 14:30 – only at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. Bookings are now open. The running time of this ballet production is 180 mins, including one interval.

In this quintessential ballet, lovers of dance will be treated to the ethereal magic of prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova as Odette / Odile, roles that she has made her own at the Bolshoi Ballet – and the world over.

5.BOL_SWAN_LAKE_Svetlana_Zakharova_and_Denis_Rodkin_cDamir_Yusupov

The Bolshoi Ballet is the quintessential ballet company, presenting works of astounding skill, daring and bravura that leave audiences the world over spellbound. This season of ballets broadcast in cinemas is no different, with the company’s incredible productions set to feature some of the world’s greatest dancers.

Swan Lake opens at moonlight on the banks of a mysterious lake, where Prince Siegfried (Denis Rodkin) meets the bewitched swan­‐woman, Odette (Svetlana Zakharova). Completely spellbound by her beauty, he swears his faithfulness to her. However, the Prince realises too late that Fate has another plan for him…

Swan Lake is a ballet of ultimate beauty with a score of unparalleled perfection, which was born at the Bolshoi in 1877. In the dual roles of the white swan Odette, and her rival black swan Odile, Svetlana Zakharova exudes both vulnerability and cunning through superb technical mastery, alongside the powerful and emotional Siegfried, Denis Rodkin. Including breath-taking scenes with the Bolshoi’s corps de ballet, this is classical ballet at its finest.

Choreographed by Russian ballet master Yuri Grigorovich to the hauntingly beautiful musical composed by Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and also starring Artemy Belyakov as the Evil Genius and Igor Tsvirko as the Fool, Swan Lake promises to transport viewers into the magical world of the swans.

This production was filmed live at the Bolshoi Ballet on 25 January 2015, for broadcast into cinemas globally.

For booking information on the Bolshoi Ballet’s SWAN LAKE at Nouveau, visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz or on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, call TicketLine on 0861 Movies (668 437).

More Bolshoi Magic

The other productions in this season to be screened at Nouveau include: The Sleeping Beauty (10 March), A Contemporary Evening (21 April) and A Hero of our Time (12 May). The ballets are brought to the big screen by Fathom Events, BY Experience and Pathé Live.

 

 

The LEGO Batman Movie” welcomes audiences of all ages into a world of DC Super Heroes and Super-Villains uniquely realized for the big screen

In the irreverent spirit of fun that made “The LEGO® Movie” a worldwide phenomenon, the self-described leading man of that ensemble—LEGO® Batman—stars in his own big-screen adventure.

But there are big changes brewing in Gotham City, and if he wants to save the city from The Joker’s hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up.

LEGO

Back In Black…And Yellow

Bringing together the energy, imagination and memorable characters from both the LEGO world DC universe, “The LEGO Batman Movie” welcomes audiences of all ages into a world of DC Super Heroes and Super-Villains uniquely realized for the big screen. With plenty of action, fun, and laughs, plus Batman’s amazing arsenal of gadgets and vehicles and the Batcave as it’s never been built before—brick by LEGO brick—this brand-new adventure also asks the question, can Batman just get over himself and be happy?

The film’s star is LEGO Batman, the coolest, handsomest, buff-est, and most awesome leading man of all time….even if he does say so himself.

And he does.  Frequently.

“The ‘LEGO Movie’ version of Batman was such a favorite, breakout character, and I’m sure he would agree that he deserves to be the focus of his own movie and not some third banana.  He feels he’s definitely a first-banana kind of guy,” says Christopher Miller, who, along with Phil Lord, wrote and directed “The LEGO Movie” in 2014.  Keeping the creative collaboration both fresh and familiar, the duo returns as producers on “The LEGO Batman Movie,” directed by Chris McKay, their filmmaking partner who served as animation director and editor on the first film.

Joining Batman this time is the super-positive and freakishly agile young Dick Grayson, on his way to becoming Robin; Batman’s loyal and deceptively reserved butler, Alfred; Gotham City’s new police commissioner Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, who wields major girl power; and The Joker, who desperately wants the recognition he deserves—in a story that not only showcases Batman’s sick skills and enviable abs but also takes a searching look into his personality.  Specifically, this lone wolf’s need to work alone, to brood alone on his dark past and generally distance himself from everyone to a degree that is starting to make him seem, well, a little bit dysfunctional.

“Batman is beloved the world over and for good reason, yet no one could really behave the way he does and get away with it, which is what we’re exploring in the movie,” says lifelong fan Chris McKay, who nevertheless feels that even at the character’s most extreme, “he’s still very sympathetic.”

“What was so special about Batman in the first movie is that he was selfish and egotistical, but still loveable in his own way,” is the assessment of returning producer Dan Lin.  “He had no self-awareness and it was a new twist on the character, someone who often said the most outrageous things.  It’s a subversion of the Super Hero genre, but with a joyous heart and told in a family-friendly LEGO way.”

Adds McKay, “When we were figuring out what kind of movie this would be, we knew that he could be funny and charming, we knew there were plenty of opportunities for jokes, but we wanted it to be more than all gags and sketch comedy. It had to be an absurd, action movie.  But it also had to be moving, with an emotional core to these characters and a reason for people to get involved.  We wanted to have it all: to respect them as individuals with all their complexities and defining traits while at the same time looking at those traits in the funniest possible way.”

The best example of this is Batman’s perpetual state of somber introspection, never mind the fact that, as Lord points out, “He’s got a great life.  He’s a billionaire, he’s handsome, he’s strong, he has great cars and gadgets, and he gets to punch people in the face with no repercussions!  I mean, the guy should be grinning from ear to ear all the time.  So we thought the tension between how he feels and how he should feel was a great premise and something we wanted to poke fun at.”

The writers on “The LEGO Batman Movie” have roots in a range of comedic and/or animated projects.  Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was made into a successful feature; writing partners Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have been recognized for their work on “Community” and “American Dad”; Jared Stern counts “Toy Story 3” and “Wreck-It Ralph” among his feature animation credits; and John Whittington is a staff writer on the upcoming series “Green Eggs and Ham,” based on the classic Dr. Seuss children’s book.

Reprising his role as the gravelly voiced DC Super Hero with issues is Will Arnett, who concurs, “It’s fun to take an iconic figure like Batman and play with the rules that have always been in place for him, to keep it consistent in terms of his being good at what he does and having that bravado and machismo, but play up his flaws and make him a little goofier without entirely losing his cool.  That’s the kind of license we took originally, and then expanded on that to really get down to what makes Batman tick.”

Speaking of ticking… The story opens with a spectacular action sequence as The Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, gleefully leads the vast Rogues Gallery of baddies in a series of heists culminating in a full-scale attack on Gotham City, with a time bomb that Batman must quickly locate and defuse.  But it’s not just mayhem The Joker craves now.  After decades of unresolved conflict, point and counterpoint, the Clown Prince of Crime justifiably feels that he and the Caped Crusader have forged a special hero/villain bond that needs to be formally acknowledged.

Naturally, Batman refuses, even if the fate of the city rests on his uttering those three magic words The Joker wants to hear: that he is, in fact, Batman’s greatest enemy.

The filmmakers know, however, that putting Batman on the hot seat over his relationship with The Joker isn’t enough by itself to prompt real soul-searching.  So the story also introduces Dick Grayson, who comes to live under Batman’s guardianship through a series of events The Dark Knight can’t quite figure out.  Voiced by Michael Cera, this talkative and enthusiastic youngster, destined to become Robin, brings a ray of sunshine into Batman’s life but, along with it, a level of personal accountability he’s not ready to assume.

LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Simultaneously, Batman is smitten by Gotham City’s fearless and capable new police commissioner Barbara Gordon, played by Rosario Dawson, as a law enforcement pro with her own ideas about crime-fighting, and who could be a powerful ally if Batman would only accept her help.  And, as if that’s not enough, Batman’s long-standing association with his butler and father figure Alfred comes to a crisis as Alfred, played by Ralph Fiennes, embarks on a tough-love campaign to force Batman out of the shadows and toward a healthier, happier lifestyle.

It’s a lot of upheaval for a guy who just wants to save the city on a regular basis, soak in some public adulation and then hole up at home with his old photos and chick flicks.  Or alternately, vent his deep angst writing heavy-metal rap.

While these storylines serve up a lot of laughs they also encourage Batman to recognize the value of teamwork versus going it alone, which is one of the film’s central themes.   Similarly, Batman’s coming to terms with the significant people in his life touches upon another of the film’s themes, which is the rewards of family, however a person comes to define that.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” again employs the digital animation technique that made “The LEGO Movie” look and feel so tactile and engaging.  Each scene and asset was built brick by brick, through a meticulous process of rendering and surfacing thousands of individual pieces and then assembling these as sets and props in the computer—much as people around the world do so to tell their own stories with LEGO play materials.  Though entirely CG, it suggests the same stop-motion quality that gave its predecessor its distinctive handmade and hand-held look.

However, McKay notes, while the two films share a continuity of style, there are subtleties that set them apart: “The look of this movie is different than ‘The LEGO Movie.’  It’s still within the same world but is more cinematic and photo real.  The scale is larger, with wider camera lenses, and the characters are more detailed.  Batman, for example, has a molded utility belt that he didn’t have in the first film.  We also incorporated some natural effects, like smoke and water.”

Because of the commitment to appropriately depict Batman’s classic environs, unlike the sunny brights of the first film, McKay sought to balance the thematic darkness of such places as Gotham City, Wayne Manor and the Batcave with super-saturated color.

Overall, he says, “We strove to make sure everything was up to the quality and standards set by ‘The LEGO Movie.’”

The creative team again honored the LEGO brand’s imprint by finding ways to work with its physical properties authentically rather than “cheating” movement.  Thus, the Minifigures only move, turn and bend the way their real-life counterparts can.  Referencing the director’s extensive experience with stop-motion animation, Miller says, “Chris is a genius at figuring out the tricks and challenges, how characters can move and how you can make them do things like clap or hug or scratch their foreheads, when their arms only go so far.”

“What’s compelling about the look of these LEGO movies is that it’s your toys come to life,” says Lin.  “And not only your toys but your imagination.  If you could have all these LEGO bricks and build these amazing sets and vehicles, this is what it could look like.”

Production ran concurrently in the U.S. and at the Sydney, Australia headquarters of award-winning digital design, animation and effects company Animal Logic, which provided the animation for “The LEGO Movie”— reuniting many of the artists who worked on that film, again with input from the LEGO design team based in Billund, Denmark.  For two and a half years, approximately 400 dedicated people collaborated to turn this beloved character onto his ear in a way that will delight adults as well as children.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” unapologetically deviates from the DC canon to a ridiculous degree…but, the filmmakers attest, with purpose as well as total love and respect.  “We all know, for example, that this is an inaccurate back-story for Barbara Gordon,” Lord acknowledges.  “It literally has nothing to do with the canon whatsoever, but everyone knows this is a tongue-in-cheek version and it’s all in good fun.  It gave us an opportunity to present Batgirl as a strong female role model with a contemporary point of view.”

“It doesn’t count as real canon because these are little plastic people,” adds Miller, with a laugh.  “And everything is done with affection for these characters.  Chris McKay was a big factor in why the first LEGO movie was so successful; his tone and his point of view are all over it.  He’s a real genius.  He’s also a crazy, super-fan of Batman and DC comics and their history, so the guy’s credentials are legit.  He even has a tattoo of Catwoman on his forearm.”

It’s true.  He does, and will readily roll up his shirtsleeve to prove it.

“These are our Greek gods and our archetypes,” McKay explains.  “So it’s irresistible sometimes to make fun of them, but also to find out what’s true and real about them and what they represent, and what they mean to us.  There are jokes here for people who want to delve deep and stuff that’s just going to be silly and slapstick. The live-action films have a very different take on Batman, and I think what we’re doing doesn’t take anything away from that.  We’re still playing in the world they created.”

LEGO 2

Despite the film’s short-legged, claw-handed protagonists measuring one-and-a-half inches high, with printed facial features, “The LEGO Batman Movie” was conceived, designed, lit, shot and scored like an epic action film.  Therein, the filmmakers feel, lies its appeal as well as the crux of its humor and heart.  Says McKay, “There’s something inherently funny about these little Minifigures taking things so seriously and having the action choreography unfold like some high-powered epic, with people rushing around trying to stop someone from detonating a bomb and all this crazy stuff.

“It’s fun to stage massive action on this level,” he adds, “because it’s all rendered in LEGO bricks so you still have the charm of something that is intimate and handmade.”

For LEGO Batman, defending Gotham City from takeover plots by its thriving criminal underworld is an ongoing exercise.  Time and again, this DC Super Hero and Master Builder swoops in to save the day, free the hostages, disarm the bombs and put the kibosh on whatever diabolical assault the city’s enemies have most recently launched.  Time and again, he is feted by police and politicians, gushed over by the media and cheered by a grateful public amidst parades and fireworks.  The citizens love him.  And he loves that they love him.

Then he goes home alone as Bruce Wayne.

It’s this self-imposed solitude that has always been part of the Batman legend and mystique, which McKay and his team have chosen to focus on in the extreme, with an aim toward making it both touching and hilarious.  “We’re taking the subtext of the character and putting that on the surface,” says McKay.  “Batman is so dark and brooding, so our premise was to explore that, like, ‘What’s this guy’s problem?’  Can he actually be happy?  Can he still function as a Super Hero but also learn to enjoy himself and learn to work with other people?  Let’s force him into a situation where he has to confront these issues and see how he does.”

 

Trimming the excess fat off your story and keeping it lean and fit.

By Daniel Dercksen

If there’s one obstacle that will prevent your story from being realised on film or television, it’s an overweight, or overwritten screenplay or manuscript.

Story Diet

 

Putting your story on a diet does not mean that you have to starve it to death, or force it into a dull and  lifeless creation.

It simply means that you have trim it down so that it is lean and mean, without drowning the reader with words.

It also doesn’t mean that you have to write your first draft starving for rich visual narrative.

A first draft is the equivalent of an actor clearing his throat before walking on stage to perform.

As a writer you have to purge your emotions and indulge your fantasies so that your first draft could end up up to 180 pages instead of the standard 125 page.

When you have been working on a draft for years, it is impossible to see the forest for the trees, or see the bigger picture.

This is where a story editor jumps in to put your story on a diet, trimming it down to size so it works dramatically and is effective structurally.

The story editor will build muscle and emotion.

Looking for a story editor that will trim the fat off your story?

The Write Prescription from your Script Doctor

The Write Journey – 12 steps of writing the perfect screenplay

Here are some common pitfalls of most first drafts:

Dull locations

When dealing with a visual medium, it is always about what we see. Once you have established where the scene takes place in the slugline (INT. ROOM – DAY) , it is important to let us see (1) what the location looks like (2) and tell us where we are.  Where does the story take place?  Where the character lives and where the story is set is an important visual dynamic. It has become an important aspect of filmmaking and needs to be rooted in the screenplay. Also make sure that the setting reflects your thematic purpose, if your story deals with death, your locations will be dark and intimate, if your story deals with emancipation, your setting will reveal the transformation from confinement to freedom.

Film Is A Visual Art that expresses its subjects in space.

The art in a visual art consists of how those subjects are composed in space.

  • A painter composes with colour, shapes, and tones.
  • A sculptor composes with shapes and spaces.
  • A photographer composes with real and sometimes unreal objects of light.

The visual side of the film is primarily in the hands of three members of the production team:

  • Production Designer/ Art Director: Responsible for designing sets and the total visual concept of the film.
  • Cinematographer: Who decides the lighting, and in some cases the composition of the shot to be photographed.
  • Director: Who supervises the mechanics of filming.

Weak character descriptions

In the description paragraph of the screenplay, when we meet a character for the first time, we have to know what that character looks like. You have to give a brief description of the character in your story.When you introduce a character you should always do it as follows:  JOHN (20), a ruggedly handsome charmer.

Not revealing important information

Be clear about establishing the relationship between characters.  Don’t write:  Two friends walk down the street.  Any information that you feel is important for us to know, should be revealed through exposition (visual or dialogue).

Scenes without a purpose

One of the most important aspects of a scene, and to establish the mood and context of the scene, is to know what the function of a scene is. Once the function of your scene is set in motion, it should amplify or reflect your thematic purpose.

Show don’t Tell

When writing for a visual medium it is always good to open up your story visually.  Unlike a stageplay where it’s all about talking heads (dialogue), dialogue in film should be lean.

When the writer takes on the role of editor

Don’t tell the editor where to cut. When you have a new slugline, it is clear where one scene ends and the next scene begins.  Remember that you are the writer, not the editor.

Overwritten visual narrative

Keep the visual narrative it lean and to the point. Don’t write what we can’t see. Also, keep different actions in the narrative separately.  If there are three things happening, write three short, succinct paragraphs.

Not showing emotions

When you describe how a character feels in the narrative, we need to know that.  It’s a visual medium.  When Matt feel rejuvenated and has writer’s block, we need to see these emotions.

Writing information we can’t see

If you are writing for a visual medium, it is essential to reveal emotions, thoughts, and introspective mindscapes visually. Don’t write:  He looks at her and thinks about what she was like as a young girl….  Show us what he is thinking so that we can see the character’s thoughts.

Looking for a story editor that will trim the fat off your story?

The Write Prescription from your Script Doctor

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Dercksen/ The Writing Studio

A taste of what to expect when a fairy tale doesn’t play by the rules.

Fifty Shades Darker, the second chapter based on the worldwide bestselling “Fifty Shades” phenomenon invites audiences to slip into something a shade darker.

Ghosts returning to haunt, helicopter accidents, sexual exploration, revenge, a billionaire’s lifestyle, Thomas Hardy, sadism, abandonment scars, charitable acts, Venetian masks, adult toys…no doubt the heady amount of subjects and objects E L James worked into her record-selling trilogy has helped to fuel the global desire to follow the tale of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

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.

Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed were lensed simultaneously, resulting in two successive Valentine’s Day weekend releases in 2017 and ’18,  further exploring the compelling romantic tango of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

The litany of reasons behind filming both chapters in the same period were clear to all involved.  Naturally, with films that are successive stories, characters and environments are common to both—with actors in character, production up and running, and sets and locations primed for shooting.  Economically, it made sense to maximize effort and time.  Viscidi reflects: “We also had other reasons that were more important than strictly the financial ones—for the actors and director James Foley, to have both scripts and to understand where their characters and stories begin and end.  It made it a more fluid process throughout the whole filming.”

Viscidi explains that while the first chapter was an awakening, the next two would delve deep into the characters’ motivations and world: “Dakota’s character in Darker has to evaluate what is it that makes her desire Christian, not just because he’s a good-looking man.  But she actually begins to want to be in the Red Room with him, to experience the sexuality she was unsure of in the first movie.  Now, she has to figure out what’s inside her that’s driving her, where she wants to participate in the same way that Christian wants her to participate.”

The dramatic thriller Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley (Fear, House 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 Millers, How 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.

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Dark Side of the Fairy Tale

EL James

E L James is a former television executive, wife and mother of two, based in West London. Since early childhood, James dreamed of writing stories that readers would fall in love with, but put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and career. She finally plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide and is published in 52 languages. “Fifty Shades of Grey” has been on The New York Times Best-Sellers list for 133 weeks (to date), and was No. 1 for 25 consecutive weeks. At the peak of sales, two copies of the trilogy were selling every second. In June 2012, James was revealed as Amazon U.K.’s best-selling e-book author ever (the book reached Kindle sales of more than one million, making it the No. 1 bestselling Kindle book of all time in the U.K.), as well as Amazon U.K.’s bestselling author ever. “Fifty Shades of Grey” was No. 1 on USA Today’s best-selling books list for 20 weeks in a row, breaking a previous record of 16 weeks. In 2012, James was named one of Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People of the Year, one of The World’s 100 Most Influential People by Time and Publishers Weekly’s Publishing Person of the Year.

Producer Dana Brunetti discusses that it was long the intention to explore the decidedly dangerous turn E L James’ second novel takes: “Fifty Shades Darker is more of a thriller.  We have suspense, stalking, helicopter crashes…all in addition to the theme of this couple and their particular type of romance.  Suddenly, their relationship is confronted with many more obstacles than previously, a lot of them from Christian’s past life.”

E L James, who is rejoined by her fellow producers from 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey, reflects on the title progression: “For the second novel, I knew I wanted to keep ‘Fifty Shades,’ because it was quite memorable.  I thought, ‘Where are we going with this?’  Then, I knew that in the second book that we would discover what was behind Christian’s darkness.  Hence, ‘Darker.’”

De Luca found it difficult to believe it has only been a few years since he, Brunetti, Viscidi and E L James began work on bringing the first book to the big screen.  “Taking this journey with Erika and my other fellow producers has been surreal at times,” reflects the producer.

“We managed to take what was already a literary phenomenon and bring it to worldwide audiences over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2015, and here we are again.  We have all grown considerably in these roles and never stopped being the caretakers for Anastasia and Christian’s story.  It’s something we don’t take lightly, and my hat stays off to Erika for keeping us on track as we imagined this filmic world for her characters to inhabit.  I’m extraordinarily proud of how far we’ve all come.”

For the adaptations, production went back to the source: E L James herself, working with the writer who had lived with the characters—and their creator—since the beginning—E L James’ husband, accomplished screenwriter Niall Leonard, whose task it was to translate these massively popular novels with their bold new emblems of mainstream sensuality into two screenplays.

The journey from print on-demand paperback to the creation of one of the most iconic and memorable literary sensations in decades was as shocking to their family as it was to publishers.

“I retain that role as the person who is the first sounding board, so, ‘Fifty Shades’ crept up on me,” Leonard muses.  “Erika was publishing a story, and I knew it was interesting and dark.  I knew that it was gathering an online following, but even so, when it burst into life in the real world, it astounded me how big the phenomenon was.”

As the family grew adjusted to E L James’ skyrocketing fame, as well as the filmic reception of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” they focused their attention on assuring the purity of the subsequent books’ translations.

Niall Leonard

A native of Newry, Northern Ireland, Niall Leonard (Screenplay by) graduated from the National Film & Television School in the U.K. as a writer and director. After several years of directing British television classics, such as The Bill and The Tomorrow People, Leonard moved into writing screenplays fulltime. His versatility and his talent for comedy made him a regular contributor to long-running series such as Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen, along with crime thrillers such as Wire in the Blood and historical dramas like Horatio Hornblower 3, shows that won big audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2012, Leonard published his first novel, “Crusher,” a thriller for young adults, quickly followed by the sequels “Incinerator” and “Shredder.” Following his contributions to the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, the producers asked him to adapt its two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed for the screen.

“For Darker and Freed,” Leonard continues, “she was keen that the movies had to be done quickly and that they had to be close to the books.  Knowing the story and the fandom, I was very familiar with the parts that mean a lot to Erika and to her fans.  I was keen to see those properly included.  With experience as an adapter and screenwriter, I felt qualified to take on the project.  The studio was willing to have me on board to take these enormous, sprawling novels and condense them into something that was of movie length…without losing any of the relationship and the important parts that fans really wanted to see.”

E L James is the first to admit that it was an unexpected and unusual collaboration in bringing her Christian and Ana to life in another medium.

“It was an interesting time while Niall was writing,” she reflects.  “He would go off and do his thing, and then he’d bring me a draft and ask, ‘What do you think?’  Then, we’d have discussions until we were ready to submit it to the studio.”  In her typical dry fashion, the author adds: “He was very private about it, but we’re still speaking to each other.  So that it worked out well.”

Leonard offers that knowing your spouse will be your editor is a curious thing indeed.

“I was quite nervous.  Then I heard her laughing in the next room, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m off the hook; she’s enjoying it.  We got over that first hurdle of her accepting my work.  Then, we had to work together revising it.  Sometimes, we’d have a bit of a ding-dong about particular scenes, and I’d say, ‘I really want to do this,’ and she’d respond, ‘That’s not true to the story.’”

To be certain, the screenwriter promised the creator of his source material one thing before they began adaptations.  “If it ever came down to the crunch, it was always to be her decision,” Leonard says.

“Christian Grey is not this cutesy, handsome, all-things-to-all character.  He’s dominant, dangerous and a real challenge.  His journey into being rescued by Ana is a tricky one, and the only person for this is Erika.  She knows every step, and is the North Star.  If you follow her lead, you can’t go wrong.”

Director on board

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James Foley is an American film director. His 1986 film At Close Range was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear Award at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival. Other films he has directed include Glengarry Glen Ross, based on the both Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play of the same name by David Mamet (the film version of which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 49th Venice International Film Festival) Fear, which starred Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon; as well as The Chamber, based on the novel of the same name by best-selling author John Grisham. Foley also has an extensive background in television, having directed for hit shows such as Netflix’s House of Cards, Showtime’s Billions and NBC’s Hannibal. Following up on Fifty Shades Darker, Foley is in postproduction on Fifty Shades Freed, to be released February 9, 2018.

When he made the decision to take the director’s chair for both films, James Foley joined the rarefied ranks of very few directors who have maximized time and effort by filming back-to-back projects.

Brunetti discusses the process in finding the one who’d captain the team: “When we were determining who the next director was going to be, there was speculation on whether we were going to shoot Darker or Darker and Freed at the same time.  I knew James from House of Cards, as he directed a majority of the first season and was our show director/showrunner.”

Not only was Brunetti a fan of Foley’s work for Netflix, he has long enjoyed many of the filmmaker’s features.

Glengarry Glen Ross is one of my favorites.  We met with him, and his thoughts on the film were fantastic,” says the producer.  “We saw a lot of different directors after that for Darker and made a short list.  Then, when we began to discuss making both films at the same time, I knew that is how we shot a lot of House of Cards—two episodes at a time, and we would cross-board them.  I pushed for James, not just because of his experience shooting this way, but because of his understanding of the books and take on what the films should be.”

Viscidi agrees with the decision to which fellow producers De Luca, E L James and Brunetti arrived: “We needed someone of that caliber who could direct the actors in a strong, confident and accomplished style.  In the first meeting with Foley, he said he wanted to expand and open up the film.  He appreciated the first movie—thought it was good, sexy and provocative—but wanted the characters to be more a part of the real world, get them outside more in the next chapter.  He wanted to see Seattle more, and have the characters interact more with the world around them.”

Foley discusses his interest in joining the franchise: “‘Fifty Shades’ defied a genre; it’s full of elements, drama, romance, fantasy, all mixed together.  It is a special kind of combination—a special kind of brew—like you brew beer.  It’s has its own fizz.”

No stranger to adapting lauded work, the filmmaker felt a connection with the protagonists of E L James’ work.  He reflects: “I’ve always been interested in psychological realism—movies, dramas that have a psychological complexity to them.  What I got from the three books was that they were a master study in the field—particularly of Christian but also of Ana.  There was something interesting in the journey that they took together, and how each of these psychologies interacted with each other and wind up changing each of them over the course of the three books quite dramatically.  It was that evolution in their selves which was the most important thing to me.”

The relationship quickly established by director and author/producer was soon harmonic.  “Erika was very clear about the arc of the story and how she wanted Christian and Ana’s characters to develop between the two films,” observes Viscidi.  “James was able to take that information, turn it around and implement it in his vision.  It was a great working relationship, and Erika trusted him implicitly from day one.”

Foley addresses one of the key elements of working with E L James—indeed, one of the key elements of any successful film production—when he says, “It’s been the sweetest thing—we were pals throughout the process.  There was compromise—I compromised, she compromised—but the film was not compromised.  We got the best combination of our talent.  I was very respectful of the books—they have their own kind of magic that worked on so many people.  I sought to transfer that magic to the screen, and having her around was great.  Erika was very supportive and always respectful.”

“James Foley stepped into the Fifty Shades Darker production almost as if he’d been with us since day one,” says De Luca.  “He brought this deep respect—not only to the cast and crew who’d been part of the first production—but an honor for Erika’s source material and Niall’s distinctive, significantly darker take on the next two pivotal chapters.  Foley is the consummate filmmaker and gentleman, and the exact right filmmaker to bring innovative ideas about what Darker and Freed could become.  He has this ability to elevate our production to a level none of us could have expected.”

Fifty shades 2

No Rules, No Punishments:The Curious Couple Returns

While Fifty Shades of Grey introduced movie audiences to billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and curious college student Anastasia Steele, the next two episodes would challenge everything audiences expected of the couple who had ended their relationship at the end of the first film.

With the whirlwind of launching Fifty Shades of Grey behind them, Dornan and Johnson set to work on the Darker and Freed set, ready for the unique set of challenges that lie ahead.  “The evolution that we have seen in Jamie and Dakota has been nothing short of astonishing,” raves De Luca.  “They were dropped into this rarified on-screen space of iconic coupledom and asked to establish immediate intimacy…all while the world looked on and analyzed every movement in their nonverbal language with one another.  The Herculean task of embodying the characters of Christian and Anastasia would have made many a performer crumble.  But they rose to every challenge.  As actors, they continue to impress me to the lengths they’ve gone and the depths of their ability to discover nuance and emote passion.”

Fifty Shades

Darker is a deeper exploration into these two people,” says Johnson.  “It feels like they are on this tumultuous, twisted path, and they’re not simple characters.  It’s not lovey-dovey, easy-breezy bullshit.  It’s darker.  We are not sugarcoating any of the real, raw and difficult things in this relationship.  No matter what kind of relationship is going on between two people, there’s a universality in the difficult things, all of the particulars of Ana and Christian notwithstanding.”

One of the major players in Fifty Shades of Grey is a woman who never actually appears—but the wake in which she has left Christian radiates outward and affects everyone in his life.  Ana flippantly refers to her as Mrs. Robinson—in reference to Anne Bancroft’s character in the film classic The Graduate, who seduces the much younger man, played by Dustin Hoffman.  The duplicitous friend of Christian’s mother, she brings the 15-year-old Christian into her bed and her lifestyle.

The character—Elena Lincoln—is an integral part of the story of Darker, and who better to inhabit the enigmatic woman than the distinguished Academy Award®-winning actress whose C.V. includes her own cinematic venture into the dark side of a romance in the memorable and shockwave-causing 9½ Weeks.

Screenwriter Leonard took to the predatory character with a certain amount of glee.  He says: “It was great fun writing Elena, because she has this immense self-confidence.  She’s assured, sexy, experienced, intelligent and successful—all the things that Ana feels she isn’t—so she’s incredibly intimidating.  Ana feels utterly dwarfed by her presence and threatened by it.  Casting Kim Basinger in the part is an absolute dream, because she just comes across with this wealth of sophistication.”

With her “author” hat squarely on her head, E L James reasserts: “All of the ‘Fifty Shades’ books are romance books, full stop—they should be, and hopefully will be, romantic films.  In this one, we discover more, go deeper, and there’s also the first hint of Christian’s old life, with that coming back and infecting the couple as they try to get it together.  That’s one of the reasons why it’s darker, because there are these threats in the wings that come in to destabilize what should be a happy romance.”

”Historians can debate how the Holocaust took place, but the fact is, the Holocaust happened.”

An American professor finds herself the defendant in a high-profile British libel trial that would impact the way the history of the Holocaust is told in Denial, a taut courtroom drama based on one of the most significant international legal cases in recent memory.

A powerful story about one woman’s relentless efforts to establish justice and remind the world about the tragedies of the Holocaust, Denial is a gripping, inspirational real-life account based on Deborah E. Lipstadt’s book Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, and adapted for the big screen by esteemed playwright David Hare.

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Tom Wilkinson plays Lipstadt’s quietly fierce, Scottishborn barrister Richard Rampton. Wilkinson was intrigued by Denial’s unusual story and its avoidance of what he calls the clichés of genre filmmaking. “The central story is about a fish out of water,” he says. “There are huge differences between the cultures, not only British vs. American, but also Jewish culture. Deborah Lipstadt was under tremendous pressure from survivors of the Holocaust who wanted the world to hear them speak. She also wanted to have her say in court. Yet her rather cool British lawyers saying, ‘No, you can’t. Once you get in there, you’ll get pulled to pieces.’” “And that’s essentially the core,” he continues. “He’s a Holocaust denier, for heaven’s sake. If that guy’s ever going to win a suit, then what does it say for any sort of justice? The emphasis in the movie will be on the sense of isolation that she feels in the context of this rather bizarre court case.”

Denial recounts Deborah E. Lipstadt’s (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz) legal battle for historical truth against David Irving (Timothy Spall), who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier. In the English legal system, in cases of libel, the burden of proof is on the defendant, therefore it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team led by Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), to prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.

Lipstadt believes the film provides an opportunity for her to take her life’s work another step forward. “I’d like people to understand that the Holocaust is the best documented genocide in the world. There is no denying it. You can debate aspects of it – why it happened, how it happened, but not the fact that it happened. It is incontrovertible fact. It can’t be debated. And that’s not being closed-minded, it’s acknowledging the truth.”

Denial producers Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff first became aware of Deborah Lipstadt and her work some eight years ago. “Our kids, who are the same age, were applying to colleges,” Krasnoff recalls. “I was researching Emory University in Atlanta, where Deborah is professor of modern Jewish history and studies. The university had just announced a $1 million grant to translate portions of her Emory-based website, HDOT: Holocaust Denial on Trial (www.hdot.org), which archives all materials from her trial into Farsi, Arabic, Russian and Turkish. “I thought it was amazing that a university would do this and I wanted to know more about her.”

This inspired Krasnoff to get a copy of Lipstadt’s book, Denial: Holocaust History on Trial [previously published as History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier], an account of the libel case brought against her by David Irving. Irving’s lawsuit against Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, asserted that the professor had committed libel against him. Lipstadt’s book was a first-hand account of the trial.

“In addition to being an important topic, it was wonderful storytelling,” he continues. “Gary and I thought it would make a great movie.”

Some preliminary research revealed that Holocaust denial was much more widespread than the producers had realized. It was espoused by several prominent voices in the U.S. and Europe, as well as throughout the Middle East — most notably by thenpresident of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“It was all opinion turned into fact,” Foster says. “You can have a conviction, a passion, a belief — but that doesn’t make it a fact. That was a big part of our decision to make the film and to stay with it for the eight years it took to get it to the screen.”

In 2008, while Foster and Krasnoff were making the film The Soloist in Los Angeles, Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King visited the set during shooting on the city’s Skid Row. When Skoll and King learned about the producers’ idea for a movie chronicling the Lipstadt trial, they jumped at the chance to be a part of it. “They bought the project on the spot,” Foster recalls. “Participant’s mission is to create entertainment that inspires and compels social change. This story fit perfectly, but it took some time to find just the right team to put it together.”

By 2012, Foster and Krasnoff were developing another film, My Old Lady, in partnership with BBC Films. Christine Langan, former head of BBC Films, suggested Foster and Krasnoff speak with acclaimed playwright and Academy Award®-nominated screenwriter David Hare about adapting the book into a feature film.

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Tom Wilkinson and Rachel Weisz

David Hare the ideal writer to adapt the book

Langan had worked with Hare on a trilogy of television films about MI5 and believed he would be the ideal writer for this story.

David Hare's plays and screenplays include Plenty, Skylight, The Blue Room, The Hours and Stuff Happens.

DAVID HARE (Writer) is a playwright and filmmaker. For the silver screen he wrote Wetherby, Damage, The Hours and The Reader. Television credits include “Page Eight,” “Saigon: Year of the Cat,” “Dreams of Leaving,” “Licking Hitler,” “Turks & Caicos” and “Salting the Battlefield.” He has written more than 30 stage plays including “Plenty,” “Pravda” (with Howard Brenton), “The Secret Rapture,” “Racing Demon,” “Skylight,” “Amy’s View,” “The Blue Room,” “Via Dolorosa,” “Stuff Happens,” “South Downs,” “The Absence of War,” “The Judas Kiss” and “The Moderate Soprano.” In 1997 the French government honored Hare as an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in 1998 the British knighted him for services to the theater.

“Stories like this one aren’t the specialty of mainstream American cinema any more,” says Hare. “Spotlight was an exception, but it’s an unusual beast among American films. They were convinced such a factual political drama needed the BBC’s sensibility.” Hare, who received an Oscar® nomination for his adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, which revolves around a Nazi war-crimes trial, says he didn’t immediately recognize the historical significance of Lipstadt’s case.“I didn’t feel the weight of that until one day late on, when I had to write some dialogue spoken at Auschwitz. For the first time, I felt I had a special responsibility to the subject.”

It was the idea of defending objective historical truth that initially intrigued Hare enough to agree to tackle the project. “That meant I had to be historically accurate myself, so that enemies of the film, the people who agree with David Irving, couldn’t accuse me of distorting the record.”

To do so, Hare sifted through pages and pages of official records to document the courtroom scenes. “It took me four or five hours to read a single day in court,” he says. “So you can imagine my initial reaction: Have I really got to read 40 days of trial? I couldn’t fake drama in the courtroom that didn’t happen.”

In fact, there was no need to fabricate dramatic moments. All of the dialogue from the courtroom scenes was taken verbatim from the official record.

Hare also points to a reallife moment depicted early in the film in which Irving unexpectedly appears at a lecture given by Lipstadt in Atlanta and disrupts her speech.

“He started waving $1,000 above his head and saying, ‘I’ll give it to anyone who can prove Hitler ordered the killing of the Jews!’ That became a wonderfully dramatic opening to a film. The real mystery for me is why Deborah Lipstadt was chosen by David Irving in the first place. Why did he pick on her?” While he believes that decision reveals a great deal about Irving, Hare says he wasn’t interested in writing “a portrait of an anti-Semite.”

“The film is not about Irving’s psychology. He is seen almost exclusively from Deborah’s point of view, so I have no right to speculate or try to explain Irving. He simply behaves in the extraordinary manner he did throughout the trial and I offer no explanation. I’m not qualified to go into his psychology. There’s no ‘behind-the-scenes’ with him. There’s only information that is on the public record.”

Director Mick Jackson tackles Denial

British-born filmmaker Mick Jackson was chosen to direct Denial on the strength of an extensive résumé that includes major box-office hits (The Bodyguard), an Emmy®-winning TV movie (“Temple Grandin”), and a string of highly regarded documentaries and dramas for the BBC and Britain’s Channel 4.

DENIAL, Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (left), Director Mick Jackson (cap), on set, 2016. Ph: Laurie Sparham /© Bleecker Street Media

MICK JACKSON (Director) is a British film and television director and producer. He is perhaps best known for The Bodyguard, starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, which was nominated for several MTV Movie Awards and became the second-highestgrossing film worldwide in 1992. His other feature credits include Volcano, The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, Clean Slate, L.A. Story and Chattahoochee. More recently Jackson has turned his attention to television, directing the highly acclaimed 2010 HBO movie “Temple Grandin,” for which he and Claire Danes won Emmys. Jackson also shared in the telefilm’s DGA Award (his fourth) and Peabody Award. The director was previously Emmy nominated for the Lifetime movie “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter,” starring Emily Watson; HBO’s “Live From Baghdad” (2002), starring Michael Keaton; and “Indictment: The McMartin Trial” (1995), with James Woods. He is also a three-time BAFTA TV Award winner, for “A Very British Coup,” “The Race for the Double Helix” and “Threads.” Other small-screen credits include the miniseries “Covert One: The Hades Factor” and telefilms “Screen Two: Double Image” and “Tuesdays With Morrie.” Jackson has directed a number of TV documentaries, including “The Age of Uncertainty” and “The Ascent of Man,” on which he worked alongside Sir David Attenborough and won a Peabody Award.

 

“I started out in documentaries,” says Jackson. “I have a feeling for what’s real and I like shooting in that style. I try to shoot as much hand-held as I can and keep things very fluid. Deborah’s book was perfect for me. I loved her attention to the smallest details, like who sat where in the courtroom or the color of Richard Rampton’s tie.”

The director was also drawn to the timeliness of the film’s subject matter.

“We live in an age of unreason and lies, an age of violent outrages and all kinds of assaults on the truth,” says Jackson, who adds that he had a more personal reason for taking on the project. “When I was a very young director at the BBC, I worked on a landmark series of documentaries called ‘The Ascent of Man.’ We shot an episode at Auschwitz. Just being there touched me in a profound way. When this script came my way, I thought, ‘I have to do that.’”

According to the director, the film’s title has a double meaning. “To win this case, which is about Holocaust denial, Deborah will have to deny herself the glory of standing up in court and speaking to this monster,” he says. “That act of self-denial is her only hope of beating Irving’s charges.”

Jackson compares the film to a piece of music with repeated themes that stand on their own, but are also woven together in counterpoint. One thread is the progress of the trial and the anticipation of its outcome. Another is the human story of Lipstadt and her legal team.

“We see through Deborah’s eyes, with all her media savvy, that there are two trials here: the one in the courtroom and the one in the court of public opinion.”

Lipstadt involved during filming

Lipstadt was closely involved with the making of the film from the time her book was first optioned, providing the filmmakers with access to her life and insights into her experience. “I spent two days with Rachel Weisz and we talked afterwards on the phone,” she recalls. “I’d never met David Hare, but I knew his work. I’d seen The Reader and The Hours. David spent two or three days in Atlanta, meeting me, shadowing me, coming to my classes, even walking around my home. Then he shared some of the script and I offered comments.”

Portrait of actress and film director Judith Malina, New York, New York, 1999. (Photo by Chris Felver/Getty Images)

Rachel Weisz, left, and author Deborah E. Lipstadt on the set of their film “Denial.”

When the crucial courtroom scenes were filmed in London, Lipstadt visited the set, looking on as her own past unfolded on a soundstage. It was a vivid reminder of how isolated she felt when she arrived in London for the trial. Her A-list legal team had devised a defense strategy that shocked her — she would not testify in court, nor would they call Holocaust survivors to testify.

“We were, as they say, divided by a common language,” she says. “Lawyers talk in shorthand. I felt like a deer in headlights, not because of Irving, but because of the situation. I was in a foreign country, in a foreign arena.”

Lipstadt was unfamiliar with Britain’s two-tiered legal system and the strict division of labor between barristers and solicitors. Solicitors, like Anthony Julius, formulate strategy, undertake negotiations and draft legal documents.

While barristers, like Richard Rampton, provide specialized legal advice and represent individuals and organizations in court. In addition, Lipstadt was shocked to learn, the burden of proof in a British libel case lies with the defendant.

The basic American legal tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” is reversed. The historian agrees with Hare’s description of her as “a fish out of water” during the preparation and the trial.

“It’s not how I think of myself,” she says. “But it’s not untrue. For the sake of a dramatic arc, David emphasized my relationship with the lawyers. I had to learn to trust those lawyers, keep quiet and have faith in the process.”

Although she initially doubted her legal team’s strategy, she soon learned they had her best interests at heart.

“Anthony offered to do this pro bono because Irving needed to be fought. He was willing to fight as if it were the biggest commercial case to ever come across his desk. He’d already represented Princess Diana against the House of Windsor in her divorce and settled that. Now he talks about this as one of his most important cases.”

The trial took place almost 20 years ago, so reliving it on a film set had a surreal quality for Lipstadt.

“Some moments approximate the truth almost exactly. I also worked closely with Rachel, who is unbelievable — such a professional! I’m blown away by her. But still there’s something disorienting about it all. She’s even wearing some of my clothes — including scarves that belong to me. The costume department looked at some pictures of me from that time, and I told them I still had some of those clothes. Rachel looks different than me, but I do love that they tried to approximate the hair to a certain extent.”

Lipstadt calls the trial “a defining moment” in her life.

“It didn’t change me or what I had to say. It changed how people listen to me. It gave me a hearing I hadn’t had before. Suddenly what I had to say had more clout, more gravitas because I’d successfully faced down David Irving.”

At the time, she was advised by many not to fight the charges. “I was told by some academics that I was wasting my time,”

Lipstadt recalls. “Some of the leaders of the British Jewish community felt that whatever happened, he’d win. But if I hadn’t fought, then I would have surely lost. It would have become illegal to call the world’s leading Holocaust denier what he is. That would have been a terrible thing that legitimized all Holocaust deniers. In the end, all those people who had said I shouldn’t have fought came around.” In Hare’s opinion, Lipstadt behaved with extreme fortitude throughout the lengthy ordeal. “When somebody sues you for libel, it’s a long business,” the writer says.

“From start to finish, it took seven years. I’m sure she experienced many dark nights of the soul. But not a word of hers was proved to be inaccurate. And never during that time did she say anything inappropriate or out of order. She behaved with complete integrity.”

Lipstadt faced a particularly insidious adversary in David Irving, says Hare, because he gave anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial a respectable face. “Irving dressed like an English gentleman. He lived in Mayfair. John Keegan, an extremely distinguished military historian, said that David Irving was a first-rate historian who happened to take Hitler’s point of view and that there was as significant historical value in looking at history from the side of the loser.”

In retrospect, Lipstadt says, the point of the trial was not to crush David Irving, but to expose a destructive lie that he and others like him were perpetrating.

“This trial has importance over and above and beyond itself. In an age of relativism, kids grow up thinking, ‘it must be true, I saw it on the Internet.’ But not everything can be true. There are not two sides to every issue. My students often believe everybody has a right to their opinion, but facts are facts. Historians can debate how the Holocaust took place, but the fact is, the Holocaust happened.”

Lipstadt believes the film provides an opportunity for her to take her life’s work another step forward. “I’d like people to understand that the Holocaust is the best documented genocide in the world. There is no denying it. You can debate aspects of it – why it happened, how it happened, but not the fact that it happened. It is incontrovertible fact. It can’t be debated. And that’s not being closed-minded, it’s acknowledging the truth.”

According to Jackson, the trial has made a lasting difference in the world. “If Deborah Lipstadt had lost, it would have had a chilling effect on every other similar case,” he says. “All kinds of things that were controversial would have been very difficult to litigate, because people would have been afraid of losing. As Richard Rampton said after the verdict, it won’t bring any of them back. But now, no reasonable historian can ever doubt that the Holocaust took place.”

 

“The title Moonlight refers to shining light in the darkness or illuminating things you’re afraid to show. Everybody in life has had a struggle like Chiron’s at some point, whether it’s for a short period of time or an entire lifetime. Anyone who insists they haven’t put up a façade is living in some kind of darkness.”

Moonlight is a consummate masterwork from writer-director Barry Jenkins that takes you on an emotional journey into the heart and soul of humanity and will live in your heart forever.

If you have a true life story that reflects the uniqueness of your culture, why not write the screenplay that can be turned into a film?  Our celebrated The Write Journey course will take your idea from page to screen. Take the first step in the write direction!

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André Holland and Trevante Rhodes in Moonlight. “Black is thrown a lifeline by the one person he’s allowed himself to be intimate with, and through André’s soulfulness, he attains a kind of freedom. Kevin is saying to his old friend, I’m not going to push you, I’m not going to force you, I’m just going to offer you this light…”

An unforgettable and not-to-be missed drama at the intersection of race, sexuality, masculinity, identity, family, and love, the film arrives eight years after Jenkins’ critically acclaimed romance Medicine For Melancholy, bringing audiences a  deeply felt cinematic swoon, following one young man’s tumultuous coming age in South Florida over the course of two decades.

One of the most powerful aspects of Moonlight is that it was conceived in cinematic form by a straight man working from material rooted in the personal experiences of an openly gay man

Featuring a trio of gifted actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) inhabiting a single character during three phases of his life, it tells the story of one young man’s coming of age in a tough Miami neighborhood.

As Chiron grows from an uncertain and tentative boy into a bullied teenager grappling with his sexuality and finally into a grown man, Jenkins skillfully shows through three distinct chapters a life in full, revealing how the powerful moments in each of our lives coalesce to shape our identities and define our fates.

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Taryn Alvin McCraney is best known for his acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays, which include The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. Other plays include Head of Passes, Choir Boy, and Wig Out! Tarell is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, the Whiting Award, Steinberg Playwright Award, the Evening Standard Award, the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the Windham Campbell Award, and a Doris Duke Artist Award. He was the International Writer-in-Residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company from 2008-2010, and a former resident playwright at New Dramatists. He is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects in Miami. Tarell is a graduate of the New World School of the Arts, the Theatre School at DePaul University, and the Yale School of Drama, and he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Warwick. He recently joined the University of Miami as Professor of Theatre and Civic Engagement as part of a three-year program, in partnership with UM, Miami-Dade County and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.

After reading Jenkins’ adaptation, producer Adele Romanski was immediately captivated by the script’s highly emotional take on coming of age under fire.

Although Moonlight is set in a very specific place, its themes apply to anyone who has ever felt out of place in the world.

“The script broke my heart,” Romanski shares. “Chiron’s story was something I could identify with even as a white female. A lot of people across race, gender, age, and sexuality can identify with feeling ‘other.’ While Moonlight is in essence a gay, black coming of age drama, the core of its story is the universality of its otherness.”

One of the most powerful aspects of Moonlight is that it was conceived in cinematic form by a straight man working from material rooted in the personal experiences of an openly gay man — yet the film’s sexuality is not its centerpiece or defining feature, owing to Jenkins’ penchant for subtlety and introspection over telegraphed moments or sermonizing. Ultimately, Moonlight transcends labels and definitions, telling a universal story through one young man’s cathartic personal struggles. “Barry is a very introverted and private person,” Romanski explains. “He doesn’t show much of himself outside a core group of people he trusts. Moonlight allowed him to tell a story that is unique to his own upbringing and history — yet he was able to access it through an adapted work that was Tarell’s story.”

Producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner were deeply moved by what they read. “The writing was incredibly beautiful and like its predecessor possessed a notable elegance and simplicity in its structure,” Kleiner shares. “Barry has the remarkable ability to create and capture intimate spaces between characters — specifically two characters. He penetrates interior emotional states in a way you don’t see coming and suddenly you’re in the depths of the human heart.” Adds Gardner: “Barry is someone who believes that whole worlds collide in the space of one conversation. It takes a skillful writer-director to bring that alive on the screen.” Plan B signed on shortly after reading, and financing on Moonlight was completed in early 2015, when A24 made their first foray into production and got behind the project.

The journey begins

In 2013, Romanski (Morris From America, The Myth Of The American Sleepover) was helping Jenkins sift through feature film projects for his eagerly anticipated follow-up to Medicine For Melancholy. The duo, friends since college, began holding bi-weekly meetings where they volleyed ideas back and forth until a dozen solid ideas took shape. One of them was McCraney’s evocation of his own Miami youth, which had fallen into Jenkins’ hands through a Borscht collective member. “Tarell did a great job of capturing what it felt like to be a poor black kid growing up in the Miami projects,” Jenkins explains. “I saw it as an opportunity to get some of my own childhood memories out of my head and onto the screen, filtered through Tarell’s wonderful voice. The root of his experience was also the root of my experience — it was the perfect marriage.”

By coincidence Jenkins came of age in the same rough and tumble Liberty City housing projects where McCraney grew up, and where much of Moonlight the film unfolds. He also contributed work to the Borscht Film Festival — Jenkins’ 2013 short film “Chlorophyl” was a sprawling 17-minute evocation of his native Miami emphasizing changes wrought through urban renewal. The short film incorporated some of the same themes as Medicine For Melancholy, including displacement, gentrification and yearning for love and connection amid urban anomie.

Jenkins and McCraney did not know each other as children but their formative years were remarkably similar. They attended the same elementary and middle schools (despite a difference in age) and both went on to become artists, treating subjects and themes close to their own experiences, including themes of identity and masculinity. Most notably, both grew up in households in which their mothers grappled with severe drug addiction. Jenkins’ mother survived her battle and has remained HIV positive for 24 years, while McCraney’s mother ultimately succumbed from AIDS as a result of her struggles.

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Barry Jenkins was born and raised in Miami, FL. After graduating from Florida State University with a BA in English and a BFA in Film, he relocated to Los Angeles where he worked as an assistant to director Darnell Martin on Harpo Films’ Their Eyes Were Watching God. His feature film debut, Medicine For Melancholy, was released in theaters by IFC Films and hailed as one of the best films of 2009 by A.O. Scott of The New York Times. In 2010, Jenkins co-founded the commercial collective Strike Anywhere Films. A nominee for several Spirit and Gotham Awards, Jenkins’ recent work includes a screen adaptation for Overbrook Films and staff writing on HBO’s “The Leftovers.” In addition to being a curator and presenter at the Telluride Film Festival, he is a United States Artists Smith Fellow and was recently named one of the “20 Directors to Watch” in world cinema by The New York Times. MOONLIGHT is his second feature film.

Adapting Moonlight

For his adaptation, Jenkins set about broadening the story’s three chapters, expanding on an adult interlude in Chiron’s life that was a mere phone call in McCraney’s source material, and giving equal shrift to three distinct eras in his young protagonist’s journey from childhood to adulthood.

McCraney’s original piece was rooted in the relationship between a young Liberty City boy and a local drug dealer, who becomes a kind of surrogate father as the boy contends with bullying, his mother’s addiction, and a pervasive feeling of loneliness and otherness that ultimately ends in tragedy. Jumping back and forth between youth and adolescence, yet deeply rooted in themes of masculinity, identity, and community, the non-linear “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” examined the burgeoning gay sexuality of its protagonist Chiron coming of age in a challenging milieu. “It was important to me to show from the beginning how the community is active in Chiron’s life,” McCraney says. “The community knows things about him before he knows them about himself. People want to place him in a category before he even understands what that means. This happens to all of us, whether we’re male, female, black, white, straight or gay. There are moments when our community decides to tell us what they see us as. How we respond to that makes our struggle very real, and deeply influences how our lives unfold.”

Casting the film

Casting Moonlight began with Jenkins’ bold decision to show Chiron’s progression during various stages of his young life beginning at age ten and extending into his early 30s, without aging a single actor through the course of the film’s three chapters. This considerable challenge required the casting team to find three distinct actors who could convey the same inner feeling across multiple years without ever meeting during the course of filming.

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Alex Hibbert

Moonlight opens with Chiron (Alex Hibbert) at age 10 (nicknamed Little in the movie), fleeing from bullies in his housing project until he is rescued by the drug dealer Juan, who becomes his mentor and unofficial guardian with the help of his saintly girlfriend Teresa. In the second chapter, Chiron grapples with young love in the form of his teenage schoolmate Kevin, the declining state of his mother Paula and a traumatic schoolyard incident that changes the course of his life. The third chapter follows Chiron in adulthood — now known by his street name Black — contending with the thwarted love that has hindered his identity through his inability to express his feelings. In a virtuoso sequence set in a Miami diner, Chiron reunites with Kevin in a thoroughly unforgettable and unexpected way.

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Ashton Sanders

For Chiron at age 16, Ramirez scouted teenagers all over the country, reviewing audition tapes and headshots and scanning the Internet for video clips of students who were graduating from high school performing arts programs. In the end the filmmakers chose Ashton Sanders, who Ramirez first discovered during one of her numerous Los Angeles casting sessions. Sanders had appeared in a previous independent film and had a brief role in Straight Outta Compton, but he stood out for his stillness and impassivity, crucial attributes for Chiron in the film’s second chapter.

 

Trevante Rhodes, a former track and field star from Louisiana who was discovered by a casting agent on his Texas college campus and immediately cast in a Nicolas Cage film, had originally read for the role of the adult Kevin in the film’s evocative third chapter. But his reading was interrupted by the casting team, including Ramirez, Jenkins and

Trevante Rhodes

Romanski, the common thread that pulled the three different stages together, which was an intense vulnerability. Each actor could express it in his eyes, helping to create a complete picture of this character’s life.” Adds Jenkins: “You don’t see black males on screen where they’re just allowed to emote instead of talking or being active all the time. All three actors were great at emoting.”

For Rhodes, the biggest challenge inhabiting Chiron as an adult came in staying true to the character’s deeply concealed emotional core despite physical “armor” like muscles and grills, and a decidedly opaque street name. “Black is an introverted, troubled man who is hiding his true self from the world because he’s frightened of letting people know who he really is,” explains Rhodes.

“The title Moonlight refers to shining light in the darkness or illuminating things you’re afraid to show. Everybody in life has had a struggle like Chiron’s at some point, whether it’s for a short period of time or an entire lifetime. Anyone who insists they haven’t put up a façade is living in some kind of darkness.”

At its heart, Moonlight is a story about masculinity and how it’s expressed in a specific community like the Liberty City housing project in Miami, where much of the movie was filmed. In this milieu, criminal life routinely overlaps with everyday domestic life and paternal figures come to take on the ambiguous qualities of provider and supplier.

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Mahershala Ali

In the case of Juan, the local drug dealer who takes Chiron under his wing while quietly supplying his mother with crack cocaine, the role required an actor who appeared ferocious on the surface but harbored kindness and nurturing underneath.

“There are so many different layers to a character like Juan,” Jenkins explains. “I’m examining black masculinity in this movie, but on a deeper level I’m exploring inner city impoverished black masculinity. We needed someone who could be menacing one moment and extremely caring the next.”

The filmmakers found their Juan in the Oakland-born stage and screen actor Mahershala Ali, whose most visible role to date is playing the lobbyist and former press secretary Remy Danton on Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and whose other works include this year’s Free State Of Jones, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and Netflix’s forthcoming “Marvel’s Luke Cage” series. Romanski had just finished working with Ali on another production, Justin Tipping’s KICKS, and had been deeply impressed with his work; while filming she thought of him for the role of Juan, and mentioned to him she had a project she was hoping to share with him as soon as it was ready.

In a brief yet astonishing performance, Ali in the guise of Juan imparts valuable information to Chiron that helps him survive inside and out through the years — until he comes to embody a version of Juan in his adult life. “He’s the father figure to Little, which is important because you want to feel like Little has someone guiding him through life,” Ramirez explains. “There’s also this dangerous level to Juan, which isn’t what you associate with paternal figures. Mahershala is a very intense, emotional actor, but he also has this ability to comfort.”

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André Holland

Showing a different side of masculinity in the quietly explosive third chapter of Moonlight is the actor André Holland (“The Knick,” Selma, 42), whose luminous and serene performance as the adult Kevin brings a sense of comfort and ease that ultimately helps Chiron emerge from his shell. Early in the casting process Holland — who has appeared in several of McCraney’s plays, including the Brother/Sister trilogy — was considered for the role of Juan. But the multi-faceted stage and screen actor submitted an audition tape as Kevin that reduced the casting team to tears, making it instantly clear where the performer’s strengths were best utilized. “André is so comfortable in his skin as an actor, signaling a way out for Chiron through his openness and giving nature,” Jenkins explains.

 

“Black is thrown a lifeline by the one person he’s allowed himself to be intimate with, and through André’s soulfulness, he attains a kind of freedom. Kevin is saying to his old friend, I’m not going to push you, I’m not going to force you, I’m just going to offer you this light…”

The last of the male actors to be cast in Moonlight proved to be the most difficult, owing to the frank sexuality depicted in the film’s second chapter between teenage friends Kevin — who is more experienced — and Chiron, who is only beginning to grapple with his sexuality. Ramirez auditioned hundreds of actors for the promiscuous, freewheeling Kevin, considering rappers, musicians, up-and-coming actors and non-professionals alike, with no Kevin in sight. Nearing production, in a state of desperation, she turned to the Internet and found upstart actor Jharrel Jerome in the theater program of LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts in New York City, where he was just graduating. “A lot of great actors come out of that school and he had already turned 18,” Ramirez explains. “It was a relief to find someone we really liked instead of having to settle.”

Ultimately, Moonlight is a universal story of love, family and reconciliation, which through its electrifying atmosphere comes to liberate anyone who has ever felt distinct or apart, or has felt trapped inside their own emotions, yearning for change. Sums up Jenkins: “This is an immersive, experiential film in which characters over time negotiate what they will allow themselves to feel. What they project back to the world with those feelings becomes the universal process of claiming one’s identity. It’s amazing to watch someone yearn for something internally but not have the courage to express it.” Moonlight is an expression of that yearning.

Romance, Drama, Comedy and Horror.

Love rules In The Light Between The Oceans

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The Light Between The Oceans is a heartfelt film about love, truth and the secrets people keep in relationships, and what happens when those secrets are exposed to the light of day. The best-selling novel that swept readers away with its transporting story of fate, love, moral dilemmas and the lengths one couple will go to see their hard-fought dreams realized, comes to the screen as a lush, classically star-crossed romance starring written for the screen and directed by Derek Cianfrance. As mesmerizingly beautiful as it is heartbreaking, M.L. Stedman’s novel “The Light Between Oceans” was a literary sensation upon its publication in 2012. Set on the remote edge of Western Australia in the years following the devastation of the Great War, the book lured readers into a seductively old-fashioned tale of love and impossible choices beneath which lay roiling, contemporary questions of right and wrong, the effects of war and peace, the wonders of connection and the dangers of blind scruples. Michael Fassbender is sensational as Tom Sherbourne, a shell-shocked veteran, who devotes himself to his new job as lighthouse keeper on the otherwise uninhabited Janus Rock, surrounded by nothing but the vast sea, seeking solace in the solitude. He intends to remain alone, but unexpectedly meets Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander)a vivacious young woman from the town of Partageuse across the harbor, herself grieving two brothers lost in the war. Despite the obstacles, their love flourishes in the stark isolation and they are soon married. Passionate for each other and hoping to be part of creating a new life together, they try to start a family, but fate intercedes. Then, one night, a mysterious rowboat holding a dead man and an infant girl washes ashore, setting off a chain of decisions—some impetuous, others wrenching— that unravel with shattering consequences. “’The Light Between Oceans’ is a film about love, truth and the secrets people keep in relationships, and what happens when those secrets are exposed to the light of day,” says Cianfrance. “It is a moral drama, but at the core, it is a timeless love story.”  Go behind the scenes of the film

Hilarious Nine Lives Is A Film For The Whole Family

NineWhen a work-obsessed real-estate mogul suffers a magical accident that leaves him trapped inside the body of his 11-year-old daughter’s cat, he realizes he has to put his family first if he ever hopes to regain his human form in Nine Lives. He has built an empire at the expense of any sort of true human connection and is surrounded by good people who love him in spite of his skyscraper-sized flaws. But it isn’t until he finds himself with four paws and a tail that Tom realizes how lucky he’s been.  When the Nine Lives script crossed Kevin Spacey’s desk, he decided the time to get silly again was, well, right meow. “Barry Sonnenfeld has done some of the great films of all time, no doubt about it,” says the actor. “So when he came onto this project, I was enormously excited.” According to Sonnenfeld, Spacey’s unique qualities made him ideal for the duality of the role — first playing an insensitive human, then voicing the same person transplanted into a cat’s body. “Kevin is perfect for the role because he’s smart, funny, sarcastic, and can portray very warm or very cold,” says the director. “Kevin’s voice is also perfect for this because it’s recognizable, it’s droll, it can be sardonic — it’s all the things you want for the voiceover.” Go behind the scenes of the film

The Power Of Miracles Shines In Sully

Sully‘On January 15, 2009, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” when Captain “Sully” Sullenberger glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard.  However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career. Now Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood brings the story to the big screen,  from a screenplay by Todd Komarnicki, based on the book Highest Duty by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, with Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Moments after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, a flock of birds strikes US Airways flight 1549, taking out both engines at only 2800 feet and causing an immediate, forced water landing.  It is, we will learn, unprecedented.  “No one has ever trained for an incident like that,” notes Tom Hanks, speaking as the titular Captain Chesley Sullenberger in director/producer Clint Eastwood’s “Sully.” Recounting the real events that took place on that cold day in January 2009, the film also explores their very real aftermath. Looking back on his experience from just seven-and-a-half years ago, able to now put things into perspective, he says, “Part of the emotional context of this story is that it happened in a time in our history when there was worldwide concern on several fronts: it was post-9/11, we had troops in the Middle East, there was the ’08 financial meltdown…people were worried.  That this happened in Manhattan and that we survived it, well, I think it gave people hope, even ones who were not directly connected with the flight.” The bonus features include a doccie on the man behind the miracle; the difference between disaster and deliverance rested on the character of the man with his hands on the controls.  Go behind the scenes of the film

Blair Witch Lives

Blair_Witch_reviewIt’s been 20 years since James’s sister and her two friends vanished into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland while researching the legend of the Blair Witch, leaving a trail of theories and suspicions in their wake. Now James (James Allen McCune of TV’s“Shameless”) and his friends Peter (Wreck-It Ralph’s Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid of TV’s “Disney Star Darlings”) and film student Lisa (Callie Hernandez of upcoming La La Land and Ridley Scott’s upcoming Alien: Covenant) venture into the same woods in Blair Witch, each with a camera to uncover the mysteries surrounding their disappearance. The Blair Witch Project, which premiered in 1999 to become a global phenomenon, created lasting lore around our timeless fear of being alone in the woods. The nearly no-budget film grossed millions and set the gold standard for found footage movies, spawning a new generation of horror fans. “When it first came out, I was one of a billion high school kids taking a camcorder into the woods and doing a Blair Witch spoof with my friends,” says Wingard. “The film had a total dedication toward authenticity. No one has so completely committed to that type of realism before or since. Simon and I re-watched the film half a dozen times during pre-production to consider every option when creating our story, and were we were astounded by how well it held up — not just as a found footage movie but also as a horror movie.” Go behind the scenes of the film

“As a filmmaker, this was a chance to pay homage to the classic Warner Bros. gangster movies of the 1930s through the `70s.”

Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Argo), who directed, produced and stars in the dramatic crime thriller Live by Night, also wrote the screenplay, based on the award-winning bestseller by Dennis Lehane, marking the second collaboration for the Boston natives, following the acclaimed drama Gone Baby Gone – the film was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson under the Appian Way banner; and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Todd for Pearl Street Films.

Director/Screenwriter/Actor BEN AFFLECK on location during the filming of Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' crime drama "The Town," distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Claire Folger

Ben Affleck (Joe Coughlin) is a two-time Academy Award winner who has been recognized for his work as a director, actor, writer, and producer. Most recently, Affleck was seen in “The Accountant,” and in early 2016 playing crime fighting icon Batman/Bruce Wayne in the global blockbuster “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”Affleck first came to prominence in 1997 with the acclaimed drama “Good Will Hunting,” which he starred in and co-wrote with Damon. The two won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as well as a Golden Globe Award and Humanitas Prize. In addition to his successful film career, Affleck is also a passionate advocate and philanthropist. In March 2010, he founded the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), the first U.S.-based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on the mission of helping the people of eastern Congo support local community-based approaches that create a sustainable and successful society in the long-troubled region. Affleck is also a longtime political activist, as well as a strong supporter of many charitable organizations.

What you put out in the world will always come back to you, but never how you predict.  Taking fatherly advice is not in Joe Coughlin’s nature.  Instead, the WWI vet is a self-proclaimed anti-establishment outlaw, despite being the son of the Boston Police Deputy Superintendent.  Joe’s not all bad, though; in fact, he’s not really bad enough for the life he’s chosen.  Unlike the gangsters he refuses to work for, he has a sense of justice and an open heart, and both work against him, leaving him vulnerable time and again—in business and in love.

Driven by a need to right the wrongs committed against him and those close to him, Joe heads down a risky path that goes against his upbringing and his own moral code.  Leaving the cold, Boston winter behind, he and his reckless crew turn up the heat in Tampa.  And while revenge may taste sweeter than the molasses that infuses every drop of illegal rum he runs, Joe will learn that it comes at a price.

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Live by Night was a true passion project for Affleck, who says, “As a filmmaker, this was a chance to pay homage to the classic Warner Bros. gangster movies of the 1930s through the `70s.  I grew up watching them and they had an epic, sprawling feel that really took you into a different world, a different era.”

“Joe fully acknowledges that he’s chosen to be an outlaw in a town run by gangsters, with the Irish and Italian mobs at war,” offers writer/director/producer Ben Affleck, who also plays Joe.  “What I find most intriguing about him though is that, while he breaks the law and makes his own rules, it’s his own morality that prevents him from considering himself one of them, a gangster.”

For the ten years following the war, Joe Coughlin managed to live like an outlaw—under his policeman father’s roof, no less—before it all caught up to him.  “The things that Joe witnessed as a soldier made him decide there wasn’t any meaning to the rules we follow in life, to playing it straight,” Affleck states.  “He even sees the organized hierarchical nature of the gangster life as an equal anathema to the hierarchy of the military.  He wants no part of that, no part of taking orders from anybody.  He’s going to make his own rules.”

And he does so with a fair amount of success, so long as he keeps it, as Affleck describes, “small-time, running around with just two other guys and doing little stick-ups, that kind of thing.”

But it isn’t Joe’s distaste for authority, or even an ill-chosen robbery, that causes him to make his gravest error.  It’s love.  And it’s that singular emotion in its many forms—from passion to compassion—that will continue to be his downfall for years to come.

Affleck adapted the screenplay from author Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name; the two first collaborated when Affleck made his acclaimed directorial debut with his screen adaptation of Lehane’s crime thriller Gone, Baby, Gone.  Lehane served as an executive producer on “Live by Night.”

“Creatively speaking, Ben and I are a unique fit—and it’s not just the Boston thing, though the Boston thing is big,” Lehane smiles.  “There’s something special about Ben’s aesthetic.  His first time in the director’s chair was with ‘Gone Baby Gone,’ and he did such a beautiful job, I love that film.  So when I heard he was going to adapt Live by Night, I was happy to be working with him again.  And like before, watching this book transmogrify in Ben’s hands, from the screenplay on, was a special thing.”

As a lifelong film buff, Affleck posits that the story has all the tropes that made him a fan of the gangster genre in particular: beautiful women, dangerous men, cops, the mob, shootouts, car chases…the whole fiery, combustible mix.  “As soon as I read Dennis’s book I knew that there was something there for anyone who just really likes to have a great time at the movies.”

Leonardo DiCaprio’s production banner, Appian Way, held the rights to the book, which Affleck read at the suggestion of DiCaprio’s producing partner, Jennifer Davisson.  “Our company is constantly looking for stories about great men—which doesn’t necessarily mean good men, just that they have greatness in them in one way or another—and what they sacrifice for that,” she explains.  “One of the things Dennis does so well is dissect the male ego in a really complex and interesting way, and that’s something I think Ben does equally well.  We had the property, but when Ben was reading the book, it was clear how much he liked it and that it was right for him.  When we read Ben’s beautiful script, the same Lehane sensibility jumped off the page.”

Producer Jennifer Todd agrees.  “Ben is attracted to Dennis’s stories, and this one in particular really excited him: the time period, the characters, going from Boston to Florida.  It all felt like nothing else we had looked at.  Add to that the central character Joe, who is not quite a bad guy and not quite a good guy but caught somewhere in between the two, so he makes his choices, but he feels the consequences.  Where does he really belong?”

Joe leaves Boston after a short prison stint for the warmer environs, and even hotter underground rum trade, of Tampa.  In addition to working in and around the greater Los Angeles area, the production shot extensively in various sections of Boston, especially Lawrence, and recreated the exotic Florida locales in various parts of Georgia, which better represented the Tampa from that era.  In collaboration with Affleck, designers Jess Gonchor and Jacqueline West and their teams recreated the time and place, with Robert Richardson capturing it all and William Goldenberg cutting.

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Affleck notes, “Diving into this world, this era, with Bob and Bill and Jess and Jackie all encapsulating it so deftly, and all these great actors populating it and turning in tremendous performances, made this one of the most enjoyable films I’ve been involved in.  Everyone came in and did such a great job that it felt like we were there, in that life, going through that experience.”

The three women Joe crosses paths with in the film—in one way or another—are portrayed by Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana.  They are joined by Brendan Gleeson and Chris Cooper on one side of the law, and Remo Girone and Robert Glenister squarely on the other.  Joe’s most trusted friend and fellow felon is played by Chris Messina.

Sienna Miller, who portrays Emma, says she shares Affleck’s enthusiasm for the genre.  “I’m obsessed with the Prohibition era, so to be in this film is a dream realized, but more important to me was the fact that Ben had written the script and would star and direct in it.  Having seen his previous work, I would have dropped anything to be a part of this and to play such an exquisite role.

LIVE BY NIGHT

“Emma’s the quintessential gangster’s moll,” Miller continues, “serving drinks in a speakeasy where illegal poker games go on, being squired about on the arm of her married boss and sleeping with the enemy behind his back.  She has a steely center that serves her in navigating a world that is dark and murderous and misogynistic, and that leads her to embark on a romance with Joe that is beautiful and transient and ultimately tragic.  It’s very clear from the outset that she’s a strong, no-nonsense Irish lass doing what she must to survive.”

Zoe Saldana plays the part of Graciela, a Cuban living in Ybor, a multi-ethnic, multi-racial community of hardworking immigrants, known for the production of cigars.  “Joe’s been working with barbaric, violent criminals his whole life, so there’s an integrity to the people, Graciela’s people, that Joe finds appealing,” she suggests.  “And Graciela is unlike other women he’s known.  She’s educated, she’s traveled and studied music and art.  She’s very cultured and also very smart when it comes to her family’s business.”

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Joe loves Emma, but he learns what love actually is from Graciela.  “What Joe and Emma have is urgent, dramatic, immature in some ways,” says Jennifer Todd.  “What Joe and Graciela have feels more grown up, grounded, and based in something real.”

Perhaps what sets Graciela apart from women like Emma is what she really wants out of life.  “I don’t think Graciela woke up in Cuba and said to herself, ‘I want to date gangsters, I want to live on the dark side,’” Saldana adds.  “I think she wants a full life with a good man, a home, children.  The more time she spends with Joe, the more she realizes that she could have all that with this man.  She sees who he really is, who he could be, if he could wash away all the bad that he does at night by doing good during the day.  She sees his redemption.”

Like Miller and Saldana, Elle Fanning, too, utilized an accent for her role as Loretta Figgis, the sweet, at times naïve daughter of the Tampa police chief.  However, for the Georgia native, it was simply a matter of returning to her roots.  It was the many other facets of Loretta’s journey that would prove an exciting challenge for the young actress.

“At first, Loretta has such sparkle, this girl with a twinkle inside her who is looking for adventure in life, she’s so excited to follow her dreams.  Oddly, it’s when she loses that sparkle, loses that twinkle that she had, that she discovers her real purpose in this world,” Fanning reveals.

Loretta’s initial meeting with Joe is very brief.  The next time they come in contact, the tables have definitely turned.  Both the children of policemen, the comparison ends there; their paths have taken them in very different directions.  Still, Joe can’t help but have a measure of respect for the slip of a girl who could, with just a few words, bring his world crashing down around him.

The script called for a couple of lengthy monologues, one of which took place in front of a large crowd, Joe included.  With Affleck’s blessing, Fanning took the opportunity to speak her lines aloud for the first time when cameras were rolling.  “I just wanted to go for it, to feel that energy, and Ben was so helpful and so giving—both as a director and as an actor in the scene.”

“Elle gave Loretta such an angelic presence and, at the same time, a broken innocence,” observes Jennifer Davisson.  “It’s trickier than it sounds to do that, but it was important for the character and she got it.”

“Elle’s an extremely gifted actress,” Affleck states.  “In the book, the character starts out at 13, but in the script I wrote her to be closer to the cusp of womanhood, someone who was straddling that line of being a girl and being grown up.  I thought it would make Loretta’s storyline even more heartbreaking.”

Affleck summarizes by stating, “Just like those classic gangster movies I watched as a kid, Dennis Lehane created an engrossing world and a character we can all relate to.  We all want to be our own person, live life on our own terms, but sometimes there’s a price for that and it’s high.  I found it almost heroic for Joe to try so hard to be true to himself, despite what he knows it will cost him, and I hope moviegoers will, too.”

Films released on the Big Screen in South Africa in January 2017

Jan 2017

Top Films of 2016      Latest Releases     Upcoming films

COMPETITION:   Let us know what you top films of January 2017 are and Why?  Also your favourite star, director and writer. You stand a chance of winning a fun DVD hamper worth R600. Deadline: Feb 15, 2017 Enter here

a-monster-callsA MONSTER CALLS A visually spectacular drama from acclaimed director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Impossible), based on the award-winning children’s fantasy novel. 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) attempts to deal with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness and the bullying of his classmates by escaping into a fantastical world of monsters and fairy tales that explore courage, loss, and faith.  Directed by J.A. Bayonne, with Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver. Watch Trailer Feature: The Art Of Adaptation

alliedALLIED The story of intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), who in 1942 North Africa encounters French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour ( Marion Cotillard) on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Reunited in London, their relationship is threatened by the extreme pressures of the war.  Directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Steven Knight.  Feature: A mesmerizing espionage thriller, sweeping war drama and passionate romance / Watch the trailer

ballerinaBALLERINA  An English-language French-Canadian 3D computer-animated musical fantasy adventure film co-directed by Eric Summer and Éric Warin. The screenplay, by Summer, Carol Noble and Laurent Zeitoun, with music by Klaus Badelt, concerns a poor orphan girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina and gets a chance to audition for the celebrated school of the Paris Opera Ballet. The film stars the voices of Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Maddie Ziegler and Carly Rae Jepsen. Read more / Watch the trailer

birthofanationBIRTH OF A NATION Set against the antebellum South, it Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself and his fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom. Directed by Nate Parker. Watch Trailer Feature: The Birth Of A Nation puts a fiery and focused new lens to history

collateral-beauty-movie-poster-1COLLATERAL BEAUTY When a successful New York ad executive (Will Smith) suffers a personal tragedy and retreats from life, his friends devise a drastic plan to reach him before he loses everything.   Pushing him to the very edge, they force him to confront the truth in surprising and profoundly human ways.  From Oscar-winning director David Frankel, this thought-provoking drama explores how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of beauty, and how the constants of love, time and death interlock in a life fully lived. Feature: An inspiring story about the triumph of love and the human spirit / Trailer

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HACKSAW RIDGE The extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss [Andrew Garfield] who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Directed by Mel Gibson. Go behind the scenes /  Trailer

hoener-3HOENER MET DIE ROOI SKOENE It’s not a children’s movie or a fairytale; neither a drama. It’s a thriller-comedy from renowned director and producer, Koos Roets (‘n Pawpaw Vir My Darling).  Bonnie (Lizz Meiring) is a receptionist at the internationally acclaimed De Waal Theatre Group. Whilst chatting away on the phone, as per usual, her boss, the successful, but unpopular businessman and impresario, Du Toit de Waal (Deon Lotz), is murdered. Bonnie discovers him on the office table behind her with a dagger in his back.  She phones the police and then goes closer to the body to inspect the situation.   Trailer

La La Land 4LA LA LAND  A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. Boy meets girl meets the up-ending aspirations of the city of stars – and they all break out of the conventions of everyday life as La La Land takes off on an exuberant song-and-dance journey through a life-changing love affair between a jazz pianist and a hopeful actress. At once an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics, a love letter to the Los Angeles of unabated dreams, and a distinctly modern romance, the film reunites Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, bringing them together with rising writer/director Damien Chazelle (the Oscar-winning Whiplash.) Behind The Scenes Feature:   La La Land gloriously revives the musical genre with verve and vigour / Trailer

LIONLION Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train travelling away from his home and family. Frightened and bewildered, he ends up thousands of miles away, in chaotic Kolkata. Somehow he survives living on the streets, escaping all sorts of terrors and close calls in the process, before ending up in an orphanage that is itself not exactly a safe haven. Eventually Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple, and finds love and security as he grows up in Hobart. Not wanting to hurt his adoptive parents’ feelings, he suppresses his past, his emotional need for reunification, and his hope of ever finding his lost mother and brother. But a chance meeting with some fellow Indians reawakens his buried yearning. With just a small store of memories, and the help of a new technology called Google Earth, Saroo embarks on one of the greatest needle-in-a-haystack quests of modern times. Adapted from the memoir “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley, the film  is directed by Emmy Award nominated Garth Davis (Top Of The Lake) from a screenplay by Luke Davies (Candy, Life). Feature: An incredible true story about mothers, and the primal urge to find home / Watch the trailer

manchester-by-the-sea-casey-affleck-lucas-hedges-promoMANCHESTER BY THE SEA tells the story of the Chandler family, a working class family from Massachusetts. After Lee’s (Casey Affleck) older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly passes away, he is made the legal guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges). Lee is forced to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Feature: From Page To Screen / Interview with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan

MIDDLE SCHOOL THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE 2MIDDLE SCHOOL:  THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE It chronicles the trials and triumphs of Rafe Khatchadorian, as he uses his wits to battle bullies, hormones and the tyrannical, test-obsessed Principal Dwight. Rafe has an epic imagination…and a slight problem with authority. Both collide when he transfers to an oppressive, rule-crazy middle school. Drowning in do’s and don’ts, Rafe and his scheming best friend Leo hatch a plan to break every rule in the school’s Code of Conduct. It’s Ferris Bueller meets Home Alone as their battle with Principal Dwight explodes into chaos both real and imagined. But Dwight displays his own fiendish creativity, striking back at the rule breakers. Meanwhile, Rafe struggles to hide his misbehaviour from Jeanne, the straight-A, overachieving girl of his dreams, and at home, his mother’s boyfriend — a moochy, jack-of-no-trades named Bear — threatens to become his stepfather. Directed by Steve Carr, with Lauren Graham, Adam Pally, Isabela Moner.Read more about the film / Trailer

monster_trucks_trailerMONSTER TRUCKS  Looking for any way to get away from the life and town he was born into, Tripp (Lucas Till), a high school senior, builds a monster truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars. After an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange and subterranean creature with a taste and a talent for speed, Tripp may have just found the key to getting out of town with a most unlikely friend. Watch trailer

 

passengersPASSENGERS The spaceship, Starship Avalon, on its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as “Homestead II” and transporting 5,259 people has a malfunction in two of its sleep chambers. As a result, two hibernation pods open prematurely and the two people that awoke are stranded on the spaceship, still 90 years from their destination. Aurora Dunn (Jennifer Lawrence) is a writer from New York who is interested in cosmic travel. Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is a mechanical engineer from Denver who wants to leave Earth and bought the ticket for the journey. The two soon discover that the malfunction that caused them to be awoken prematurely is not the only problem afflicting the huge spaceship, and as they try to find a way out, they soon find themselves falling in love. Go behind the scenes / Trailer

Mark Wahlberg in PATRIOTS DAY to be released by CBS Films and Lionsgate Films.

PATRIOT’S DAY  Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Peter Berg, it is an account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the everyday heroes who inspired the world in the extraordinary hours that followed.  In the aftermath of an unspeakable act of terror, Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) joins courageous survivors, first responders and investigators in a race against the clock to hunt down the bombers before they strike again.  Weaving together the stories of Special Agent Richard Deslauriers (Kevin Bacon), Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) and nurse Carol Saunders (Michelle Monaghan) this visceral and unflinching chronicle captures the suspense of the most sophisticated manhunt in law enforcement history and the strength of the people in Boston. Watch Trailer

snaaks-genoegSNAAKS GENOEG An entertaining and poignant dark comedy, which explores the pain inflicted by humour on the average human being. The film, an original piece written and directed by David Moore, follows a down-and-out comedian (Casper de Vries) who drifts from one small town to another. Having alienated his audience with his crude comments and dirty humours, his popularity has faded. He hits the road fighting not only for survival, but also to find the spark he once had. He has been reduced to doing shows in small towns and working for food and accommodation. As he drifts from remote location to remote location, successful comedians are being kidnapped, tortured and murdered in bizarre ways, and he seems to be riding right into the centre of this storm. The murders and kidnappings are in fact being orchestrated by a genius lawyer, Koos van der Merwe (Tobie Cronje), who gets criminals off their charges in exchange for “sorting out” comedians who offend him and his family name. De Vries has some strange experiences along his journey, some hard and some less so, and all help to make him look at himself and start to re-invent his persona. Go Behind the scenes / Trailer

Split4SPLIT While the mental divisions of those with dissociative identity disorder have long fascinated and eluded science, it is believed that some can also manifest unique physical attributes for each personality, a cognitive and physiological prism within a single being.  Though Kevin (James McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all of the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey, 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.Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan returns to the captivating grip of The Sixth SenseUnbreakable and Signs with Split, an original thriller that delves into the mysterious recesses of one man’s fractured, gifted mind.  Read review Feature: M. Night Shyamalan’s Split delves into the mysterious recesses of one man’s fractured, gifted mind / Watch the trailer

why-him-trailerWHY HIM? Over the holidays, Ned (Bryan Cranston), an overprotective but loving dad and his family visit his daughter at college, where he meets his biggest nightmare: her well-meaning but socially awkward Silicon Valley billionaire boyfriend, Laird (James Franco). The straight-laced Ned thinks Laird, who has absolutely no filter, is a wildly inappropriate match for his daughter. The one-sided rivalry—and Ned’s panic level—escalate when he finds himself increasingly out of step in the glamorous high-tech hub, and learns that Laird is about to pop the question. Directed by  John Hamburg. Go behind the scenes/   Trailer

xxx-the-return-of-xander-cageXXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE The third explosive chapter of the blockbuster franchise that redefined the spy thriller finds extreme athlete turned government operative Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) coming out of self-imposed exile and on a collision course with deadly alpha warrior Xiang and his team in a race to recover a sinister and seemingly unstoppable weapon known as Pandora’s Box. Recruiting an all-new group of thrill-seeking cohorts, Xander finds himself enmeshed in a deadly conspiracy that points to collusion at the highest levels of world governments. Packed with the series’ signature deadpan wit and bad-ass attitude, “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” will raise the bar on extreme action with some of the most mind-blowing stunts to ever be caught on film.  D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, The Disappointments Room) directs the return to one of Hollywood’s most successful spy-action franchises from a screenplay by F. Scott Frazier (based on characters created by Rich Wilkes).   “More than anything I want the audience to escape and to just have fun,” says Diesel.  “That’s what this film is all about but I also hope it inspires people to be their true selves and not be afraid to be wacky or unique,” he says. Read more / Trailer

 

The life-affirming story of one man’s progress through the landscape of loss and what he ultimately finds – with heart, candor, a thread of humor and the recognition that there will always be some things beyond our understanding.

For screenwriter Allan Loeb (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 21), Collateral Beauty began as the germ of a concept that grew to capture his imagination until it could not be denied.  “It was a little story in my head that kept nagging at me, about a man who writes letters to abstractions like time, love and death, and why would he do that?”

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Screenwriter Allan Loeb doggedly pursues and creates unique, character-driven films that are grounded in authentic emotion, poignant honesty, and a deep sense of humanity. Originally breaking into the industry in 2004 with one of the first Black List scripts, “The Only Living Boy in New York,” Loeb has worked professionally and continuously as a screenwriter and script doctor, writing on over 40 studio movies and six television pilots across a variety of studios and networks. Having built a successful career as a true working screenwriter, Loeb has refocused on his passion projects, such as “Collateral Beauty,” a script so personal that he took six months off to write it.

When a successful New York advertising executive (Will Smith) suffers a great tragedy he retreats from life.  While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death.  But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

“It came together piece by piece over a long period of time as I wrote other movies and worked on other things,” he recounts. Collateral Beauty is about finding your way back to life and love in the wake of unspeakable loss, and about those unexpected moments of hope, meaning and connection – the proverbial silver linings – that light the path through even the darkest times.

“It’s those things we sometimes take for granted or don’t notice all the time, but that might be there every day, like a sunset…or fleeting, like a child’s smile,” says director David Frankel.  “There are millions of examples of collateral beauty; they’re unique, and we all have different ideas about what they could be.  They’re the reason that we go on, and I think what’s really compelling about this story is that it reminds us to take notice of those brilliant fragments of life that make it worth living.”

Discovering those moments illuminated by every tragic event is an emotional and spiritual journey profoundly personal to each individual, yet something that we all share. Set amidst the warmth, energy and often bittersweet notes of the holiday season in New York City, “Collateral Beauty” tells the life-affirming story of one man’s progress through the landscape of loss and what he ultimately finds – with heart, candor, a thread of humor and the recognition that there will always be some things beyond our understanding.

“The way you see the world, the way your heart opens and the way you relate to people after a tragedy can be very beautiful,” observes screenwriter Allan Loeb, who is also one of the film’s producers.  “It can be transformative.”

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Edward Norton and will Smith

Will Smith, who stars as the central character, Howard, a man lost in grief, concurs. “The over-arching idea of collateral beauty touched all of us, that no matter how difficult your circumstances, there is something special happening right there; you just have to look for it to see it.” Citing the holiday classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ among his favorites, and one of his inspirations for “Collateral Beauty,” he adds, “So many of the actors David approached first said yes.  It was one of those times where we all got it; we all wanted to be a part of delivering this story to the screen.”

Howard was a highly successful and dynamic advertising executive, the head of his own company, for whom those words once represented powerful marketing tools.  They were great motivators.  In an early scene evoking his former passion, he is seen addressing a rapt crowd with the statement: “These three things connect every single human being on Earth.  We long for love.  We wish we had more time.  And we fear death.”

But after his six-year-old daughter succumbs to a fatal illness, casting Howard emotionally adrift, these concepts take on a larger meaning.  Increasingly withdrawn from human contact, the only communication Howard now initiates are the angry, accusatory letters he writes to Love, Time, and Death.

“He’s struggling with big, philosophic questions and looking to the universe for answers,” Frankel says. “Like a modern-day King Lear, you might say, he’s howling at the gods.”

“We call them abstractions, but of course we know there’s nothing abstract about these things,” says producer Michael Sugar. “They’re what drives all of us.  Every filmmaker aspires to make a film that is both entertaining and deeply moving, and I think this piece captures the essence of all the things in life we think about, which is why, when I first read this script, I was blown away.  We all were.”

Eventually, Howard’s fixation gives his friends an idea to possibly break him out of his endless malaise by somehow allowing him to confront these very concepts.  They’ve tried every other means of help from traditional grief counseling to shamanistic rituals, offered comfort and patience, and nothing has worked.

Howard’s friends are also his closest colleagues and long-time business partners: Whit, played by Edward Norton, Claire, played by Kate Winslet, and Simon, played by Michael Peña.  Though their concern for him is genuine, their plan has a practical side, too, as Howard’s disconnection from the daily functions has brought the company to the brink of insolvency and they must quickly affect a sale to save it.

Producer Anthony Bregman explains, “He’s in the process of destroying his own agency because he can’t engage in anything in the world anymore, and his partners and best friends fear that everything they’ve worked for together will be lost.  So they decide to take matters to an extreme.  They do it for the company and the hundreds of people who work there, but most importantly they do it out of love.  They do it for him.”

“It’s an intervention,” says Frankel.  “Tough love.”

Thus one day, while at his usual bench in the dog park, Howard is approached by a self-assured woman smartly dressed in vivid blue, who sits beside him.  She holds a letter he recently posted to Death. Taking him completely off-guard, she introduces herself as the recipient of that letter.  When Howard recoils, she reminds him that people are forever seeking answers from the universe but not many are granted a direct response.  And so it begins…

Reflecting on the scene’s unusual set-up and Howard’s response, which might be equal parts incredulity, curiosity and revulsion, Frankel acknowledges, “It’s a very touching story, but it also has natural opportunities for comedy, especially in the often playful relationships between characters and the workings of human nature. The biggest challenge for me was in balancing those moments with characters that are quite deep and ideas that are profound.”

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The woman in the blue coat is played by Helen Mirren, who, like many of the cast and filmmakers, was drawn to the project by its story.  “It’s original.  I hadn’t read anything like it before and I responded to the concept of collateral beauty and what that means,” she offers.  It’s a lovely idea.  The reality is everyone has a different understanding of these elements; it’s private and personal to them.  But undoubtedly, these are among the most important and imaginative ideas we have to grapple with as human beings traveling through life.”

“I was probably 20 or 30 pages into it when it grabbed me,” shares producer Kevin Frakes.  “I knew it was going to be an amazing screenplay, but I didn’t realize how personally it would affect me.  I was in tears.  It completely crushed me and really hit home, so I knew that this was a movie I needed to make.  For me, it’s about the miracle of life…birth and death.  And when someone dies, their soul stays with us.  That is my interpretation of what collateral beauty means.”

At the same time, notes Edward Norton, “It has a lightness of touch, while working underneath are some very poignant themes, and a blend of elements that reminded me a little of Billy Wilder movies.  If you look back at some of the movies of the ’30s and ’40s, they were able sometimes to layer in very adult themes but also had a sort of confection quality to them.  When you look at those kinds of films, you marvel at the ability of the filmmakers and actors to straddle those tones and when I read this, I thought it presented that kind of challenge. The tonal balance is interesting.”

“We knew David was adept at delivering humor and emotion without being manipulative.  He’s always excelled at capturing special tones in his films,” says Sugar.

Equally important, “He’s able to get very grounded performances that keep the story feeling as real as possible,” producer Bard Dorros attests, “while allowing audiences to also feel that there’s something more to the story. There’s a meaning behind these events.  There’s a meaning behind grief, a meaning behind love, and a reason why all these elements interact.  I hope it gives audiences that sense of satisfaction you get when you watch a story that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”

As events unfold, those parts are revealed to include the lives and longings of the other main characters, apart from their focus on Howard.  We see that this journey is also relevant to them, to the issues they need to resolve and the things they’re searching for, as the concept of collateral beauty expands to touch all of them in ways they never anticipated. “In each scene, what I focused on was the connections people were making, how they were being drawn together, and how they were trying to find what they needed in life,” says Frankel.

In addition to Smith, Norton, Winslet, Peña and Mirren, the film’s stellar ensemble cast includes Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore, who make the case, respectively, for Love and Time, and Naomie Harris, as a grief counselor who truly knows the terrain.

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Director David Frankel’s previous films include “The Devil Wears Prada,” starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway; “Marley & Me,” starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston; “The Big Year,” starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Wilson; “Hope Springs,” starring Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell; and “One Chance,” starring James Corden, Alexandra Roach, Colm Meaney, and Julie Walters. Frankel won an Academy Award for Best Short for his film “Dear Diary,” and an Emmy for his direction of HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” His other work for HBO includes the “Entourage” pilot, for which he earned an Emmy nomination, as well as several episodes of “Sex and the City,” and the acclaimed miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.”

Frankel worked closely with screenwriter/producer Loeb during production, as Loeb tailored aspects of the characters and dialogue – an uncommon experience for the Hollywood veteran, and most welcome.  “There was a lot of on-set writing,” he recalls, “not changing the structure of the piece or its heart, but tuning to the voices of our stars.  Writing for Will is a little different than writing for Edward, or Kate, and each of them brought their own insights.  I was on set every day, working with the actors, and I must give a nod to David Frankel for that because it’s rare that a director allows the writer such access.”

Addressing the film’s basic premise, Loeb says, “the script was a Trojan Horse of a discourse about what I believe are the three most important elements of all of our existence.  And I wanted to talk about it not from a Greek chorus point of view but literally from the mouths of Love, Time and Death.”

Toward this end, he crafted characters whose primary purpose was to take on the defining elements of these concepts and let them boldly challenge Howard’s attitudes and assumptions, face to face, about their purpose in the world and what they mean to him.

Returning to the themes of Love, Time and Death, Frankel says, “I don’t expect that people will necessarily come away with a deeper understanding of these profound ideas, but they might be moved to think about how it affects their own lives.  We all have to grapple with the importance of these abstract notions, and that’s the heart of the movie.

“What I’m hoping,” he concludes, “is that we can give audiences a life-affirming, chest-swelling experience that takes them out of the everyday and gives them something to talk about.”

La La Land is a cinematic experience unto itself.  It is sweeping but also intimate.  It is large but also romantic.  It is happy and melancholy.  It dances and sings.  And it paints a portrait of love and Los Angeles that you’ve never seen before.

La La Land began with a crazy dream.  Writer-director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) wanted to see if he could make a film that channels the magic and energy of the most poignantly romantic French and American musicals of film making’s Golden Age … into our more complicated and jaded age.

For as dizzyingly fast as our world has changed in the last half century, are we any less captive to the whimsies of accidental meetings or missed opportunities, of dreams hitting roadblocks or dreams coming true, of knowing pure, mad love or watching as the demands of the world change our purest connections? Chazelle wondered if song-and-dance storytelling could again bring audiences solace, joy and enduring fairy tales, even in a world where much of cinema is darker and more digitized than ever.

“La La Land deals with something that’s really personal to me:  how you balance life and art, how you balance reality and dreams and also, specifically, how you balance your relationship to your art with your relationships with other people.”

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Boy meets girl meets the up-ending aspirations of the city of stars – and they all break out of the conventions of everyday life as La La Land takes off on an exuberant song-and-dance journey through a life-changing love affair between a jazz pianist and a hopeful actress.  At once an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics, a love letter to the Los Angeles of unabated dreams, and a distinctly modern romance, the film reunites Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

The film begins as everything begins in L.A.: on the freeway.  This is where Sebastian meets Mia, with a disdainful honk in a traffic jam that mirrors all too well the gridlock they’re each navigating in their lives.

Both are focused on the kind of near-impossible hopes that are the lifeblood of the city:  Sebastian trying to get people to care about traditional jazz in the 21st Century, Mia aiming to nail just one uninterrupted audition.  But neither expects that their fateful encounter will lead them to take leaps they never could alone.

The leaps they both make, towards each other and, conflictingly, into their grandest artistic dreams, creates its own quintessentially cinematic world of rapture in La La Land – one that with light, color, sound, music and words takes a trip directly into the ecstasies of the happiness we chase… and the heartache of the passions we never get over.

“With La La Land, I wanted to do a love story and I also wanted to create a musical like the musicals that entranced me as a kid, but updated into something very modern.  I wanted to explore how you use color, sets, costumes and all these very expressionistic elements of Old School movie making to tell a story that takes place in our times.”

Wearing its influences on its sleeve yet taking considerable risks, La La Land allows Chazelle to pay homage to legends of cinema while harnessing its current power to make the most private human terrain – the territory of intimate relationships, personal dreams and the crossroads where decisions set fate into motion – come to life on the screen as a palpably real, yet enchanted, universe.

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“To me, it was important to make a movie about dreamers, about two people who have these giant dreams that drive them, that bring them together, but also tear them apart.”

He goes on:  “La La Land is a very different movie from Whiplash in many ways.  But they both deal with something that’s really personal to me:  how you balance life and art, how you balance reality and dreams and also, specifically, how you balance your relationship to your art with your relationships with other people.  With La La Land, I wanted to tell that story using music, song and dance.  I think the musical as a genre is a great vehicle for expressing that balancing act between dreams and reality.”

The components of the film might be ageless, but producer Marc Platt, a veteran of stage and film musicals, notes the approach is novel.  Platt joined up with producers Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz, who closely developed the project from the start with Chazelle.

“Damien has reinvigorated the genre by drawing on classic elements, but bringing them forth in a way that speaks to contemporary life in L.A. He brings the foundation of great old movies into something for a new generation,” Platt observes.

Working with a group of collaborators who each brought their imaginations to the table

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Damien Chazelle most recently wrote and directed the Academy Award winning Whiplash. Released in 2014 by Sony Pictures Classics Whiplash received five Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle, and three wins, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons. His 2013 short, based on the Whiplash screenplay, won the Short Film Jury Prize at Sundance, and the following year the feature film took home both the Jury and Audience Awards from the festival. Previously, Chazelle wrote Magnolia Picture’s Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack and co-wrote Paramount’s hit thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane, starring John Goodman. His screenplays for Whiplash and The Claim both appeared on the Blacklist. Chazelle made his first feature film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, as an undergraduate at Harvard University. The critically acclaimed musical was named “the Best First Feature of 2010” by L.A. Weekly and “easily the best first film in eons” by Time Out New York.

To forge this hybrid of forward-looking ideas married to classic forms, Chazelle worked with a group of collaborators who each brought their imaginations to the table.  In addition to Berger, Horowitz and Platt, they include composer, Justin Hurwitz, who takes a creative partnership he began with Chazelle on their previous films Whiplash and Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench into the crafting of an entire musical universe; the Tony and Emmy nominated Broadway lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, dubbed the 21st Century heirs to Rogers and Hammerstein, who put words to the melodies; executive music producer Marius de Vries, who music-directed Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and co-scored Romeo + Juliet; and choreographer Mandy Moore who has been bringing contemporary dance into the mainstream on So You Think You Can Dance, and gets her first chance to create large-scale, big-screen dance numbers.

Hurwitz says that he and Chazelle looked for ways to bring a contemporary language – musical, visual and emotional languages – to a genre that runs the risk of nostalgia.

“The idea of doing not just a musical, but a musical that is about the realities of love and dreams in today’s L.A., energized me and Damien,” the composer says.  “Musicals are so heightened and we adore that about them but we also loved the idea of capturing a real feeling of current life within that heightened world.”   For Moore, La La Land takes its own place, suspended on the border between the current and the timeless.   “The film showcases how culturally relevant the beautiful marriage between music, movement, acting, singing, and storytelling can be,” she sums up.

Marc Platt notes:  “Throughout La La Land, you have a very contemporary aesthetic.  There is a fluid camera that lets you feel like you are very much in the moment, while taking you back to the era of Golden Hollywood entertainment.”

That aesthetic had its roots in Chazelle’s life-long love of movies, but the film’s origins began with a coffee shop meeting between Chazelle and two rising producers — Fred Berger, who began his career working with Sofia Coppola and produced the award-winning Taking Chance as well as the forthcoming sci-fi thriller The Titan, and Jordan Horowitz, known for the 2010 Oscar®-nominated nontraditional family drama The Kids Are Alright.

Harvard alum Justin Hurtwitz speaking with Ryan Gosling on the set >>of the film “La La Land”

First Pitch

That was when Chazelle first pitched a musical romance set in Los Angeles.

The producers had no idea when or how it would be made at that time, but the sheer aspiration of it intrigued them.

“When we met him, Damien blew us away with his understanding of movies, even though he’d only made one small film.  As we watched him go from a shy young kid to a filmmaker on the rise and fulfill on that promise we saw at that first coffee, it was really something special,” says Berger.

As for his pitch, Berger recalls:  “It was so different and so bold.  We felt it might never get made in the current landscape, so it was worth it to us to devote years to making sure it did. It makes the romantic musical something fresh and visceral.  And given Damien’s encyclopedic knowledge of moviemaking, we felt if there was anyone who could actually pull this movie off, it would be him.”

Adds Horowitz: “Damien has such infectious energy and creativity that when he said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ we were ready to go with him on that journey, whatever it took. But our challenge was to figure out the best way to help him tell this story.  We really loved his concept but from there it was a long process of developing the script, the characters and the songs.”

Horowitz and Berger knew that challenge was huge, but they also knew there was only one way to approach it:  all in.  “We threw caution to the wind,” Horowitz says.

“We were able to follow a more organic process because we really weren’t working towards a specific deadline in the beginning.  We simply knew we would figure out how to make this film.”  In terms of his more classic influences, Chazelle was uniquely inspired by the films of Jacques Demy, the French New Wave director who broke the hyper-serious 1960s mold with intoxicating, candycolored musicals such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and A Room In Town.

“Demy’s probably the single biggest influence not just on this movie but on everything I’ve done or wanted to do.  There’s no more formative movie for me than Umbrellas Of Cherbourg.  That’s a profound love that I’ve had,” Chazelle says.

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Inspiration and exploring Los Angeles as a muse

Chazelle became struck by the idea of fusing some of his favorite elements from musicals of the 40s, 50s and 60s – the continuous musical score, the eye-popping colors, the mood-driven energy – with his favorite city:  Los Angeles, which becomes as much a romantic character in La La Land as the film’s two lovers. Los Angeles has been many things on films – a searing noir backdrop, a lush bikini paradise, a city high on the fumes of ambition.

But Chazelle set out to explore Los Angeles as Muse, a constantly in-motion canvas of fateful encounters, endless traffic, but also endless striving as everyone chases their own private, unrealized dreams, at times futilely, sometimes transformationally.

“La La Land is about a city that is very epic and unto itself – it’s a wide-screen city,” observes Chazelle.  So I thought it would be great to shoot it in wide-screen, to make it as a big and spectacular to me as a classic Hollywood musical.”    He set the film’s opening music number in a freeway tangle for very clear reasons.

“In L.A. you mostly have cars with one or two people in them.  It’s part of what makes the city feel a bit lonely.  But it’s also reflects how L.A is a crazy haven for dreamers.  Because when you’re in your car, what are you doing?  You’re playing music, or you  dream.  Each dreamer has their own dream; each person is living their own song.   You’re in your own bubble universe, your own living musical.  So that is why that moment is the perfect one for two dreamers like Sebastian and Mia to meet. We use the car radios to create a tapestry of music that everyone, one by one, on this freeway joins into at the moment.”

Chazelle’s Los Angeles is also a city of unseen yearning – an L.A. of hole-in-the-wall jazz clubs, heart-numbing audition waiting rooms, way-stop apartments, and studio coffee shops where the famous and aspirational collide; as well as an L.A. where parties, planetariums and even parking spots can bust out of the mundane and expected to become a kinetic dreamscape rife with musical mirth.

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La La Land is absolutely a love letter to Los Angeles

“La La Land is absolutely a love letter to the city,” says Platt.  “The way the film mixes two people leading very hip, modern lives with all these iconic Hollywood locales is unique.  You get a feeling both of the romantic fantasy of the city and its grounding in real lives.”

Chazelle’s concept for La La Land was elaborate, but a large-scale musical was not exactly an obvious next move for the still up-and-coming filmmaker.  Chazelle is best known for writing and directing the 2014 Oscar-winning drama Whiplash, but before that film was even made, Chazelle had already been exploring the sung-through musical.

His debut film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, was a black-and-white romance told through song-and-dance, an edgy re-envisioning of the retro MGM musical made on a shoestring budget as his Harvard senior thesis film in 2009.  For Chazelle, it was equally an opportunity to look back into film history – and move forward.   “I came to the musical late, at the end of high school, when I started getting into avant-garde films, and I started looking at old ‘Fred and Ginger’ movies as part of that tradition,” Chazelle explains.

“The 30s musicals were very experimental and that was exciting.”   Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench established Chazelle as an intriguing new talent.  But Chazelle still harbored grander Technicolor dreams that were just waiting for the right moment for him to sink his teeth into them.

“Guy and Madeline only scratched the surface of what I wanted to do with the genre,” Chazelle says.  “So I continued writing scripts to figure out an idea for a much bigger-scale musical that operated by the same principals, a musical about real life but in keeping with the spectacular Cinemascope and Technicolor musicals of the 1950s.”

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The creative synergy between Chazelle and Hurwitz was catalytic.

These dreams are what led, though not necessarily in straightforward fashion, towards La La Land.  Chazelle first began working on the outline of the story with composer Hurwitz –who first met as students at Harvard – long before the two collaborated on the acclaimed scores for Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and Whiplash.   Hurwitz says he and Chazelle have always talked to each other in rhythm and melody.

“Our relationship has always revolved around music – and movies with large musical numbers were always inspirational to both us, whether it was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Singin’ In The Rain.”

Adds Chazelle:  “Justin and I have a distinctive shorthand and we speak the same language.  He wrote the music for Whiplash, he has written the music for La La Land, and I hope he’ll write the music for every film that I do.   Now, Hurwitz was thrilled to see Chazelle create Sebastian and Mia, two modern-day dreamers who echo their own two greatest passions — music and moviemaking.  For Hurwitz, the true-to-life frisson between Sebastian and Mia – so magnetized to one another yet also pushed apart by their individual artistic goals — is the driving force of every creative element, including his score.

“It’s a very romantic movie but there is also a sense of melancholy,” says Hurwitz.  “There is the exhilaration of love and there is haunting heartbreak so all those shadings had to be woven into it.”

The creative synergy between Chazelle and Hurwitz was catalytic.  “Justin has been by my side at every step of the process,” Chazelle notes.

“Before I even wrote any dialogue, when we were still figuring out the story, Justin was working out the musical theme of the film. Even while editing, I was working in one room, and he was working across the hall from me.” Says Fred Berger:  “Justin was a crucial piece of the film’s family from day one.  One of the great joys of this film was that the music was being composed alongside the development of the script – and since Justin and Damien have known each other since they were 18, they work together like brothers in the way they push each other.  Justin literally lives and breathes music and he won’t sacrifice quality for anything. He would send hundreds of piano demos to Damien, who would whittle it down to twenty, then Jordan and I would listen and whittle it down further, and from these small threads, the songs developed almost the way you develop a screenplay.”

Observes Marc Platt: “Justin Hurwitz is a very special talent, a quiet fellow with a real soul, which pours forth in his music. In La La Land, he was asked to write melodies that conjure up many different feelings, that are of the moment but with the feel of a timeless jazz world.  He’s written every note of music in the film – it is a musical voice that echoes Damien’s style and has its own grammar.”

Marius de Vries, who worked alongside Hurwitz and the rest of the creative team from the beginning of preproduction, notes: “It was wonderful to have such a rich and organically coherent framework of Damien’s meticulously foresightful story-telling and Justin’s gorgeous melodies and already sophisticated orchestrations at such a developed level from the very beginning of music preproduction – La La Land had its very own musical flavor from the start. We knew the world and the sonic universe we were in immediately – and so we could protect it and nurture it more easily. As the response to Whiplash cemented Chazelle as a major talent, that breathed new interest into La La Land.  Chazelle presented his vision for the film to Lionsgate, who wanted the film to be made exactly as it was conceived.

“We were allowed to make exactly the movie that Justin and I had first envisioned it back in 2006,” says Chazelle.

“The movie we mad is exactly that movie without any compromise.  Realistically, I think we all expected there to be some compromises because, when does real life ever live up to the fantasy?  But this was a dream come true in that sense.”

As the film grew, Marc Platt, who began his career in theatre and has produced leading movie musicals including Into the Woods and Nine, came aboard to help navigate.   Platt says he could not resist working with Chazelle.

“I’m a great admirer of musicals – but I’m also an admirer of new filmmakers who have something to say, and a particular way of saying it.  I was struck instantly by the way Damien’s vision brought the past into the present.  He was ready to shoot sequences the way old studio films did it, where you never cut away.  He was interested in the rich palette of Demy and the choreography of Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse.  But at the same time, what made his script so strong is the emotional realism that comes from two lovely, modern characters.”

Still, musical productions are notoriously tough to pull off in today’s film world, Platt confesses. “There are so many more variables than a dramatic film,” he explains.  “First, you have the music – melody, lyrics, orchestration and arrangement – then you have actors who need to learn songs and dance numbers, and all the visual components, the art design, wardrobe, camera, lighting style – all of which has to create a world that is not quite the real world but is related to it. The question was:  could we actually unify all this into something with a single tone that would feel contemporary?”

Part of the answer lay in casting in the leads a pair of actors who are a distinctly contemporary coupling.  Comments Chazelle:  “The idea here was to both embrace the old Hollywoodness of an iconic screen coupling that you’ve seen before.  You used to have Fred and Ginger, Bogart and Bacall, Myrna Loy and Dick Powell, these larger-than-life couples who take on different roles but are always these huge personas.  It’s an idea I find incredibly romantic, and I felt that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the closest that we have today to that today.  At the same time, I felt they could also help make this movie feel surprising and to subvert expectations. So the movie also strips away some of the veneer and the gloss that we normally associate with Ryan and Emma when they’re together.”

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For as much as La La Land is a breathless romance it is also a tale of what we give up to pursue our own private dreams. “Ironically, for Sebastian and Mia to achieve their dreams, they also need to separate. I am very moved by the idea that you can meet someone in your life who transforms you and sets you onto a path that is going to finally enable you to be the person you always dreamed of being –but ultimately, you need to go on that path alone,” says Chazelle.  “You can have a union that winds up dictating the rest of your life but doesn’t last the rest of your life.  I find that incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking and wondrous.  At its soul, I wanted this movie to be about that.”

Jordan Horowitz was gratified by how the film’s entire corps unified to pull off the feat of making a modern musical.  “There were many great collaborations on this film and I think what made it unusual is that everyone was really passionate about their own work but also in creating Damien’s vision as joyfully as he created it.”

Adds Fred Berger:  “The result is such a visceral experience it really lends itself to the big screen, to going out to have a fun, happy time.  The characters are authentic but it is also a visual spectacle from beginning to end.”   For Platt, every carefully-rendered element of La La Land – from the dialogue to the songs, performances, photography and right down to the tiniest details of the sets and costumes – synchronizes together to create something that, like romance, feels mysteriously more than the sum of its parts.

“La La Land is a cinematic experience unto itself.  It is sweeping but also intimate.  It is large but also romantic.  It is happy and melancholy.  It dances and sings.  And it paints a portrait of love and Los Angeles that you’ve never seen before. Ultimately, it may transport you into a different kind of feeling than you’re used to having at the movies,” Platt concludes.   Chazelle hopes one of the feelings the film evokes is passion, since that was the root if its intricate creation.

“I do think La La Land is about passion — it’s about passion for art and passion for love and hopefully the passion with which we approached the movie, with which we wrote it, with which we composed the music for it and with which we present it is something you feel.”

Daniel Dercksen shares a few words with David Dennis, Daniel Buys and Phillip Schnetler, who step into the shoes of the iconic and colourful Bernadette, Mitzi/Tick and Felicia/Adam in the highly anticipated musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical, that will add glitter to local audiences when it opens in South Africa in March 2017.

SHOE

 

It tells the heart-warming and uplifting tale of three drag artist friends who hop aboard a battered old bus aka “Priscilla” and go off on the adventure of a life-time through the Australian Outback, to perform in Alice Springs.  On the way they find friendship, love and far more than they ever dreamed of.

With a dazzling array of over 500 award-winning costumes, 200 extraordinary head-dresses and a hit parade of dance floor favourites including I Will Survive, Hot Stuff, Finally, Boogie Wonderland, Go West, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and I Love The Nightlife, this wildly fresh and funny musical is a journey to the heart of FABULOUS!

The proudly South African, exceptionally talented 28-member cast, live band, crew and creative team will give audiences a night of unforgettable performances, nostalgic music and an entertainment experience with all the sparkle to share in Priscilla’s “fabulousness”.

The originally opened in Australia in 2006 and after a sell-out two year run, opened on London’s West End followed by Broadway in New York. The show continues to wow audiences across the globe with recent return tours to the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It has won awards all over the world, including prestigious Olivier and Tony awards.

The critically-acclaimed hit musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert based on the Oscar-winning hit film makes its South African premiere at Artscape, Cape Town on Tuesday, 28 March 2017 before touring to Montecasino’s Teatro from Friday, 28 April to 18 June 2017Book your seats at Computicket or  www.showtime.co.za 

David Dennis

David Dennis

Why do you think Priscilla fever has had such an everlasting impact worldwide – on film and now immortalised live on stage?

David Dennis: Not much to laugh about just now is there – at home and abroad. However the sun still rises in the east and sometimes we just need sheer unadulterated entertainment.

Daniel Buys: So many people yearn to do things they want to.  To find acceptance for who they are and celebrate that.  It’s a warm hearted story centered on a very vivacious and flamboyant story.

Phillip Schnetler: I believe it is because it is such a relevant topic. It is current and people don’t like to always talk about the issues addressed in the show. It is way easier rather see a show about it, than to just talk about it. Then also because the music is just AMAZING, the costumes are quite extravagant.

You must be over the moon landing one of lead roles in this iconic musical?

David Dennis: It has come as a surprise especially after a long absence from the Musical Theatre scene. Didn’t have much time to think about it really as it took about four days from first hearing of the audition to the final casting. I told a colleague afterward that I had a feeling that I had just auditioned for the film and not the musical.

Daniel Buys: Yes I am very excited and proud to have landed this role.  It was a stressful audition process and it’s a wonderful validation to get the role I auditioned for.

Phillip Schnetler: I am completely over the moon. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be part of such an iconic show. Not to mention playing one of the main characters. I am just so blessed that I have the opportunity to put my own energy and stamp (If I could call it that)  on the character Felicia. I still have to pinch myself every time I think about it.

Daniel Buys

Daniel Buys

Did you ever dream you would step into the shoes of one of the most colourful and celebrated characters the world has ever seen?

David Dennis: Certainly not this one. There have been other iconic roles such as Riff Raff and later Frank ’n Furter in the first full SA production (1991/92) of The Rocky Horror Show and the shows 21st anniversary season a couple of years later both directed by Christopher Malcolm. Before that,  there was King Lear and many other Shakespearean and classic greats…and then the TV role of Sol from 10 seasons of Soul City has become something of an iconic character I hear.

Daniel Buys: I never dreamed I’d play a ‘drag queen’ but as my career has gone on I’ve slowly done more and more surprising gigs.  These ‘shoes’ are particularly challenging.

Phillip Schnetler: Never in a million years. It is such an honour and a privilege to step into the shoes of this character. So many other guys  – all over the world- have played this part, from the original Australian production Daniel Scott, to the amazingly talented Nick Adams, a broadway superstar, Oliver Thornton who played it on the West End  and now my name can also be added to the list…  WHAT??  I am without words.

Tell me about your first encounter with the film Priscilla? What impact did it have on you?

David Dennis: The sheer brilliance of its storyline – remove all of the glitz, glam & hype and it’s still a great film narrative.

Daniel Buys: I may have watched the film when I was very young but I only recently watched it again.  It’s a fun, playful story with beautifully  sensitive moments. It made me excited to play the role.

Phillip Schnetler: I can’t even remember the first time I saw the film… I was but a baby when the film was released. A mere 4 years old… Growing up on a farm in Limpopo I had very little experience or encounters with drag artists  or female impersonators. It was only when I moved to JHB that I became more aware of everything around me. When I saw the film this year I was completely obsessed with it. The music, the costumes the dialogue. Every aspect of it was amazing!’

Phillip Schnetler

Phillip Schnetler

The musical is different from the film in that you get to burst out in song and fully express your emotions? 

David Dennis: There are of course many great musicals in the Hollywood Film Musical genre – what distinguishes the Theatre from the Cinema is the living, heaving, sweating, rawness of live performance, the triple threat. It’s all a ‘bit of a song and dance’ really….at least that’s what I remember it to be.

Daniel Buys: We’ll I’m involved in musical theatre because I love to act and sing and dance so this I’m sure will be a blast.

Phillip Schnetler: I think it’s FANTASTIC!! People get to experience not only a beautiful show, but also ground breaking music. I mean, if you want to give someone a show, you should always give them some tunes to listen to. It’s amazing how they incorporated the songs into the story, to advance the storyline and not to be filling gaps in the show with random music. I promise you, you will know all the music from this show.

What do you think makes musicals such an entertaining romp?

David Dennis: All the backstage shenanigans.

Daniel Buys: Musicals are beautiful whirlwind of emotion that explore the human condition.  This particular show is an orgy of light, sound and sight.

Phillip Schnetler: It combines everything people like. Dancing, singing, visual stimulation. Its an escape from reality and it combines three different forms of entertainment in one.

How do you relate to your character? What do you draw from to play this role?

David Dennis: With some difficulty – the heels, the hair the lashes and twice on Saturdays and Sundays!!. Inspiration, standing In the shadow of great work and learning from that – I was struck by the integrity of Terence Stamps performance ….an astonishing transformation.

Daniel Buys: I can relate to Tick/Mitzi in that I know how it feels to look for acceptance particularly as a performer.

Phillip Schnetler: Well we are both born to perform. We both love the stage (even though I think Felicia likes the spotlight a little bit more more) Felicia is very witty and fun, in a way more than I am. I consider myself a little bit more of an introvert, where Felicia is super out there…I could learn so much from this character in the sense of just being me and not pretending to be something I am not. She is outspoken and maybe even a little obnoxious, She LOVES having fun, and the audience should enjoy her witty sense of humour. She is still a quite young.

It gloriously celebrates the freedom of sexuality and self-expression….

David Dennis: I am all for freedom of self- sexpression and with freedom comes responsibility.

Daniel Buys: Yeah people’s sexuality is still a taboo topic.  Maybe less so these days but we’re still fighting for acceptance and understanding for all the different ‘colours of our rainbow’.

Phillip Schnetler: I truly believe every person has the right to express themself in any way they feel comfortable with, whether you are gay, straight, bi or trans,  freedom to do what you desire is a BIG yes for me!!

Tell me about how you are preparing for the role, to step into the shoes of an iconic character and wow local audiences?

David Dennis: One has to start getting performance fit several months in advance, although at the moment I feel like something out of Jurassic Park, I intend to hit the boards running.

Daniel Buys: I think I’ll start with trying to get into shape.  Gotta look good in those outfits.

Phillip Schnetler: I have to get myself to the gym every morning  and learn how to walk in heels, (even though I used to walk in my Moms heels all the time when I was a kid) these shoes are quite different…

Your favourite Priscilla moment?

David Dennis: The ‘cock in a frock on a rock’ bit and the /red lizard costume with flared collar …I wondered at the time… just how far can this go.

Daniel Buys: When the three ‘girls’ are refused service by a particularly unattractive woman in an outback bar.  Bernadette makes a joke about her putting a cracker up her fanny…it’s very crass but very funny!

Phillip Schnetler: When Felicia lip sincs on top of the bus, dressed from head to toe in sequence, sitting on a giant silver stiletto. And in the musical my favourite moment would be the entire “Color my World” scene and song. Where they paint the bus bright Pink.

Any comments you would like to share?

David Dennis: The Guptas had nothing to do with my getting the part. I have never met a Zuma in my life.

Daniel Buys: I’m excited and nervous to don my heels and frocks and can’t wait to hit the road in this bus.

Phillip Schnetler: I can’t wait to meet everyone after the show. Please come and say Hi, in the foyer!!

Book your seats at Computicket or  www.showtime.co.za  Hashtag – #PriscillaSA

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Dercksen All Rights Reserved.  Published with permission in OUT Magazine, December 2016.

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There are some great new releases this month: Genius is a masterful drama about the complex friendship and transformative professional relationship between the world-renowned book editor Maxwell Perkins and the larger-than-life literary giant Thomas Wolfe; The Meddler is a charming coming-of-age story with Susan Sarandon in top form as a woman who discovers that it is never too late to find true love; Woody Allen conjures up a 1930s world that has passed to tell a deeply romantic tale of dreams that never die in Café Society; Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story with The Magnificent Seven;From director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) comes War Dogs, a comedic drama based on true events, following two friends in their early 20s living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows smaller businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts; Nobody’s Died Laughing is a documentary on Pieter-Dirk Uys, one of South Africas most prolific writers, satirists and activists; Life On The Line is a riveting action thriller and family drama centered on Beau (John Travolta), his beloved niece Bailey (Kate Bosworth) and the hardworking men who risk their lives to work “on the line” and keep the electric grid running; and Sausage Party, the world’s first R-rated CG animated comedy, is definitely for adults only.

Genius – an intelligent masterwork for discerning viewers

From Academy Award-nominated screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo, Skyfall) and acclaimed, Tony Award-winning director Michael Grandage (former artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse) in his feature film debut, comes the masterful drama about the complex friendship and transformative professional relationship between the world-renowned book editor Maxwell Perkins (who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway) and the larger-than-life literary giant Thomas Wolfe.  If there’s one reason to see this film, besides Logan’s intelligent screenplay and brilliant interpretation by director Grandage, it’s for the commanding performances delivered by Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) as Max Perkins, alongside Jude Law (Anna Karenina, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Thomas Wolfe. Finding fame and critical success at a young age, Wolfe was a blazing talent with a larger-than-life personality to match. Perkins was one of the most respected and well-known literary editors of all time, discovering such iconic novelists as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Wolfe and Perkins develop a tender, complex friendship. The film is based on the biography “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg, it also stars Guy Pearce (The Rover, Lawless) as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dominic West (Testament of Youth, Pride), as Ernest Hemingway. Watch The Trailer  / Go behind the scenes of Genius

Café Society – Woody Allen at his best

cafe-society

Woody Allen fans will indulge in this superb journey into the allure of fame and fortune in Hollywood during the roaring 30s. Allen’s vibrant and panoramic tale of New York and Hollywood features a kaleidoscopic cast of characters that range from movie stars to millionaires, playboys to professors, and working girls to wise guys. This bittersweet romance follows Bronx-born Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) to Hollywood, where he falls in love, and back to New York, where he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life. Centering on events in the lives of Bobby’s colorful Bronx family, the film is a glittering valentine to the movie stars, socialites, playboys, debutantes, politicians, and gangsters who epitomized the excitement and glamour of the age.

Poignant, and often hilarious, Café Society, a film with a novel’s sweep, takes us on a journey from pastel-clad dealmakers in plush Hollywood mansions, to the quarrels and tribulations of a humble Bronx family, to the rough-and-tumble violence of New York gangsters, to the sparkling surfaces and secret scandals of Manhattan high life. With Café Society, Woody Allen conjures up a 1930s world that has passed to tell a deeply romantic tale of dreams that never die.  Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes of Café Society

Meddler

Susan Sarandon and J.K.. Simmons in The Meddler

The Meddler is a charming coming-of-age story with Susan Sarandon in top form as a woman who discovers that it is never too late to find true love. Armed with a new iPhone, an apartment near the Grove, and a comfortable bank account left to her by her beloved late husband, Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) has happily relocated from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be near her daughter Lori, a successful (but still single) screenwriter, and smother her with motherly love. But when the dozens of texts, unexpected visits, and conversations dominated by unsolicited advice force Lori to draw strict personal boundaries, Marnie finds ways to channel her eternal optimism and forceful generosity to change the lives of others – as well as her own – and find a new purpose in life. Watch the trailer  / Read an interview with writer-director Lorene Scafaria

magnificent-7Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story with The Magnificent Seven, from a screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople, led by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns – Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).  As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money. “When MGM asked me about making a Western, I got excited about the possibility of it, because I grew up with Westerns,” says Antoine Fuqua, who re-teams with Denzel Washington in the story of seven outlaws, gunslingers, gamblers and bounty hunters who band together to save a town under the thumb of corruption in The Magnificent Seven.  “So I asked myself, ‘Why make a Western now?  Why would it be important?’ And the answer was, the idea of tyranny, happening in our world today – that’s what made it timely.  You’d need a special group of people to come together to fight tyranny.” Watch the trailer/  Go behind the scenes of The Magnificent Seven

Pieter-Dirk Uys

Nobody’s Died Laughing is a documentary on Pieter-Dirk Uys, one of South Africas most prolific writers, satirists and activists. Having written and performed over 20 plays and over 30 revues and one-man shows throughout the world, and been awarded South Africas prestigious Truth and Reconciliation Award in 2001, the film covers his many achievements including his travels around South Africa, visiting over 1.5 million school children, as well as prisons and reformatories, with a free AIDS-awareness entertainment programme. Watch the trailer

john-travolta-life-on-the-lineLife On The Line is a riveting action thriller and family drama centered on Beau (John Travolta), his beloved niece Bailey (Kate Bosworth) and the hardworking men who risk their lives to work “on the line” and keep the electric grid running. These unsung heroes brave raging storms and dangerously dizzying heights in their dedication to keeping the populace safe. Toiling hundreds of feet in the air on wires carrying as much as 500,000 volts of electricity, tragedy is often inches away. Haunted by the electrocution death of his brother, Beau is devoted to Bailey and determined to see her go off to college and away from the life of linemen. Bailey has other plans, which include the strapping second-generation lineman Duncan (Devon Sawa), whom Beau despises. A deadly tempest is brewing and headed straight to their Texas town. Beau, Duncan and a legion of linemen are thrust into the eye of the storm and must face down impending disaster to keep their community connected. This compelling action drama also stars Sharon Stone, Ryan Robbins, Julie Benz and Gil Bellows. Watch the trailer

War Dogs 2From director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) comes War Dogs, a comedic drama based on true events, following two friends in their early 20s living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows smaller businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts. The screenplay is by Stephen Chin and Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic, based on the Rolling Stone article titled “Arms and the Dudes,” by Guy Lawson. War Dogs grew out of the story of two stoner kids, barely into their 20s, who became multi-millionaires as the most improbable of international arms dealers. But just as they reached what should have been the pinnacle of success, it all came crashing down in spectacular fashion. Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes

Sausage partySausage Party, the world’s first R-rated CG animated comedy, is definitely for adults only. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been the masterminds behind some of the world’s most outrageous, inventive, and hilarious comedies – from Superbad to Pineapple Express to This Is the End to The Interview.  Now, they go into the world of animation for Columbia Pictures and Annapurna Pictures’ Sausage Party, the world’s first R-rated CG animated comedy, about a group of supermarket products on a quest to discover the truth about their existence and what really happens when they become chosen to leave the grocery store.“The concept of the movie was ‘what if sausages could live out their dreams of getting in buns?’” says executive producer Kyle Hunter, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. “It’s about a sausage, Frank, that’s in love with a bun named Brenda,” says Shaffir.  “They believe they’re going to get ‘chosen’ to leave the store together, and getting out of the store is their version of what they believe to be heaven.  But then Frank overhears a product who has actually been out of the store, who says it’s not what everyone thinks – it’s actually terrible, more akin to going to hell.  They fall out of the shopping cart instead of getting chosen, and Frank goes on a journey to find out the truth about what actually happens.”  “It’s a very bizarre take on a hero’s journey….an outrageous, anything-goes animated movie about the raunchy life of our food.” Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes

“Lion gives an insight into the lives of children who have been adopted and I hope will push more Western countries to recognize the need for and benefits of adoption. There are so many kids who never end up in a loving family and there are so many loving families who want a child.”

The incredible true story of Indian-born Australian Saroo Brierley and his unwavering determination to find his lost family and finally return to his first home is now realised in all its splendour on the big screen in Lion.

Director Garth Davis during the filming of Lion.

Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train travelling away from his home and family. Frightened and bewildered, he ends up thousands of miles away, in chaotic Kolkata.

Somehow he survives living on the streets, escaping all sorts of terrors and close calls in the process, before ending up in an orphanage that is itself not exactly a safe haven. Eventually Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple, and finds love and security as he grows up in Hobart. Not wanting to hurt his adoptive parents’ feelings, he suppresses his past, his emotional need for reunification, and his hope of ever finding his lost mother and brother.

But a chance meeting with some fellow Indians reawakens his buried yearning. With just a small store of memories, and the help of a new technology called Google Earth, Saroo embarks on one of the greatest needle-in-a-haystack quests of modern times.

Director Garth Davis (l) on the set of LION. ©The Weinstein Company. CR: Mark Rogers

Garth Davis was the co-director of the first series of the acclaimed Top Of The Lake with Jane Campion (The Piano) for See-Saw Films and starring Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, David Wenham and Holly Hunter, for which he received Emmy and BAFTA nominations. Garth is internationally renowned for some of the most memorable and awarded commercials. His recent work has won gold at the London International Award show, the prized Gold Lion at Cannes, and in 2010 he received a finalist nomination from the DGA (Directors Guild of America) for best commercials director. Originally a fine artist and designer, Garth has explored all forms of filmmaking. His dramatic work has included the festival hit documentary Pins, the Dendy Award winning short film Alice, and the highly acclaimed TV series Love My Way.

The Weinstein Company acquired Lion at script stage at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where they closed the deal for worldwide distribution excluding Australia and New Zealand. Transmission Films is the Australian and New Zealand distributor. The film was co-financed by Screen Australia and Fulcrum Media Finance.

When See-Saw Film’s Emile Sherman and Iain Canning first heard the true story of Saroo Brierley’s journey to find his childhood home and birth mother, they immediately sensed that it could make an extraordinarily powerful feature film.

A bidding war was soon underway for the film rights to Saroo’s story and book which See-Saw won based on the company’s track record for quality films and the producers’ commitment to making a film that was authentic and international in ambition.

“It’s one of those stories where it is virtually impossible not to move people when you talk to them about it. It’s an incredible story that gives everyone tingles up their spine. It taps into something primal in us as human beings – the need to find home and the need to know who you are,” Producer Emile Sherman says.

Producer Iain Canning says:  “It is an incredible true story. As soon as we heard it we felt that we had to go after it. Emile and I read an early manuscript of Saroo’s memoir and it has, without question, one of the most incredible endings in Saroo finally finding home.”

Iain and Emile approached Garth Davis to direct the film while at the  Sundance Film Festival in 2013 for the world premiere of their television series Top of the Lake, co-directed by Garth, with Jane Campion, who also co-wrote the series. Both directors were nominated for an Emmy Award for their work on Top of the Lake.

Impressed by Garth’s stunning work on the series, Emile and Iain didn’t hesitate to offer him the opportunity to direct Lion.

“We followed our instincts. We felt Garth – although he hadn’t yet made a feature film – was exactly the right director for the film.  He’s incredibly cinematic and can create real visual scope. At the same time he’s just brilliant with actors.  He creates such intimacy in his work and we wanted to make sure this felt raw and real.” Emile says.

“This is a film about family, about those deep bonds that never go away, that underpin our lives. Garth feels those bonds. He is a director who is not afraid of emotions. He embraces the emotion but does it in a way that is real and fresh and edgy. He also has a spiritual side – there is a sense of fate in this film. It’s about destiny and hope and we knew that Garth would bring out those resonances in a way that another director might not have been so finely tuned to do.”

Lion 2

Iain continues:  “On set Garth is a real leader, not just in terms of the specifics of performance but also because tonally he brings such a human warmth and energy to everything.   People feel safe and very comfortable with him and are therefore able to explore the highs and the lows of the human experience.”

See-Saw Films has a commitment to ongoing relationships with key talent and their creative connection with Garth Davis continues with See-Saw’s Mary Magdalene, which Garth is currently in pre-production on, starring Rooney Mara (who plays Lucy in LION) and Joaquin Phoenix.

Producer Angie Fielder from Aquarius Films, whose previous credits include Wish You Were Here, starring Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer, and filmed on location in Cambodia, was invited to join the producing team.  She and Emile had been looking for a project to work on together.  Before Emile had even spoken to her about the film, Angie had discovered Saroo’s story in a press article and been captivated by it.

“When Emile told me he had secured the rights to Saroo’s book, it took me about two seconds to decide that I wanted to do it. And then he told me that Garth Davis was attached to direct.  I had long been an admirer of Garth’s work so the idea of the film was very exciting,” Angie says.

“You couldn’t make Saroo’s story up, it’s so extraordinary. It has all of the stuff of great cinema – it has adventure and peril, it traverses continents, it travels across time. And his journey is deeply, deeply emotional.  What also makes it incredibly cinematic is that the story is so ultimately satisfying.  After years of being without his biological family and years of searching he actually, amazingly, like a needle in a haystack, found his way home.”

Determined to honor the truth of the story, Garth travelled to India while developing the film where he spent time in Kolkata (Calcutta) and also in Saroo’s childhood home village,.  Garth was there in the village when Saroo’s birth mother Kamla and adoptive mother Sue met for the very first time.  Some of the filming of LION took place in the village and Saroo’s family were welcome visitors to set on several occasions.

“It was important for me to just walk in Saroo’s reality as much as possible and so I literally retraced his steps as best as I could. I walked around his village by myself and imagined being a little boy growing up in that area.  I sat on a bench at the Burhanpur train station where he woke up alone, and then on to Kolkata and the main train station, Howrah, where the full force of the story really hit me. I have my own kids and to imagine a five year old alone there, unable to speak the language…that’s when I knew this was going to be a really powerful film.”

LION

Screenwriter Luke Davies made his own journey to India.

luke-davies

Luke Davies is the author of three novels (most recently God of Speed), four volumes of poetry (the latest, Interferon Psalms, won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry, Australia’s largest and most prestigious literary prize) and a co-writer, with Neil Armfield, of the feature film Candy, an adaptation of his own novel. Davies’ short film Air, his first as writer/director, starring BAFTA-winning actor Andrew Garfield, premiered at the Marfa Film Festival in Texas in 2010, and also screened at the Venice International Short Film Festival, the Festival des Antipodes in St Tropez, the Bigpond Adelaide Film Festival, the Big Sur Shorts Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival. Davies’ screenplay Life, about the friendship between James Dean and Life magazine photographer Dennis Stock, produced by Oscar-winning The King’s Speech producers See-Saw Films, was directed by Anton Corbijn and stars Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Sir Ben Kingsley and Joel Edgerton. It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015. Davies is currently writing the screenplay adaptation of the memoirs Beautiful Boy: My Journey Through My Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff (two books adapted as one film) for Brad Pitt’s company Plan B. The film is to be directed by Oscar-nominated director Felix von Groeningen (Broken Circle Breakdown) and produced by Oscarwinner Jeremy Kleiner (12 Years a Slave, Selma). Davies is currently writing a TV adaptation of the Joseph Heller novel Catch-22, for True Detective producers Anonymous Content and Paramount TV.

Iain and Emile had previously worked with Luke on Anton Corbijn’s Life and also on the filmed adaption of Luke’s novel Candy.

“Having worked with Luke on two previous films, we felt that he had the right sort of emotional sensibility to tackle this story,” Iain says.

Coincidentally, Luke had read Saroo’s story online just days before Emile approached him and he too was riveted by it: “It’s such an incredibly moving story. And it’s a primal story – the loss of the mother and reunification with the mother.  At that mythic level it’s amazing, but at an actual human level of ‘this really happened to this kid’.  The opportunity to take a script to some very emotional places is for a writer the most exciting thing,” Luke says.

Garth and Luke collaborated closely and intensely, experimenting with ideas, including the film’s structure. Would it be told in flashback or as a linear narrative? How do you honor the truth of the story but tell it in a way that is satisfying for a cinematic audience?

Emile Sherman says:  “The more traditional structure would have been to start with Saroo in Australia, for it to be the story of a western man who suddenly has memories of the past, and to cut back and forth as he searches for home. We battled long and hard with the structure and ultimately decided to go for a more epic one – letting the audience fully experience young Saroo’s life in India upfront. Starting with his family life, through the moment he steps onto the wrong train, onto his life on the streets of Kolkata, we are with young Saroo as his story unfolds. The enormous power of this experience is then felt throughout the Australian section, and we can then fully appreciate his emotional pull back to his birth mother.

One of the great challenges of the film was to find an Indian boy to play Saroo as a five-year-old. Angie Fielder says that the Indian production team worked closely with schools and parents in several large Indian cities in their search for the right boys for the roles.  They screen tested thousands of children and each child who was considered to have acting potential was filmed and the tests  sent back to Australia.  Garth, Angie Fielder, Australian casting director Kirsty McGregor and dramaturg Miranda Harcourt then travelled to India to work with the shortlisted children, including Sunny Pawar who was chosen to play Saroo.

LION 1

“I had an emotional template for this character and, through the story, I could feel the spirit of this kid. So I knew who I was looking for but it was very sobering to think about what we had to achieve.  Children generally can be good actors from about the age of eight but it is difficult to find a five year old capable of acting.  But I knew it was important to have a small boy – it is visually very powerful having a tiny boy lost in the world – and a boy who had the resilience and the patience to cope with the demands of the lead role in a film.” Garth says.

“I just kept coming back to Sunny. I would put a camera lens on him and he just felt like the boy I had been feeling. I needed a boy who in his natural state could give me 80% of the performance, someone with a look behind his eyes, a history, a quality that’s beautiful to look at…and Sunny had that in spades.  He could just sit in a room with the cameras on him and those of us watching would get lost in his story, in his face. At the same time there was something darker, something interesting going on,” Garth continues.

“He was one of those special kids.  So then the question was ‘can we do a scene with him? Can he take direction? Can he cry? Can he scream? Does he have strength? Can he withstand direction?’ He did all of that and more.

“There was a certain point, maybe a week into the shoot, where he became an actor…where it was clear he was putting together different emotional ideas. It was absolutely extraordinary recognizing that he was bringing something to his performance that we weren’t asking him to do.”

Producer Angie Fielder says:  “Sunny went from being a young boy who had no idea about acting to a total pro who understood everything about what he was doing and was completely in control of his performance. And I think you can see on screen that he’s not wandering around looking at things, he’s feeling things. I remember one important scene where Saroo’s older brother is arrested and Sunny started crying as we were shooting – they are real tears, there was no make up involved. He was genuinely crying because he was so emotionally involved in the scene.”

Production began in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta) in January 2015.  Dev Patel, who plays the adult Saroo, arrived early in the shoot to film the scenes of reunion with Saroo’s birth mother.  Dev campaigned hard to win the role, convincing Garth Davis and the producers that cinema audiences had yet to see the range he was capable of.

Emile Sherman says: “We knew we had to cast a Western actor of Indian heritage rather than an actor from India, to ensure the accent was correct. Saroo himself is very much an Australian man. We always had Dev in mind. He just blew us away in his screen test. He’s a wonderful actor, but he’s also so likeable, so warm and so much fun. We knew we were in the hands of an actor who’d be able to take the audience on a very emotional journey. Dev really embraced that and exceeded all of our extremely high expectations.

Iain Canning adds: “Dev brings an incredible depth to this role, beyond anything we’ve ever seen him do before on screen.  I truly believe this film will establish him as a leading actor of gravitas and maturity.”

Garth Davis says:  “Dev heard we were making the film very early on, when we were still writing. He pulled up one day at Luke Davies’ house in Los Angeles where we were working, walked in and introduced himself. He was very passionate about the role. Eventually we did a four and a half hour screen test in London – literally bare feet and a handheld camera – and I pushed and pushed Dev to see how far he could go with this character.  We needed a soul that shined and that is Dev!”

Iain Canning and Angie Fielder recall meeting Saroo Brierley and their first impressions of him.

Angie says: “When you meet Saroo you get a sense of how he managed to survive on the streets of Kolkata as a five year old. There is something about him as a person that is very resilient and industrious and confident.  At the same time he’s a quintessential Aussie guy with a larrikin sense of humor.”

Iain says:  “I was very taken by how family orientated he is, both with his Australian family and with his birth family in India. At the time he was genuinely surprised that his journey had captured the public’s imagination and had also captured the imagination of Google.”

SarooHaving heard the vital role Google Earth played in Saroo’s search for home, the company had invited him to speak at an international conference where he met the company’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt. Google assisted the producers throughout filming, ensuring authenticity of the scenes in which Saroo searches for his Indian birthplace using Google Earth.

To better look like the real Saroo Brierley who is tall and strong after a lifetime in the Australian outdoors, actor Dev Patel embarked on a punishing weight and food regime, to add bulk and muscle. He also worked with a dialect coach to perfect the notoriously difficult Australian accent.

Dev confirms that he chased the role.  He says he’d never read a script so enchanting:  “It encapsulates triumph. It’s such a hopeful story about this kid’s will to survive and to find his family again.  What particularly drew me to the role was that it is a very contemporary character and also that the story has complex family dynamics – it’s a beautiful role.”

Young Saroo’s close relationship with his older brother Guddu is a critical emotional thread through the film.  Guddu is played by Abhishek Bharate in his first acting role.

“In casting for Guddu, I felt that the character just had to be pure light, he had to shine,” Garth explains.   “When I was in India looking at locations, I was in a small village and saw a boy standing on the roof of his house. He was everything I thought Guddu to be. He had a kind of Indigenous quality, an old world feeling, and a light that shone from him. I did test this boy and although he wasn’t right for the role, he became symbolic for me in the search for the right boy to play the role.  Abhishek came in and it was instant – he had a smile that just killed you. He’s like the sun on your face, when he’s around you, you just feel his energy.”

After meeting the real Sue Brierley at her home in Hobart, Tasmania, the southern island state of Australia, Garth knew he wanted Academy Award® and Golden Globe Award® winning actress Nicole Kidman to play her.

“I was spending a lot of time with Sue and one day, while she was talking to me, it just dropped into my head ‘that’s Nicole Kidman’. Serendipitously, as we were going off casting around the world we had a note saying that Nicole had managed to get her hands on the script, had read it, and was very keen to talk.

“I met Nicole in New York and we just talked and cried and talked and cried… she knew everything about Sue in the way that I knew it. It just felt great. I just loved working with Nicole and being around her.  She’s super professional, super prepared. She’d ask me really, really smart questions along the way. She’s a very hard working actress. But most of all I really enjoyed how brave she was.  She’s kind of wild to watch, kind of method and just really commits to the character. And then she was just really lovely on set, down to speaking to the neighbors who were peering over the fence watching us filming. She is very inclusive and very loving…and also brilliant.”

Rooney Mara, was recommended for the role of Lucy, who becomes Saroo’s girlfriend after they meet as students at an international hospitality college, by Executive Producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein personally contacted Rooney to talk to her about the film, and Rooney then went on to win the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award and to be nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Carol.

“Lucy is critical to the story. She’s everything that Saroo wants in his present. But his journey pulls him away from her as he becomes more and more isolated by his search for home and by the past. Lucy of course wants to support and help him but his journey becomes all consuming and incredibly isolating. This pull between the present – his love for Lucy – and the past – his memories and pull to his birth mother – is at the centre of Saroo’s drama. Rooney brings huge tenderness to the role and the scenes of Saroo and Lucy meeting and falling in love are so alive and touching.“ Emile says

Garth says Rooney Mara is mesmerizing as a performer:  “All the mystery of the story just sat on her face…when she’s quiet, it’s loud; it’s really noisy with all the subtext just ripping up to the surface. It’s quite extraordinary. I didn’t realize just how impactful that was going to be, because a lot of the stuff happening between Lucy and Saroo is unspoken. But Rooney’s an actress who manages, without saying anything, to just bring all that out. It was kind of unbelievable to watch.”

Saroo’s Australian dad is played by David Wenham, who starred, with Elisabeth Moss, in See-Saw Films’ Top of the Lake television series, which was co-directed by Garth with Jane Campion.  Emile Sherman says:  “When casting we were thinking ‘what human being would you want to have as your father if you were adopted and arrived in Australia?’ And we just couldn’t go past David Wenham; he represents everything that we knew our little Saroo would want. He is absolute safe harbor, he’s funny and he’s kind.”

Dev Patel and Saroo Brierley

Dev Patel and Saroo Brierley

Saroo’s Thoughts

The producers and Garth spent considerable time with Saroo and his Australian parents while preparing for the film.  Saroo spoke to Garth about a butterfly coming to him throughout life whenever he was under threat, for example while facing danger on the streets of Kolkata.  Saroo talks about the butterfly as being the spirit of his older brother, guiding him.

“I spoke to Emile while we were at Sundance and said ‘I think the butterfly is the spiritual totem of the film, but we don’t need to let anyone know that, it can just be a texture’.  We finished that conversation, went together to a private function and five minutes later a homeless Indian man walked into the room selling butterfly pins to raise money. I looked at Emile and said ‘it’s happening’.

There are motifs throughout the film, including the sea and butterflies.  Garth explains:  “In much of the film, it’s what’s not said that’s interesting. But how do I get that across in the camera, how do I get that working? So the second half of the movie – when Saroo arrives in Hobart, Australia, I decided to use the sea as an element. Tasmania is an island and Hobart is on a large harbor and river.  Our  characters all live by the water and it’s so totally different to where Saroo came from in India, which is a landlocked world. There’s something about the sea that’s feminine, and something whereby the ocean connects all of us.”

Garth talks about the ‘mapping’ of Saroo’s story for an audience: “A lot of thought went into how to get across clearly the steps Saroo needs to take to find home. What his memories are, how to represent them, what the audience knows at each point. All so that the audience can be with Saroo on his journey, discovering home with Saroo. That needed to be very carefully worked out.

“I hope to watch the film it looks effortless, but a lot of thought has gone into the engineering of how the visual storytelling helps the layers of the story.”

Emile Sherman believes the creative team has well and truly made a film that delivers on the promise of the story:  “This is a film I am very proud of. It’s an incredible story about mothers, and the primal urge to find home.  I hope audiences have the same spine tingling experience that Iain and I did when we first heard the story.”

Emile also believes the film will deliver a powerful message about adoption:  “The film gives an insight into the lives of children who have been adopted and I hope will push more Western countries to recognize the need for and benefits of adoption. There are so many kids who never end up in a loving family and there are so many loving families who want a child.”

Over 80,000 children go missing in India each year. See-Saw Films have been exploring opportunities to work with reputable organizations to support children in India and around the world. Using the profile and publicity that will surround the release of this moving film, See-Saw hope to shine a spotlight the need for global support to assist these organizations.  Audiences will be able to find out more information and an opportunity to make a donation via the film’s website, www.lionmovie.com.

Saroo Brierley and his adoptive parents Sue and John continue to live in Hobart, Tasmania, where Saroo works in the family business.  Saroo is a passionate supporter of the work of Mrs. Sood, who arranged his adoption to Australia and who runs orphanages in Kolkata, and he returns to India frequently to visit Mrs. Sood, his birth mother Kamla and his extended Indian family. Saroo is also a sought after motivational speaker in Australia and overseas.

Allied is absolutely a story of betrayal and that’s the universal theme of this film: how we react when we start to think someone we love isn’t who they say they are.”

From Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis, the innovative director behind Forrest Gump, Cast Away and Flight, comes Allied, at once a mesmerizing espionage thriller, sweeping war drama and passionate romance between two assassins who may be fated soulmates or deadly enemies – or both.

In a sumptuous, visually evocative production that roams from Casablanca to London’s Blitz days to German-occupied France, Zemeckis creates the kind of grand tale that flourished in Golden Hollywood – full of mystery, thrills and romantic heat – yet told with all the richly immersive power of 21st Century cinema.

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

For secret World War II operatives Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), the key to survival is never being truly known by anyone.  They are experts in deception, play-acting, second-guessing and assassination. When they accidentally fall for each other in the middle of an extraordinarily risky mission, their one hope is to leave all the double-dealing behind – but instead, suspicion and danger become the core of their wartime marriage as husband-and-wife are pitted against each other in an escalating, potentially lethal test of loyalty, identity and love…with global consequences.

Max Vatan has been trained by the British SOE to be intrepid, coldly focused and silently deadly.  He knows exactly how much to show of himself and what to omit.  He can leave behind his Canadian upbringing at a moment’s notice and assume any identity.  And yet, nothing in his training prepares him for what he goes through when he meets the woman known as Marianne Beauséjour in Casablanca.  They are supposed to be a temporary, pretend couple – but even though Max’s cautious head tells him not to get involved, his heart cannot help but be magnetized to Marianne, with her vivacious wit and probing questions.  As they turn, against all odds, from make-believe couple to real one, the line between their false identities and the real truth threatens them more than any mission they have yet survived.

Some true stories you hear once and can never forget.

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Steven Knight (Screenwriter) began a freelance writing partnership with Mike Whitehill in 1988, providing material for the TV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? He wrote the screenplays for Dirty Pretty Things, Amazing Grace, Eastern Promises, The Hundred Foot Journey, Pawn Sacrifice, Seventh Son, Burnt and The November Criminals; the stageplay The President of an Empty Room; wrote and directed Hummingbird and Locke, and is also the creator and Executive Producer/writer on television drama Peaky Blinders Series 1, 2 & 3, and the BBC series Taboo. Knight has had four novels published — The Movie House, Alphabet City, Out of the Blue and, in 2011, his first children’s novel, The Last Words of Will Wolfkin.

That was the case when screenwriter Steven Knight – an Oscar® nominee for Stephen Frears’ London thriller Dirty Pretty Things and honored for the screenplays for David Cronenberg’s Russian Mafia tale Eastern Promises as well as writing and directing the daring one-man drama Locke – heard the story of two undercover WWII spies who fell madly in love only to be set mortally against each other when their true identities were exposed.

They say all is fair in love and war, but when the two combine in the most volatile of ways, the moral certainties of the world can quickly spin out of control.

The story that instantly obsessed Knight centered on a Canadian spy and a French school teacher turned resistance fighter who met on assignment, then defiantly decided to marry, a practice that was discouraged by intelligence agencies.  Still it seemed a happy ending – until abruptly, one was outed as a double-agent providing vital intel to the enemy, putting their love and their lives in imminent danger.

Sudden romances were known to spark among some World War II operatives working in life-and-death situations at close quarters, especially since men and women often posed undercover as couples.  But there was a daunting rule – the so-called “Intimate Betrayal Rule” — that hung over them:  should two agents marry and should one discover their partner divulging secrets to the other side, that agent was expected, in heartbreaking self-sacrifice, to execute his or her lover without delay … or face immediate hanging for high treason.

The idea of lovers facing the ultimate dilemma between the shatterproof promises of marriage and their profound loyalty to country in a must-win war for the world’s future fascinated Knight and became the jumping off-point for a script that soon was drawing lots of attention.

Knight re-envisioned the story to center on a particularly hard-nosed and proficient assassin, Max Vatan, who is not the type to let flirtation cloud his thinking.  He made Max a member of the legendary, highly-trained British Special Operations Executive (SOE) – the top-secret intelligence agency that was ordered by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze,” and did exactly that, collaborating with the French Resistance in a series of audacious sabotage missions and assassination attempts behind Nazi lines.

Then, Knight created the alluring, enigmatic woman even Max could not resist with the French resistance fighter Marianne, who is every bit as smart, skilled and tough as he is – yet might not be what she seems.  The mistake people make in such situations is feeling, says Marianne, but neither can turn off their longing for the other.  From the start, Max and Marianne are constantly testing and teasing one another in playful ways – but that play becomes deadly serious when Max is forced to shadow his beloved wife to answer the most unthinkable question:  could she truly be a traitor?

The snowballing intensity, shifting trust and sheer danger between the two, unraveling across several war-torn countries, made for a read that was as sensuous as it was relentlessly suspenseful.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an epic wartime thriller and grand, tragic love story like this,” says producer Graham King, who knew as soon as he met with Knight about the script concept that he wanted to make the film.  “It’s the kind of rich storytelling on an ambitious scale we rarely experience anymore and it’s also very relevant to today’s world.  It’s about what war and divisions can do to the beauty of love.”

A Visual Innovator’s Pov On WWII:  Bob Zemeckis Takes The Helm

Producer Steve Starkey hopes the film gives audiences a chance to experience the kind of sweeping narratives that that have themselves been swept aside in an era when most films are either huge fantasy blockbusters or small-scale dramas. By harking back to the vaster dramatic canvases of Golden Age filmmaking, he sees Zemeckis bringing modern immediacy to the sprawling suspense epic.

“For people not raised on the 1940s style of movies, they’ve likely never seen this kind of picture, one that offers a big, visual spectacle and excitement but also profound human emotions,” says Starkey.  “The film was made in the most modern, technological way which makes for intense action. But Brad and Marion also embody the kind of grand movie romance we haven’t seen in a long time.”

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Robert Zemeckis (Director/Producer) won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Director’s Guild of American Award for Best Director for the hugely successful Forrest Gump. The film’s numerous honors also included Oscars for Best Actor (Tom Hanks) and Best Picture. Zemeckis re-teamed with Hanks on the contemporary drama Cast Away, the filming of which was split into two sections, book-ending production on What Lies Beneath. Earlier in his career, Zemeckis co-wrote (with Bob Gale) and directed Back to the Future, and went on to helm Back to the Future, Part II and Part III, completing one of the most successful film franchises ever. In addition, he directed and produced Contact, the macabre comedy hit Death Becomes Her, the romantic adventure hit Romancing the Stone and Flight. He produced and directed the motion capture films The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. He also wrote and directed the box office smash Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, cleverly blending live action and animation, and co-wrote (with Bob Gale) and directed the comedies Used Cars and I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Most recently Zemeckis directed Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ben Kinglsey in The Walk, the story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. In March 2001, the USC School of Cinema-Television celebrated the opening of the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts. This state-of-the-art center is the country’s first and only fully digital training center and houses the latest in non-linear production and post-production equipment as well as stages, a 50-seat screening room and USC student-run television station, Trojan Vision.

As Zemeckis’s first foray into WWII territory, executive producer Patrick McCormick notes that the film heads in a different, more psychologically thrilling, direction than the battles that have long been a cinematic staple.  After all, the danger for Max and Marianne goes beyond the gunfire of their missions and the bombs showering London; they also face a more insidious peril: the hidden truth.

“Though the film is set against the stunning backdrop of World War II’s different warfronts, Allied is a story of double lives, one that is incredibly compelling on a human level,” McCormick observes.  “What’s so exciting is that in every scene in this story, the two main characters of Max and Marianne are operating on two different levels – what you see and what you don’t — and their every action resonates with unspoken secrets.  That makes for a powerful and unique subtext to both the thriller elements and the love story, because there is a boiling cauldron of suspicion coming to a head beneath them just as the war is building to its climax.”

Producer Graham King knew he needed a director who could bring a dynamic, contemporary sensibility to an expansive Golden Hollywood scope of storytelling running the gamut from espionage and assassinations to seduction, betrayal, fear, courage and unbreakable love.  Ironically enough, that director ultimately came to him.  “Bob Zemeckis walked into my office one day and said ‘I love this Steve Knight script and I want to direct it.’ I had never even met him before, but I was a big fan of his work,” recalls King.  “I learned later that Bob has long had a desire to make a World War II film.”

Continues King:  “Having Bob come aboard was absolutely essential to making the film the way it was made.  It’s the reason the film looks the way it does and also a big part of the reason we were able to cast Brad and Marion.  Bob may be known as a technical genius but he’s also very character-driven.  It’s so rare to find both in the same person and that is exactly what this story needed.”

Steve Starkey, who has been working with Zemeckis since the pioneering animation-live-action-hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit, believes no current filmmaker could be a better fit for Allied.  “If you have a story you want told on a grand scale, then you have to think of Bob,” he notes.  “He is a filmmaker who loves to tell a big story.  He is always willing to hang it all out there and take huge creative risks.”

Zemeckis’s long and varied career has been marked by both visual innovations and cultural influence, with films ranging from the seminal Back To The Future series to the comic special-effects fantasy Death Becomes Her to the historical adventures of Forrest Gump to the recent The Walk, which recreated the extraordinary tightrope journey between New York’s former World Trade Center towers. But Zemeckis has equally been associated with films that are about the raw power of storytelling as in Cast Away, the story of one shipwrecked man reckoning with his life, or Flight, which excavated a heroic pilot’s inner battle with alcoholism.

And yet, for all the wide span of stories Zemeckis has explored, he’d yet to tackle the genre of the period romance.  Nor had he brought his visual style to the evocative landscapes of WWII — and both called to him as a filmmaker.  He was drawn to Allied at once as an absorbing mystery, a web of deception, a fresh look at survival in WWII and a love story of unusual depth and power that becomes about lasting honor. Above all, he saw a film full of visual potential that could match the story’s themes.

Says Zemeckis:  “The screenplay had a sweeping, epic, romantic feel.  The thing I most love to do as a director is to move audiences  — and when you have a story as powerful as this one, and with so many emotional twists and turns, you have immense opportunities to do that.  This type of story is perfect for a filmmaker like myself because I like to make audiences really feel and use all the tools as my disposal to do that.”

Zemeckis saw the story as one that asks questions we all ask of loved ones – Do I really know you?  Can I trust you completely?  Will you betray me? How far would you go to save what we have?  — but these same questions take on a deadly, mounting ferocity within the high-wire world of WWII spies.

Brad-Pitt-and-Marion-Cotillard-in-Allied

Allied is absolutely a story of betrayal and that’s the universal theme of this film: how we react when we start to think someone we love isn’t who they say they are,” Zemeckis comments.  “It’s something that happens in life, but in the realm of Max and Marianne, you have two people already pretending to be someone else from the get-go and the truth is elusive to them.  So how do you establish trust?  And how can you even talk to your loved one if you believe the enemy is listening in on you?”

As soon as he read the script, Zemeckis had a driving vision for the film’s style – capturing not just the devastation of WWII but equally the exuberant, fervent life of people intoxicated by the sheer wonder of survival.  He re-creates with the verve of 21st Century style the tense but glossy glamour of occupied Casablanca; the austere, windswept beauty of the Moroccan desert; the shadowy corridors of the SOE’s Baker Street offices; the powder keg of Dieppe, France where a failed Allied raid left behind a Nazi occupation and struggling French resistance; and the shattered but boldly defiant London of the Blitz.

“I especially loved how the screenplay really evoked the feeling of war-torn London,” Zemeckis says. “London was being bombed nightly but despite that, the people carried on with the life of the city.  That was even their slogan: carry on.  So that was something I wanted to capture in this:  a world where the machinery of war is always there in the background – and sometimes in the foreground – yet people are living with a kind of total abandon because they realize that life could end at any moment.  There was a kind of fatalistic quality both to the way people behaved and the way that London looked in that time.  That really interested me – and that’s what I wanted to created both in the atmosphere of the film and its design.  It’s a world where people are trying to defy death at every turn, including Max and Marianne, whose love develops in danger and cannot escape it even when they marry.”

 

“I’m taking something you believe and pushing it into the fantastic realm.”

Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan returns to the captivating grip of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs with Split, an original film that delves into the mysterious recesses of one man’s fractured, gifted mind.

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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.”

Following last year’s breakout hit The Visit, Shyamalan reunites with producer Jason Blum (The Purge and Insidious series, The Gift) for the thriller being hailed as “Shyamalan’s most terrifying film to date, ” and “a masterful blend of Hitchcock and horror.”

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 Root of Terror: Split Begins

M Night

Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan has captured the attention of audiences around the world for almost two decades, creating films that have amassed more than $2 billion worldwide. Shyamalan made his first foray into television when he executive produced and directed the pilot of Wayward Pines, which aired in May 2015. The highly anticipated 10-episode event series, based on a best-selling novel and brought to life by Shyamalan, premiered on FOX. The show quietly turned into a fan favorite, becoming the No. 1 watched drama of the summer. Shyamalan began making films at a young age in his hometown near Philadelphia, and by 16 he had completed 45 short films. Upon finishing high school, he attended New York University’s NYU Tisch School of the Arts to study filmmaking. During his final year at NYU, Shyamalan wrote Praying with Anger, a semiautobiographical screenplay about a student from the U.S. who goes to India and finds himself a stranger in his homeland. The film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, alongside Reservoir Dogs and Strictly Ballroom. In the years that followed, Shyamalan wrote Stuart Little for Columbia Pictures and completed his first mainstream feature, Wide Awake, a film that explored a boy’s search to discover his faith. In 1999, The Sixth Sense, which starred Bruce Willis, catapulted Shyamalan into fame and he became one of the most sought-after young filmmakers in Hollywood.

Moviegoers were first introduced to the mysterious and intricate universe of M. Night Shyamalan in 1999 with the worldwide phenomenon The Sixth Sense, which was followed by such blockbusters as Unbreakable and Signs.

The filmmaker began a new chapter in 2015 with his terrifying The Visit, which grossed almost $100 million worldwide.  Following the same model as that movie’s production—and to allow for complete creative freedom—Shyamalan made the decision to return to his independent roots by self-financing Split.

“I want to make something new with every single film by doing something that nobody’s ever done,” Shyamalan says.  “That’s exciting for me, and it’s also dangerous and problematic, especially when selling it to the world.”

After the global success of The Visit, Shyamalan again teamed up with Blum and his Blumhouse Productions for Split.

Blum, known for his industry innovation in helping to shepherd small-budget films into worldwide blockbusters, discusses the partnership: “Night can tell these extraordinarily character-driven stories against a backdrop of a larger subject matter.  Split isn’t a typical small-budget film; it’s a large vision on a limited budget.  It is not CGI or hundreds of millions of dollars that makes Split feel so epic—it’s Night’s incredibly provocative story.”

With a more intimate setup, Shyamalan was able to primarily focus his energies on the story and character development by eliminating some of the noise and variables that come with a larger film.  “It’s easy to knock me out of my comfort zone, which is a reason why I make smaller movies,” Shyamalan says.  “That way I can turn down certain factors so I can hear that creative voice telling me if something we’re doing is off track.”

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Shyamalan pitched the idea for Split over dinner with Rajan, his longtime collaborator and president of production for Shyamalan’s Blinding Edge Pictures.  “I was immediately blown away.  I thought it was the perfect film for Night; it’s a convergence of all the types of stories he tells,” Rajan says.  “He scribbled some ideas and a couple of scenes on a piece of paper, and they were all just riveting.”

Blum immediately responded to the drama and complexities of Shyamalan’s new offering, and how the film didn’t follow typical thriller conventions.  “Audiences will enjoy Split on both a visceral ‘popcorn’ level, and at the same time, it will force them to reflect on human nature, which is the real underlying theme and preoccupation of Night’s career.”

Shyamalan’s filmmaking style also goes beyond a single genre.  “Each film is uniquely his own,” says executive producer Schneider.  “He weaves together folktales, legends and other narratives, and blends them with his background and experience.  All of his films cover complex themes and characters, and I was amazed by the depth of Split.”

Schneider believes audiences will not only be entertained by Split, but they will be challenged by it.  “My hopes are as ambitious as Night’s that the film’s strength in storytelling will spark debate about the complexities of human identity,” he says.

Whether it was looking into clairvoyance for The Sixth Sense, superhuman strength for Unbreakable or sundowning for The Visit, Shyamalan starts his stories with ideas inspired by phenomena in the natural world.  But that is simply a beginning point: Shyamalan then takes his characters’ journeys to an extraordinary realm, letting narrative arcs arise from the struggles of the characters themselves.

As a storyteller, Shyamalan pairs comprehensive research with pure imagination.

His films in the suspense and supernatural genres lead him to draw from the mysterious and fascinating, using those premises as building blocks for his imagination and ask, simply, “What if?”

Shyamalan explains: “I’m taking something you believe and pushing it into the fantastic realm.  I wondered what would happen if, in Dissociative Identity Disorder, each individual personality believes they are who they are, 100 percent.  If one personality believes they have diabetes or high cholesterol, can their body chemically change to that belief system?  And what if one personality believed it had supernatural powers?  What would that look like?”

During his time at NYU, Shyamalan took courses in which the subject of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) was discussed, and over the years, the filmmaker has remained fascinated by theories surrounding the diagnosis.

When Shyamalan started to craft the Split screenplay, he read a great deal about the most documented cases—and these stories of those involved made a huge impact on his imagination.  To inform his supernatural tale, Shyamalan spoke with psychiatrists in the field and gained practical knowledge about how therapists would conduct themselves in sessions with patients in this population.  That inquisitiveness fleshed out the characters who became Kevin and Dr. Fletcher.

“This film is a convergence of skillsets and storytelling that Night brings to this medium, and there’s an incredible ride at the center,” says Rajan.  “The performances are stunning, and I think that will resonate with audiences.”

As a specific and precise director hailing from the school of Hitchcock, Shyamalan labors over every scene.  “Night’s a perfectionist, and he obsessively storyboards each shot to make sure he’s following his original vision,” producer Bienstock says.  “He wants every shot, every moment to be the very best, and that’s inspiring.”

Like everything Shyamalan does, the look of Split is also incredibly specific.  “It’s a dark film but visually stunning with a beautiful color palette and use of shadows,” says Blum.  “Night has an unparalleled talent for creating dread and fear in the seemingly mundane and commonplace, which makes the film quietly threatening instead of overt or in your face.”

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Getting Into Characters: Nine Rolls in One

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.”

Shyamalan intentionally sent the actor the script with little context, hoping to draw from his performer ideas about Kevin he could never have imagined.  The filmmaker recalls: “James asked, ‘What’s the name of the character I’m playing so I know, just so I don’t get confused.”  And I said, ‘I can’t tell you, just read the script.’”

McAvoy was immediately intrigued with the story’s many twists and turns.  “I read the first 10 pages and thought, ‘Wow, what is this?’  Then I read the next 10 pages and thought, ‘What is that?’” he says.  “It felt like I was being continually confronted with something completely different.  That’s the joy of what Night does so well.  He keeps an audience on their toes trying to figure out what the film is: Are we watching a thriller, a psychological drama, horror, sci-fi or something supernatural?  And this film is all of those genres.”

Shyamalan’s commitment to creating and funding his project was an inspiration for McAvoy.  “He’s brave and bold for bucking the trend that says, in order to tell a good story, you must spend $200 million,” he says.  “Instead, he’s clearing away all the interference so he can tell a really quality story.  It’s a privilege to work with a director who has that attitude and approach when it comes to storytelling.

Shyamalan and McAvoy worked closely to ensure the actor’s performance remained incredibly singular as he transformed into each role with authenticity.

“Night’s demanding and almost forensic in what he wants you to do,” McAvoy says.  “He has a very specific idea of what he wants in his mind, yet he’s extremely collaborative and giving.”

Changing colors and characters—sometimes within the same shot—was particularly demanding.  “You hope the audience will buy you as one character,” McAvoy explains.  “Then you need them to buy you as this next persona and make that transition interesting without alienating viewers.”

Still, the role presented the seasoned stage and screen actor with an extraordinary opportunity.  “To be honest, I quite enjoy playing each character, because as an actor you rarely get the chance at this type of performance,” he says.  “It’s quite exciting to radically change what you’re thinking, who you are and what makes you in a moment.”

The duo worked diligently to ensure each personality had a distinct voice and presence.  “James is Scottish, but most of his career he has performed with an American or British accent,” says Shyamalan.  “I rifled through his encyclopedia of accents, and would throw out an idea like, ‘How about Hedwig has a lisp?’  And James was just brilliant at adapting.”

When embodying young Hedwig, McAvoy walked a fine line between playing a child versus a simplistic version of an adult.  “That’s how most people play a child,” says Shyamalan.  “Hedwig’s very smart—he just happens to be 10 years old.  I would tell James, ‘You’re not playing a dumb adult; that’s not what we’re doing.  Use your eyes; you’re very smart.  But you’re 10, so you don’t know what that gesture means.’”

McAvoy and Shyamalan continued to delve into the flavors and motives of each of the alters.  “James would ask why a character responded a certain way, and since I was so close to the story, I was able to walk him through my logic,” offers Shyamalan.  “It was essential to discuss each character until this persona was real for both of us.”

While Shyamalan strictly sticks to his script, he encourages actors to add their own color between the lines.  “One of the ways to achieve this authenticity is by ad-libbing, and that comes out, in a way,” he says.  “But I treat the script like a play—that’s always how I refer to it—and I don’t alter lines.”

“I want actors to realize they’re much more pliable than they think they are..”

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For Shyamalan, there are millions of ways to perform a scene without altering words.  “I want actors to realize they’re much more pliable than they think they are,” he says.

McAvoy performed between the lines with incredible artistry and expertise.  “He said the exact words in the script but ad-libbed with this face and physicality,” says Shyamalan.  “James would bring these incredible new aspects to the table.  We got into that wonderful rhythm where things that were sacred to me weren’t touched but only heightened.”

The performer’s athleticism also proved a huge asset.  “He was doing very physical feats like jumping fences and climbing,” says Shyamalan.  “We would have the stunt person there just in case, but James is so agile and his physicality was a definite strength.”

Beyond performing stunts, the actor seems to shrink three inches when playing Hedwig and stiffens as strong Dennis.  “Whether he was playing a child or a severe woman, he approaches each character with great comfort in his physicality,” states Shyamalan.  “He’d finish a scene and the crew would break into applause because we knew we were watching something extraordinary.”

“When you think about what James had to do in this film, it’s astonishing,” raves Blum.  “Not only was he seemingly effortless as he switching between alters on certain shooting days, he switched between them during certain scenes.  You’re seeing an actor at the top of his game, and we were all awe-struck by what he managed to do as an extraordinarily disciplined actor.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and I hope his performance receives the critical acclaim it deserves at the hands of Night’s deft direction.”

A story is lifeless without a heart and soul and as its creator, the writer has to bring it to life.

HEART AND SOUL OF STORY

By Daniel Dercksen

The writer is responsible for the birth of a story, its lifespan, and the everlasting emotional impact it must have on its audience.

It all begins with the written word, and ends with an emotionally rewarding and fulfilling story that lives on in the minds of those who experience it.

It is important for the writer to make the audience experience the story as a visceral and breathing organism.

Every story has a life and it’s not simply you as a writer telling the story, but creating its vitality.

Telling a story is simply dictating what happens.

Creating a story, is breathing life into it, and giving it a heart and a soul.

The heartbeat of your story is the plot, using rhythm, pace and tempo to create a dynamic emotional truth.

  • Rhythm is the beat, the smallest structural point in your story; beats build scenes, scenes escalate into sequences, and sequences create acts.
  • The tempo is the rate of the rhythm or how, fast the rhythm moves; an action scene is vastly different from a scene that requires a hushed dramatic intensity.
  • Pacing: The various changes in tempo and rhythm that take place in story.

The soul of your story is found in the inner mindscape, the inner life of the story, probing the thoughts, dreams and nightmares of your characters, illuminating their respective point of views – how they see the world.

The blood pumping through your story is how you write it, the rich visual narrative that captivates and ultimately rewards with its stirring emotional impact.

You know that your story is alive when the characters become real people and start to take on a life of their own in the fictional reality the writer creates, exploring, confronting and challenging their raw sexuality, lurid secrets, hostile aggression, passive serenity, flawed innocence, vulnerable dispositions, forbidden fears and illusive fantasies.

A year after Tennessee Williams won the Pulitzer for his sell-out play A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, he was still rewriting the play. When asked about this, Williams replied that the character of Blanche was not strong enough to stand on her own two feet and that he as its creator was still holding her hand.

Once you have given your story a heart and a soul, it is equally important for the writer to know what’s at the heart of the story, being fully in control of the focus point of the protagonist’s existence, and the axel around which everything in the story revolves around.

Film magnifies a story 10 times and becomes larger than real life.

Therefore, the focus point of your story needs to be clear and not muddled or diluted by the intricate plot and subplots, amplifying the writer’s thematic purpose.

  • At the heart of a murder mystery you will find a romance.
  • At the heart of a romance you will discover the tragedy of abuse.
  • At the heart of disaster you will find a father and daughter story
  • At the heart of horror you will unveil the beauty of life.
  • At the heart of death you will find the vitality of being alive.

It is through your story that the writer allows the audience to feel what’s happening and establishes a bond between writer and viewer.

Only when the action on the screen and the reaction in your mind are united as one, “film” is taking place.

This ‘communication’ begins with the screenwriter who created the idea for the film, and uses film as the medium (the element that the artist uses to express ideas) for communicating and expressing the idea.

Just as a book is nothing but words until someone reads it, film is nothing but tiny pictures until someone sees it.

Stories change the way we see the world and writers have to initiate and inspire this transformative experience.

Our The Write Journey course looks at how you can fully explore and develop the heart and soul of your story.

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Dercksen/ All Rights Reserved

NT Live Broadcasts At Cinema Nouveau

Theatre buffs are in for a real treat with the new season from National Theatre Live at Cinema Nouveau launching on January 21 with the glorious revival of Harold Pinter’s classic play No Man’s Land, starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.

NO MANS LAND by Pinter, , Writer - Harold Pinter, Director - Sean Mathias, Set and costumes - Stephen Brimson Lewis, Lighting - Peter Kaczorowski, Sheffield, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in No Man’s Land. Photo by Johan Persson

Following their hit run on Broadway, McKellen and Stewart return to the West End stage in No Man’s Land under direction of Sean Mathias, also featuring Owen Teale and Damien Molony.

One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst (Stewart) and Spooner (McKellen), meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby.

As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.

This glorious revival of Pinter’s comic classic is not to be missed.

A bonus for theatre buffs is an exclusive Q&A session with the cast and director Sean Mathias

Filmed live at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre for broadcast to cinemas globally, it releases at Cinema Nouveau theatres on Saturday, 21 January 2017 for four exclusive screenings only.

No Man’s Land releases on South African screens from Saturday, 21 January 2017, for four screenings only: on 21, 25 and 26 January at 19:30 and on 22 January at 14:30 at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.

The running time of this production is approximately 2 hrs 20 mins, including a 20 min interval plus the post-performance Q&A.

For booking information on No Man’s Land, visit www.sterkinekor.co.za. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

The discounts and benefits valid for members of SK Club, Discovery Vitality and Edgars Club loyalty programmes apply for all live theatre productions. Special prices for group bookings are also available on request.

Coming Up

The next productions from NT Live to be screened at Cinema Nouveau are:

AMADEUS (from 04 March 2017)

Music. Power. Jealousy…

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a rowdy young prodigy, arrives in Vienna, the music capital of the world – and he’s determined to make a splash. Awestruck by his genius, court composer Antonio Salieri has the power to promote his talent or destroy his name. Seized by obsessive jealousy, he begins a war with Mozart, with music and, ultimately, with God.

Lucian Msamati (Game of Thrones, NT Live’s The Comedy of Errors) plays Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s iconic play, broadcast from the National Theatre and with live orchestral accompaniment by Southbank Sinfonia.

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Adam Gillen as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus. Image by Marc Brenner

SAINT JOAN (from 18 March 2017)

The Donmar Warehouse production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan is directed by Donmar Artistic Director Josie Rourke and stars Gemma Arterton as Joan of Arc.

Joan: daughter, farm girl, visionary, patriot, king-whisperer, soldier, leader, victor, icon, radical, witch, heretic, saint, martyr, woman. George Bernard Shaw’s classic play follows the life and trial of a young country girl who declares a bloody mission to drive the English from France. As one of the first Protestants and nationalists, she threatens the very fabric of feudal society and the Catholic Church across Europe.

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Gemma Arterton in the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Saint Joan. Dir Josie Rourke. Photo Jack Sain

HEDDA GABLER (from 01 April 2017)

“I’ve no talent for life” – Just married. Bored already. Hedda longs to be free…

Tony Award-winning director Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge) returns to NT Live cinema screens with a modern production of Ibsen’s masterpiece, with Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair, Jane Eyre) in the title role of a new version by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal, Closer).

Hedda and Tesman have just returned from their honeymoon and the relationship is already in trouble. Trapped but determined, Hedda tries to control those around her, only to see her own world unravel.

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Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall in Hedda Gabler. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

“I saw this as a powerful and important story to tell as a movie – an adventure that anyone can relate to.”

Directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage), A Monster Calls is a visually spectacular and stunningly emotional drama based on the award-winning novel. The screenplay adaptation is by the book’s author, Patrick Ness, who wrote the novel from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd.

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12-year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is about to escape into a fantastical world of monsters and fairy tales. He is dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness, which has necessitated Conor’s spending time with his less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His daily existence at his U.K. school is one of academic disinterest and bullying by classmates. As Conor’s father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away in the U.S., the boy yearns for guidance.

He unexpectedly summons a most unlikely ally, who bursts forth with terrifying grandeur from an ancient towering yew tree and the powerful earth below it: a 40-foot-high colossus of a creature (portrayed in performance-capture and voiceover by Liam Neeson) who appears at Conor’s bedroom window @12:07 one night – and at that time on nights thereafter. The Monster has stories to tell, and he insists that Conor hear them and powerfully visualize them. Conor’s fear gives way to feistiness and then to looking within; for, The Monster demands that once the tales are told it will be time for Conor to tell his own story in return. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth.

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In June 2012, Patrick Ness’ novel A Monster Calls, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd and illustrated by Jim Kay, became the first book to win both of the U.K.’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards, the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustrations. Mr. Ness became only the second author to win two consecutive Carnegie Medals. A Monster Calls also won The Children’s Book of the Year Award at the Galaxy National Book Awards; the Red House Children’s Book Award; Germany’s Jugendliteratur Prize; and the U.K. Literary Association’s Children’s Book Prize. His much-praised “Chaos Walking Trilogy” is being developed by Lionsgate as a feature film series. The first book in the trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go, won The Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize in 2008 as well as The Book Trust Teenage Prize. The second book, The Ask and the Answer, won the Costa Children’s Book Award in 2009; and the third book, Monsters of Men, brought Mr. Ness his first Carnegie Medal in 2011. His books have been translated into 37 languages. His novel for adults The Crane Wife was inspired by a Japanese folk tale and was selected for Oprah’s Book Club in the U.S., with Mr. Ness then being shortlisted for UK Author of the Year at the 2013 National Book Awards.

A Monster Calls began with the book A Monster Calls, first published in 2011.

Sergio Sánchez, a voracious reader, and also the screenwriter of The Orphanage and The Impossible, was so entranced by the novel that he gave it to those award-winning films’ director, his friend J.A. Bayona.

Upon reading the book, Bayona recognized at once “themes I’d touched on in The Orphanage and The Impossible: characters finding themselves in a very intense situation, with death on the horizon.

“I saw this as a powerful and important story to tell as a movie – an adventure that anyone can relate to.”

Millions of readers agree. The novel, written by Patrick Ness, based on an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, has been published in almost 40 languages. A Monster Calls won many prestigious prizes worldwide, including the distinguished Carnegie Medal and, for illustrator Jim Kay, the Kate Greenaway Medal. Bayona marvels, “It became beloved, and iconic – and I wanted to do it justice.”

Belén Atienza, Bayona’s producer on his earlier movies and an executive producer on the multi-Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth, took to the book as well. “Belén and I both felt passionate about it,” states the director, adding that he “knew it would be an even bigger challenge than The Impossible.”

Atienza muses, “Like all good books that deal with a big subject, in the end you find that it’s truly been speaking to you about a lot of different things. One of the key themes is how we process grief and the loss of loved ones. That’s what strikes you in a very direct way when you first read the book, but reading it again you can realize the author is exploring how fantasy is part of us as human beings – and the power it can give us to help deal with life.

“Once you start to read it and to hear Conor’s voice, the effect is so compelling. The beautiful, delicate jewel of a story stayed with me for months.”

The story had originated with another author, Siobhan Dowd. She succumbed to cancer soon after starting it. Ness reflects, “Siobhan wrote magnificent books, ones that teenagers deeply responded to; A Monster Calls was to have been her fifth. She had an opening; 1,000 words; an idea for a structure; and a few characters.”

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J.A. Bayona’s most recent feature film as director was The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland; it was based on the powerful true story of a family’s survival of the tragic Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The Impossible grossed more than $180 million at the worldwide box office and brought Ms. Watts Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and Academy Award nominations. Mr. Holland received honors including an Empire Award for Best Newcomer. The Impossible won five Goya Awards, which are Spain’s Oscars equivalent, including Best Director; and six Gaudí Awards, including Best Director. Prior to making A Monster Calls, Mr. Bayona directed the first two episodes of Showtime’s series Penny Dreadful, starring Eva Green, which instantly attracted a loyal following. Having completed A Monster Calls, he will next direct the new Jurassic World movie, for release in June 2018. Born in Barcelona, he grew up with a passion for film. This led him to become a journalist and later to study directing, at the Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia (ESCAC). After directing two short films, My Holidays and The Sponge Man, Mr. Bayona met screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez, who gifted him with the script for The Orphanage, which became his first feature as director. The Orphanage world-premiered at the 2007 Cannes International Film Festival to a 10-minute standing ovation. It was then released nationally in Spain, and its opening four-day box office was the highest of the year and at the time the second-highest ever for a Spanish film. The Orphanage was nominated for 14 Goya Awards, winning seven including Mr. Bayona’s for Best New Director.

Initially hesitant when approached by the late author’s editor and asked to adopt the idea, Ness eventually took on the responsibility. His attachment to the story only grew, and he wanted to ensure that the conversations it encouraged would continue. As such, he wrote a very faithful screenplay adaptation. He explains, “To me, this is a story about fear of loss. I was really trying above all things to find the truth of how Conor felt; to not lie about it, not sugarcoat it, not sentimentalize it…to really feel how it hurts, because it surely does.”

The producer and director sensed that the story could work as a film – without ever losing the emotional core. Atienza notes, “Bayona is someone who listens to his emotions. He found a lot of himself in this kid, how Conor accesses fantasy in this difficult point in his life.

“Since, in his films, Bayona likes to speak to audiences through a combination of different genres, this was perfect material for him. He began to see how he might interpret the novel, bringing it ‘round to his own territory.”

The director notes, “I was also inspired to think about why it is we tell stories, and I began to read up on works of mythology from experts such as Joseph Campbell.”

After finishing The Impossible, a film which went on to move audiences around the world, Bayona received the A Monster Calls screenplay from his agent. Spain’s Telecinco Cinema, which had backed Bayona’s earlier films, stepped forward to finance the development and the director knew it would be his next project. Atienza states, “With the unconditional support of these dear partners, we were able to prepare the movie properly.” Joined by Spain’s La Trini, and by the prestigious U.S.-based production companies Participant Media and River Road Entertainment, the story was finally headed for the big screen.

“Bayona and I felt that River Road and Participant understood our creative goals, and this story, from the very beginning,” remarks Atienza. “They realized that we wanted the movie to be a meaningful experience, something you think about afterwards, for a wide audience.”

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Bayona and Ness began meeting in Barcelona. “Bayona spoke of how A Monster Calls could for him complete a trilogy about mothers and sons,” remembers the author. “I could see that he was the ideal storyteller for this tale. One thing I like about him, which is probably the most important thing in all of my own writing, is that he takes the feelings of a child seriously. He sees the child as a human being, not as a human being in waiting but as someone who truly lives and experiences and feels pain, joy, fear, trust issues, and happiness.”

The two took time to work out details of taking the book from page to screen. “We didn’t want to make a melodrama,” states Bayona. “Everything had to be integrated: Conor’s diverging relationships with his mother and his grandmother, and the fantastical element of the story. I realized that the 40-foot-high Monster would need to be depicted by integrating 2D and 3D animation.

“One other thing that unlocked it for me was the idea that Conor loves to draw; it connected everything else. This was also a bond to me personally, as I was obsessed with drawing when I was a boy.”

Bayona feels that “the book speaks about death in a direct and darker way. For the film, I wanted to transcend what we know is coming – the death of Conor’s mother – and be able to fuse the boy’s need to draw with the strength of legacy. There is light at the end of the story, resulting from the idea that art heals. Patrick’s screenplay has added themes while still being faithful to the novel; in making the movie, there are some elements of the book that we have taken further.”

Director J.A. Bayona and Lewis MacDougall during filming of A Monster Calls.Bayona states, “Lewis was the perfect actor to play Conor. He has a wonderful vulnerability and at the same time a great strength that goes beyond his years, and a lot of that is echoed in the character. He can be compared to an adult actor because he has an amazing ability to prepare himself for a scene. © Focus Features

 

As usual for the director, prep work encompassed everything from concept art to casting calls for children. To take the journey of making A Monster Calls, he invited core creative collaborators along, “the people who have been critical to the stories I’ve told – some dating back to film school.”

Atienza adds, “Óscar Faura, our director of photography; our editors Bernat Vilaplana and Jaume Martí; Fernando Velázquez, the composer – this powerful team of ours can meet any technical challenges while also keeping their artists’ souls and a sensitivity to the intimacy of the stories that Bayona tells.”

The creative team on A Monster Calls also includes production designer Eugenio Caballero, an Academy Award winner for Pan’s Labyrinth who previously collaborated with Bayona on The Impossible; and costume designer Steven Noble, who previously collaborated with actress Felicity Jones on her Oscar-nominated performance in The Theory of Everything. Bayona marvels, “I had the finest resources in the form of these collaborators.”

At every phase of pre-production, production, and post-production, Bayona sees Atienza as “my shadow. She is a constant support, not only in the organization of the shoot, but creatively as well. Belén is key to my process.

“We have tried to bring this novel to the screen in the best and most faithful way possible while at the same time infusing it with our personal vision.”

“The Birth Of A Nation leaves us with a question we must ask if we are to heal as a nation:  when injustice knocks at our own front door, are we going to counter it with everything we have?”

Writer, director and actor Nate Parker takes on a distinctly vast ambition for a first-time filmmaker, presenting a more take-charge slave narrative than we are used to seeing with The Birth Of A Nation, boldly reclaiming the title of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film.

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Amidst sweeping action and romance Parker presents a man driven equally by love, spirituality, fury and hope to free his people from the legacy of bondage in America.  In the process, he restores a figure long relegated as a historical footnote and shows him as the heroic trailblazer he was.

Set against the American South thirty years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and based on a true story, The Birth Of A Nation follows Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher whose financially strained owner Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself, his wife Cherry (Aja Naomi King), and fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

Photo by Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (5567589kf) Nate Parker of 'The Birth Of A Nation' The Variety Shutterstock Sundance Portrait Studio, Park City, Utah, America - 25 Jan 2016

Nate Parker (Nat Turner/Directed By/Screenplay By/Produced By) first garnered attention for his starring role in The Weinstein Company’s and Oprah Winfrey produced, The Great Debaters opposite director/actor Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker. Washington handpicked him to play the troubled yet brilliant “Henry Lowe,” who overcomes his selfish ways and becomes the team’s leader. Parker would later receive an honorary Doctorate from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas—the actual school upon which the film was based. Parker’s most recent efforts have gone into the launch of the Nate Parker Foundation (NPF) a public organization designed to provide monetary and technical support to a significant number of community based organizations that are dedicated to transforming the lives of people of African descent both domestically and abroad. Nate Parker has dedicated his career and life to using his platform as an artist and activist to inspire a protest in the face of community and global injustices. Photo by Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The Turner slave rebellion stands as one of the most influential acts of resistance against slavery in all American history, yet remarkably, the story has never been recounted in a contemporary screen drama.  Contentious to some and inspirational to many, until now, the life and impact of Nat Turner has largely been confined to folktales, novels, documentaries and a few paragraphs here and there in history books.

The Birth Of A Nation puts a fiery and focused new lens to Turner’s story – taking on the incendiary notions of retaliation and how the institution of slavery continues to afflict and inform present times. The film offers a fresh perspective on what led to his insurrection against slave owners in 1831, and offers a comprehensive and human portrait of the man behind the rebellion – a man driven by faith and a confidence that God is on the side of the oppressed.

It is no accident that Parker has boldly reclaimed the title of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, which, while pioneering modern film techniques, somehow portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as a force for good – a graphic reminder of how racial imagery smoldered in the early days of Hollywood.  Parker offers his film as the birth of something new, an alternate take on the birth of this nation – the unsung story of those who have pressed the country forward in their yearning to be free and equal.

While a number of revered films have explored the contours of slavery, from 12 Years A Slave to Glory, Amistad and Lincoln, Parker’s motivation is to renew the past and to seek illumination from it, rather than turn the same blind eye that kept people in the dark for so long.

Says Parker:  “Nat Turner became a leader against incredible odds.  So often when we see slavery in popular culture, it is through stories of suffering and endurance.  But Nat Turner’s is a more incendiary narrative; he was a slave but also a true rebel against injustice. His story demands to be told honestly; it is timely and speaks to the aspiration of finding racial peace in this country.  For me, calling the film The Birth Of A Nation was about reclaiming those words, about righting a wrong – and turning the title into something that can inspire.  It leaves us with a question we must ask if we are to heal as a nation:  when injustice knocks at our own front door, are we going to counter it with everything we have?”

Armie Hammer as "Samuel Turner" Nate Parker as "Nat Turner" in THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Armie Hammer as “Samuel Turner” Nate Parker as “Nat Turner” in The Birth Of A Nation. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

For Parker, the film was also an answer to a calling he had felt throughout his life – and worth taking a considerable personal risk to pursue.  “I have asked myself how I could be most effective as a filmmaker:  I can either keep reading these scripts that project people of color in stereotypical, counterproductive ways or I can put everything I am into a project that I believe will change the conversation and create the opportunity for sustainable change,” Parker explains.

Parker knew he had five daughters relying on him, but he also knew he wanted those daughters to look at him and see someone who did not shrink in the face of what he felt needed to be done.  “Everyone said, if this doesn’t work it could affect you being relevant in this town as an actor or from an economic standpoint, being able to support your family. So I had to ask, are you willing to go down that road? But when I thought back to the Denmark Veseys, the Harriet Tubmans, the Nat Turners who were willing to give their lives, I said surely I can step away from acting for a couple of years and just see what happens.”

There was no guarantee Parker would get there but with the inspiration of so many others – who sacrificed so much more than a motion picture career – he found a fire burning within that could not be squelched.

“Now I feel so desperately blessed that I was able to tell this story and do it in such a way that I had the control that I did,” Parker concludes.  “If I had to go back and do it again, as arduous as it was, I would do it the exact same way.  The takeaway of the film is what I had hoped:  wherever injustice lives in the world, it is our duty to face it down.”

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Taking Back A Hero:  Nat Turner In American Culture

Nat Turner has long been one of the most captivating, mysterious and perhaps misunderstood historical figures in the ongoing making of an equal America.  His unflinching resistance to the institution of slavery is often cited as integral to the buildup of the Civil War as an act that alarmed and hardened the hearts of Southern slave owners yet raised imperative questions about the morality and sustainability of the so-called “peculiar institution” that stole away the freedom, dignity and destinies of millions.

nat-turner-2To Nate Parker, Nat was not so far removed from an African American version of Braveheart’s William Wallace, who roused and united the Medieval Scots against their oppressors at a time when no one thought it was possible.

Despite growing up in Virginia near where the Turner insurrection occurred, Nate Parker did not once hear the name Nat Turner in school.   “I heard it in whispers and from family members,” he recalls.  “As if they were conjuring the very spirit of rebellion.  But it wasn’t until I was in college, taking African-American Studies that I really learned about him.  When I did, I thought ‘how is it possible that I didn’t know about this?’ Yet it happened right in my back yard.”

That denial of this essential history lit a fire in Parker.  He needed to know more.  And the more he tried to trace Turner’s past, the more he was drawn to a figure who was not at all the savage fanatic portrayed in popular books and legends. Instead, Parker discovered the historical Nat Turner was a spiritually-fueled man of astute intelligence who viewed slavery as a symbol of Satan on earth – and came to believe the only way the world could be set right was to “cut off the head of the serpent.”

“This is someone who tried to make a difference in spite of the impossible odds of his environment. I had always longed for that kind of hero, and he’d been withheld from us,” Parker says.  He saw in Turner “a measured, self-determined man of faith, whose courage and belief allowed him to sacrifice himself for his family and the future.”

Parker also began to realize that just as in life Turner had never owned his identity, this repeated itself after his death. No one knows Turner’s true surname or where his desecrated body is buried.  In the last 200 years, Turner’s image had been used to signify many things. He’d been vilified as an aberrational extremist, re-imagined as a lusty metaphor for a “slave mindset” and exalted as a political revolutionary.  Yet the man’s real life and source of his courage seemed lost in all that.

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An Inspirational Journey To The Screen

It took several years of all-consuming historical and creative searching – including time spent as a Feature Film Program Fellow at the Sundance Institute — for Nate Parker to finish his screenplay.   He acknowledges the process was lonely, and at times felt like being locked alone in a dark tunnel, but he also says, “that is part of the cost of trying to not only make a movie but disrupt a culture.”

During that time, Parker’s own life underwent major changes. When he started writing, Parker was a former All-American wrestler just getting his acting career started.  He drew notice in 2007 in The Great Debaters, personally selected by director Denzel Washington to play a 1930s debate whiz.  He went on to star in The Secret Life Of Bees, Red Tails, Arbitrage, Red Hook Summer, Ain’t Them Body’s Saints and Non-Stop, among others.

Even as his acting career took off, Parker never wavered in his resolve to tell Turner‘s story. A devoted team soon set out to beat the odds and get a production off the ground that, on paper, was an improbable sell:  an explosive story from a first-time filmmaker, an audaciously fresh take on the slave movie as heroic epic, and to boot, a period action-drama with large-scale battle sequences to be shot on an indie budget.  In Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Aaron L. Gilbert and Preston L. Holmes, Parker knew he had found his ideal partners.

Each of the producers thought that bringing Parker’s original voice to the world was a uniquely motivating force. Though they all shared in that, the producing team had very little overlap, notes Berman, Vice President of Mandalay Pictures.  “We all brought very different skill sets – and Nate seemed to understand how to use each of our specific skills when they were needed.  We were all there to serve his vision and he saw that and integrated it, but didn’t ever take it for granted.”

Given the subject matter, time stresses and budget, the production was rife with challenges.  Yet as a first-time director Parker never allowed himself to flinch.  He set out from the beginning to leave no stone unturned, meeting with directors he admired, including Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee and Mel Gibson, whose direction of Braveheart battle sequences were an influence. “It was a kind of compressed apprenticeship,” muses Parker.  “I was told you have to be so prepared that you are never second-guessed.  You have to know what you want but also know when you get what you want.”

“That this movie got made is a kind of miracle,” observes producer Turen, President of David S. Goyer’s Phantom Four.  “There was no previous business model that fit this film.  It happened because a group of people came together who deeply, deeply believed in Nate and who felt we were making a film that could be important and great.  We were betting fully on Nate’s ability to execute something special and he has.”

Turen says it was Parker’s incredible promise that gave him the driving confidence that he could compel financiers to back a project that looked high-risk at the outset.  “Nate has one of the most amazing minds I’ve encountered in the film business and he also has a work ethic that means he is always brilliantly prepared,” says Turen.  “He’s worked hard for everything in his life and has a real appreciation for that – and you sense all of that when you meet him, which was our main advantage.”

Berman also had a fervent response to The Birth Of A Nation.  “I’ve been involved in my fair share of independent film but this is by far the most ambitious film I’ve been a part of,” he says.  “I thought the screenplay was beautiful, exciting and extremely important. Though it was clear it could be major financing challenge, that didn’t bother me.  I thrive on challenges and the script and Nate were so incredible, I was completely up for it.”

The key to the financing, Berman came to believe, was Parker.  “When I met Nate it was game over because he has a quality you dream of in a filmmaker: an incredible energy that transfers to everyone he meets. This film could only have worked with a strong leader and Nate was that leader.  I’m a persistent and aggressive person, but Nate has given me a run for my money in that area.”

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Parker says it was natural to talk to investors from the heart.  “I knew I wanted to create a film that could be a creative legacy.  I knew I wanted to be able to show it to my children and have them see that I made an effort to change things. So I said if those are the things I want to achieve, then why can’t those ideas become the game plan for talking to investors? I put it in those terms:  what movies are we leaving for our children and our children’s children?”

Berman also saw the impact in action when they were hiring the crew.  “Everyone wanted to be involved because of Nate’s passion.  It’s also important that as strong as he was, Nate was equally kind, humble and gracious and I believe you see that on the screen.  It’s all about his humanity and ability to get the best out of people.”

For Berman, one key thing sets the film apart:  “It’s the empathy we feel for the characters,” he says.  “When indie films break out the reason is never just the performances or the relevance of the social issues they tackle – it’s the fact that audiences can really relate to the characters, can root for them and really feel why they do what they do.”

A huge piece of the financing puzzle fell into place when Canadian producer Gilbert’s Bron Studios came aboard with an unrelenting commitment to get the film to the screen.  Gilbert says he was blown away by the power of the script and its exciting, relevant perspective on a past that still has a profound impact; but, as with others, it was meeting Nate Parker that utterly sealed the deal.

“I met Nate for what I thought was going to be a little hello and we ended up spending the next four hours together,” Gilbert recalls.  “I’ve had a lot of different experiences in the film industry, but I can say this was truly one of the absolute most important, life changing meetings of my life.  Nate and I had a wide-ranging and emotional conversation about how he got to the point of needing to tell this story and his vision of how it would be made and by the end, there was no way I could not make this movie.  There’s something rare about Nate where he has that ability to move people, to touch and challenge them in a motivating way and you feel that instantly.”

“This story might take place 200 years ago, but it depicts the era of slavery in a vital new light,” says Gilbert.  “You see Nat Turner standing up for his people. Some will argue about his methods, but drastic times can call for the most drastic measures.  It’s also a story that speaks to our own times and what’s happening in the world right now, with so many oppressed people still living these kinds of stories.”

The feeling that The Birth Of A Nation brings a new, necessary shift in perspective also drew producer Preston Holmes, known for such productions as Malcolm X, Hustle And Flow and New Jack City.  “I’ve had an interest in African-American history throughout my career,” says Holmes, “and the story of Nat Turner is too little known.  There has been very little seen previously to even indicate there were many rebellions against the institution of slavery by kidnapped Africans.  The film is unique because Nat Turner was not content to go along with the program.  The opportunity of a film like this doesn’t often come along, so I was thrilled to take part in it.”

Parker’s confidence to take on an emotionally demanding central performance while trying to direct a visionary first film at the very same time enthralled Holmes.  “This would have been a difficult task for the most experienced filmmaker,” he points out.  “But Nate was always very clear about his overall vision.  We all worked hard to make this film happen, but no one worked harder than Nate.”

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“It’s not until we have an honest confrontation about how we got where we are now that we will ever be able to heal.  Gone are the days that we can hope that things will change without us.”

Everyone involved in the film was buoyed not just by Parker’s fervor but also by the sense they were telling a story that might do what is increasingly difficult in entertainment:  to get people talking about things that matter.  “This is a film that has the potential to stir controversy but also spark big conversations,” says Aaron Gilbert.  “That’s part of what has us all so excited about it.”

Says Preston Holmes:  “I think the more that people know about the true history of our country … the more understanding it will foster between us as Americans and as human beings.”

Nate Parker is sanguine about the likely reactions to the film.  He knows there are those who it will rankle and many who may learn about Nat Turner’s heart stopping actions for the first time, but he hopes for one particular reaction across the board:  empathy.

“I hope that you cannot watch this film and not have empathy,” he concludes.  “My goal was to create the mirror of all mirrors on this subject and I challenge the grand wizard of the KKK to not be moved by the film’s humanity.  When I see Nat Turner in the final moments of the film, it moves me to tears every time.   He is so heroic … and this is what I was missing my entire life.  It’s the pride you’ve longed for, the pride you’ve never felt or been allowed to feel.”

“For me, this film is about the hope of untethering the industry from our dark past, about the opportunity to retell the narrative of America in new ways.  It is an attempt at a rebirth in a sense – a rebirth where we acknowledge the truth so we can move forward, a rebirth in which, to new audiences, the phrase THE BIRTH OF A NATION will now refer to Nat Turner’s legend – the antithesis of what Griffith intended.”

For Parker, the film will succeed if it not only shines a light on the hidden past but also ignites conversations about intolerance, equality and the devaluing of black lives in our era – an era in which racial narratives thought by some to belong to the past still play out over and over.  Parker sums up:  “It’s not until we have an honest confrontation about how we got where we are now that we will ever be able to heal.  Gone are the days that we can hope that things will change without us.”

“It took me a while to get into screenwriting and filmmaking. I started out as a playwright, and I’m still a playwright, but I was in my early thirties before I ever tried to write a screenplay for myself..”

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Kenneth Lonergan’s first film, You Can Count On Me (2000), which he wrote and directed, was an Academy Award® and Golden Globe® Nominee for Best Screenplay’ and won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, NY Film Critics Circle, LA Film Critics Circle, Independent Spirit Award for ‘Best Film’ and Best Screenplay, among numerous other awards and nominations. Lonergan’s second film, Margaret (2011) and Margaret – Extended Edition (2012), won the European Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Award at the Vienna Film Festival, the Traverse City Film Festival Founders Prize, and received widespread critical acclaim both in the U.S. and abroad, as well as becoming a cause celebre among  cinema  journalists  and  critics  worldwide.   He  also  co-­‐wrote  the  screenplays  for  Analyze  This and Gangs Of New  York (2002 WGA and Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay).       His plays include This Is Our Youth (1996),  Drama  Desk  Best  Play  nominee,  2015  Tony  Award  Best  Revival (Steppenwolf); The Waverly Gallery (2000), Pulitzer Prize finalist; Lobby Hero (2001), Drama Desk   Best Play nominee, Outer Critics Circle Best Play nominee, 2002 Olivier  Award  nominee  for  Best  Play  during its West End run; The Starry Messenger (2009), and Medieval Play (2012).

You saw “Manchester By the Sea” as a story of a guy going through the steps that lead him nowhere.  

I was interested in someone who has endured something that was unbearable, but because of his attachments to the rest of his family, he can’t simply disappear. My fantasy always has been—I have a daughter—my fantasy has always been that if she lost her life I would kill myself. Because I couldn’t bear to be alive. That may or may not be true, I certainly hope I never find out, and you’re not even supposed to say things like that, but that’s the thought you have as a parent. And so, how people survive what they survive is a mystery to me. It’s interesting that what causes that amount of anguish, and can help you through it, is love, and you don’t feel that kind of pain unless you lose someone you love. But love is the only thing that can get you through that kind of distress. There are other situations in which love is of no use whatsoever, like when you’re being murdered and massacred by ISIS, it doesn’t matter how many people love you, they’ll still cut your head off.

It has to be a challenge to make a film that works toward that but also to make a film with a character who is so interior, so inexpressive.

There’s just certain conversations he’s just not interested in having. I see him as being extremely active. I never noticed that he didn’t say much until people started point it out to me. Because, to me, every day [for him] is a struggle to not collapse. A very active struggle. He works very hard to get through every day in a way that he can stand. He’s sometimes not successful. He’s in so much pain. He has got so much emotional burden to carry that he’s got to work very hard to keep it at bay or he just can’t function. He does it by trying to relegate everything into small tasks. When he has a bigger task he tries to do that too, but it is not as successful because once human beings become involved it becomes very difficult to control your environment.

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Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea

Regarding your casting of Casey Affleck in the lead role of Lee: how did you get him to express what you wanted most from the character, especially in terms of the restraint within his performance? 

Well, he’s an amazing actor and an amazing person. We’re very good friends now. We were friends before, but we’re very close now, I would say. I don’t know if he would agree because he’s frequently wrong about everything, so he might have the wrong idea about that too. But he has an amazing worker bee attitude towards the part he plays. We had the most interesting in-depth, interminable discussions about the character: where he was at, why he was acting this way in this scene, why he wasn’t acting one way in another scene, where he was later, why did he react to the kid. [Casey’s] first comment was that he felt he was being very mean to the kid, his nephew; he wasn’t being comforting about when his father died. In the beginning of the discussion months later, we knew how the character was getting through his days after this terrible thing that had happened to him, and we both worked out together where he was at. It’s easy for him to be mechanical and cut off from the doctors and nurses who are trying to express sympathy, but his nephew gets to him. So it’s about who gets to him and when, and what shakes him out of the routine that he’s established in order to survive what’s happened to him, was a source of really interesting and really productive discussions. We talked about it months before the movie started, we talked about it every day on the set, we talked about it even after he saw the movie. It was really interesting and I learned a lot doing that.

How exact do you plan films, not just with characters, but in directing? How exact do you imagine these projects? 

It’s always … you have one idea. Well, ideally, you have one idea that works in your head. And then you start with that, and then other people come along and either don’t get it and you try to get them to it, or they have some other idea that is germinated from your idea or related to it, and it enhances it and makes it better. And then you build on it together. That’s the really fun part of that. That goes for every element of the film, of acting, cinematography, the sound mixing, the locations, everything. When that’s all going well, it’s really fun. But I like the actors to stick to the dialogue as best they can, some pieces of dialogue I don’t really care that much, some I really do care, I couldn’t say why, it depends on the line. But I usually feel like [actors] should work within the dialogue and not outside of it. But apart from that, the behavior and how you shoot it, and where the emphases go and in the editing of course too, it’s all, “I know this works, and where can I go from there?”

There are many moments [in your films and plays] of people being stupid or putting their foot in it or just not expressing themselves clearly.

I know I write about that a lot, people misunderstanding each other, but I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t know what that is. But I do remember high school really vividly, and college, too, in some ways. After that, it all becomes a murky, semi-grown-up blur until this moment. Which will then be absorbed into the blur later. But I remember the grown-ups from then, too. I remember people’s parents. I remember watching other people’s parents and my parents trying to cope with us and feeling bad for them, while also going off privately and making fun of them in a snotty teenage way. It’s clearly a bad situation for everybody. [both laugh] I also remember being a little kid really vividly. But I couldn’t write scenes about that because I wouldn’t know how to write what a little kid says. But when you’re a teenager, you’re so self-conscious and so self-aware for some reason. And I remember what people talked like very well. And then you get older, and you see teenagers, you hear them in the streets, half showing off and half nervous. And you just watch them, their physicality, like, three boys in the street, and you can tell which one’s the leader, which one’s nervous, if they all are really comfortable with each other … Their body language is so clear. Or, if it’s girls, you’re like, “Okay, which one’s the cute one? Which one’s the popular one? Which one’s the kooky friend who’s hanging around?” And these hideous things they have to be. They seem very much like everybody else, but times ten.

This is not a film that you set out to direct. Was there a point at which it was either you had to direct it or it would go away?

I don’t think that ever came up. I think it was just a question that Matt was going to direct it all the time it was being written. Then, when he read the script, by that time his schedule had constricted. Also, I think he was enthusiastic about the idea of me directing it. It was never put to me like, “If you don’t direct it, we’re not going to be able to do it.” He said, “I think it would be a really good idea for you to direct it. I think you’ll do a great job.” Whether that’s true or not, I thought about and decided I did want to direct it because I’d gotten very attached to the material in the interim.

Was it hard to make the decision to come back to directing after the break and after your last experience?

No, not at all. I knew I would at some point. I wasn’t sure it was going to be with this because I was writing it for Matt.

When you know you’re going to do a piece and set it in a place like this, how does the accent influence approach to dialogue?

I approach dialect by trying to write down what I hear in my imagination. In this case I heard them speaking with this regionalism and that just works its way into the script. I wanted to avoid certain clichéd expressions. Nobody says, “wicked,” or anything like that. It’s not a favorite expression anyway. Even nowadays most of the people say in a sort of self-referential way because they have seen it in the movies so much. I avoid that one. Other than that, you know where your characters are from, you know how they talk and you write that down.

What steps do you take to get the region correct? If you don’t get it right, I’m sure you’ll get called on the details. How did you make sure you got it right?

You just try to follow the details, really. Details give you the bigger picture. I did a fair amount of research on the town and of the area when I was writing the script. A lot more when I got there in pre-production. Then we integrated as much of the environment as we possibly could on the fly when we were there. I really like dialogue. I’m really interested in it. I’m really interested in verisimilitude because that’s how I personally build up my work. There are a lot of approaches that don’t necessarily have to do with verisimilitude, but that’s my way in.

I’ve noticed movies that take place in certain specific locations. I’ve noticed movies where everyone sounds the same and you can tell they all have the same accent coach. I didn’t want to do that. My wife [actress J. Smith Cameron] shoots a TV show called Rectify in a small town in Georgia. You go down there and a lot of people have a strong local accent and a lot of people don’t. I don’t see that in a lot of movies. Usually if it takes place in Maine everyone has the same accent. When you really go to Maine everyone has a different accent. I wanted to make sure their were characters who did not have a regional accent and there are several. When you go to Manchester, Gloucester, and Cape Ann, a lot of people have the local accent, a lot of people don’t. I wanted to reflect that. I knew which characters I wanted to have a specific local accent and which ones I didn’t. There are a lot of transplants.

We were scouting the movie and ran into two guys who came out of a boat repair shop, they both had thick Southern accents. One of them was from Alabama and one of them was from Tennessee. They lived there for 20 years. It was really hilarious because they had these strong Southern accents. They were like, [adopts Southern accent] “Oh, yeah. I’ve lived up here for my whole life practically. I love it.” And you’re standing in the middle of Gloucester Harbor. They’re covered with grease from the boats and they’re just chattering away in their Southern accents. You just try to stick to the particulars and it often gives you the bigger picture.

You’re used to creating plays and movies that are complete pieces and the idea that open-ended story would be something new.

It is a very different form. It took me a while to get into screenwriting and filmmaking. I started out as a playwright, and I’m still a playwright, but I was in my early thirties before I ever tried to write a screenplay for myself. I was doing it to make a living but it took awhile for me even do that. I think it might just be a trick of my imagination, just a switch to jump the track and go over to the television world. I don’t know.

Something about the long form appeals to me. One of the main worries about a play or a movie is that they are only supposed to be so long. The fact that if you can do the show over four episodes or four hours, or eight episodes, eight hours, or eight two-hour episodes if you happen to have that much to say or write about, that’s very liberating.

When do you know when a movie is done?

When your adjustments start to make it worse instead of better, you have to stop.

What’s a sign of that?

Just that when you watch it you’re like, “Why did I do that? That’s not better. That’s worse.” You’re in there, you have this great idea. You’re like, “Oh, wow! That scene’s really good, but this other take we didn’t use is so great. Maybe I could just get a couple of lines from that take in there. Switch those out.” Then you do all this fussing, you do a screening and you step back and you’re like, “Oh. This is not as good.” When you see more breaking down than improving, it’s time to stop.

As a playwright and screenwriter, what is your attitude when going into the editing room? 

It’s been different every time. I have only done three movies. The first movie I was so nervous on the set because I never directed before, that when I got to the editing room it was a complete and utter relief because it was just like writing. All the materials were there, it was like writing a script and then trying to make it the best version of it. I had all the materials, the editor Anne McCabe and I worked on the individual scenes and put them together, we stepped back and looked at them, the same as you write a bunch of scenes and then read the whole act of a play. You notice things, go back. So, it was a breeze. It was really fun and easy and familiar to me. “Margaret” was so challenging because there are so many balls to keep in the air, but it was really fun too, in a different way. Again, you just have to keep the whole thing in your head, but I had a very clear idea of how to edit that too. But the trouble came from outside. But I knew what we were doing, and finally, [we] more or less got to do what we wanted to do in the extended version, years after years of torture and misery and rescue from critics and friends and Twitter. That was very unpleasant, and then a miracle at the end. That multiple story form I am very interested in pursuing again.

This movie, I wasn’t sure how to edit. We went in and we just started playing the scenes. I had an idea for the beginning should be a bit of his routine, and I knew I wanted to establish the routine. The idea of starting the film the way it starts now was a later idea which I think works. It was more feeling your way through it, I think. It’s tricky because you have all of these takes and all of these performances that are great, and you have to decide what shapes a scene. Casey also makes you do hundreds of takes because he won’t stop until you tell him to go home, if there’s a somewhat better way to do it he wants to do it. And I’m a little bit that way too, sometimes. So, it’s hard to decide which one of his dozen great deliveries of this line to use. But eventually, a cohesion appears.

“I don’t have anything I know that other people don’t know — everybody has lost someone, has had terrible pain in their life and had to live with it. People have different ways of recovering. There’s a whole gamut of things I think it’s nice to see reflected back to you in fictional form.”

Manchester by the Sea sneaked up on writer-director Kenneth Lonergan.

The film was originally planned as a directing and starring vehicle, respectively, for its two producers, Matt Damon (who starred in Margaret) and John Krasinski. Damon, who costarred with Casey Affleck in the first cast of “This is Our Youth” on stage in London, offered the story to Lonergan to write.

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan discusses a scene with Casey Affleck during the filming of Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea tells the story of the Chandler family, a working class family from Massachusetts. After Lee’s (Casey Affleck) older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly passes away, he is made the legal guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges). Lee is forced to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised.

Kenneth Lonergan talks about writing and directing Manchester By The Sea

Damon and producer Moore, while shooting “The Adjustment Bureau,” tried to develop a movie version of Lonergan’s play, “Lobby Hero,” which never came to fruition. But Lonergan liked the Manchester story idea, about a man with a tragic history who must face his past after his brother dies and makes him his son’s guardian.

Lonergan didn’t consider directing the script, but Damon fell out — and Lonergan eventually agreed to take over the movie. Then Damon and Krasinski’s heavy schedules worked against them acting in the film, which required a short New England winter shooting window. They all agreed to ask Casey Affleck to star, and he happily jumped aboard with Michelle Williams, who stuck with the project, which became a tougher sell with Affleck than Damon. (The final movie cost $8.5 million.)

However, “tough” is a matter of perspective. With “Margaret,” Lonergan faced five years of editing disputes with producers before it could be released; here, the director enjoyed the backing of a powerful movie star and a team of producers and financiers (the Megan Ellison role is played by neophyte K Period CEO Kimberly Steward). And all of them pledged to let Lonergan make the film he wanted to make.

“Kenny knew the whole time he would be protected and safe,” said Moore, who works with Damon and Ben Affleck’s Pearl Street Films. “He should be allowed to make Kenny movies.”

Even so, Lonergan initially struggled with the script. He changed the nephew from a younger child to a teenager. “I thought the idea of a kid who’s having a very good life despite what he’s been through is interesting,” said Lonergan, sitting in a Telluride theater lobby. “One character is in a lot of trouble, and one has a pretty good life going. He’s a resilient, tough kid with a lot of love for his father and his family, he’s been hit hard in a lot of ways, but he’s having one of those rare good high school experiences and he doesn’t want to lose it. That’s the main conflict of the story.”

When the first draft didn’t work for him, Lonergan started over with the material he found most intriguing: the depressed janitor/handyman/mechanic Lee, shoveling snow near Boston. “He’s in so much distress, he doesn’t wish to function, doesn’t want to connect to anybody else,” said Lonergan. “But he has to, because he’s still connected to his brother and his family. He’s been through a terrible, life-destroying tragedy, but his brother does not allow him to disappear into the void.”

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Casey Affleck and Kyle Chandler in Manchester By The Sea

Walking into Lee’s life “forced me to put the past into the flashback structure,” Lonergan said. “That turned out to be a very successful structural correlative to the emotional situation, because he’s someone who’s carrying a block of memories that he can’t live with. And it wasn’t conscious on my part, but it worked out. Sometimes when you just follow what you like, it works out that you are doing something that makes sense.”

It didn’t always make sense for the producers. The complicated weave of time frames didn’t always read on the page. “People will be confused by all these weird flashbacks and random flashing to a scene,” Moore told Lonergan at one point.

Lonergan was not fazed. “No, they won’t. They will understand completely,” he replied.

“He’s ornery as hell and super honest about people,” said Moore, “who we really are, and what we really do, and how we really act. He sees dramatic moments that aren’t the big moment. He sees the little dinner table conversations. People have conversations that seem so pointless, that from the outside don’t look meaningful, but really are.”

The scene that sets grown men sobbing is one when Lee (Affleck) runs into his ex-wife Randi (Williams) on the street. It seems simple enough: Back in Manchester after his brother’s funeral, the estranged couple runs into each other on the sidewalk. She wants Lee to get together with her for a talk. He says he can’t.

“A friend said to me once about acting, ‘If you do something really truthfully, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s going to be interesting,’” said Lonergan. “And I believe that that’s true. I found a long time ago that real life — as best I can transcribe it — the details are always richer than leaving them out.”

Lonergan kept delaying the scene toward the end of filming. He wanted to make sure there was plenty of time to get it right. (Affleck especially likes to shoot as many digital takes as possible.) The director rehearses the cast ahead of time like a theatrical play, sitting at tables or standing in a room; time becomes too precious while shooting.

“With actors like Casey and Michelle, you don’t have to do that much, but you can suggest what the characters might be trying to do, what lines of behavior they might be following,” said Lonergan. “There’s so much history between them. They’re both trying so hard to be kind to one another. They’re trying to protect each other. She’s trying to reach out to him after this terrible thing that happened a long time ago, that’s separated them. He can’t do it.”

Lonergan was pleased with the end result: “I love watching it. It’s painful to watch, but I love it. It’s very satisfying.”

Shooting in Manchester was tough: A tight schedule, bitter cold, multiple exteriors, driving shots, too much or too little snow. Still, Lonergan enjoyed seeking the area’s physical details and the different ways people live there. What makes him crazy is movies that bypass reality.

“I see them sugarcoat and pass over experiences everybody in the world has had,” he said. “It annoys me because it seems like a lie. I don’t have anything I know that other people don’t know — everybody has lost someone, has had terrible pain in their life and had to live with it. People have different ways of recovering. There’s a whole gamut of things I think it’s nice to see reflected back to you in fictional form.”

The final movie wound up close to the one Lonergan wrote, “except for the surprises that come up,” he said. For example, the day they filmed with boats went so well that they had six extra hours to cruise around the harbor and town grabbing shots, which yielded the opening sequence of the movie—not in the script.

Director’s Statement

We shot this movie in Cape Ann from late February to early May. It was very cold  at  first,  but  very  beautiful. In Cape Ann you are never far from water. I loved being by the ocean and inlets all the time; I   loved shooting on the boat, and  in  the  marinas  and  dockyards  and  houses  in  Manchester,  Gloucester and Beverly. I loved that part even when we were in triple overtime and I wanted to go to bed and never     get up again. Plus, the food was great. My favorite restaurant was the Clam Box, in Ipswich, which has         the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had, even though it was actually recommended to me for its fried clams,   which are also excellent -­‐-­‐ although not as good as the fried clams at Nicky’s  Cruisin’ Diner in  Bangor, Maine, near the airport. But the Clam Box lobster rolls were literally twice as good as the next best lobster roll I’ve ever had, and I have had a lot of first-­‐rate lobster rolls. I have no idea how this can be true, but it  is.

During the shoot, I got to stay in a house in Annisquam, overlooking a little cove off the Essex River. It had a big picture window and a long deck outside facing the woods and houses across the water. In the daytime there were all kinds of birds outside my window, and spectacular planets in the sky almost every night. Except for weekends, I was usually in the house in the early mornings either going to work or coming back from it. In the early Spring a swan appeared and could be seen drifting around the cove very regularly. I don’t know anything about swans except what I read in The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. In that book, the cobb swims around and around all Spring on the lookout for predators, while his wife sits on her nest somewhere nearby, waiting for her eggs to hatch. I thought maybe that’s what this swan was doing. I had no idea of course, because we wrapped and went home before the cygnets would have been born anyway, and I don’t know anything about swans.

You never know why you write about the things you end up writing about. I suspect that the impetus to create anything is too specifically rooted in the artists’ personal psychology to be of much interest to anybody else, but you hope the results will be. My favorite part of filmmaking is the process whereby a story initially developed in the privacy of your own imagination becomes the emotional property of other people. The story is nurtured and made to blossom under the care, emotions, and ideas of your collaborators. It becomes a kind of shared fantasy belonging to all of them, until it is finally passed along to an audience where -­‐ you hope -­‐ it becomes a part of their inner life, the way the movies I love have become a part of me.

-­‐     Kenneth  Lonergan

 

Top 10 South African Films Of 2016

By Daniel Dercksen

Local has indeed been lekker in 2016, with more than 30 films released in South Africa. Here are the films that had a visceral and emotional impact, allowing us to see the world through home-grown eyes.

Since he launched The Writing Studio 19 years ago Daniel Dercksen has been actively involved in the teaching of storytellers and the development of screenplays, novels and plays, working passionately with emerging writers and storymakers on their respective stories. He has been a freelance film and theatre journalist for 30 Years, writing regular features, interviews and reviews for magazines and newspapers, as well as the website of The Writing Studio. He also received the number one spot for most popular lifestyle contributor for 2012,  2014 and 2015 on www.bizcommunity.com and second most popular contributor in 2016.

My fathers war 2

Edwin van der Walt in My Father’s War

1. MY FATHER’S WAR This bilingual (Afrikaans/English) drama focuses on the heartbreaking broken relationship between a father and his rebellious teenage son with outstanding performances by Edwin van der Walt as a conflicted young man who is constantly at was with his father, a veteran of the Angola border war, with an equally powerhouse performance by Stian Bam as a man torn between a past that shattered his life, and a future that holds little promise. Erica Wessels is also superb  as the wife who is caught in the middle of their epic battle. The men don’t see eye to eye on anything, and there seems to be no hope for reconciliation between them.

2. MODDER EN BLOED  In this emotional journey into the heart and soul of a war that divided a nation, reconciled revenge forces underdogs to triumph in the spirit of togetherness.It’s a poignant story of man versus himself when incarcerated with other Boer prisoners-of-war on the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, but also the story of Afrikaner men tortured emotionally and physically by a monstrous British tyrant during the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902, as well as the story of a British woman who redeems herself through the horrors she witnesses.

3. FREE STATE This heartbreaking romance is set in 1979 and tells the story of a forbidden love affair between Jeanette – a white Afrikaans girl – and Ravi – an Indian man.  The film is written and directed by multi-award winning filmmaker Sallas de Jager. “The film explores the predicament of a parent and child relationship within three families when they are confronted by the ripple effect of the forbidden love affair between Ravi and Jeanette.  The parents are confronted by the need of a parent for your child to find true happiness versus the need for your child to uphold the way of life taught to him/her from childhood in order to fit into a community as an adult.

4. ‘N PAWPAW VIR MY DARLING Family. You want to live without them, but can’t survive without them. That’s the essence of Koos Roets‘ quirky satire ‘n Paw Paw Vir My Darling, which takes us on a humorous and heartfelt journey into the hearts and souls of a needy Afrikaner family living in the fictional Damnville in 2003.Based on an idea which Roets skilfully adapted from Jeanne Goosen bestseller that offered  an intelligent and her sharp observation and understanding of the pshyce of characters and their reactions to the social, cultural and political mileu in which they find themselves, the film adaptation aptly celebrates the core of Goosen’s work. Although at heart it’s a brilliant social satire in the tradition of Siener in die Suburbs and Triomf, it’s equally a women’s film that acutely addresses issues of woman finding their worth in work and home, but also a human drama about a family that tries to unite dramatically and comically, and also addresses serious issues like cancer with dark overtones.

5. DIE ONTWAKING  A grisly, mesmerising thriller that investigates the mind and motivations of an acutely intelligent serial killer, and marks the directorial debut of acclaimed production designer Johnny Breedt (Paljas, Hotel Rwanda, A Long Walk to Freedom). Hailed as a game-changer for South African film, Die Ontwaking is based on the first book of the ‘Abel’ trilogy, Abel se Ontwaking (translated into English as The Skin Collector), by well-known crime writer Chris Karsten. Says Breedt: “I really wanted to be challenged as a film maker and wanted to do the same with my audience, take them to a place where they do not necessarily want to go.”

6. NOEM MY SKOLLIE If you are looking for a gritty and hardcore prison drama, Noem My Skollie features Dann Jaques Mouton (last seen in Abraham) delivering a touching performance as a man who grows up on the impoverished ganglands of Cape Flats in the 1960s. It tells the tragic story of four teenagers, AB (Austin Rose) and his three best friends Gimba (Ethan Patton), Gif (Joshua Vraagom) and Shorty (Valentino de Klerk), and their vicious journey into adulthood. It’s the autobiographical story of screenwriter John W. Fredericks who takes us into the hardship of prison life, but also the story of a man who find life in a hellish existence.

7. SY KLINK SOOS LENTE is a refreshing revival of the Afrikaans Romantic Comedy genre, with Corné van Rooyen’s sensitive directing style and Stiaan Smith’s fresh script create a wonderful background for Amalia Uys and Smith’s gripping performances and pulling out all the emotional stops.  It’s a delightful tale of a mechanic (Smith) who falls in love with a beautiful and brainy redhead (Uys) who is the daughter of his boss at a car dealership in Johannesburg. The chemistry between Smith and Uys is pure magic and when the sparks begin to fly, the mechanic spins a white lie and tells her he’s the lead singer in a band.

 

WONDER BOY FOR PRESIDENT Writer-director John Barker turned politics inside out and upside down with his biting independent mockumentary.  Funnyman Kagiso Lediga steps into the shoes of Wonder Boy,  a charismatic and authoritative young man from the Eastern Cape, who is coerced into running for president by two dubious and corrupt characters played by Ntosh Madlingozi and Tony Miyambo. Their aim is to mould him into a great politician and manufacture his downfall at the right time, for the right price. It is a political satire that delves into political dynamics and challenges that arise.

9. DIS KOUE KOS, SKAT A charming local film that features Anna-Mart van der Merwe in top form as a renowned food writer  Clara, who discovers that her husband is cheating on her with one of her best friends and moves to Cape Town with her two kids where she rediscovers her true nature, and gloriously uncovers the allure of food in romance! Clara undergoes this journey not only of healing, but of rediscovering her passions in life, all the while plotting her revenge on her ex husband and his new, much younger wife. Deon Lotz is equally brilliant as the cheating husband with Frank Opperman ideally cast as a restaurant owner and chef who has a peculiar food fetish. Elzabe Zietsman is also fantastic as the best friend and matchmaker who adds to the humour in the story of love lost, and ultimately found in the strangest of places.

10. NOMA Challenging conventional filmmaking, Pablo Pinedo is very much an auteur when it comes to his well-researched and structured Noma, using his skills as producer, writer, director and cinematographer to create an impressionistic documentary that is different from traditional filmmaking. Noma tells the story of Nomaliphathwe Gwele, a 25 year old single mother of two, who lives in a backyard in a rented shack, and wants to improve her life. To do that she decides to join a land occupation action to build her own shack in the new settlement but risking violent evictions.

Other Noteworthy Releases

shepherdsSHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS The true account of the legal process of capital punishment, and the inhumane treatment of prisoners on death row, which took place during the apartheid era in South Africa.“It’s a film about young people taken by a society, taught how to kill and then left to their own devices,” says director Oliver Schmitz, “it’s very much about apartheid but equally it could be anywhere in the world, where a kid in a situation of war who is given a gun, is told to shoot someone, and must then go home and be normal. It doesn’t work.”

safebetSAFE BET Writer-director Bonginhlanhla Ncube (better known as Mr. B) and screenwriter Carl Roddam have joined forces for Safe Bet, a film that was officially selected in 6 festivals and traveled to entertain audiences in the US and Europe 4 months after completion. In Safe Bet, Frank (Wandile Molebatsi)’s lifelong friend Khaya (Godfrey Thobejane) turns up with another money-making scheme, Frank is tempted into throwing in the entire boss’s money into a fixed boxing match.

Vir Altyd kiss

VIR ALTYD An honest and sincere journey into the hearts and souls of two young lovers on the rollercoaster of love and life, it’s a heartfelt film about love and how Cupid’s arrows pierces the hearts of those who want to love but are hopelessly lost on their search for meaning and understanding,  and revered conquerors of love celebrating its joy and anguish.

Botha and Roberts wrote and co-produced Vir Altyd with Danie Bester, whose Johannesburg-based company, The Film Factory produced three of the top six highest grossing Afrikaans feature films at the South African box office: the very successful teen comedy trilogy Bakgat!, Bakgat! 2 and Bakgat! 3; box office hits Ballade vir ’n Enkeling, Wolwedans in die Skemer, Hoofmeisie and Pad na Jou Hart; as well as the critically acclaimed Roepman and Verraaiers.

Sink websiteSINK is a contemporary drama written and directed by  Brett Michael Innes that poignantly explores the themes of entrapment, loss and forgiveness against the backdrop of the current South African class structure and the experience of foreign nationals in the country. It tells the compelling story three people trying to deal with a tragic situation: Rachel (Shoki Mokgapa), is a mother trying to come to terms with the loss of her child and the bitterness that she feels towards the people responsible; Michelle (Anel Alexander), a woman trying to deal with the arrival of her own child and the guilt that she feels towards her involvement in the death of another’s; and Chris (Jacques Bessenger), a man trying to juggle both of the above as well as a relationship with a co-worker that threatens his marriage.

AlisonALISON A story of monsters, miracles  and hope. Director-writer-producer Uga Carlini, changed lives in a profound way with the poignant documentary Alison, which  won the Best Documentary at the Asia Pacific International Film Festival, after selling out at the Encounters International Film Festival, and wowing crowds at its international premiere at Dances with Films Festival in Los Angeles. After recently being nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Silwerskermfees 2016, the hybrid film, Alison the movie was bestowed the top honour this past weekend of International Humanitarian Platinum Award Winner for Best Documantary at this year’s World Humanitarian Film Awards. Translated into 7 languages and a perennial on Penguin’s best seller list since 1998, the documentary is based on the bestseller that tells the harrowing story of Alison Botha, who was raped, stabbed and disemboweled – and survived to rebuild her life as an inspirational speaker. Carlini’s hybrid feature documentary on Alison Botha is a deeply personal and emotional story of triumph and survival. Using a creative and innovative fairytale aesthetic, Carlini’s film is a poetic and insightful exploration of trauma and overcoming.

happiness-is-a-four-letter-word-cast-khanyi-mbau-mmabatho-montsho-and-renate-stuurmanHAPPINESS IS A FOUR LETTER WORD A heart-warming romance that explores the lives of three best friends – Nandi, Zaza and Princess – living the good life in the vibrant city of  Johannesburg. Nandi (Mmabatho Montsho) who has just been made partner at her law firm is engaged to emerging entrepreneur Thomas. Zaza (Khanyi Mbau) is a trophy wife to the wealthy and successful property developer Bheki. Princess (Renate Stuurman)  is the celebrated owner of one of the trendiest art galleries in town, and is living with her sexy and talented boyfriend Leo. But things aren’t what they seem!

 

 

An Emotional And Transformative Year On The Big Screen.

By Daniel Dercksen

What makes  a film memorable is not critique from the critics, money raked in at the box-office, or communal affirmation, but its enduring emotional impact and transformative power.  Here are the films that changed the way I see the world.

Top 15 Films Of 2016 (scroll down for Other Noteworthy Releases)

Since he launched The Writing Studio 19 years ago Daniel Dercksen has been actively involved in the teaching of storytellers and the development of screenplays, novels and plays, working passionately with emerging writers and storymakers on their respective stories. He has been a freelance film and theatre journalist for 30 Years, writing regular features, interviews and reviews for magazines and newspapers, as well as the website of The Writing Studio. He also received the number one spot for most popular lifestyle contributor for 2012,  2014 and 2015 on www.bizcommunity.com and second most popular contributor in 2016.

Knight-of-Cups-Trailer

Christian Bale in Knight Of Cups

1. KNIGHT OF CUPS With Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick is very much a storymaker in search of meaning, and through his journey of finding an answer to the essence of life, love and art, he allows us to reconnect with our own personal journey into ourselves and our place in this world.Malick explores the excess of nothingness and the extreme of everything, where complete silence and feverish chaos form an incongruous symphony of emotions in this story of a lonely comedy writer Rick (Christian Bale) living in present-day Santa Monica who longs for something other, something beyond the life he knows, without knowing quite what it is, or how to go about finding it. Film is ultimately an art that communicates thoughts and ideas through created imagery and sound. Malick is indeed a ‘Knight of Cups’ and ‘Prince of Dreams’, constantly creating new ways of communicating, celebrating the gift of creation, and cherishing the talent for expressing the kingdoms of make-believe and the imagination. He makes it clear that anything is possible if you dare to dream, and that nothing is impossible if you ignite your imagination.

2. GENIUS A masterful journey into the mindscape of an impassioned writer and how the creative process impacts on the reality of the world and people surrounding the writer. This stirring drama deals with the complex friendship and transformative professional relationship between the world-renowned book editor Maxwell Perkins (who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway) and the larger-than-life literary giant Thomas Wolfe. Jude Law is superb as the crazed Wolfe, with Colin Firth in top form as Perkins. Genius is the culmination of screenwriter John Logan’s 20-year journey to bring the story of Maxwell Perkins to the screen.

3. THE DANISH GIRL The extreme truth of his hidden identity and acceptance of his true self sets an impassioned artist free in the exceptionally soulful The Danish Girl. It’s the much anticipated new film from Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables), and one that will make its mark in history.The Danish Girl boldly celebrates the valour of those who embrace their true identity and are not shamed of who they are, and salutes those whose kind-heartedness makes the world a place everyone wants to share equally. If you are looking for a film that offers a sincere and profound journey into the heart and soul of those who walk a different path, The Danish Girl should definitely not be missed. It is a film that will transform the way you see the world of those who live outside your comfort zone. Eddie Redmayne delivers a tour de force in his dual roles as man and woman; it is astonishing how he never imitates or impersonates, but becomes, immersing himself wholeheartedly into the character of Lili, allowing his transformation to be truthful. Redmayne’s passionate performance is layered with immense sadness, but equally presents us with the blissful joy of true fulfillment and absolute enlightenment.What’s truly admirable about Redmayne’s courageous performance is how he perfectly captures the innocence and essence of a man who falls in love for the first time when he unleashes the goddess inside.

4. THE REVENANT A heart wrenching story of survival, transformation and ultimate redemption. Last year Alejandro G. Iñárritu blew our minds with Birdman.  Your heart will bleed watching his latest masterwork, The Revenant, a spiritual odyssey into humanity and a man’s soul, and a brutal story of survival that will drain everything out of you emotionally. The Revenant is poetry in motion, an epic story in which visual imagery are selected for their beauty, sound and power to express feelings. It’s a perfect union of sound and image that speaks a serene and emotionally charged language that results in a musical beat created through rhythm, rhyme and repetition imperiously perfected by Iñárritu’s long-time cinematographer, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, sound designer Lon Bender, editor Stephen Mirrione , composers Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, production designer Jack Fisk,  Visual Effects Supervisor Rich Mcbride, and picture-perfect composition by Iñárritu that burns into your memory. Leonardi DiCapprio, who received an Oscar for his performance, delivers the performance of his career as Glass, an incredibly difficult and arduous role as he has to perform some of the most memorable and heart-breaking moments in the film in utter silence, and only through expression.  The quiet intensity he delivers is unequivocal, laced with a profound wisdom and deep sadness.

5. THE DRESSMAKER If there is one film that is divinely unique in every possible way, it’s this quirky Australian charmer, a film that transforms you in many ways.This enchanting creation was written by husband-and-wife team Jocelyn Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan , based on the novel The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham, with Moorhouse in the director’s seat – Hogan will always be remembered for his cultish Muriel’s Wedding and most recently helmed Pan, and Moorehouse made a great impact with her feature film debut Proof, which starred Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe. Moorhouse and Hogan understand the world and people they write about with loving care, compassion and a great sense of twisted humour; it’s a universal story anyone can easily identify with and sink their teeth in. It’s through their vibrant and dynamic characters that we immediately fall hopelessly in love with their respective journey and will to survive living in a small town reminiscent of classic Western films.At its heart, The Dressmaker is a spicy mother-and-daughter story, with Kate Winslet and Judy Davis perfectly cast as a devilish duo that explodes with fervour and zest.

6. ROOM Both highly suspenseful and deeply emotional, Room is a unique and touching exploration of the boundless love between a mother and her child. At once a taut narrative of captivity and freedom, an imaginative trip into the wonders of childhood, and a profound portrait of a family’s bonds and fortitude, Room is a beautifully transcendent experience based on the award-winning global bestseller by Emma Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay, based on her original novel. Director Lenny Abrahamson remains faithful to the novel while bringing Jack, Ma and their entirely singular world to heart-pounding and intensely cinematic life. Jacob Tremblay is superb as 5-year- old Jack, with an equally emotionally charged performance by Brie Larson as Ma. The one thing Jack holds tight to is the one thing that matters most of all—his special bond with his loving and devoted Ma.

 

7. THE JUNGLE BOOK A universal coming-of-age story that everyone can relate to. The Jungle Book returns to the big screen in magical, larger-than-live, live-action epic adventure that showcases the art of animation, storytelling and filmmaking, blending live-action performances with stunning CG environments and extraordinary photo-real animal characters. Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Chef) directed The Jungle Book from a screenplay by Justin Marks (Top Gun 2, TV’s Rewind) that was based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and was inspired by Disney’s classic animated film, with an approach all its own. It was the last film that Walt Disney oversaw. He passed away in 1966, the year before the film’s release. “We embrace the mythic qualities of Kipling in the more intense tonal aspects of the film,” says director Jon Favreau, “but we left room for what we remember from the ’67 film, and sought to maintain those charming Disneyesque aspects.”

8. THE ADDERALL DIARIES Adapted from Stephen Elliott’s true crime memoir of the same name, The Adderall Diaries is an incredible journey into the twisted mind of a once-successful novelist paralyzed by writer’s block and in the thrall of an Adderall addiction – who becomes fascinated by a high-profile murder case as a way to escape his personal struggles.If there’s one reason to see this film, besides a first rate and highly imaginative adaptation from writer-director Pamela Romanowsky,  it’s for the explosive and dynamic confrontation between James Franco and Ed Harris, who plays his father  who mysteriously resurfaces and claims that his son’s nightmarish memories were fabricated.

9. CAPTAIN FANTASTIC Here’s one film you cannot miss! From the wacky minds-cape of writer-director Matt Ross springs a story that will touch you emotionally, and challenge your perceptions about the state of the human condition. Viggo Mortensen is outstanding as the fiercely independent patriarch living in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest, raising his family as far as he can from the influence of modern consumerist culture.  For writer-director Matt Ross, the story is an exploration of the choices that parents make for their children. “Ultimately, it’s an extremely emotional and transformative journey for a very close-knit family that has chosen to live in an unusual way.”

 

10. DON’T BREATHE A brainy twisted horror-thriller that will shock you to the core. Writer-director Fede Alvarez goes for the jugular with a visceral an unapologetically brutal onslaught that pits a trio of thieves against an unexpectedly dangerous adversary. Shocking and enthralling, Alvarez’s masterful, visually stunning thriller maintains a frenzied pace to the last chilling minute.In this second feature film from Alvarez (Evil Dead) and legendary filmmaker Sam Raimi, a trio of friends breaks into the house of a blind recluse confident of an easy score only to find themselves in a terrifying life-or-death struggle.

 

11. HELL OR HIGH WATER  Ben Foster and Chris Pine deliver gut-wrenching performances as bank-robbing brothers, holding-up the very banks that are threatening to take away their land. On their trail, two Texas Marshalls (Jeff Bridges & Gil Birmingham) investigate the robberies, seeking to bring the culprits to justice. This contemporary western has far more on its mind than a simple outlaws-versus-cops morality tale.The antagonists in Hell or High Water aren’t even the cops or outlaws, but the corrupt faceless institutions (capitalist and governmental) that control them.The film examines the hopelessness Pine & Bridges face when up against cold bureaucracy, one forced into breaking the law, the other resigned to uphold it.Hell or High Water is the result of that increasingly rare invention: an original screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.

12. THE FREE STATE OF JONES Based on Oscar-nominated writer/director Gary Ross’ original screenplay, the epic action-drama tells the extraordinary story of a little known episode in American history during which Newt Knight, a fearless Mississippi farmer, led an unlikely band of poor white farmers and runaway slaves in an historic armed rebellion against the Confederacy during the height of the Civil War. Matthew McConaughey delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as a man torn between what he believes and who he loves, with other superb performances from Keri Russell, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the two women who shape his life.

 

13. A PERFECT DAY Everyone seeks a day that is perfect, and as the delightful film reveals, you will only know what a true perfect day is once it has happened, and then its reward turns out to be a gratifying surprise.Spanish filmmaker Fernando León De Aranoa has a wicked sense of the absurd that is grounded in a reality we all know; setting A Perfect Day in a world that is foreign to most people, that of an armed conflict zone, an improbable tourist destination that no-one will visit without trepidation. De Aranoa succeeds in emphasising the absurd, the irrationality of the human being. For him the first victim of any armed conflict is reason, and that’s why ‘’irrationality might be the most fearsome enemy in the film.’’

14. HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS A witty and compassionate late-life coming-of-age-story with a heart-breaking performance from Sally Field as an older woman in search of love.  After a lifetime of being overlooked and ignored, a woman of a certain age finds her world turned upside down by a handsome new co-worker and a self-help seminar that inspires her to take a chance on love in Hello, My Name is Doris, a witty and compassionate late-life coming-of-age-story.Based on a short film by Laura Terruso, Hello, My Name is Doris was written by Terruso and Michael Showalter and directed by Showalter. For Showalter, the film is an inspiring combination of humor and heart, with a truly memorable performance at its center. “I want people to come to this film and just enjoy it, but I also want them to see how wonderful Sally Field’s performance is,” says the director.

 

15. THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS  An absolute delightful and utterly charming journey into the world of pets and what happens in their lives when we leave them alone at home. It was directed by Chris Renaud, co-directed by Yarrow Cheney and written by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch. Lynch loved extrapolating upon these pets’ secret lives, revealing: “This film is a salute to how much all of us love our pets.  No matter what they do in the movie, the new friends they meet or the death they defy, they still have to be back at the end of the day to see their owners come home.  Even if they go on crazy adventures during the day, the highlight of every day is when their owner comes home.”

Other Noteworthy Films

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI Michael Bay takes us into the heart of conflict. The heated fury of fictional reality exploded dramatically in Bay’s profound exploration of warfare that offered a brutal and hard-core assault on the senses.

THE 33 “Family is all we have,” is what keeps the flame of hope burning in this tense and taut untold true story directed by Patricia Riggen from a screenplay by Mikko Alanne, Oscar nominee Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club) and Michael Thomas, based on the screen story by Oscar nominee José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) and the book Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar. It was a potent film about the miracle of life and the power of hope.

BEFORE I WAKE Fear is real in the tense and terrifying Before I Wake, which exists in a world with supernatural elements while maintaining a strong foothold in reality.“The horror of Before I Wake is born of the souls of its characters,” says Director/Co-writer/Editor Mike Flanagan. “This is really a bedtime story for grownups complete with its own boogie man.”

BEN-HUR Ben-Hur returns in all its magnificent splendor and spectacle with Russian-born producer/director Timur Bekmambetov’s inspired re-imaging of this timeless tale.“In many ways we still live in the Roman Empire, we still live with its values,” comments Bekmambetov. “Power, greed and success rule the world, people try to achieve everything in harsh competition, and only few realize that true human values are collaboration and forgiveness.”

THE BOY When horror is reinvented as in this superb unconventional horror thriller,  it’s an invigorating experience you will never forget! Directed by director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) from a screenplay by Stacey Menear. “I wanted to make a classic haunted-house story,” says Bell.“I figured it was the perfect next step for me. The script is character-driven, layered and subtle, but at the same time really frightening. So much happens in the film, which is rare for a scary movie. There’s also a great twist, which was a blast to direct. We all thought we could make something that would last forever and I hope that is what we made.”

CAFÉ SOCIETY Poignant, and often hilarious, Woody Allen conjures up a 1930s world that has passed to tell a deeply romantic tale of dreams that never die,  and took me on a journey from pastel-clad dealmakers in plush Hollywood mansions, to the quarrels and tribulations of a humble Bronx family, to the rough-and-tumble violence of New York gangsters, to the sparkling surfaces and secret scandals of Manhattan high life.

THE CONJURING 2  Be afraid, be very afraid for this supernatural thriller will have you sleeping with the lights on! James Wan is a master of paranoia, of playing on such universal fears as being in the dark, being alone and, in the case of The Conjuring 2, being overtaken by the unknown. Wan once again at the helm following the record-breaking success of The Conjuring, seeking to terrify moviegoers once again with his depiction of another highly publicized case involving the real-life horrors experienced by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren with The Conjuring 2, from a screenplay by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes (The Conjuring) & James Wan and David Leslie Johnson (Wrath of the Titans) , story by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes & James Wan.

DEADPOOL  This zany film pushes the boundaries of superhero and comic book films. Based upon Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, the explosive and mind-blowing it tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers adopts the alter ego Deadpool. It marks the directorial debut of Tim Miller.

DEMOLITION The explosive Demolition tells a mind-blowing story of a man whose life unravels and starts to rebuild it, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew. The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild), from an original screenplay written by Bryan Sipe, who dropped out of college just a few credits shy of graduation when he decided that the best education as a filmmaker was to dive in headfirst.

EDDIE THE EAGLE The feel-good Eddie The Eagle takes us into the life of Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton), an unlikely but courageous British ski-jumper who never stopped believing in himself, and with the help of a rebellious and charismatic coach Hugh Jackman), took on the establishment and won the hearts of sports fans around the world by making an improbable and historic showing at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. It was directed by Dexter Fletcher (Wild Bill), from a screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton. Jackman says he was indeed a huge Eddie the Eagle fan growing up — just another reminder of the huge impact Eddie’s exploits had on the world at large.

THE END OF THE TOUR If there’s one film you cannot miss that’s now available on DVD, it’s the incredible The End Of The Tour, based on David Lipsky’s memoir about the five-day interview he had with acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace for Rolling Stone Magazine.  Jason Segel’s portrayal of Wallace as a skeptical, ambitious, modest, hyper-self-conscious, depressive, and fundamentally generous figure of genius is unbelievable and is as revelatory of the unexpected depths of this hitherto bro-centric actor as it is of Wallace’s self-effacing fascination.  Equally brilliant is is Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky, delivering a sympathetic rendering of a highly idiosyncratic individual. The film is an emotional tour-de-force and takes you into the heart and soul of what it takes to be a writer and journalist. Directed with imaginative flair and insight by James Ponsoldt, with a crackling screenplay by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Donald Margulies, it’s one of those films that grabs hold of you and never let’s go.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!! A “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused set in the world of 1980 college life, writer-director and producer Richard Linklater’s comedy follows a group of friends as they navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.“It’s pretty autobiographical,” confesses Linklater. “Looking back, I realize it was a fun time to be in college, not only personally, but it was an interesting cultural moment. It was still the end of the 70s. What people now think of as the 80s really didn’t kick in until ’82 or ’83.

FREEHELD  When it comes to prejudice and discrimination against same sex unions, one always remembers Arnold in Harvey Fierstein’s autobiographical Torch Song Trilogy when his conservative mother accuses him of blasphemy when he recites cottage at the gravestone of his young lover.‘’You lost your husband in a nice clean hospital, I lost mine out there. They killed him out there on the street. Twenty-three years old laying dead on the street. Killed by a bunch of kids with baseball bats. Children. Children taught by people like you. ‘Cause everybody knows that queers don’t matter! Queers don’t love! And those who do deserve what they get!’’ 35-years later, with films like the powerful Freeheld, these profound words reverberate in the remarkable, inspirational story of New Jersey police lieutenant Laurel Hester and her partner Stacie Andree – a story which started out as an intensely personal experience of love and identity, but in 2005, became a flashpoint in the growing global battle for justice and equal rights, and a world where some don’t “give a damn about a dyke who is dying.”

HIGH STRUNG You might think it crazy to combine classical ballet and violin with hip-hop music and dance, but wait until you see the sensational High Strung, a superb romance between a classical dancer and British violinist, where two radically talented people from opposite sides of the tracks need to find harmony to achieve their dreams in New York City. A colorful, kinetic neo-musical that celebrates dance, music and the boundless optimism and energy of youth, fusing cutting edge hip-hop with contemporary and classical dance.

JANE GOT A GUN This riveting and epic love story told amidst the sprawling expanse of the American west, tells of Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman), who has built a life on the rugged western plains with her husband Bill “Ham” Hammond (Noah Emmerich) and young daughter. When Ham stumbles home riddled with bullets after a run-in with the relentless John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) and his gang, she knows they will not stop until her family is dead.

JOY As with emotion, Joy the film is full of outstanding surprises, where an optimistic dream turns into a heated warzone where self-expression, individualism in a tightly-knit family, and the empowerment of identity and ownership clash head-on. It springs from the extraordinary mind of writer-director of David O. Russell, who gave us the equally magnificent The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, and based this delightful tale loosely on the life and rise of inventor and home shopping star Joy Mangano. Russell describes it as genre-blurring story that boldly fuses reality with fantasy, linear narrative with inventive flashbacks and flash-forwards, convention with experimental explorations, and an old-fashioned family drama with a contemporary women’s film.

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN The legendary character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs returned with fervour, directed by David Yates (the final four Harry Potter films) from a screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, story by Brewer and Cozad based on the Tarzan stories created by Burroughs.“‘The Legend of Tarzan’ takes us to a world of adventure in deepest Africa, which is as exotic and awe-inspiring as anywhere on this planet,” says Yates.  “We wanted to make a movie that was thrilling while touching on the themes of family and community and preserving the natural world.  It celebrates the majesty of those landscapes, the dignity and grace of the people who live there, and the wonder of its animals.  The story has so many facets that we think make it a rich and very exciting experience in the cinema.”

LIGHTS OUT  An absolutely terrifying tale of an unknown terror that lurks in the dark.Making his feature film debut with Lights Out,  David S. Sandberg has written and directed a slate of short films with deliciously disturbing titles like Closet Space and Attic Panic, and earned a throng of internet devotees who expect him to scare the wits out of them. Lights Out is based on Sandberg’s recent horror short of the same name, and it was both the quality and the impact of that insomnia-inducing gem that brought the young Swedish filmmaker to the attention of Hollywood.

ME BEFORE YOU Based on the critically acclaimed, bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You marks the feature film directorial debut of renowned theatre director Thea Sharrock, from a screenplay by Moyes.“At its most basic, this is a story about the power of love and how it transforms you,” says director Thea Sharrock.  “These are two characters who, but for their very different and difficult circumstances, should never have met…but here they are.  And that’s where the fairytale begins.”

THE KEEPING ROOM Amid the rising suspense of three Southern women defending their besieged home, director Daniel Barber finds both grit and a deeply moving grace in the actions the women must take to stay alive in the face of desolate circumstances.  This tense drama rife with jeopardy, is at its core an uncommon depiction of women boldly countering the impact of war on their lives.

MONEY MONSTER A mainstream thriller that’s exciting, fast-paced, and smart.  In the real-time, high stakes thriller Money Monster, George Clooney and Julia Roberts star as financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty, who are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor who has lost everything (Jack O’Connell) forcefully takes over their studio.

NICE GUYS If there’s one reason to watch this film, it’s for the electric chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gossling, and excellent comedy timing reminiscent Laurel and Hardy. Writer/director Shane Black relates, “L.A. in the ‘70s was this moldering town where smog covered the city like a crust and Hollywood Boulevard had turned into this cesspool of pornography. And in this scenario, you get these two numbnuts who kind of stumble into shoes they can never fill when they uncover this huge conspiracy. So you’ve got your corruption, you’ve got your decadence, and then the question became how unsettlingly inappropriate could we make these two guys for the task for which they set themselves up.”

RISEN The powerful story of a non-believer’s journey into faith, with Joseph Fiennes delivering a heartfelt and impassioned performance as a powerful Roman military tribune who is tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus (referred to by the Hebrew name Yeshua in the film) in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumours of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem.  The biblical account of Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection has been portrayed on the big screen many times, so when LD Entertainment approached Kevin Reynolds to make a movie about the world-changing events of 2,000 years ago, the writer-director was determined to bring a fresh approach to the story.In contrast to previous versions, including Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 silent film The King of Kings, 1965 blockbuster The Greatest Story Ever Told and Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ, Reynolds imagined the narrative told though the skeptical eyes of a non-believer. “We wanted to do something completely different from what had come before, so I came up with the idea that Risen would be told as a detective story,” he says.

SING STREET A charming film that delivers an honest and moving perspective on the perils and wonders of teenage life. “I wanted to do something that was personal. I didn’t want to just be doing a musical story for the sake of it,” says Irish writer-director John Carney, whose Sing Street tells of a Dublin teenager (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who forms a rock ‘n’ roll band to win the heart of an aspiring model (Lucy Boynton). The origins of Sing Street go back many years to the director’s life as a teenager in 1980s Dublin. John Carney experienced growing up in the Irish Capital by moving from private school to an inner city comprehensive.  It ultimately became the seed of an idea to create a musical film about this period in his life growing up

SPOTLIGHT serves as a shining example of what professional, top-flight journalists can accomplish. It tells the astonishing true story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Spotlight” team of investigative journalists, who in 2002 shock the city and the world by exposing the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-up of widespread pedophilia perpetrated by more than 70 local priests.Written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, and directed by McCarthy, it’s a deeply moving film that sheds light on a world where petrified kids are not ‘’prayed’’ on by priests, but ‘’preyed’’ on by those they respect as mediators of God. Liev Schreiber delivers a commanding performance as the newly appointed editor of The Boston Globe, who arrives from Miami to take charge of the Globe in the summer of 2001, and directs the Spotlight team to follow up on a column about a local priest accused of having sexually abused dozens of young parishioners over the course of 30 years. It’s a magnificent ensemble piece, with equally brilliant performances by Michael Keaton as the Spotlight editor, and Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James as reporters and researchers who are fully aware that taking on the Catholic Church in Boston will have major ramifications when they delve more deeply into the case.

TOUCHED BY FIRE A first rate drama released on DVD about two poets, Carla (Katie Holmes) and Marco (Luke Kirby), struggling with bipolar disorder and the painful truth that their romantic relationship fuels their mania.  For director, first-time filmmaker Paul Dalio, the subject was important to him because it was based on his own experience dealing with mental illness. The film is based on Dalio’s “feeling of being misunderstood for a long time, and the rebirth of fully showing the world what this thing really is. It was cathartic,” Dalio said, adding that before he got healthy, he had been through a period of hospitalization and suicidal depression and “the shame of being a freak and not knowing who you are anymore — and then, romanticizing your difference. The heaven and hell we all go through.”

TRUMBO An absolutely riveting film about the right to free speech. In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter, until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.The film recounts how Dalton (Bryan Cranston) used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice under the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.The film was directed by Jay Roach, the winner of four Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award, who is best known for directing such comedy classics as the Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and The Campaign. The screenplays was written by John Mcnamara (Writer, Producer) is a writer, producer, showrunner and television creator.

TRUTH   A classic newsroom drama, a suspenseful behind-the-scenes procedural, a multi-character study—and also something more: In the words of former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, “This film is about what has happened to the reporting of news, how and why it’s happened, and why you should care.” For Writer-Director James Vanderbilt, a fascination with journalism initially drew him to the project.If there’s one reason to see this film, it’s Cate Blanchett’s commanding performance.

 

 

“It’s adventure, it’s romance, it’s a thriller, it’s scary, but it’s emotionally resonant.  There are great moments of humor and spectacle.”

Passengers is an exciting action-thriller about two strangers who are on a 120-year journey to another planet when their hibernation pods wake them 90 years too early.

Jennifer Lawrence (Aurora) and Chris Pratt (Jim) star in an exciting action-thriller about two strangers who are on a 120-year journey to another planet when their hibernation pods wake them 90 years too early.  Jim and Aurora  (Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt) are forced to unravel the mystery behind the malfunction as the ship teeters on the brink of collapse, jeopardizing the lives of the passengers on the greatest mass migration in human history.

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Director Morten Tyldum began his directing career with the comedy Buddy, which won the Audience Award at the Norwegian International Film Festival, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Warsaw International Film Festival, as well as an Amanda Award in 2003 for Best Film. He continued his success in 2008 when he was nominated for an Amanda Award for Best Direction with his second feature, Fallen Angels. His thriller, Headhunters, became the most successful title in Norwegian history, as well as 2012’s highest-grossing foreign language release in the UK. In addition to its box office success, it was nominated for Best International Film by BAFTA, and won the Empire Award for Best Thriller and the Saturn Award for Best International Film. Tyldum’s first English language film, The Imitation Game, the biopic of British mathematician Alan Turing, went on to gross over $227 million worldwide to become the highest grossing independent film of 2014. A commercial and critical success, The Imitation Game was nominated for eight Academy Awards® including Best Director and Best Picture, and a win for Best Screenplay.

“Passengers is about two people who were supposed to be on the trip of a lifetime – the 120-year journey to a new planet – when they get woken up 90 years too early,” says Chris Pratt, who stars in Passengers alongside Jennifer Lawrence.  “But it turns out there’s a reason they woke up early.  They have to solve the mystery of the malfunction, and fix a ship that is quickly failing, if they are going to survive and save the lives of the passengers on the greatest mass migration in human history.”

“It’s about characters who face extreme situations and have to make extreme choices, and I always find that fascinating – what would you have done?” says Morten Tyldum, who directs the film, his first following his Oscar nominated triumph with the hit The Imitation Game.

Against the story of high stakes action, the filmmakers set a sensitive story of two passengers who find each other in this moment of peril.

It’s a story that has attracted Hollywood for many years; writer Jon Spaihts’ script has landed on the “Black List” of the industry’s best unproduced screenplays.  “One of the things that drew me to this script was the way Jon set an intimate story on such a large stage,” says producer Neal H. Moritz.  “It’s an action film with epic spectacle, but it all hinges on these two incredible characters brought to life by Jen and Chris.”

Pratt’s character, Jim, decides to give up his life on Earth for very practical reasons. “He’s kind of a throwback,” says Pratt, “very much a working class guy.  He’s considered a desirable trade, as a mechanical engineer, because he’ll be helping to start a civilization.  If something breaks, he’ll be there to fix it.”

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Jon Spaihts (Written by / Executive Producer) is a graduate of Princeton University whose prior lives have included stints as a documentary film and multimedia producer, photographer, and dot-com executive in New York City. He has been a working screenwriter since 2006, with produced titles including The Darkest Hour and director Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. He has established a reputation as a writer and producer of smart, elevated science fiction. Spaihts most recently shared writing credit on Marvel’s critical hit and box office smash Doctor Strange. Spaihts’ upcoming films include Universal’s The Mummy, an adaptation of the seminal science-fiction novel ForeverWar and a reboot of Van Helsing for Universal Pictures, which he is co-writing with friend and colleague Eric Heisserer.

When Jim and Aurora wake up 90 years before reaching that destination, those skills kick into high gear.  “He’s a problem solver by trade, so he’s trying to figure out how to get back to sleep or contact somebody for help.  And then, it turns out that there’s something very wrong with the ship.”

“Chris is very different than Jim,” says Lawrence, who plays his fellow awakened passenger, Aurora.  “Jim acts like he’s never really had a girlfriend, and he doesn’t really know how to behave around women; that’s charming and sweet, but it’s not like Chris at all, who’s married and funny.  It was interesting to watch him go from Chris Pratt to a shy, insecure, romantic person.”

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In contrast to Jim’s working-class hero, Aurora is part of a different social circle.  She is a New York writer with a great assignment – she is making the 120-year journey to Homestead II, then will make the 120-year journey home.  She will be the first person in human history to make the round trip.  “It’s such a huge decision to make,” says Lawrence.  “It’s a 120-year journey – when you arrive, everyone you know will be dead.  You have to start a brand new life on a brand new planet that you’ve never been to.  I can’t imagine saying goodbye to everybody that I know and love – I understand her thirst for more, but I don’t think I could make that kind of permanent decision.”

“When Aurora first wakes up, I think her first reaction is to feel an incredible empathy for Jim,” says Lawrence. “She’s only been dealing with this problem for a few days, and he’s been by himself, like a trapped animal, for more than a year.  Seeing him react to a human being makes her feel bad for Jim.”

Tyldum says that it was apparent from the beginning that Lawrence and Pratt would be the perfect actors to bring Aurora and Jim to life.

“It’s great that they are the biggest stars in the world, but first of all, I wanted to make sure that they were the right actors for these roles,” he says. “I had to get the feeling that they were going to click, that they would have chemistry.  We sat for many hours – I had a four-hour dinner with Jen – and I could immediately see that they would be perfect.  They’re very smart people who had a clear understanding of what they wanted the character to do. They really understood the choices, the motivations, the life these characters have to go through – so that made me feel that they really got it.”

Producer Stephen Hamel was the first to team with writer Jon Spaihts on the concept.  “I’m deeply interested in original content, original voices,” he says.  “There was something rather playful in Jon’s writing that I loved – he took the time to allow the characters to be human, to have weaknesses.  The originality of the story seemed really appropriate.”

Ori Marmur, who works with Moritz at Original Film, agrees.

“The screenplay is life-affirming and warm; it speaks to the human condition,” says Marmur.  “And as a first-generation-born American, the idea of two people leaving Earth and traveling a great distance for opportunity elsewhere resonated with me personally; my parents traveled a great distance to come to this country of opportunity – they didn’t know anyone, and it worked out.”

Aurora and Jim’s different stations in life are thrown into contrast by their home: the spaceship itself.  “The Avalon is part badass spaceship, part luxury cruise liner,” says Pratt.  “They wake you up three or four months before you get to your destination, so you can party, swim in the pool, or rack up a big bill playing the slots or shopping in the high-end stores.”

“The ship is really luxurious, almost like a cruise liner,” says Lawrence.  “There’s an observation deck, a movie theater and grand concourse and amazing rooms – well, for my character.  It looked very different; everything was beautiful and interesting.  It was a different atmosphere for a movie.”

“The sets were huge,” says Pratt.  “We had to break down a wall in the soundstages.  I was looking around, and it was like looking at a real ship.  Guy Hendrix Dyas’s sets made the movie big in scope and as epic as this story needs to be.  We had a great special effects team that built amazing props and toys and cars and screens everywhere.  It was really cool.”

Jim and Aurora’s companion is Arthur, the bartender on board the ship.  An android with a remarkably human upper half, he moves with efficiency, grace, and skill, and responds to passengers’ worries and anxieties with a kind word and warm heart – if a little naïveté.  “Arthur is an important element to their mental state, because he’s the closest thing to a human that they have besides each other,” says Lawrence.

“He’s programmed to be the greatest bartender ever,” says Michael Sheen, who plays Arthur.  “He’s empathetic, he’s able to listen, and he mixes a fantastic martini.  But there’s a limit to how much he’s interacted with people: he’s usually dealt with thousands of people in very short interactions, but he’s in new territory with Jim, interacting with one person for a very long period of time.”

So, because Arthur is not quite human, Sheen and Tyldum discussed just how to shade the performance subtly.  “Bartenders are the ultimate confidants, and when Jim meets me, I am someone he can talk to,” says Sheen. “The challenge was I had to figure out the balance of how robotic and how human should Arthur be?”

That was an incredible challenge, one that Sheen rose to meet with a creative, technically difficult, and utterly believable performance, according to Tyldum.

“Michael had to bring humanity to it, and at the same time, you have to understand that beneath the surface is a machine, without making it a cliché,” says the director.

“There’s a naïveté and a wisdom to it at the same time.  He becomes their friend, the one they talk to, the one who gives them advice.  At the same time, there was such precision to the performance.  He could never look at his hands while doing things, because a machine wouldn’t have to.  He was mixing drinks, very casually and with no effort, and talking with incredible comedic timing.  That’s incredibly hard, and he pulled it off so flawlessly.”

Part of Sheen’s performance came through a physical transformation, with the help of the on-set special effects team.  The team designed a rig to move him swiftly back and forth behind the bar; with Sheen kneeling on the rig, the filmmakers could control his movement, like an android’s – later painting out Sheen’s legs and the rig with a robotic stand.

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But as luxurious as the ship and their surroundings are, Aurora and Jim soon realize that something has gone terribly wrong.

“The ship is falling apart,” Pratt explains.  “Robots start to malfunction, lights flicker on and off.  Ultimately, our characters find out that there’s a reason why it’s malfunctioning, and we are suddenly in a desperate situation, trying to fix a problem to save not only our own lives, but the lives of all of the other passengers on the ship.”

But it is not until Laurence Fishburne’s character Gus Mancuso wakes up that Jim and Aurora understand the gravity of the situation.  “He’s a spacer – a man who fell in love with the stars and the notion of interplanetary travel at a young age, and has spent a lifetime traveling in space,” Fishburne explains.  “Luckily, he’s a crew chief, so he has access to certain things that they wouldn’t have access to as passengers, and he helps them figure out what’s wrong with the ship.”

One of the problems on board the ship is that the gravity fails.  Suddenly, Jim and Aurora find themselves weightless.  “I was pulled up by wires, but I had to pretend that gravity wasn’t pulling down on my hands and feet.  To do that, you’re doing a plank in mid-air.  It was one of the best ab workouts I’ve ever done!  It was really difficult, and Morten was very particular – he wanted it to look perfect.  He didn’t move on until that angle was perfect for the whole take.”

To create the appearance of Jim being weightless, stunt coordinator Garrett Warren created a spinning ring with an extension of a speed rail and a counter balance weight on the back of it. Chris Pratt would be able to move freely and then Garrett’s stunt team would use winches to fly him back and forth.

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Aurora is in a swimming pool when the gravity fails.  “That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever shot,” says the Hunger Games star.  “Spending that much time in a pool, water up my nose, everywhere.  But it was amazing – when I saw the CG example of what it was going to look like, I was really excited.  I’ve never seen anything like that in a movie.”

Even with these incredible action set-pieces, the filmmakers never lost sight of the movie they were making, says producer Neal H. Moritz.  “We tried to keep the emotional stakes of this movie well-grounded, so it would not be overwhelmed by the gadgets, sets, and space,” he says.  “Though obviously these are important aspects of the story, they are not the heart of the movie.  At the heart of the movie is the relationship between these two characters.”

At the center of Passengers is a very human, emotional story – but it is set in space, which required extensive visual effects.  For Visual Effects Supervisor Erik Nordby and Visual Effects Co-Producer Greg Baxter, that required an approach to visual effects that was clean and supportive and rarely taking the spotlight.  “It’s unique to have a movie of this size where the visual effects play a supporting role,” says Nordby.  “I relish that fact, because visual effects are always best when it’s supporting something grander than itself.  The narrative of Passengers is tender and humanistic on every level, and I think we’ve done our job well if at no point you feel in awe of the magnificence in front of you.”

On any film, the telling of the story comes together in the editing room.  On Passengers, Maryann Brandon, an Oscar nominee for her editing work on Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, took charge of cutting the film.

“Part of my job as the editor is to protect the vision of people like Morten, Rodrigo, Guy, and Erik,” she says.  “I try to open all of communication between departments. I want to be able to go to Erik and propose an idea and see if it’s possible to achieve before I pitch it to Morten. I need to be able to talk to Rodrigo and ask him how he wants a scene to look and feel. I like to feel that we have one goal and that’s to make a great film.”

Brandon was especially excited to join the project for a number of reasons – not least of which was to work with Morten Tyldum.

“The script and cast are amazing, and I’d seen Morten’s two previous films, The Imitation Game and Head Hunters, and I loved those films.  I thought it was a great opportunity for me to work with a super talented guy.  It meant going right back to work, right after completing Star Wars, but how often does one get an opportunity to work on such a great script?”

“Passengers is an epic, in that it really has everything in one movie,” says Pratt.  “It’s adventure, it’s romance, it’s a thriller, it’s scary, but it’s emotionally resonant.  There are great moments of humor and spectacle.”

Snaaks Genoeg (Funny Enough) explores the pain inflicted by humour on the average human being.

Snaaks Genoeg,  an original piece written and directed by David Moore, follows a down-and-out comedian (Casper de Vries) who drifts from one small town to another. Having alienated his audience with his crude comments and dirty humours, his popularity has faded. He hits the road fighting not only for survival, but also to find the spark he once had. He has been reduced to doing shows in small towns and working for food and accommodation.

As he drifts from remote location to remote location, successful comedians are being kidnapped, tortured and murdered in bizarre ways, and he seems to be riding right into the centre of this storm.

The murders and kidnappings are in fact being orchestrated by a genius lawyer, Koos van der Merwe (Tobie Cronje), who gets criminals off their charges in exchange for “sorting out” comedians who offend him and his family name. De Vries has some strange experiences along his journey, some hard and some less so, and all help to make him look at himself and start to re-invent his persona.

In the end, De Vries and Cronje come head-to-head in a somewhat unexpected finale.

The film was shot in the Northern Cape and the Tankwa Karoo – one of the most arid and evocative regions of South Africa.

With four of South Africa’s top comedians playing themselves, the film has a realistic feel to it, and provides the perfect vehicle for them to do what they do best.

A Note From Writer, Producer and Director David Moore

I wrote this story more than 20 years ago while working in a takeaway shop in Epping. I always felt this would be an entertaining film.

It was written for Bill Flynn and Tolla van der Merwe. Sadly, both passed away before it became possible to turn the idea into a reality. We did, however, convince Wicus van der Merwe to do a cameo for the film to represent his family. With the help of two friends, Erich Herbst and Gerry Bezuidenhout, I raised the funds required to complete the film.

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David Moore has been in the industry for 25 years. He started as a sound engineer and then moved on to creating, shooting and directing his own projects. He produced inserts for SABC3 for several years in the early 90s and went on to winning the highest SA film and television award at the time for a short film, Spring2Mind. He won for directing, creating, and cinematography. David then created the famous cult travel show Going Nowhere Slowly which ran for seven years. His love of drifting and creating stories in odd places led him to finally make his first film Once Upon a Road Trip. This movie was nominated for four Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAAs) and took one for make-up. David has produced over 300 episodes of various shows for television with travel being his real passion. He writes continuously. His stories are original pieces and it is his plan to make sure all are completed in his lifetime.

We have been granted a rebate from the DTI, which will be made available once the film is in cinemas. I travelled extensively through the lesser known parts of South Africa and more specifically the Karoo.

All the locations featured in the film are authentic and none had to be redesigned or changed. Like the locations for my previous film Once Upon a Road Trip, which was sold to etv, Snaaks Genoeg was also shot in real places, with the story adapted around them. The movie is eccentric, but it has great fun appeal and it has been really well received by those who have seen it.

As with our first film, we believe it will do well with film critics and the public alike. As a Director, I look to keep the style simple and the take odd.

In addition to my love of images, I brought in Steve van Zyl to light and manage the first unit.

The editing process was an interesting one in that we had various ‘directors’ managing the cut. Casper de Vries, a filmmaker in his own right, added great value on the final cut. For me, music is extremely important.

For that reason, we had music and a score written specifically for the film. Luna Paige and Daniel Kemp both produced incredible songs. Pierre Rommelaere who did the score for my first film once again tied the film together with his musical genius.

This has been an incredible journey and one that demanded much, but has also given us the drive to make more movies in the future. Managing a cast and crew of this size and travelling almost 1 500kms while shooting is not easy but I would happily do it all again tomorrow.

 

 

This is a story about a normal family—they go into an abnormal world, but it is a world rooted in reality.

From co-writer/director John Hamburg, the comic force behind beloved comedies including I Love You, Man, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, Zoolander and Along Came Polly, Why Him? puts a hilariously fresh spin on the anxiety-inducing tradition of introducing one’s significant other to the family.

 

Over the holidays, loving but overprotective dad Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) travels to California to visit his daughter at Stanford—where he meets his biggest nightmare: her well-meaning but socially awkward billionaire boyfriend, Laird Mayhew (James Franco).Laird is a heavily tattooed, wildly inappropriate Silicon Valley tech magnate whose culture is completely foreign to him. Everything about Laird’s world—his wacky, unfiltered nature, his sprawling “smart home,” his disturbingly paperless existence—conflicts with Ned’s pragmatic meat-and-potatoes perspective. Ned thinks Laird, who has absolutely no filter, is a wildly inappropriate match for the apple of his eye. Ned’s panic level escalates when the straight-laced Midwesterner, who finds himself increasingly out of step in Laird’s glamorous high-tech world, learns that Laird is about to pop the question.

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Bryan Cranston discusses a scene with writer-director Jon Hamburg

Why Him? was an idea hatched in a basement in Atlanta when producers Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill were in production on the 2012 alien invasion comedy The Watch. “We were all standing there in the dark on this wet, claustrophobic stage saying how great it would be to do a movie in Hawaii,” recalls Levy. “Shawn and Ben and Jonah came up with this idea called Aloha… We loved the idea and gave it to John Hamburg, who did an amazing rewrite and reconceived the whole idea. He really made it his own.”

Working with co-screenwriter Ian Helfer (The Oranges), director John Hamburg crafted a hilarious, heart-felt script that perfectly captures the challenging transition parents face as they witness their kids creating lives and relationships of their own.

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John Hamburg (Director, Co-Writer) has been involved as a writer and director in many of the most well-regarded big-screen comedies of the past 15 years. Born and raised in New York City, he began his filmmaking career by creating short films in high school. He continued filmmaking while attending Brown University and, later, at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. While at Tisch, he wrote and directed the short film Tick, which debuted at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. He then returned to Sundance in 1998 with his feature-length debut Safe Men, a comedy he wrote and directed.Next, Hamburg co-wrote the screenplays for the popular comedies Meet the Parents and Zoolander. Hamburg then wrote and directed the hit comedy Along Came Polly. Hamburg next co-wrote, produced and directed I Love You, Man. In addition to various other writing and producing credits, Hamburg has also worked extensively in television, directing several episodes of Judd Apatow’s critically acclaimed series Undeclared in addition to episodes of New Girl and The Grinder.

Hamburg and Helfer were excited by the chance to put a fresh spin on the classic story of a concerned father clashing with his daughter’s new boyfriend, but in crafting the script, they also made certain that both Ned and Laird are likeable and well intentioned to insure the audience is laughing with the characters, not at them. “Laird’s character, he’s wealthy, successful, in some ways he has it all, but all he really wants is a family,” Hamburg says. “Ned thinks Laird is trying to show him up, but in truth, Laird is in awe of Ned because of the life he’s built for himself.”

Why Him? is firmly rooted in Ned’s perspective, however, with Cranston’s traditional, small-town father forced to accept that his daughter is an adult capable of making her own decisions. But coming to terms with her love for Laird also means navigating a Silicon Valley culture entirely foreign to his more conventional sensibilities.

Says Cranston: “Ned is a straight-laced, Midwestern guy. He’s an analog man in a digital world and gets completely lost in the conversation. He’s not up on the jargon and isn’t really sure where something’s going or what it means. In my time, I’ve seen the milkman come and go and now records are a novelty.”

Adds Hamburg: “He gets out to Palo Alto, to Silicon Valley, and it’s almost like a Wizard of Oz kind of thing. He hasn’t really been exposed to this world, and it just feels like this surreal nightmare to him.”

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Ian Helfer (co-screenwriter) achieved great fame as Rick, the town paramedic on As the World Turns before his prematurely receding hairline drove him to write full time. After selling a spec script to CBS and staffing on the short-lived Welcome To The Captain, created by John Hamburg, the Brown University alum wrote The Oranges, which landed at number two on the Black List and led him to be named a “TopTen Screenwriter To Watch” by Variety. In 2012, The Oranges was produced by Olympus Pictures starring Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Allison Janney, Oliver Platt, Adam Brody and Leighton Meester. Helfer and Hamburg then began to collaborate more closely, writing features and performing production polishes for a variety of studios and penning the script for Why Him? For TV, they’ve collaborated on pilots for Fox and Showtime. As a solo writer, Helfer has worked at most of the major studios, including Disney, Universal, Sony, Summit, and Amazon Studios. Most recently he’s been writing Man vs. Baby for CBS TV.

While Ned is fighting to keep his small independent printing press alive, Laird is making millions in the digital realm and living in an eco-friendly house that is entrirely free of paper.  “While there is very much a war going on between these two men, the conflict also originates in a conflict we see going on all around us between the old and the new, the increasingly obsolete and the emergent,” Levy says.

Finding the right actors to genuinely embody each of the generational perspectives was paramount. Cranston and Franco had precisely the right chemistry. For Cranston, the project offered the opportunity to return to comedy after several years steeped in heavy dramas that included his masterful portrayal of chemistry-teacher-turned-drug kingpin Walter White on the hit series Breaking Bad, as well as his recent turn as Dalton Trumbo in Jay Roach’s 2015 biopic about the screenwriter, for which he garnered an Academy Award® nomination. “I love doing dramatic roles, but you don’t have as much fun as you do on a comedy,” the actor says. “When the objective of your job is to go to work to find different approaches to making people laugh, that’s a good gig.”

Cranston’s undeniable timing, nuance and personal insight proved to be comedic gold. “Bryan is such a magnificent actor,” Levy says. “The guy doesn’t hit false notes. He is able to play Ned so honestly and you feel this father’s inner freak-out, but it is expressed in ways that are often misguided and as a result really comedic. He’s pitch-perfect in this part.”

With an established reputation in the comedy realm as a result of his extensive work with frequent collaborator Seth Rogen, Franco, who earned a best actor Oscar nomination for his turn as hiker Aron Ralston in 2010’s 127 Hours, was interested in exploring the genre further with a different dynamic under Hamburg’s direction. “When I got into comedy, I was introduced to the importance of grounded characters who provide a real emotional through-line and not just a series of jokes,” Franco says. “John really subscribes to that idea and creates the kind of comedies that I gravitate toward because it doesn’t feel like fluff. You’re actually having something of an experience while you’re laughing.”

Franco and Hamburg’s relationship actually began as professor and student when the actor was attending the graduate filmmaking program at NYU. “Unfortunately, he was my teacher the semester that I was doing 127 Hours, so I wasn’t there a lot,” Franco says. “But we talked a lot and I got to know him on the phone. I liked his movies, I liked his writing and then he told me that he was thinking about Bryan Cranston for the father role. I didn’t know Bryan, but I saw him backstage on the last episode of The Colbert Report, and he said, ‘Hey, I heard you might do this and I might do it. What do you think?’ So we started talking and he’s just the greatest human being ever, so great to work with and such a great guy.”

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For Laird, the wealthy tech magnate completely devoid of a filter who prizes free-flowing creativity over any kind of tradition or structure, multi-hyphenate Franco was the ideal choice. He could really embrace Laird’s uninhibited nature, says producer Levine. “James really embodies that character given all the things he does as a painter, author, director, writer and actor—he is able to embrace the artistic sensibility of Laird who’s a real dreamer,” Levine says. “He doesn’t have a filter but he’s all about passion, and James steps into that role so easily.”

Although Laird is unruly and wild, he’s also incredibly winning and likeable, qualities Franco definitely brought to the role. Offers Hamburg: “He manages to get away with stuff that I thought he would never be able to get away with because he’s James Franco and he’s got this smile and this glint in his eye and this playfulness. So he can say some of the most offensive things to this nice Midwestern family, but he’s not doing it to get a rise out of them. It’s just that no one taught this guy how to act. He’s just a guy who has no boundaries.”

“I definitely think that there’s a little bit of James in Laird and there’s a little bit of Laird in James, too,” adds Gluck.

To help develop the character of Laird, Franco Skyped with video game designer Cliff Bleszinski (known as CliffyB) for some real-world inspiration. “He’s sort of like a snowboarder pimp,” Franco says. “That’s sort of like his style. He talked really fast, he throws in a lot of cuss words but is also saying some pretty intelligent things, you know? I thought, oh, there’s something of Laird in there that I can use.”

 Underscoring the great divide between the Flemings and Laird even further are the eccentric Silicon Valley characters the family meets while at Laird’s estate. First among them is Gustav, played by Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele, Keanu). Sure to be an audience favorite, Gustav acts as a spiritual consigliere of sorts—he’s Laird’s life coach, martial arts trainer, and best friend, and he tirelessly tries to advise Laird on how to behave around Stephanie’s family. “Because of Laird’s dicey upbringing, he doesn’t know how to interact with the world in the best possible way, so Gustav has taken him under his wing and is trying to nurture him into adulthood the best way he can,” Key says.

Key enjoyed the way in which the character’s lengthy list of eccentricities grew as filming progressed. “With each script revision, it’s been interesting to watch things added on to Gustav,” he says. “He knows martial arts but he’s also a chef and speaks six languages or seven or nine. Oh, and it would be funny if he was almost an Olympic swimmer and maybe he served at a Tibetan temple…the world was our oyster in regard to this character.”

Key brought an energy and enthusiasm to the role that went well beyond the initial character description, says Levy. “Keegan brings into every room such a force of positivity and such bold comedic instinct we knew he was going to take a big swing with Gustav,” he says. “For me, Gustav is a descendent of the Hank Azaria character in Along Came Polly and Martin Short in Father of the Bride, a character that is weird and often with an unintelligible accent but warm and with total devotion.”

The production also cast some of the sharpest young comedians working today—including Adam Devine (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), Andrew Rannells (Girls) and Casey Wilson (Gone Girl)—as upstart entrepreneurs Ned encounters at a massive, raucous holiday party Laird throws in honor of the Flemings’ visit. The guest list is a virtual who’s-who of tech world billionaires, people who, for Ned, seem to speak another language entirely. For the filmmakers, those key supporting roles gave them the chance to poke fun at established Silicon Valley stereotypes. “When the supporting cast are comedy aces, you’re in a good spot, and the movie has a plethora of comedic opportunities,” Levy says. “Hamburg’s casting instincts are very deliberate and the strength of the supporting cast adds to the comedic richness.”

Devine plays brash tech mogul Tyson Modell, the 24-year-old creator of the wildly popular Ghostchat app where 30 million people “boo” each other everyday. Modell is the epitome of the enfant terrible image often associated with the young billionaire set. “As far as the billionaire tech stereotypes go, you’re either an egomaniacal sociopath or the kind of chill guy who doesn’t have an office and gets around on a long board,” Devine says. “Tyson is the guy who angrily yells at his driverless car that everyone has to put up with.”

Ned also meets siblings Blaine and Missy Pederman, the creators of an online invitation company called StampFree Invites, the internet business most directly threatening the fortunes of his midsized printing press. “Ned is in the printing business and here we are representing the future, which is paperless,” Rannells says. “We are the digital version of Ned’s small mom-and-pop shop, so Ned looks at us as the end of days,” Wilson adds.

With such a rich landscape of characters, Hamburg set out to create an atmosphere that would unleash the formidable strengths and instincts of his talented cast. Improvisation was not suggested, but rather required—something the actors found thrilling. Franco appreciated Hamburg’s total commitment to keeping the creative space open. “It’s important to feel like someone behind the camera can support you,” he says. “If you’re riffing, you hope the director can build on it and guide you. John leaves a lot of room for improvisation—you start with the script and then roll from there to see what you find.”

“The permissiveness…we were like children,” Cranston adds. “We’d do the scene as written and were not only allowed to but were encouraged to go crazy and add whatever was appropriate to the character.”

Confirms sketch-comedy veteran Key: “I have never been involved in a production where I’ve had a director turn the cameras back around on something already shot to capture the other side of what was improvised. It made my eyes sparkle. From an actor’s point of view, this has been a dream because you get to really feel it out.  There will be moments in the film that will have been created completely organically. That is what John was really looking for.”

Hamburg says the best comedy begins with a strong script, but maintaining an environment on set where unexpected ideas can thrive always yields exciting surprises. “Throughout the day, you just discover certain veins of comedy that you didn’t know were going to be there in the morning,” he says. “To me, it’s a free-for-all.  It’s a very collaborative, open process where the actors yell things out, I’ll yell out ideas during the take. They’ll jump on it, they’ll pitch ideas back to me. It’s one of my favorite things to find something that didn’t exist in the morning and by two o’clock, it’s almost become a running joke on set. It just makes it, I think, fresh and funny and alive.”

The process resulted in extraordinarily long takes, something rare given the breakneck pressures of film production schedules. While shooting one particularly uncomfortable scenario for Ned—in which Gustav must come to his aid while he sits on a high-tech Japanese toilet that’s malfunctioned—Hamburg let the cameras roll for 46 minutes as Cranston and Key dissolved into laughter over and over again.

“It’s fun to watch an actor of Bryan’s caliber not be able to keep it together time after time,” Hamburg says.  “And then Keegan, who’s used to being in these kind of comedies a little more, he couldn’t keep it together. I kept saying, ‘Guys, do you want me to cut?’ And they kept saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ It was mayhem but beautiful to watch two men make each other laugh that hard.”

Adds Key: “Every time we would reset, Bryan would say ‘I got it, I got it,’ and I would move into frame really slowly as close to his face as possible and he would break every single time. He must have apologized 56 times. It was a 46-minute take and there are probably two useable minutes.”

Relishing his return to comedy after so many years in dark, compelling drama, Cranston’s enthusiasm was palpable. Key comments, “This is a triumphant return to comedy for Bryan. He is in the pocket, in his element and he’s been so much fun. Anyone who knows Bryan knows that he relishes and celebrates every moment he’s on set and if they could catch on camera half the stuff he does off-screen…he has left people in tears on set.”

Laughs Franco: “You wouldn’t expect Bryan to be the one to push the envelope, but he’s the one who most often makes the suggestion that’s gone too far, for both the scene and for the actors. I love that the crudest one in the room is often Bryan.”

Adds producer Shawn Levy, the comedic powerhouse behind the blockbuster Night at the Museum franchise: “I think John is as great a filmmaker as we have in terms of grounded, character-driven comedy. Why Him? is funny as hell but very much anchored in authentic, relatable human relationships. I love that we’re getting comedy out of circumstances that sometimes gets extreme but is always tethered back to character and to relatable human experiences.”

But it’s not just the film’s outrageous stunts or wild physical comedy that’s likely to stick with moviegoers. Cranston, for one believes the truly relatable story of a devoted father finding a way to embrace the unconventional tech billionaire his daughter loves that’s at the center of WHY HIM? will resonate with viewers this holiday season. It’s a funny family comedy about acceptance and connection.

“A lot of comedy is derived from the differences between us and is best when born in a sense of reality,” Cranston says. “If an audience leaves a theater and had a lot of laughs, that is a value in itself. If an audience laughed and actually felt something, that’s the rich experience we hope to achieve.”

At a media conference Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight spoke about how they became to be involved in telling the compelling, and brutally honest story of Desmond Doss.

Hacksaw Ridge introduces us to Desmond Doss, the unlikely hero who entered the Asian-Pacific theater during World War II unarmed. Doss was a medic who saved thousands of lives on the Okinawa battlefield without using any weapons. He was, as screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight describe, “the first conscientious objector to win the medal of honor.”

Hacksaw Ridge is nominated for three Golden Globes including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Andrew Garfield.  Hacksaw Ridge took ten years to come to fruition, but its timing couldn’t be urgent.

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The film makes us think about mankind and humanity, especially where we are in the world right now.

Robert Schenkkan: I think your experience is one that audiences everywhere are having. They’re knocked out by the raw, emotional story which is so remarkable. Subsequently thrown back on them and forced in the best way that a great cinematic experience can have, to question yourself and think about what would you throw down? How strong is your faith? What would you be prepared to sacrifice for that?

At this time of world when there’s a great deal of anxiety, uncertainly, and conflicts, often driven by faith or religious differences, it’s a great story to be telling.

hacksaw-4For people who are not familiar with the story of Hacksaw Ridge, how would you sum it up?

RS: The way it’s often pitched is this is the true life story of the first conscientious objector to win the medal of honor. A pacifist who went to war and fought in a combat zone while refusing to carry or even touch a weapon.

Andrew Knight: That pretty much sums it up, but for me, it’s about a man who went to war driven by love, not fury. He was more concerned with saving people rather than killing them. It’s a love story really. It’s how I, Robert, and Mel all see it. It’s about a man driven by great faith and great love.

How did you get involved with Hacksaw Ridge?

RS: I was approached in 2006, so ten years ago. The producers had just acquired the life rights to Desmond Doss. Hollywood had been chasing him since he returned from Okinawa at the end of World War II, but he always turned them down. He was very modest and was uncomfortable with the limelight. They even sent America’s most decorated war hero, Audie Murphy, but even then he wouldn’t do it. It wasn’t until the end of his life that he began to consider that it would be a good idea.

There was a simple black and white documentary that was made and David Permut and Bill Mechanic acquired the rights and approached me. I knew nothing about Desmond Doss. I knew a little about the Pacific war because my father served in the Pacific like Andrew’s and Mel’s. I always had a special place in my heart for what those men when through in that arena. They sent me the documentary and I was knocked out. I could not believe this story and I said yes immediately.

All I had to work with was the documentary and the interviews on tape, and later those were transcribed. I did some work on my own looking at U.S Army history, Okinawa campaigns, what medics did and trained for in World War II, but there wasn’t a lot. There wasn’t that much material.

A good portion of this for me was created out of the little that we had. That’s how I got involved. When the ten years of trying to get this made with many different drafts and directors, Mel Gibson came on board. It was at that time, I was in pre-production for All The Way and I couldn’t participate. The happy ending is they turned to Andrew and he came in and did this fantastic job working closely with Mel.

AK: I came in and Bill showed me the documentary and I had the same reaction as Robert. I saw the script and I’m grateful to Robert for that great script. It didn’t need very much, and we went into production. We hadn’t cast at that stage by the way. So, I played with some ideas about who could fit.

It’s an extraordinary story and you can’t help but be moved by it. Also, my dad went to war and came back damaged from it. It was such a moving thing to do.

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It took ten years. What made you stick to it for that long?

RS: I had such this strong, emotional connection to the story and felt it was so important. It was such a unique story and I know nothing that comes close to it that even happen which makes it even more extraordinary. I just felt this story needed to be told. I was going to do whatever I could to make it happen. It was about commitment to bringing his story to a wider audience. That’s what kept me going.

AK: The other thing that was so elegant about the story is you can pretend it’s a three-act structure, but it’s a two-act structure. There’s the buildup and the war. Writers like to prove they can be pyrotechnical, they like to build things and tear them down. What I loved about Robert’s script was he laid a very straight forward simple story —

What did you have to do to make sure it was accurate given you didn’t have many resources?

RS: You have to be prepared to take liberties. I’m always very clear when I approach something like this, I acknowledge that I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian. I’m an artist and a screenwriter. I’m going to compress time, condense it, and I’m going to take liberties with the story. I’m going to write dialogue and I’m going to create characters, but the one hard and fast rule is that I can do all of those. I can’t, however, have them do something that’s truly empathetic to who they truly are or were, and that to me is the key.

I will say that we were mindful of Desmond’s family and church and I’m proud to say they all feel happy with the movie. The greatest comment was from Desmond’s son revealed that he had struggled with his father and they had issues at the time, and this movie helped him understand his father in a way he never had. That was a generous thing to say. It was so important to both of us.

 

AK: Rather than show off in his writing, which is the temptation as a writer. He told this simple and elegant story because that’s what this man was like. Essentially, the two-act structure is as Mel described it, it’s Norman Rockwell meets Hieronymus Bosch. It’s 1930-1942 understanding of the world. It’s that absolute understanding of the world that was new in its way of thinking, colliding with our modern understanding of what war does to people.

We wanted to keep the story simple and not show off. It was to show the hell in the boot camp and then the hell of what he went through. What I love about what Mel has done is just the sustained nature of the campaign. As an audience, you can’t breathe, you can’t look away, you’ve gone with this innocent Gary Cooper film and all of a sudden you’re in there with him, and that’s why I think it works so profoundly, you’ve been lulled. You’ve been dancing around, and then hit with a smack on the head.

I’ve read the comment that it’s a pro-war film. I cannot believe that anyone watching that battle scene and think, “I wish I was there.”

AD: I saw a comment like that and thought, did we watch the same film?

AK: It’s a preconceived attitude. It’s right up there with Saving Private Ryan. Mel didn’t take a breath when he takes you into that world, he doesn’t let you go. My wife watched the film through fingertips. Spielberg would have let you breathe, Mel doesn’t.

hacksawDoss gives us faith in humanity.

RS: It doesn’t matter whether you share Desmond’s religious faith at all, but this idea of an individual who has this principal and these sets of principals that they adhere to and they’re prepared to put everything on the line is something everyone can respond to.

Desmond models a very different kind of masculinity. Here we are in the age of Trump with this male image that’s all about self-interest and gratuitous cruelty, and dominance. Desmond is about subordination of self, self-sacrifice, and compassion. I think that’s a profoundly important idea to be supporting right now. It’s subversive.

AK: Andrew Garfield just pulls it off. When he speaks, he’s speaking to the essence of the other person. As an actor, he’s not just having a conversation, he’s looking inside them. His performance is extraordinary.

Doss is the alternate male and that was something that was so nice to see.

AK.Robert was saying earlier, he doesn’t pick up the gun. He won’t pick up the gun, and he picks it up, just once, just to help a man.

RS: You put your heart and soul into these things and you never know what will happen to it. This was special. To see it succeeding is very gratifying.

 

The compelling and brutally honest story of the first conscientious objector to win the medal of honor.

Desmond Doss was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, where he saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

”Desmond Doss was singular,” says director Mel Gibson. ”There are few, if any people, who could or would replicate his actions. The humility he maintained in discussing his heroics is a testament to the mettle of the man. In fact, Desmond was asked permission for years to adapt his story into a film, and repeatedly declined, insisting that the “real heroes” were the ones in the ground. In a cinematic landscape overrun with fictional “superheroes,” I thought it was time to celebrate a real one.

“Andrew Garfield truly inhabited the character and captured the essence of Desmond Doss,” says director Mel Gibson. The Golden Globe and Tony Award-nominated actor known for his roles as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spiderman and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, immediately jumped at the role. “There wasn’t any hesitation when I read the script” says Garfield. “I think it’s rare in this world to have someone like Desmond, who is so tuned into themselves, so tuned into what that still, small voice inside is saying, that no matter what is thrown at them, they know what they can do, and what they will not do.”

When the order came to retreat, one man stayed.

hacksaw-4In the Spring of 1945 – as the war in the Pacific entered its final, most deadly days, and U.S. forces in Okinawa encountered some of the most ferocious fighting ever witnessed – a single soldier stood out from the rest.  This was Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector, who despite vowing to never kill, served boldly as an unarmed medic in the infantry … and went on to single-handedly save the lives of dozens of his fallen fellow soldiers under lethal fire without firing a single bullet.

An unwavering Seventh Day Adventist, Doss was living in Virginia when he voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Army.  He had no interest in fighting, but rather Doss wanted to serve as a “non-combatant” medic.  It was not a path with which the military was familiar, but Doss persisted.  Skinny, vegetarian and unwilling to train on Saturdays let alone carry a gun, Doss was initially ridiculed and abused by his compatriots – who, convinced he would be a dangerous liability in the foxholes with them, tried every which way they could to drive him out of the army.  But Doss persisted all the way to Okinawa, where his unit was ordered to take part in the near-impossible capture of the massive Maeda Escarpment – aka Hacksaw Ridge.  Atop this steep, looming 400-foot cliff lay heavily fortified machine-gun nests, booby traps and Japanese soldiers in caves who vowed to fight to the end.

It was there that Doss demonstrated that he was made not only of principle but also rare courage.  Facing a desperate assault of heavy fire, Doss refused to seek cover.  When his battalion was ordered to retreat, he alone remained behind and ran repeatedly into the kill zone, with nothing but his convictions, to drag to safety an estimated 75 badly injured men who were destined to die had he not intervened.

Doss would go on to receive the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman in October of 1945, with a citation that drew attention to “outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions.”  It was then that the journey to bring Doss’s story to the screen began. Those who heard what Doss had achieved and understood how unusual it was (there have since been only two other conscientious objectors awarded the Medal of Honor) immediately saw that that it was a potent and provocative story.  But it would be another half century before it became a reality – in part because Doss chose to lead a quiet, humble life without the notoriety a film would bring.

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Robert Schenkkan [Screenwriter] Pulitzer Prize, Tony, and WGA Award winner, two-time Emmy nominated writer. Author of fifteen plays: All the Way, The Great Society, Hanussen, Shadowplay, By the Waters of Babylon, Handler, A Single Shard, Devil and Daniel Webster, Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates, Final Passages, The Marriage of Miss Hollywood and King Neptune, Heaven on Earth, Tachinoki, The Dream Thief, and The Kentucky Cycle (Pulitzer prize, Tony and Drama Desk nominations). Also a collection of one-act plays, Conversations with the Spanish Lady, and a musical, (book and co-lyrics) The Twelve, winner of the 2015 Henry Award. The 2014 Broadway production of All The Way swept the Awards season winning the Drama Desk, Outer Critics, Drama League, and TONY@ Award as well as the Steinberg/American Theater Critics Award, the inaugural Edward M. Kennedy Award, and Boston’s Elliot Norton Award. It also set two box office records on Broadway. It aired in May, 2016 as a film for HBO, with Steven Spielberg producing, directed by Jay Roach, and has been nominated for eight Emmys including Best Drama. There are plans to bring the sequel, The Great Society, to NYC in fall, 2017. Film: Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield, will be released on November 4, 2016. The Quiet American directed by Phillip Noyce. TV: The Pacific (HBO miniseries – WGA Award, two Emmy and Humanitas Award nominations), The Andromeda Strain, Crazy Horse, Spartacus. Currently, Robert is writing a movie about the Manhattan Project for Robert Redford and adapting the Dave Robicheaux novels as a series for television

But now with a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (Kentucky Cycle, All the Way) and Australian writer Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner), as well as a highly accomplished team led by Academy Award®-winning director Mel Gibson, Doss’s unsung story would at last be told as only 21st century filmmaking could.  It would be not only a story of what men endured on Okinawa, but of the loved ones back home who shaped and bolstered Desmond Doss’s belief.

“Desmond never wanted to sell his life rights, he didn’t want to popularize himself, feeling that that would be a contradiction to who he was,” says producer Bill Mechanic. “It wasn’t until late in his life that people convinced him that it was time to tell the story so that it would live on.”

Doss passed away at the age of 87 in March 2006. Several years before that, filmmaker Terry Benedict had received his blessing to begin producing a documentary about Doss, “The Conscientious Objector,” and secured the life rights to his story.  Feeling the time was also right to explore bringing Doss’s story to motion picture audiences as a multi-layered drama, Benedict approached producer David Permut.

Permut says “For the most part, Desmond has been a forgotten hero by the general public and I’m very proud that we had the opportunity to immortalize his legend in a film that presents a truly unique perspective of war, conviction and a man who stands by his beliefs at all costs.”

Permut approached Mechanic, who was thrilled to become involved in the film.

Mechanic says:  “I always saw this story as being about a man who has very strong beliefs – which are then tested in an absolute hell that he comes out of even stronger.”

Mel Gibson Takes The Helm

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Mel Gibson [Director] was born in upstate New York, but at age twelve, moved to Australia with his family. After high school, Mel attended the Australian National Institute of Dramatic Arts, where he was trained in classical British theatre tradition and appeared in a number of plays, including Death of a Salesman and Waiting for Godot. In 1979, Gibson caught the attention of director George Miller and was cast in Mad Max, the first film to bring him worldwide recognition. He then appeared in the title role of Tim, where Gibson’s portrayal of a handicapped young man earned him an Australian Film Institute (AFI) Best Actor Award. Gibson’s international fame grew with the two hit sequels to Mad Max–The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as well as with Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, which brought Gibson a second AFI Best Actor Award. In 1982, Weir and Gibson collaborated again on The Year of Living Dangerously. In 1984, Gibson made his American film debut in The River, followed by The Bounty. He appeared in other films such as Mrs. Soffel, Blood Father , Tequila Sunrise, Bird on a Wire, Air America, but it was the record breaking and genre defining, Lethal Weapon (1, 2, 3, and 4) franchise that would cement his status in Hollywood. Following this success, Gibson founded Icon Productions, whose first film was Hamlet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. In 1995, Gibson produced, directed and starred in the critical and box office success Braveheart, which was the recipient of five Academy Awards® including Best Picture and Best Director, after receiving a leading 10 nominations. The movie also garnered Gibson a Golden Globe Award® for Best Director, a Special Achievement in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review, the 1996 NATO/ShoWest Director of the Year and the Broadcast Film Critics Association award for Best Director. His other films include Ransom, Conspiracy Theory, Payback, The Patriot , What Women Want , We Were Soldiers, Signs, The Beaver and Edge of Darkness. He produced, co-wrote and directed The Passion of The Christ and Apocalypto. He produced, co-wrote and starred in Get the Gringo

In search of a screenwriter who could navigate all the historical, biographical and spiritual territory of Desmond Doss’s story, Bill Mechanic hired Robert Schenkkan—who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his Kentucky Cycle plays, an epic story of Western history and mythology told through the intersecting stories of three Kentucky families.  In 2014, Shenkkan won the Outstanding Play Tony Award for All The Way, as well as numerous other awards, for its mesmerizing take on President Lyndon Johnson’s first year in office, in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.  Schenkkan’s passion for humanizing large historical events seemed a unique match with the material.

It was certainly not a story that lent itself to a conventional structure – combining seemingly disparate elements of romance, family struggles, probing of faith and the brutal realities of war.  But by utilizing Doss’s own verbal accounts of what happened, and accounts from Army records, Mechanic and Schenkkan honed in on exploring how Doss’s steadfast belief that it was wrong to kill, even in a war he believed was just, emerged.

Mechanic explains: “We both felt you have to understand where Desmond comes from to understand the decisions he makes. We discussed at one point starting in Okinawa, but it was just too important to explain the impact of Doss’s parents, of his meeting his wife Dorothy, and the formation of his rudimentary belief system as a young man.”

Schenkkan played with some of the early chronology to craft a tight structure.  He carved secondary characters from amalgams of real people, and streamlined events from Doss’s early life.  But when it came to Doss’s incredible feats on Hacksaw Ridge, the screenplay hewed as close to the factual record as possible.  That meant the film needed a director who could both expose the intimate inner life of the Doss family and also re-create the epic combat in Okinawa with a mesmerizing realism.

That specific combination is why Mechanic began doggedly pursuing Mel Gibson.  With films that span from the classic, Academy Award Best Picture-winning Braveheart to The Patriot, We Were Soldiers, The Passion of the Christ and his most recently directed film, the Mayan civilization epic Apocalypto, Gibson has become known for meshing big themes with atmospheric style that takes audiences into revealing worlds.  Mechanic had previously worked with Gibson on Braveheart and has watched as Gibson has continued to expand creatively.

“I first sent Mel the script for Hacksaw Ridge in 2002, and in 2010, and then again in 2014,” recalls Mechanic. “His people had read it earlier, but up until the third time I sent it, Mel had been more interested in directing projects that he’d developed himself. In 2014, he read it overnight and by the morning he was essentially in.”

For Mechanic, Gibson was always the ultimate choice. “Hacksaw Ridge felt to me almost like a companion piece to Braveheart,” comments the producer.  “It pulls together the same themes of faith, violence and war, though it’s a very different story about a man from a very different time and background. To me, what also sets Mel apart as a contemporary filmmaker is how experiential his filmmaking is, how visceral the storytelling is in his films.  He’s become a consummate director. He’s equally great with characters, with actors, with the camera and the editing process and with giving audiences a new experience.”

Gibson saw in Hacksaw Ridge a chance to bring into the light a forgotten hero – and he was drawn to Desmond Doss as man who determined to find a way to live by the values that meant everything to him, even when they seemed in conflict with the whole world around him.

Says Gibson: “Desmond Doss abhorred violence, it was against his principles, his religious beliefs, but he wanted to serve his country in World War II as a medic. How does somebody go into the worst place on earth without a weapon? It was all the more compelling to me, because it was a true story, and I thought I could bring my visual language to it.”

Gibson notes that Doss never called himself a conscientious objector.  That was the army’s term.  Instead, he called himself a “conscientious co-operator,” believing with unflagging tenacity that he had plenty to contribute without having to kill other human beings.

Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight talk about the ten years it took to write the screenplay for Hacksaw Ridge

“He was a co-operator in the sense that he passionately wanted to join the war effort, but he wanted to enter it as someone aiming not to take life but to save it,” says Gibson.  “Still, you have to ask, what kind of madman goes into that kind of a conflagration seen on Okinawa without being armed?  Doss defied what anyone could have expected from that situation.  Somebody mentioned to me that the Congressional Medal of Honor is usually given to people who have a singular moment where they make a snap decision and do one heroic thing.  One of the things that stood out to me about Desmond is that in Okinawa, this guy was heroic 24/7, for a whole month.  He took heroism to another level not often seen.”

Scriptwriter Andrew Knight may have disappeared from public view over the past 18 months, but the master of mixing humour and gravitas is working as hard as ever.

Andrew Knight [Screenwriter] is probably Australia’s most successful writer/producers. His career spans more than thirty years and he has written across a wide range of genres: having had top rating hits in everything from comedy to high drama, mini-series and series television to features. He is viewed as instrumental in the creation and success of some of the late 80’s and 90’s biggest comedy hits. In 1989 he formed Artist Services Pty Ltd with Steve Vizard and it became one of Australia’s most successful production companies.In the early 90’s he moved back into drama and again succeeded in creating, writing and producing some of the most memorable film and television in the country. Some of his career highlights include Rake (now entering its fifth series), Jack Irish (3 telemovies and now a six part series and writing another), SeaChange – the most successful, landmark series of its time, The Broken Shore, After the Deluge, My Brother Jack, Kangaroo Palace, Tripping Over, The Fast Lane and feature films Spotswood, Siam Sunset, and the recent box office hit and Australian film of the year, The Water Diviner directed and starring Russell Crowe. He currently has his co-written features, Ali’s Wedding and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge both due for release in November. He has three other films earmarked for production next year including King Of Thieves, The Cartographer and ‘Rides Like a Girl’.

 “Once Gibson came aboard, he and I brought on Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner) to help build upon the incredible screenplay that Schenkkan had written several years earlier,” says Mechanic.

Gibson looked to weight the balance between the home-front – where Desmond became the man he was – and the battlefield – where Desmond had to put his beliefs into action amid utter frenzy. “The first part of the film is a story of Desmond coming to grips with the difficult relationship with his father and his father’s demons, and of finding his true love, who keeps him thinking of home,” says the director.

Mechanic notes that when it came to the battle sequences, Gibson zeroed right in on the most essential and creative details. “Mel has such an eye for war action, I feel he was the real creator of all the battle sequences, regardless of who wrote the scenes,” says the producer.

Yet even in the most frenetic action, Gibson wanted the humanity of the character to hold sway.  He says of the battle sequences:  “The important part was to give you the sense that this is the worst place anyone has ever seen, which it was for these men.  And here’s Desmond, this guy you’ve hopefully come to know and to love, thrown into this terrible place where he will finally see how measures up to the standards he has set for himself.”

Andrew Garfield As Desmond Doss

Finding the actor who could encapsulate the distinctive man who was Desmond Doss – humble, comedically romantic, peaceful yet full of unexpected depths of bravery — would be key.

hacksawBill Mechanic explains: “It was 14 years for me making the film, so I looked at many actors over that time to play Desmond Doss. He’s a difficult character to portray because he’s so inward, he’s not going to explain himself a lot of times in the movie, so it had to be somebody who could inhabit his persona so fully that you could see who he was.”

Mechanic knew that physicality was not the heart of the role, although it would take the lead actor into searing action.  “Even if he was a Superman with a body built like The Rock, you still wouldn’t believe that a person still could do what Desmond did,” the producer muses.  “It would take something else to believe in Desmond and that’s what Andrew Garfield brought.”

The Golden Globe and Tony Award-nominated actor known for his roles as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spiderman and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, immediately jumped at the role.

“There wasn’t any hesitation when I read the script” says Garfield. “I think it’s rare in this world to have someone like Desmond, who is so tuned into themselves, so tuned into what that still, small voice inside is saying, that no matter what is thrown at them, they know what they can do, and what they will not do.”

Doss’s rare respect for the enemy and the sanctity of all human life also awed Garfield, who says it gave him pause.  “Desmond treated the enemy with as much care as he would treat his fellow Americans. That’s hard to wrap your mind around, but I wanted to try to understand it more, and to learn from his perspective on life and on the world — this beautiful perspective he had that we’re all one. Even though I believe this is a story that transcends any specific religion, it’s a very spiritual story,” says Garfield.

Despite the fact that Doss is now deceased, Garfield says he felt a heavy responsibility to honor his life and achievements.  He spent three months prior to production devoted solely to exploring Doss and his surroundings in depth.

“The preparation was extensive,” Garfield comments.  “I visited Desmond’s hometown, the place where he retired, the home he grew up in and the home where he passed away. I walked the walks that he walked. I read all the books about him, absorbing as much as I possibly could.  But that was just scratching the surface, really. One of the joys of doing a story like this is attempting to dive into someone else’s being, the time in which they were alive, which is endlessly fascinating. You get to be an historian and a researcher.”

Mel Gibson was gratified to see Garfield cut to the heart of the character he so wanted audiences to get to know.  “Andrew is an amazing actor.  He’s not your typical looking action hero but he has those qualities inside him,” Gibson observes.  “He’s a guy who, like Desmond Doss, has real convictions and so he was able to portray Desmond in a real and moving way.  The film is so focused on his character, he really had to be our quarterback and he was.”

Garfield was equally exhilarated by the working rapport with Gibson.  “Working with Mel as a director has been a real highlight of my time being an actor so far,” he says.  “Mel tells a story in such a beautiful, compelling way. He’s a bit like Desmond Doss in that he’s got this real innocence and purity to him.  With Mel, everything is on the surface, and you know exactly what he’s feeling at all times, even if he doesn’t want you to know he can’t help himself. He’s sincere and passionate, and it’s infectious.”

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The Three Worlds Of Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge takes place in three starkly contrasting worlds:  small-town Lynchburg, Virginia where Desmond grows up and develops his resolute philosophies of life; the WWII-era barracks where Desmond proves his unrelenting determination to serve as a “conscientious co-operator”; and the frenzy on the cliff-like terrain of Hacksaw Ridge itself.

To create all this, Mel Gibson assembled a crack team of craftspeople including director of photography Simon Duggan (The Great Gatsby, 300: Rise of an Empire, I, Robot); production designer Barry Robison (X-Men Origins: Wolverine); Oscar-winning costume designer Lizzy Gardiner (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert); and Oscar-nominated editor John Gilbert (The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring).

Production took place entirely in Australia, which was able both to simulate 1930s Virginia and the scrubby, harsh terrain of Hacksaw Ridge itself.  Gibson says working there brought many advantages.   “The level of the performers and the crew are excellent, as good or better than anywhere in the world. It’s a great place to shoot and I think it will remain so.”

Much of the challenging task of bringing Okinawa’s demolished surroundings to life fell to special effects supervisor Chris Godfrey and his team.  Godfrey explains what was required:  “Okinawa was the last stand before the Allies reached Japan, so the Americans had been bombing it for weeks. Germany was already out of the war, so all resources were focused around Okinawa. The ridge was devastated in all directions, so that’s where we came into play, trying to show the different scales to the devastation, from a ruined farmhouse surrounded by greenery to broken tanks.”

The crew worked with closely with a bevy of experts, including a WWII battleship expert, who sourced reference footage, mapped out how the ships would have attacked, the size of the weaponry they deployed and the size of the explosions themselves.  Godfrey says: “There are a lot of wonderful experts who know the fine minutiae of World War II and we relied on that knowledge.”

The Hacksaw Ridge set was especially transporting for the cast.  “It took your breath away,” recalls actor Luke Bracey. “When they drove us up to the set to shoot the first scene, it was really confronting. There was a nice grassy hill and then a little bit of red clay, but beyond that it was just desolate, an absolute wasteland, full of crater holes, and shell holes, and burnt trees — we got this jarring image of a landscape that’s been completely torn apart, and we understood a little bit of what those soldiers must have felt.”

That was the reality Desmond Doss faced – a reality of harrowing war but one to which he carried his own ironclad belief in the power of cultivating peace.  Sums up Mel Gibson:  “How do you pay tribute to a man like Desmond Doss?  I think the best you can do is try to make a story that feels true.  Desmond went way beyond what most of us could do, and he was exceptional, but it’s a reminder of how we all can try to measure up against that.”

Fantastic Titles For Everyone!

Magical and Miraculous Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic 2Here’s one film you cannot miss! From the wacky minds-cape of writer-director Matt Ross springs a story that will shake your core, and challenge your perceptions about the state of the human condition. Viggo Mortensen is outstanding as the fiercely independent patriarch living in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest, raising his family as far as he can from the influence of modern consumerist culture. Filling the days of his six children with rigorous Matt Rosseducation, demanding physical training and intense instruction for surviving in the wild, Ben raises a tribe of “philosopher kings” with the cardiovascular and muscular endurance of elite athletes and a grasp of classic texts far beyond their years. For Matt Ross, the writer and director of Captain Fantastic, the story is an exploration of the choices that parents make for their children. “I’m fascinated by all the issues that revolve around parenting,” Ross says. “Ben has given up the outside world and whatever personal ambitions it held for him to devote his life to being the best father he thinks he can be. The question becomes: is he the best father in the world or the worst? Is what he’s doing insane or insanely great?” Read more about the film / Watch the trailer

Heartbreaking and Soulful Free State of Jones

Free State of Jones 1Based on Oscar-nominated writer/director Gary Ross’ original screenplay, the epic action-drama Free State of Jones tells the extraordinary story of a little known episode in American history during which Newt Knight, a fearless Mississippi farmer, led an unlikely band of poor white farmers and runaway slaves in an historic armed rebellion against the Confederacy during the height of the Civil War. Matthew McConaughey delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as a man torn between what he believes and who he loves, with other superb performances from Keri Russell, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the two women who shape his life.  Juxtaposing and complementing the narrative in intermittent flash-forwards is the 1948 trial of The State of Mississippi versus Davis Knight, the key defendant in a ground breaking miscegenation trial, and the great-grandson of Newt Knight and his Free State of Jones 2common law wife and former slave, Rachel.Standing side by side in opposition to a ‘rich man’s war, and poor man’s fight,’ Knight’s brave followers took up arms against the Confederacy and established an indomitable rebel regiment deep in rural Mississippi’s impenetrable swamps, giving them a tactical advantage despite being vastly outgunned and outnumbered. A visionary leader, Knight’s passionate opposition to exploitation and prejudice and his establishment of the region’s first mixed-race community, ultimately distinguished him as a celebrated and alternately vilified presence long after the war.  Read more about the film  / Watch the trailer

me-before-youMe Before You – A Faity-Tale Romance You Will Never Forget

Adapted from the bestselling novel by Jo Jo Moyes, Me Before You tells the story of the unexpected relationship that blossoms between a contented small town Englishwoman and the wealthy, paralyzed Londoner who hires her as his caretaker. Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin will steal your heart and then shatter it as two star-crossed lovers whose love is greater than the circumstances that confront them. Theater director Thea Sharrock makes her feature directorial debut. Read more about the film / Watch the trailerThea Sharrock talks about Me Before You, marking her feature film debut

Nice Guys – A Soulful Comedy With Bite

nice-guys-movie-crowe-gosling-angourie-riceIn 1970s Los Angeles a down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March and hired enforcer Jackson Healy must work together to solve the case of a missing girl and the seemingly unrelated death of a porn star. During their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest circles of power. If there’s one reason to watch this film, it’s for the electric chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gossling, and excellent comedy timing reminiscent Laurel and Hardy. Writer/director Shane Black relates, “L.A. in the ‘70s was this moldering town where smog covered the city like a crust and Hollywood Boulevard had turned into this cesspool of pornography. And in this scenario, you get these two numbnuts who kind of stumble into shoes they can never fill when they uncover this huge conspiracy. So you’ve got your corruption, you’ve got your decadence, and then the question became how unsettlingly inappropriate could we make these two guys for the task for which they set themselves up.” Read more about the film / Watch the trailer

Action-packed Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek 2This highly anticipated next installment in the globally popular Star Trek franchise, created by Gene Roddenberry and reintroduced by J.J. Abrams in 2009, returns with director Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious” franchise) at the helm of this epic voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her intrepid crew, from screenplay by newcomer Doug Jung (Dark Blue, Banshee) and returning cast member turned co-writer, Simon Pegg. In “Beyond,” the Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the

Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk, Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah and Anton Yelchin plays Chekov in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Federation stands for to the test. Adm. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) has defeated his archenemy but at great cost. His friend Spock has apparently been killed, the USS Enterprise is being scrapped, and starship physician Dr. Leonard ”Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) has taken ill. McCoy’s odd behavior is evidence he’s harboring Spock’s katra, or animating spirit, and Kirk seeks to take the Enterprise back to the Genesis Planet and find his friend. Rebuffed, Kirk takes dramatic action that results in war with deadly Klingon. Read more about the film / Watch the trailer

Heidi-1008x515Heartwarming Heidi in Afrikaans

Heidi spent the happiest days of her childhood with her reclusive grandfather in a simple wooden hut in the Swiss mountains. Together with her friend, Geissepeter, she tends to goats and enjoys the freedom – but the carefree time ends abruptly, as Heidi is taken by her Aunt Dete to Frankfurt. Director Alain Gsponer talks about bringing Heidi to the big screenFrom Page to Screen: Bringing Heidi to the Big ScreenScreenwriter Petra Volpe talks about adapting Heidi for the big screenJohanna Spyri: a writer ahead of her time /  Watch the trailer

Spaced Out Action, Shark Attack, and Human Drama

Trip To Mars

approaching-the-unknown-2016In Approaching the Unknown Mark Strong plays Captain William D. Stanaforth, who’s making a solo flight to Mars to begin colonization there. He knows he won’t be coming back to Earth, and he’s not too concerned about this. “Six billion people on Earth cheering me on are also wondering why I do this,” he muses in voiceover. Well, he does it because it’s what he does. Like all astronauts, he’s also an advanced scientist, one who’s figured out a way to make drinking water out of dirt, and whose spaceship is carrying a reactor that’s essential not just to his trip but to the job he’s going to do once he lands on the red planet. Following his craft is another spaceship, this one piloted by Sanaa Latham’s Capt. Maddox. She is, in the sparse video-screen views of her from Stanaforth’s craft, considerably less chill than Strong’s character, and her temperament and the tech problems she faces provide the movie with some tense conflict early on. When not trouble-shooting for Maddox from afar, Stanaforth interacts with earthbound colleague and apparent best friend Louis Skinner, an ever-earnest Mission Control archetype played by Luke Wilson. “Approaching the Unknown” is the feature debut of writer/director Mark Elijah Rosenberg. Watch The Trailer

Letters To Mother Theresa

theresaOn Sept. 10, 1946, Mother Teresa (Juliet Stevenson) receives a message from God that tells her to help the poor, the sick and the downtrodden. Her new purpose initially causes conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and the government of India. After her death, a Vatican priest begins to recount her life’s work, her political oppression and her unbreakable spirit. As her story unfolds through 40 years of personal letters, history remembers her as one of the world’s greatest humanitarians.  Watch the trailer

Never Back Down

Picking up after the events of Never Back Down 2, former MMA champion Case Walker is on the comeback trail to become champion once again. Watch the trailer

The Shallows

shallowsIn the taut thriller The Shallows, when Nancy (Blake Lively) is surfing on a secluded beach, she finds herself on the feeding ground of a great white shark. Though she is stranded only 200 yards from shore, survival proves to be the ultimate test of wills, requiring all of Nancy’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, and fortitude. The Bonuss Features include deleted scenes, How To Build A Shark, Shooting In The Shallows, Find the Perfect Baech: Lord Howe Island, and When Sharks Attack. Watch The Trailer

Bourne Returns for More Action

jason-bourne-3Mattt Damon returns to his most iconic role in Jason Bourne . In the world of action choreography, chase sequences and intricate switchbacks, the Bourne films—with their innovative story and structure—have set a new standard for an entire genre.  Almost two decades ago, a brilliant young soldier volunteered for an experimental special-ops program after he was told that terrorists killed his father.  He was promised he could honor his family and country by evolving an already impressive intellect, deft agility and adaptable skillset into the unimaginable. It was all a lie. Subjected to brutal training he doesn’t remember by people he couldn’t then identify, the elite-trained assassin who came to be called Jason Bourne was molded into a $100 million human weapon who, according to his designers, malfunctioned. Jason-Bourne-2016-e1461252181808When Bourne tracked his makers to learn their end game, they tried to erase him and took away the only woman he ever loved.  Once he found revenge, learned his real identity and what he believed was the goal of his creators’ campaign, Bourne felt a semblance of peace and vanished…for what he hoped was forever. Once a new program is activated—one developed by a global power structure more intricate and duplicitous than in the period of superpowers from which Bourne was created—he is flushed out of hiding by an instantly malleable network that is more dangerous than any individual government.  The singular goal of this power nexus is to manipulate terror, technology and insurgency to fit its end game. While his pursuers believe Bourne will come in for reconditioning if they deliver him what he most desires, the most elite weapon ever designed knows what his trackers cannot grasp: even broken soldiers defend the innocent from those with unchecked power. It is directed by Paul Greengrass.  The bonus features include ‘Bringing Back Matt Damon As Bourne’, Bare Knuckle Boxing, Close Quarters Combat, Underground Rumble, The Athens Escape, Convention Chaos and Shutting Down The Las Vegas Strip. Watch the trailer / Read more about the film

“The film is so full of relatable characters and delivers such pure joy, and I feel audiences will see themselves in the journey of our fallible, funny characters.  Know that any tears shed—and there might be some—will be the happy kind.”

Illumination has captivated audiences all over the world with the beloved hits Despicable Me, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Despicable Me 2 and Minions, now the second-highest-grossing animated movie in history. Following the release of this summer’s comedy blockbuster The Secret Life of Pets, Illumination brings Sing to the big screen.

With its highly relatable characters, heart and humor, the first collaboration between writer/director Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Illumination founder and Ceo Chris Meledandri marks the sixth fully animated feature from the studio.

sing-web

Set in a world like ours but entirely inhabited by animals, Sing stars Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a dapper koala who presides over a once-grand theater that has fallen on hard times.  Buster is an eternal—some might even say delusional—optimist who loves his theater above all and will do anything to preserve it.  Now faced with the crumbling of his life’s ambition, he has one final chance to restore his fading jewel to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

Five lead contestants emerge: Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a mouse who croons as smoothly as he cons; Meena (Tori Kelly), a timid teenage elephant with an enormous case of stage fright; Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), an overtaxed mother run ragged tending a litter of 25 piglets; Johnny (Taron Egerton), a young gangster gorilla looking to break free of his family’s felonies; and Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punk-rock porcupine struggling to shed her arrogant boyfriend and go solo.

Each arrives under Buster’s marquee believing that this is their shot to change the course of their life.  And as Buster coaches each of his contestants closer and closer to the grand finale, he starts to learn that maybe the theater isn’t the only thing that is in need of saving.

garth-jennings

Garth Jennings (Written and Directed by/Miss Crawly) is a director and writer known for his unique and imaginative point of view. Seamlessly working across various mediums and genres, he brings a passion, humor and creativity to each of his projects. Jennings previously wrote and directed the critically acclaimed Son of Rambow, a comedy about two English schoolboys in the 1980s. Jennings earned a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award nomination for his screenplay and the film was named as one of the Top Independent Films of 2008 by the National Board of Review. Additionally, Jennings directed the sci-fi adventure comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, based on the popular novel of the same name, which starred Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell. In January 2015, Jennings made the jump to literature with his debut novel “The Deadly 7,” which was released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux to rave reviews. The monster-adventure book is a quirky, hilarious, and heart-warming story about a kid who comes face-to-face with his own demons who prove to be useful in many ways. An accomplished music video director, Jennings has also directed videos for bands, such as Radiohead, Blur, R.E.M., Fatboy Slim and Beck. Born and raised in England, Jennings currently lives in Paris.

While Chris Meledandri has primarily worked with filmmakers who began their careers in short-form animation, Sing marks the first time he has partnered with a filmmaker from live action for an Illumination feature.  Meledandri, who was certain that Garth Jennings’ unique path would bring distinctive charm to the collaboration, states that their connection began long before Sing’s writer/director even knew it: “I fell in love with Garth’s independent film, Son of Rambow.  I felt that he was such an authentic storyteller, and I loved that it was based on his own childhood as an amateur filmmaker.”  As well, Jennings’ extensive experience directing music videos informed a curious perspective and grasp of the power of music in telling visual stories.  “I had a hunch that Garth’s sensibility would be a perfect fit for this idea that’s preoccupied me.”

During one of Meledandri’s trips to England, he asked to meet with Jennings and shared with the filmmaker this seed of an idea he had.  Meledandri showed him a picture of a group of four koalas and told him to imagine they were holding little microphones.  He asked Jennings for his thoughts on telling a story about a singing competition…one set in a world populated entirely by animals.  “I knew that Garth and I share a deep love of music and that he is a gifted storyteller,” reflects Meledandri.  “We both felt that this concept would provide us the opportunity to tap into the global appeal of music-based storytelling.”

The writer/director agrees that this journey began with a kindred spirit: “About five years ago, I met Chris when he was passing through London.  We talked about the kinds of movies we liked to make, and Chris’ idea would allow us to combine just about everything we both loved in one story.  We were only half way through a pot of tea, but I was already very stupidly excited because this was one of those ideas that you could instantly see the potential for in every direction.”

Jennings worked with Meledandri as they crafted Sing, in which the characters give everything for a life-changing opportunity.  Indeed, the performers struggle with everyday problems that we all experience at some point: feeling overlooked by family, worrying about bills, overcoming barriers that prevent happiness and growing comfortable in our own skin.  The intersection and narrative would be built around a theater-owning koala named Buster Moon, who first became entranced by the theater as a young joey.  It was back then when, alongside his doting father, he experienced a magical evening that bent his life’s arc for good.

It is this most unlikely of heroes who proves pivotal to the rest of the characters in the story.  “At the very beginning of the movie, you meet Buster Moon as a six-year-old koala,” Jennings discusses.  “He is taken to the theater for the first time by his father, and it completely blows his mind.  This experience has a transformative effect, and he grows up desperate to be part of the theater world.  We then meet present-day Buster, and he owns the theater that he fell in love with.”

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Writer/director Garth Jennings, actor Taron Egerton and Illumination founder and Ceo Chris Meledandri

As Jennings and Meledandri developed and shaped the character of Buster Moon, each inevitably found himself inspired by this showman who—through sheer force of will—was attempting to accomplish the nearly impossible.  Armed solely with a singular passion to imagine and execute an event that would truly connect with audiences, young and old, Buster is the ultimate creator.

For Meledandri, filmmaking has always been about this act of creation: how we start with nothing but an idea and—through a combination of willpower, chutzpah, blind faith, a little delusion and a lot of salesmanship—we persuade others to join our journey.  “In the end,” reflects Meledandri, “if we’re lucky and gutsy and faithful enough, something magical happens: We bring dreams to life.  Like Buster, we have the privilege of transporting people out of their daily lives into something better—sometimes for two hours, sometimes for much longer.”

While Jennings and Meledandri began to flesh out this universe, they felt that it was crucial that the world the characters inhabit be based on our real one.  It was vital for the audience’s engagement to see the animal characters as keenly relatable, characters with hopes and fears that echo our own.  In this town, the theater is at the heart of everyone’s conflict, joy and repair.  If Buster loses his home—he actually sleeps in the desk of theater’s office—everyone loses their chance to transform into more than they ever imagined.

Producer Janet Healy reflects that Buster’s situation at The Moon Theater is becoming direr as the days tick by.  “Buster is a producer who has fallen on hard times,” she says.  “He’s a showman who loves his theater and putting on productions; but, as of late, none of them have been doing very well.  The pressure is on him to pay his crew, the bank and the electricity, so he’s got quite a dilemma to deal with.”

For Jennings, Meledandri and Healy, what also makes Sing stand out is the filmmakers’ unapologetic obsession with music.  From current pop to longtime favorites, the film is replete with sounds—including more than 65 hit songs, ranging from covers of classic Frank Sinatra and the soulful R&B of Drake to the infectious pop of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.  “To tell stories with music and have such a broad spectrum to draw from was a huge reason why we got excited about Sing in the first place,” notes Jennings.  “It is important that the audience care about every character’s story, and sewing their stories together with music allows us to do it in a way that would be impossible otherwise.”

In fact, music is seamlessly woven through almost every frame of Sing.  “Because it’s about a singing contest, you get these incredible sequences where we have a montage of different characters auditioning and practicing in rehearsals,” explains Healy.  “The movie is full of music, and we have so many interludes and songs that carry us from one scene to another.”

For Jennings, the chance to see a project from its beginning stages of development into its release in theaters is a powerful one indeed.  While he admits that writing is the most intriguing part of the process, he is humbled by the privilege of being able both to script and direct an animated film.

In addition, Jennings voices one of the supporting, and scene-stealing, players.  When his character, Miss Crawly, Buster’s longtime assistant, makes a typographical mistake that promises $100,000 to the lucky winner—not the $1,000 requested by Mr. Moon—she sets in motion the events of Sing.  He laughs: “I play Miss Crawly, an elderly female lizard.  Yes, I am a natural at playing elderly female lizards.”

Meledandri embraces that this original property about joyful redemption is one that holds all-audience appeal, of paramount importance to any undertaking by Illumination.  “Sing is relatable, funny, empathetic, uplifting, but most of all, even though it stars animals: human,” he gives.  “We wanted to make a movie that offered the audience multiple points of entry, and many possible elements to relate to.  I predict that people are going to fall in love with these characters and care about their stories as they all seek to win a singing competition thrown by one very optimistic koala.”

The Music

sing-3Sing features covers of more than 65 hit songs made famous by some of the biggest recording artists—from Frank Sinatra and The Beatles to Katy Perry and Kanye West—in history.

Each main character performs songs that embody their aspirations and journey—from Rosita’s interpretation of Perry’s “Firework” and Gunter’s version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to Johnny’s covers of John Legend’s “All of Me” and Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” while Mike belts out Sinatra’s “My Way.”  The five contestants and Buster—as well as many supporting players—have musical themes of their own.  The cast spent countless hours rehearsing and performing their numbers, and each had a specific strategy to get into character.  For example, MacFarlane was able to perfect Mike’s signature sound with the help of one of Old Blue Eyes’ actual vocal coaches.

With multiple narratives to weave together, and many stories that the music on Sing had to serve, it was mandatory that the primary driver be Buster Moon himself.  “At its core, the music has to be joyous and playful, serving Buster’s infectious, optimistic spirit—even though he’s got everything stacked against him,” explains Jennings.  “It needs to make your shoulders move and feel delightful.  We’ve also allowed the orchestra and score to go out and follow our heroes home…and see how their lives are being changed and twisted by being a part of Buster’s show.”

The original new songs Illumination has commissioned—such as Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” from Despicable Me 2—have found an audience outside of the movies themselves.  Continuing that trend, the original song “Faith,” performed by STEVIE WONDER, featuring ARIANA GRANDE, is as powerful as it is infectious.  Produced by multiple Grammy Award-winning producers RYAN TEDDER and BENNY BLANCO, the end title song is synonymous with never giving up.  Tedder discusses its import: “There’s an uplift and inclusion to this song that bridges generations.  With Ariana’s range and Stevie’s vocals, ‘Faith’ is the perfect song to give the audience as they take the messages of Sing with them.”

It was key to Jennings, the music team and the producers that audiences embrace new sounds and styles as part of the experience of the film.  The goal was to have younger audience members exposed to songs they’ve never heard before, as well as adults celebrating sounds from their past and being introduced to today’s pop hits.  As the soundtrack is cross-generational and resonates with a global audience, songs throughout the decades that are showcased in Sing will be gaining new fans.

Whether a particular song gets us through a tough time or lifts us up in celebration, there is much power in music.  To have a film that is packed with anthems delivers a potent experience, and all involved in Sing agree music is as much an emotional art as the animation itself.  “The combination of the music with visuals is always so much more powerful and emotional,” Meledandri says.  “With each tiny detail, Garth and the animation team have maximized the emotion in every character.  Similarly, the music group has done the same with each song.  We all took a look at the story and the characters, and determined the purpose each song has at every specific point.  If we have done our job correctly, the music will wholly enhance the emotions in each scene.”

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Production wrapped, Meledandri takes a moment to reflect on the extraordinary film that Jennings and company have created:  “You never know where inspiration will strike, and for Sing, it occurred that fateful day over tea.  This was the strongest single group of artists we have assembled for one movie.  It took Garth’s extraordinary writing and directing—and the discipline and love of every member of the global Illumination team—to bring this story to life for the holidays.  The film is so full of relatable characters and delivers such pure joy, and I feel audiences will see themselves in the journey of our fallible, funny characters.  Know that any tears shed—and there might be some—will be the happy kind.”

”So that was a really interesting turning point – when we let Hank and Manny fall in love and accidentally made a gay necrophilia movie.”

Swiss Army Man, the brilliantly bizarre new movie from first-time feature directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert will break your heart and most definitely change your perceptions in the human condition.

If there’s one reason to see this unique film, it’s for the outstanding performances by Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano; there are moments of sheer brilliance and has an emotional truth that will resonate well with anyone who has ever felt misunderstood, or found love in unexpected ways.

This is black humour at its darkest and most profound.  It a delightfully daring film that dares to break conventions and takes storytelling to its utmost extreme!

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Washed up on a deserted shore, Radcliffe’s corpse, Manny, comes into the life of Hank (Paul Dano) at a crucial moment: the lonely shipwreck survivor is about to kill himself. After Hank realises that he can use Manny’s gas-propelled body as a jet ski to escape the island, he decides to keep him around – and a tentative friendship between the two forms, as Radcliffe’s character slowly becomes more “alive”, regaining the power of speech.

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert talk about Swiss Army Man

swissWhy did you decide to make a movie about a farting corpse? Where did that idea come from?

Daniel Scheinert: It’s funny. A lot of the time our ideas come from very circumstantial kind of situations. So when we first started out, making music videos together, we’d listen to a song, and think “Okay, so which of our friends can we cast in this? What have we always wanted to do? What are our resources?”

Daniel Kwan: There’s not ever any money so you have to be really smart about what you’re going to do.

DS: Years ago, in 2011, we were going to Alabama, where I’m from, and we were thinking about shooting a short film. And my parents live in a lake town in North Alabama, and we knew that my best friend growing up had a boat there, so maybe we could shoot off the boat, and there’s a big lake…And so Dan pitched to me: “What if there’s a guy who’s stranded in the wilderness, who finds a corpse and feeds it beans, and it farts across the ocean while beautiful music plays and he cries?”  I immediately regretted pitching. I was thinking “Oh no, this is a horrible idea.”

DK: It kind of became a recurring joke. The joke was that it was the worst idea we’d ever come up with. We’d never make that and put it in theatres across the world… And then it kind of grew. We started coming up with more of a story. And we though, what if we took that really stupid idea and poured our hearts into it?

Once it turned into a buddy film – that when we really fell in love with the idea and started devoting time to it. But that was a few years later.

At one stage, it seemed as if the movie was going to be a traditional(ish) love story – Hank finds Manny, who helps guide him towards the woman he adores. But as it went on, it became apparent that it was something quite different – more about the relationship between the two male characters, and about loneliness. Was that always your intent?

DK: Well, in some ways, we thought we were making a more conventional guy trying to get back to his girl story. But the more drafts we wrote, the more we realised… it sounds stupid when writers say “I listening to my character”, but that’s how it ended up happening. We could tell that Hank and Manny needed each other more than Hank and Sarah ever did. We just kept rewriting and rewriting, until we allowed them to fall in love. And once we allowed ourselves to write that, that story really started to grow and blossom into something worthwhile.

So that was a really interesting turning point – when we let Hank and Manny fall in love and accidentally made a gay necrophilia movie.

DS:  Bodily functions – the farting, obviously – feel very central to Swiss Army Man, while the idea that we’re all constantly ashamed, and hiding ourselves, sort of forms the emotional heart of the film. Was this also something you worked out through the writing process?

Because we started with a fart joke, no matter how far we went on it, we’d always come back to “wait, but why does this movie start with a man riding a farting corpse?” That had to be central and integral to the film. And it took us a while to kind of find the movie.

DK: Because we were so ashamed of this idea, so ashamed that we were spending time on it, that kind of naturally bled into the film. That was a very relatable thing, having thoughts or ideas or neuroses that you’re too afraid to share with the world. In some ways, this movie became that: something that we were afraid to share with the world. We realised we could connect those feelings with the feelings of body shame, and put them all together into a stew of what it means to be human, and what it means to be alive.

DS: The moral of the story that we came up with – because every great story needs a moral – was that shame keeps us from love. It gave us permission to go down these deep, philosophical routes. And talk about farts. They’re the most ridiculous thing in the world to be ashamed of. Literally every human and every animal farts.

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Another thing I really liked about the movie was just how well the casting worked. Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano… is it “Danno” or “Dayno?”

DK: It’s “Dayno”. But he didn’t tell us that till after we were done with the movie. Literally, we worked with him a year and a half before he corrected us.

Radcliffe and Dano were great – it feels impossible, now, to imagine anyone else in the roles. But how did you go about casting them? Did you look at Radcliffe and think “yep, that’s our corpse”?

DK: It’s a miracle. We’re just so lucky it worked out the way it did. We’re huge fans of both of theirs, and we thought they might be right for the role, and so we asked them to try out for the movie, but you can’t really know until you put them in the room and they start doing the lines.

But the wonderful thing about both of them is that they loved the script, but also had wonderful feedback about what they loved, and what they didn’t understand. And so we actually rewrote the script really drastically after we met each of them. They inspired the movie, in a lot of ways. It’s lovely to hear that you can’t imagine anyone else in the role because we can’t either.

DS: Manny was a different person before we met Daniel. Daniel’s such a sweet, wide-eyed lovely guy, that we were like: “we need to make Manny a sweet, lovely, wide-eyed guy. If we can capture an ounce of Daniel Radcliffe in this character, people will love him.”

Appearance-wise, too, Manny is a very friendly-looking corpse. How did you decide how he should look?

DK: It was a balance where we wanted him to look dead, but likable, and it was important that he not just start to turn into a zombie or look to crazy. Luckily for us, Daniel has pretty corpse-like features to begin with, so we just augmented them a bit. He’s got quite a sharp jaw…and we just took the veins in his neck and made them stand out…

The movie has gone down really well with a lot of critics. But when it premiered at Sundance, there were reports of people walking out in disgust. Did that really happen?

DK: Apparently it’s quite common that five per cent of an audience will leave during the first 15 minutes of a Sundance film, because buyers and agents have to see a little bit of each movie. It’s like a business. It’s a very industry-led weekend. We didn’t see anybody walking out but apparently it was just the average number of people. But it did make for a great headline – “people walk out of farting Daniel Radcliffe corpse movie”.  Saying “walk outs at the indie drama about cancer”….that’s not going to be trending on Twitter.

DS: It was just irresponsible journalism. People reading things on Twitter, and letting the sensationalism drag the story down.

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Paul Dano, who plays Hank – the guy who’s alive – at one point is dressing as a woman who’s inspired by a photo in a cellphone. And the idea is that this woman is inspiring Daniel Radcliffe to stay alive and to, like, use his superpowers to help them get back home. And so they have all these scenes where Paul Dano’s dressed as this woman and they’re sort of acting out a courtship. I mean, I don’t want to give too much away, but it seems like something they’re learning is that they should be free to express themselves, you know, toward whomever they love, right? How did that part of the story come up?

DK: I mean, I think the entire time we were working on the script of this film, we found ourselves trying to dictate to the story, you know, trying to tell the story what it should be. One of those things was this relationship between the body and the living man. At first we were telling it, like, no, you guys can’t – you can’t fall in love. You guys are just friends, and that’s it. And finally when we let that relationship to become what it needed to become, it felt so much more pure and exciting and cohesive.

DS: Yeah. From very early on, love was a theme, you know, so we have – we have all these ideas about love and all these ideas about farts. And then the common ground that we found was that you shouldn’t be ashamed of love. That love is possible when you can kind of be your true self and kind of – and overcome your shame and that, like, that’s – that’s some of the most, like, honest experiences we’ve had where – like, when someone can help you break down a wall and help you be more yourself, like, that’s just the most powerful, wonderful part of a relationship.

DK: So yeah, I think, like, as far as the spectrum of things you can be ashamed of go – on one end there’s farts. It’s a very simple thing to be ashamed of. But then on the other end, it’s love. Our character’s kind of ashamed of the fact that he wants love, that he’s alone and he feels loneliness. I think that’s one of the saddest things you can be ashamed of. When you are most lonely, you can’t tell anyone that because it will push people away. You know, you’re not allowed to say, I’m a lonely person. And so I – to us that’s kind of how it all kind of fits together. This whole film is just exploring all these walls we build up that keep us away from a connection.

It must have felt good, after making something so strange and personal, to see how well it’s been received by so many people?

DS: The year has been a rollercoaster. But [we’re happy about]  the fact that this movie has found an audience – that it hasn’t just reached out to the kind of people who seek out weird cult films.. We wanted our mums to like it. We wanted people to see it who might not see every crazy weird movie and be pleasantly surprised by it. And start giving more weird movies a chance. We could not be happier about the fact that it’s getting out there, and that the people who like it, love it. It makes us feel less alone in the universe [laughs].

So, did you show Swiss Army Man to your mums? Did they enjoy it?

DS: My mum loved it the first time she saw it, and she cried at the end, which was our goal – to make someone cry with a fart. And then Dan Kwan’s mum – she loved the music, and liked parts of it, and then started listing off what she didn’t like.

DK: My mum’s very Chinese. She’s a harsh critic of our work, always.  She watched it the first time, and was like “I’ve got some notes on the first half…” But the second time she watched it, she loved it, and I think understood what we were going for. She found it very moving, which was kind of great.

I think this movie, for some people, needs a second viewing. Even some journalists  say that the first time they watched the film, they were confused by it, or they hated it. But then the second time they watched, they were able to understand what was happening and really came around to it. In the end, this film is meant to change your mind about how you pre-judge things.

DS: It’s like an empathy game. We try to make you think you should hate it, then make you like it, so you reevaluate your prejudices. But that’s a lot to ask in 90 minutes!

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Sound is so crucial to the film – the music, of course, but also the farting noises. Were the latter all added in post production, or did you improvise any on set?

DS: They’re all 100 per cent real. Daniel ate things for breakfast…

But no, they were added in post. It was hilarious how hard we worked to find sounds that we could all agree on. It was so important to us that they feel…not like Looney Toons farts? And that it not feel like someone on YouTube just added fart sounds to a Terence Malick film.

DK: No, that’s our kind of gig.

DS: I guess there were certain scenes where we did want it to feel like someone on YouTube just added fart sounds to a Terence Malick film. But yeah, it was a big part of the process, and when we were mixing the film on a sound stage, there were certain scenes where there were 16 separate tracks of farts, all simultaneous.

I think we made the most immersive fart of all time. I don’t think there’s ever been a film with a fart that immersive, spread out across 40 speakers.

DK: We also knew that this would be known as the farting corpse movie. So it’s very intentional that 11 minutes into the film, he corks his butt. People don’t realise that the movie is as tasteful as it is!

But then, when Manny  farts, it has new meaning, and you’re actually excited when it happens. Which is so funny to us – to narratively create a reason for an audience to get pleasure, emotional pleasure, out of hearing a dead corpse farting again.

OK, farting as metaphor for freedom. Go.

DS: So the body is kind of like a metaphor for just, like, the human experience in general. We all have to fart every day and decide when and where to do it. But that became kind of, like, interesting to us on, like, an academic level as well because, like, we have these thoughts and, like, what do we do with our thoughts and we have these, like, we have to make decisions every day. And that all felt, like, meaty enough, you know, to, like, warrant a story…

DK: And then it became an interesting challenge to try to – basically, this film challenged us to find something beautiful and transcendent in the lowest-common denominator, you know, in the worst part of storytelling in some ways, like – and ideally viewers will get the same experience out of it. They’ll be able to find something unexpectedly beautiful and hopefully personal in the least expected place.

A visionary new take on the action-adventure genre.

Assassin’s Creed is a worlds-spanning tale of one man who finds himself at the center of an ancient battle between two powerful sects—only by harnessing the memories of his ancestor, which are contained within his own DNA, can he end the conflict and claim his own redemption.

Based on the blockbuster video game series from Ubisoft, the film is directed by Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, Macbeth) from a screenplay Michael Lesslie and Adam Cooper & Bill Collage. assassins-2

Marked by tragedy at an early age, Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is a convict facing capital punishment when he gains an unexpected second chance at life thanks to the mysterious workings of Abstergo Industries. Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks the genetic memories contained in his DNA, Cal is sent back across the centuries to 15th Century Spain.

There, he lives out the experiences of his distant relative, Aguilar de Nerha, a member of a secret society known as the Assassins who fight to protect free will from the power-hungry the Templar Order.

Transformed by the past, Cal begins to gain the knowledge and physical skills necessary to topple the oppressive Templar organization in present day.

Adapting The Games

Released in 2007, Assassin’s Creed dropped players into the heart of the Crusades, imagining a world in which the bloody, centuries-long war between the Assassins and Templars had defined much of human history. The game became an instant blockbuster, spawning no fewer than eight sequels and a slew of popular spin-offs that have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. The series has transported players to the Italian Renaissance, the foundation of America, the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean and revolutionary France.

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As an Australian film director and screenwriter, Justin Kurzel made his directorial debut with the crime drama Snowtown at the 2011 Cannes International Film Festival. Kurzel’s second feature was an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Framing each of the games is the Assassin/Templar conflict of today, in which shadowy biotechnology company Abstergo Industries serves as the front for the Templars, imprisoning Assassins and using a device called “The Animus” to tap their genetic memories and uncover the secrets of their ancestors.

Adapting Assassin’s Creed for the big screen, the movie introduces a new character to the established canon; Cal Lynch, played by Michael Fassbender.

A descendent of several lines of prominent Assassins, Cal is a career criminal who is rescued from his own execution by Abstergo Industries, the modern-day incarnation of the Templar Order. He is forced to participate in the Animus Project and relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha, an Assassin during the Spanish Inquisition. As Lynch continues to experience Aguilar’s memories, he begins to gain an understanding of his traumatic past and his role in the centuries-long conflict between the warring factions.

Michael Fassbender, who has fast emerged as one of the world’s most accomplished and popular actors, immediately saw the potential in a new adaptation of the game. “The Assassin’s Creed universe seemed to lend itself very nicely to a cinematic experience,” he says of the project. His faith in the material was such that his company DMC boarded the project as producers. They were joined by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley, who together have been responsible for the Bourne series of films and, most recently, Jurassic World.

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Since having his first play adaptation, Swimming With Sharks, produced on the West End in 2007, Michael Lesslie has written several feature film and theatre scripts for such companies as Film Four, See-Saw Films, Blueprint Pictures, Element Pictures, Participant Media and the Royal National Theatre, and has had work staged and screened all over the world. He is currently developing the TV series Half-Blood for Anonymous Content to produce and Johan Renck to direct, as well as The Axeman’s Jazz with See Saw Films producing. On the feature side, he is writing The Listener, a film also to be directed by Johan Renck, and Rogue Male, which will star Benedict Cumberbatch. Lesslie graduated from Oxford University with double First Class Honours in English Language and Literature in 2006.

“Assassin’s Creed is a mammoth game in terms of its penetration all over the world,” says producer Patrick Crowley. “There’s a whole world of people who know all of the rules and all of the by-laws and the history and all of the various characters that make up the Assassin’s Creed gaming experience.”

But, he says, the new movie, with a screenplay by Michael Lesslie and Adam Cooper & Bill Collage, isn’t just for long-time fans familiar with the series’ rich mythology— it offers a thrilling standalone experience for newcomers as well. “The story we’ve come up with is a story in which you don’t ever have to have played the game in order to really enjoy the movie.”

With his experience portraying the powerful mutant Magento in films including X- Men: Days of Future Past, Fassbender uniquely understood the storytelling possibilities afforded by the game’s time-bending, sci-fi inflected premise, and he was excited by the opportunity to amplify the already expansive world of Assassin’s Creed for the big screen. “When I met up with the guys from Ubisoft, and they started to explain this whole world and the idea of DNA memory, it struck me as a very feasible scientific theory,” Fassbender says. “I thought about the possibility of it being this cinematic experience. We’re approaching it as a feature film as opposed to a videogame.”

Bill Collage and Adam Cooper have been writing together since they met at the University of Michigan in 1989. Together, they have written more than 40 movies for various studios—among them, Exodus: Gods & Kings, directed by Ridley Scott; Divergent Series: Allegiant, directed by Robert Schwentke; Tower Heist directed by Brett Ratner; and Transporter: Refueled for Luc Besson. Beyond Assassin’s Creed, their upcoming credits include an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Devil in the Grove for lauded photographer and director Anton Corbijn at Lionsgate and the WWII spy thriller Saboteur for Emmy Award-winning director Cary Fukunaga at DreamWorks.

To that end, original characters—including the dual roles of Cal and Aguilar played by Fassbender—were created expressly for the film. Says the actor of Cal: “He doesn’t have a lineage he can feel he belongs to. He’s a bit of a lost soul. He’s always been drifting in and out of correctional facilities.” Conversely, Aguilar is “very much somebody that belongs to the Creed. He has a cause. He’s been following that cause. He belongs to it.”

With Fassbender on board, attention turned to a director who could partner with the star and bring additional depth to the storytelling. Having collaborated with both Fassbender and Marion Cotillard on 2015’s Macbeth, Justin Kurzel was a natural fit. Fassbender had first met the Australian filmmaker after he saw the director’s debut feature, the dark indie drama Snowtown: “I immediately felt that I wanted to work with this guy,” notes Fassbender. “Just from the feel of who he was as a person and the conversations we were having, I knew we could collaborate. We were lucky that he responded to the material. To have someone of his strength and vision was a huge bonus.”

“The great thing about Justin is that he can make the complicated elements and difficult subject matter manageable and relatable for an audience, which is what he did with Macbeth,” Fassbender continues. “So to have that perspective and bring it into a fantasy world, we knew that was going to be a huge bonus to us.”

Adds producer Frank Marshall: “Justin Kurzel is somebody who came in and knocked our socks off. He came in with an exciting approach of how to tell the story and how he would look at it in a very real way. He wanted to approach the world in a very realistic sense, not a super-human or fantasy sense, and we all liked that.”

Cal’s journey was at the heart of Kurzel’s interest in the project. Through learning the truth of his ancestors, Cal gains perspective on his troubled past and begins to move toward a place where he truly understands and embraces his role in the world.

Exploring fundamental questions such as how history can shape identity were paramount for the filmmaker—and he was fascinated by the notion of genetic memory, that our own actions and the choices we make can echo across generations.

“It’s about a man who learns who he is through the experiences and lives of those who have come before him,” Kurzel says. “That always intrigued me. If you are naïve to what your bloodline is, how do you make sense of certain emotions that you might feel that are actually inspired by your DNA? That is an integral and dynamic part of the concept of Assassin’s Creed that I think elevates it from just being a game.”

Nevertheless, the filmmaker says the story was a complicated one to get right. “The challenging thing about Assassin’s Creed is that the concept is really complex,” Kurzel says. “The idea of a modern-day character who goes into this machine called the Animus and that takes him back? It’s not a time travel machine—it’s a memory travel machine. On top of that there is the war between the Templars and Assassins, and understanding that it is centuries long. Ultimately, you want to leave the audience with a central idea of what the film is about. That was the most challenging element—how do you take two different, complex genres, and two different time periods, and one actor that is playing two different characters and leave the audience with something satisfying?”

Fortunately, Fassbender says the director’s vision and steady hand guided the production toward the light. “Justin’s insight into the piece, and the clearness of what we were looking for in each scene, really brought a clarity to each beat,” he says.

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Historical Context

One of the greatest successes of the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been its clever marriage of real history with its heightened fantasy. The Assassins and the Templars are both real groups whose philosophies were in diametric opposition, and whose embrace of secrecy led to much speculation about their motives.

The Assassins are drawn from Hashashins of Nizari Islam, characterized as a secret order that followed a figure known as the Old Man on the Mountain. Over the course of 300 years, the Assassins killed hundreds of important targets, and in fact the word “assassin” originates from this group. The Crusaders, who form the backdrop to the first Assassin’s Creed game, found the clan particularly fearsome, and their legend was further embellished in Crusades stories told by Marco Polo.

The Knights Templar, by contrast, was a Christian order established for nearly two centuries during the Middle Ages. Officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, Templar membership included some of the most important and feared figures of the age, and the group held enormous power and influence until its dissolution in 1312. Its sudden disbanding at the height of its power led to a belief that the organization had simply gone underground, where it continued to exert its influence.

Assassin’s Creed imagines a world in which neither one of these groups fully disappeared, instead waging a silent, centuries-long war with one another and deciding the course of real human history through their actions. Many historical figures factor into the games, and the movie is no different, revealing Tomas de Torquemada, for example, as a Templar enforcer that the Assassins must stop, during the most brutal days of the Spanish Inquisition.

Says Crowley: “In the world of Assassin’s Creed, the Assassins are characters who live by stealth, as opposed to the typical warrior of the time who would have a big sword, who would have shields, who would ride horses. The Assassins have hidden blades attached to their wrists with leather armbands, and they use these weapons in order to be able to kill at close range.”

The Assassins live by several key tenets but one is paramount: that they work in the darkness to serve the light. “One of their credos is that you hide in plain sight,” Crowley continues. “So they’re very good at camouflaging themselves. They’re very good at blending in, and then they create enormous social disorder, because no one is expecting that they’re there.”

The Assassins are interested in protecting free will, while the Templars are interested only in power and subjugation of free peoples. “The Templars want to effectively control everything, make life very predictable and eliminate chance and opportunity,” Crowley says. “It’s a much more totalitarian approach.”

The meticulous attention to historical detail that helped Assassin’s Creed become such a landmark in the gaming world also helped inform the new film, Crowley says—using historic fact as a guidepost even delivered a stunning set piece, according to the producer. “It forced us to do this great job in terms of costumes, in terms of weapons, in terms of fighting styles,” he says. “One of the most exciting things that we did for the movie historically is we recreated an auto-da-fe where, during the Spanish Inquisition, they would routinely take and burn people at the stake, as a way of essentially demonstrating their control, to rid themselves of what they perceived as heretics. It took enormous research and painstaking work for all of our departments to present this accurately.”

It was through researching both 15th Century Spain and the game itself that Kurzel found the world of the film. “I didn’t know much about the game,” he says. “But I was quite blown away by the level of detail, effort and passion of the game. It has a historical integrity—it didn’t feel like entertainment fodder. There was a strong feeling of narrative and a vision, a voice, and a culture. That was a real eye opener. We took ideas, and started developing them, just as if you were adapting a book— what is the most interesting thing here, and what are our characters and what is their journey?”

The director sought to ground the film to the greatest extent possible to make the story credible and vibrant—it was that desire, in part, that led to the decision to subtitle the historic sequences set during the Inquisition with the actors speaking in Spanish. “We were very determined to make an audience believe that this world and these characters exist,” adds Kurzel. “I wanted it to be an unbelievable ride and an immersive experience that combines these exotic worlds with some dynamic action sequences.”

Throughout the process, Ubisoft remained a committed partner, opening their archives to the production to ensure that the film earns its proper place in the series’ canon. “One of the great things has been how excited and involved the people who made the game have been,” Marshall says. “They’ve wanted to help, and they’re excited to see how the movie’s coming together. It’s a different kind of challenge for them, but being able to work with us to incorporate the elements that made the game so great has been really terrific. They’re collaborators and we’re collaborating all the time on how to keep the game world and the movie world together.”

Marshall sees the future of Assassin’s Creed on the big screen as being as lasting as that of the games on which it is based. “One of the things we’re very aware of is that we have to set up the story and give it a place to go,” he says. “And I think the characters that are in the story that we’re establishing are so engaging and so interesting that you’re going to want to see them go on. With all the history that we have, there are a lot of different places they can go.”

The Allure Of Food And New Love!

Dis koue kos skatDis Koue Kos, Skat is a charming local film that features Anna-Mart van der Merwe in top form as a renowned food writer  Clara, who discovers that her husband is cheating on her with one of her best friends and moves to Cape Town with her two kids where she rediscovers her true nature, and gloriously uncovers the allure of food in romance! Clara undergoes this journey not only of healing, but of rediscovering her passions in life, all the while plotting her revenge on her ex husband and his new, much younger wife. Deon Lotz is equally brilliant as the cheating husband with Frank Opperman ideally cast as a restaurant owner and chef who has a peculiar food fetish. Elzabe Zietsman is also fantastic as the best friend and matchmaker who adds to the humour in the story of love lost, and ultimately found in the strangest of places.  Make sure to add this delightful story to your collection! The Bonus features include a fun gag reel as well as deleted scenes.

Read and interview with director Ettienne Fourie

Win a Dis Koue Kos, Skat DVD!

If you want to win a Dis Koue Kos, Skat DVD, tell us who wrote the novel the film is based on and send your answer and contact details with Koue Kos in the subject line to us before December 31, 2016.

Enter Competition Here

 

Local Is Indeed Very ‘Lekker’

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Amalia Uys and Stiaan Smith in Sy Klink Soos Lente

Sy Klink Soos Lente is a refreshing revival of the Afrikaans Romantic Comedy genre, with Corné van Rooyen’s sensitive directing style and Stiaan Smith’s fresh script create a wonderful background for Amalia Uys and Smith’s gripping performances and pulling out all the emotional stops.  It’s a delightful tale of a mechanic (Smith) who falls in love with a beautiful and brainy redhead (Uys) who is the daughter of his boss at a car dealership in Johannesburg. The chemistry between Smith and Uys is pure magic and when the sparks begin to fly, the mechanic spins a white lie and tells her he’s the lead singer in a band. Linda immediately likes the charming muso, they fall for each other, and Ben has to start a band to conceal his lie and win over the girl of his dreams. “  It’s not just a fun comedy of errors and mistaken identities, but features memorable music by Bouwer Bosch. The bonus features features Bosch fun music video ‘Sy Klink Soos Lente’, a lively behind the scenes feature, as well as two hilarious mockumentaries on the characters in the film.  Well worth it!   Read an interview with Stiaan Smith

NOEM MY SKOLLIE

Dann Jaques Mouton in Noem My Skollie

If you are looking for a gritty and hardcore prison drama, Noem My Skollie features Dann Jaques Mouton (last seen in Abraham) delivering a touching performance as a man who grows up on the impoverished ganglands of Cape Flats in the 1960s. It tells the tragic story of four teenagers, AB (Austin Rose) and his three best friends Gimba (Ethan Patton), Gif (Joshua Vraagom) and Shorty (Valentino de Klerk), and their vicious journey into adulthood. It’s the autobiographical story of screenwriter John W. Fredericks who takes us into the hardship of prison life, but also the story of a man who find life in a hellish existence.   Sensitive viewers are warned that the film carries an age restriction of 18 due to the graphic violence, rape scenes and foul language. The bonus features include audio commentary on some of the deleted scenes. Read more about the film

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

With Office Christmas Party, directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades of Glory) were immediately drawn to the concept of a magical night where professional and social barriers were less defined.

“There’s a universal wish fulfillment in having one night of the year where people live honestly, perhaps with some help from drugs and alcohol,” says Speck.

“The office Christmas party really breaks down the caste system,” says Gordon. “Suddenly everyone from the top of the food chain to the bottom is equalized and that makes for a great comedic jumping off point.”

T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY by Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, and Reliance Entertainment

T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Once upon a time, the office Christmas party was a highly anticipated tradition, an epic night of drinking and festivities that blurred the line between co-worker and friend, employer and employee.

Since the fallout from the night’s unbridled events frequently lead to countless hangovers, lawsuits, and weeks of awkward apologies, overzealous HR departments spent decades reigning in the wild and raucous office Christmas ragers until the once legendary celebrations evolved into the staid, polite and family friendly affairs we know today as “Holiday” Parties.

Morale is at an all-time low at Zenotek’s Chicago office after their pragmatic Interim CEO, Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) announces plans to shut down their underperforming branch days before Christmas. Realizing no mere Holiday party can lift the spirits of his employees, eccentric branch president (and Carol’s kid brother) Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) enlists the help of Chief Technical Officer Josh (Jason Bateman), and Lead Systems Engineer Tracey (Olivia Munn) to make their own Christmas miracle by throwing an epic, unforgettably over-the-top Christmas party to win over a high profile client (Courtney B. Vance) and save everyone’s jobs.

“The office Christmas party is really a throwback to a less civilized time. It’s like the dire wolf skeleton you see at the La Brea Tar Pits,” says Producer Scott Stuber. “The “Holiday” party today is like a house-broken pug… it’s not going to hurt anyone, and it plays well with children, but somewhere, deep down it still has that dire wolf DNA.”

“An office Christmas party isn’t a religious celebration,” argues T. J. Miller, who plays Zenotek’s Chicago Branch President Clay Vanstone. “It’s a celebration of letting go and not being afraid to tell your boss what you really think without getting fired.”

Producer Daniel Rappaport adds: “The stakes are high at the Christmas party. It’s where hopes and dreams are made, but it’s also where they come crashing down. You’re one drink away from ruining your life.”

The initial idea for the film came after a family member told Producer Guymon Casady about a decadent corporate Christmas party she had recently attended.

“As she was regaling us with just the scale and the fun of it all, it occurred to me that a party like that would the basis for a great, R-rated comedy,” says Casady.  “There’s a vicarious thrill to witness that kind of chaos contained in a movie. It can go completely off the rails but you don’t have to worry about the consequences or having to clean up in the morning.”

Despite the more fantastical elements of the story, the filmmakers approached the story in a grounded way.

“We wanted to see a team of people at its most dysfunctional,” Casady explains. “Then see how barriers break, alliances shift and people connect over the course of a night. The key was keeping the fun of a no-holds-barred Christmas celebration front and center while telling these interwoven stories of the various people in the office.”

“The party is the star of the film,” says Speck, “but that makes our characters that much more important. They have to be realistic, relatable people you’d want to spend a crazy night with. Parties aren’t any fun when you don’t know anybody.”

“We wanted each character to start with their feet on the ground,” says Gordon.  “So as things get more and more ridiculous, you’re invested and along for the ride.”

L-R: T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone, Jason Bateman as Josh Parker in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY by Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, and Reliance Entertainment

L-R: T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone, Jason Bateman as Josh Parker in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

The Greatest Party Ever Thrown

When assembling the all-star cast of disgruntled office workers,  Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston were Speck and Gordon’s first choice for their respective roles, having worked with both previously on 2010’s The Switch. Office Christmas Party marks Aniston’s fifth collaboration with Bateman and second with Speck and Gordon.

“Jen and Jason are very close friends,” says Stuber. “They spend a lot of time together on and off camera, which results in their great chemistry. The relaxed, fluidity of their performance style really sets the tone for the whole cast.”

“We’re all like family at this point,” says Aniston. “There’s definitely a shorthand and confidence as to how we all work together. If you have that trust, you can immediately tell one another what works and what doesn’t.”

“We created this character for Jennifer because she’s absolutely fearless when it comes to playing somewhat unlikeable characters in comedies,” says Gordon.  “For her, the more daring the role, the better.”

Rather than play Carol as a villain, Aniston framed her character in terms of her relationship with Clay in their youth. “I looked upon Carol as sort of a grown up Jeanie Bueller to Clay’s Ferris Bueller,” says Aniston. “She has incredible resentment toward him because he’s a goof off and got every break growing up. She’s wants to prove herself as the smartest, most competent person in the room. Sadly, she didn’t really develop her soft, fuzzy side.”

For the character of Clay Vanstone, the directors needed an actor who could bring equal parts mayhem and legitimacy. They found both in stand-up comedian and actor T.J. Miller.

“T.J. is the kind of guy you walk into a bar with and 10 minutes later he’s the center of a hundred people,” says Gordon. “He’s as charismatic as the characters he plays.”

“T.J. delivers an incredible amount of heart and humanity that we never envisioned,” says Speck.

“I subconsciously based my character on an actual boss I had once who believed you could have a great time and still get your work done,” Miller recalls. “She never saw having fun as an obstacle to productivity, and that’s a philosophy I’ve used to inform Clay’s management strategy.”

“Working with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston was intimidating,” Miller confesses. “But they’re so warm and professional. Even though I’ve been watching them my whole life, they were incredibly supportive to a less experienced actor like me.”

When casting the role of Lead Systems Engineer Tracey, Olivia Munn proved to be especially qualified for the role.

“Olivia has great comic timing. She always knows where the joke is and how to set it up perfectly,” says Gordon. “Still, we never anticipated she’d be as tech savvy as her character.”

“When we sent her a few pages of the script, she somehow unlocked the entire thing and read it before our first meeting,” recalls Speck.

“When I read the script, I appreciated that Tracey was an integral part of the team,” says Munn. “A lot of roles for women in comedies are whiny, or just there to chase the guy or tell him what he missed out on. I like that Tracey brings a real skill set to the table and is the kind of person that’s trying to look ahead and bring the company into the future.”

About The Filmmakers

Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon met at NYU Film School and immediately bonded over a love for the same movies. They decided to work together.

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Their first post-graduation project was a short film they wrote and directed called “Culture.” It starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and was nominated for an Academy Award.  Off that, they were signed by Ridley and Tony Scott’s RSA Films, where they began a successful career as commercial directors.

Among their early standouts were spots for Levis out of BBH London, which won 4 British Arrows including Gold for Best Campaign.  Their work for Geico, including creating and concepting the iconic “Caveman” and “Gecko” characters, swept award shows and won AICP’s Campaign of the Year.

josh-gordon-will-speckIn 2007 they were founding directors at commercial production company Furlined.  Based in Santa Monica, Furlined has since expanded to London and was named one of the Top Production Companies in the world by Campaign magazine.

Recent standout commercials have included the PSA for Donate Life starring Thomas Jane, the PSA for Prop 8 starring Mike White and Justin Long and the WWDC launch film for Apple starring Bill Hader… as well as their ads for Moto X starring T.J. Miller, Century Link starring Paul Giamatti, and the Emmy Nominated Web series “The Power Inside” starring Harvey Keitel.

Other recent TV work has included episodes of Will Arnett’s Netflix series “Flaked.”

Their first feature film was “Blades of Glory” produced by DreamWorks and Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Films, it starred Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, and Amy Poehler and was a box office success earning more than 100 Million dollars domestically.  It was nominated for three MTV Movie awards including “Best Picture” and “Best Kiss.” They lost in both categories.

Their second film “The Switch” was based on the short story “The Baster” by Jeffrey Eugenides and starred Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Wilson and Juliette Lewis.

The Screenwriters

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Justin Malen

Justin Malen is a professional screenwriter based in Los Angeles.  His feature writing credits include the upcoming Bastards,  Baywatch and Wished, a Mandarin language adaptation of Malen’s original script for filmmaker Dayyan Eng. Justin also has numerous projects in development including Bad Teacher 2, The Manny, Time Out, and Trophy Husbands.  On the television side, Justin has written for Trophy Wife (ABC) and also scripted a pilot for 20th Century Fox TV with LBI Entertainment attached to produce.  A former corporate attorney, Justin attended Cornell University and the University of California at Berkeley.  He is repped by Verve, DMG and McKuin Frankel Whitehead, LLP.

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Laura Solon

Laura Solon is a British writer-performer who won the Edinburgh Festival Perrier Award for live comedy. Since relocating to Los Angeles, she has written on Office Christmas Party, adapted Tamara Mellon’s autobiography In My Shoes, and is currently rewriting Let It Snow.. She is also working with Illumination on an in-house writer overall deal. She recently sold an original pitch for action-comedy Bodyguards and prior to that sold her original comedy spec Work It.

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Dan Mazer

Dan Mazer is a British screenwriter, TV/film producer, and comedian. He is best known as the long-time writing and production partner of Sacha Baron Cohen and has worked with him on such characters as Ali G and Borat. Mazer co-wrote and co-produced the films Ali G Indahouse (2002), Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan (2006), Bruno (2009) and The Dictator (2012).  Mazer attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, where he met Baron Cohen. He went on to read Law at Peterhouse, Cambridge University. He was an active member of Cambridge Footlights while at university and was vice president from 1993 to 1994. His early work includes production roles on The Word, The Big Breakfast and The 11 O’clock Show. He also created, wrote, and directed Dog Bites Man for Comedy Central. Dan most recently re-wrote and will direct the upcoming Parent’s Night, and is developing television shows for both Imagine Entertainment and ABC studios. Other recent work includes co-writing the latest feature installment of the Bridget Jones franchise, Bridget Jones’s Baby, and directing the feature film, Dirty Grandpa.

 

 

Win Some Fun Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Goodies!

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If you want to win an exclusive Rogue One hoodie and cap, tell us who leads the band of unlikely heroes and send us your answer and contact details with Rogue One in the subject line before December 31, 2016.

Enter competition here

Rogue One tells the story of a group of unlikely heroes, who in a time of conflict band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters). The story is by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and the screenplay is by Chris Weitz (About A Boy, The Golden Compass) and Tony Gilroy  (The Bourne series and Michael Clayton).

the-nutcracker-bolshoi-ballet“…The Nutcracker’s abiding enchantment is its music, to which the child in every one of us responds.”

Just in time for the Festive Season, the magical Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker from the Bolshoi Ballet company of Russia, to the big screen at Cinema Nouveau, with limited screenings from Saturday, 17 December.

Christmas would not be complete without the enchanting tale of young Marie and her Nutcracker prince! Danced by the Bolshoi’s principals, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fairytale, choreographed by Russian ballet master Yuri Grigorovich to the beautiful musical composed by Tchaikovsky, promises to transport children and adults alike to a world of magic and wonder for the holiday season.

The Bolshoi Ballet is the quintessential ballet company, presenting works of astounding skill, daring and bravura that leave audiences the world over spellbound. This season of ballets broadcast in cinemas is no different, with the company’s incredible productions set to feature some of the world’s greatest dancers.

On Christmas Eve, Marie’s wooden nutcracker doll transforms into a beautiful prince who takes her on a magical journey. But, before they leave, they must confront the Mouse King whose army is threatening Marie…

This production was filmed live at the Bolshoi Ballet on 21 December 2014, for broadcast into cinemas around the world, including South Africa, this December.

The Nutcracker stars Anna Nikulina as Marie, with Denis Rodkin as her Nutcracker Prince. Andrei Merkuriev dances the role of Drosselmeyer with Vitaly Biktimirov as the Mouse King, accompanied by the Bolshoi Corps de Ballet.

The Nutcracker releases on South African screens on Saturday, 17 December for four screenings only – on 17 and 21 December at 19:45, and on 18 and 22 December at 14:30 – only at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. Bookings are now open. The running time of this ballet production is 135mins, including one interval.

Ballerina – Never give up on your dreams…

ballerinaAnother treat for ballet lovers and movie lovers this holiday season, is the release of the delightful animated feature, Ballerina, which dances its way onto Ster-Kinekor screens (in 2D and 3D) from 06 January 2017.

Set in 1879 Paris, an orphan girl dreams of becoming a ballerina and flees her rural Brittany for Paris, where she passes for someone else and accedes to the position of pupil at the Grand Opera house. The film has a running time of 90mins and carries a PG classification.

For booking information on the Bolshoi Ballet’s The Nutcracker and Ballerina at Ster-Kinekor, visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz or on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, call TicketLine on 0861 Movies (668 437).

Rogue One brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is  the first in a new series of Star Wars standalone films set in the universe fans know and love, an all-new epic adventure where a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction.

When Lucasfilm president and Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy first sat down with George Lucas as he outlined his plans to continue with the Star Wars saga and to make Episodes VII, VIII and IX, he also revealed another ambition: “George decided he was going to make more saga films, but he said he felt there was also an opportunity to tell more stories inside the universe,” explains Kennedy, “and to make films not related to the Luke Skywalker story.”

And so was born the idea of creating films that would complement the new saga films, but also allow Kennedy and the Lucasfilm team to explore the universe and experiment with different styles and different ways of telling stories.

Rogue One tells the story of a group of unlikely heroes, who in a time of conflict band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters). The story is by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and the screenplay is by Chris Weitz (About A Boy, The Golden Compass) and Tony Gilroy  (The Bourne series and Michael Clayton).

Creating the new Star Wars story, which developed over a two-year period, was like carving a sculpture, according to Gareth. “It’s like chipping away at a rock and gradually the story reveals itself to you. If you let it, the story tells you what it wants to be. You have to listen to it.”

The process of building the story is made even more challenging when working within such a thoroughly loved mythology like Star Wars.

“Every step of the way, we had to ask ourselves what makes something uniquely part of the Star Wars storytelling legacy, Gareth says. “We wrote down everything that makes a story a Star Wars tale. We all have different opinions, of course, but some of the absolutes are the epic backdrop, the story of a family relationship that has been splintered and torn apart, and the fundamental pull between good and evil.”

gareth-edwards-2

Gareth James Edwards (born 1 June 1975) is a British film director, film producer, screenwriter, cinematographer, production designer, and visual effects artist. He is best known for directing the 2014 reboot of Godzilla but first gained widespread recognition for Monsters (2010), an independent film in which he served as writer, director, cinematographer, and visual effects artist.[

The Director’s Vision

Before director Gareth Edwards could focus on the important job of casting the film, he had to take a step back and think how he could give the film its own identity within the Star Wars universe and make it his own.

To do this, Edwards felt he had to take all that he knew about the films and take each element to its breaking point to find out what ultimately makes a Star Wars film feel exactly that, but equally, how he could make it fresh and exciting.

chris_weitz_a_p

Screenwriter Christopher John “Chris” Weitz is an American film producer, screenwriter, author, actor, and film director. He is the brother of filmmaker Paul Weitz. He is best known for his work with his brother on the comedy films American Pie and About a Boy, for which the two were Oscar-nominated for their adapted screenplay. Weitz directed the film adaptation of the novel The Golden Compass and the film adaptation of New Moon from the series of Twilight books.

Kathleen Kennedy was very supportive of Edwards’ desire to experiment and to give the film its own unique personality: “The Star Wars saga films have a responsibility to maintain a continuity of tone and stylistic device. Things like the crawl at the beginning, and the wipes. But with the standalone films we’re relaxing some of those rules so that we can try stylistic and tonal experiments that depart a bit from what we’ve seen and are exciting.”

Edwards also wanted to make his film feel more grounded in reality and to give “Rogue One” a sense of gritty realism very reminiscent of his style of filming in “Monsters.” “What I wanted to do was to make ‘Rogue One’ more natural, more realistic and a little more organic; to make it feel like a real world. This is a time with no Jedi, no god to come and help the people who are under this massive threat,” explains the director.

To create the distinctive and contemporary look of the film, Edwards chose revered cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher) who teams with Academy Award–winning special effects supervisor Neil Corbould (Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan). Star Wars veteran Doug Chiang (Star Wars Episodes I and II, Forrest Gump) and Neil Lamont (supervising art director on The Force Awakens and the Harry Potter film series) join forces as production designers, and Neal Scanlan (Prometheus) returns as creature effects supervisor having recently won a BAFTA for his work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Additional key crew include costume designers Dave Crossman (costume supervisor on The Force Awakens and the “Harry Potter” film series) and Glyn Dillon (The Force Awakens and Kingsman: The Secret Service costume concept artist), as well as stunt coordinator Rob Inch (The Force Awakens, World War Z).

Says Edwards: “With Rogue One, I tried to combine the best of both worlds. We had sets, like the spaceships, where you’d literally get sealed in so you could shoot 360 degrees and the only time you could open the door was when we said we were finished. We would do 40-minute takes sometimes, just repeat the scene over and over and get all of these different angles. It felt like a real vehicle that was really going somewhere. Outside, through the windows, was a 180-degree view of LED screens that had pre-rendered flight sequences on them. It was trying to create that feeling of really being in a real place. All of the happy accidents that happen from reality…when you make a CG-heavy movie, something so fantastical has to have a lot of CG, that planning and that contrivance can often make it feel fake and not as real as other movies. And so I was desperate on this one to make it as authentic as we could and have the audience really believe this was a real city or town and that this must really be unfolding because I don’t quite understand how they’ve done this.”

Casting The Characters

tony-gilroy

Screenwriter Anthony Joseph “Tony” Gilroy is an American screenwriter and filmmaker. He wrote the screenplays for the first four films of the Bourne series starring Matt Damon, among other successful films, and directed the fourth film of the franchise. He was nominated for Academy Awards for his direction and script for Michael Clayton. Gilroy also wrote and directed Duplicity

Filmmakers turned to one of the U.K.’s most talented young actors.

Felicity Jones plays the protagonist Jyn Erso, an impetuous, defiant young woman who lends her skills to the Rebel Alliance and undertakes a desperate mission.

Jones comments on her character, “I wanted Jyn to be as human as possible. She’s strong when she needs to be, she’s incredibly determined and she has to be tough when she doesn’t feel it. But at the same time there is enormous vulnerability.”

Playing the role of Cassian Andor, a respected Alliance intelligence officer, required an actor of unparalleled talent and experience, one able to convey intelligence, strength and determination and yet a vulnerability. That actor is Diego Luna.

Describing his experience making the film, Luna says, “The film has many layers. There are moments that are deep and dramatic and deserve a lot of attention and rigor as actors. Then there are scenes that are just fun and it’s like choreography. You’re enjoying and having fun with the beat.”

Chirrut Îmwe is a blind monk who is a skilled and artful warrior. The filmmakers chose Donnie Yen, a martial arts expert and one of China’s most popular and most respected actors, to play the role.

“Donnie Yen has so much wisdom like his character and he’s got great humor,” says producer Allison Shearmur. “He has a sense of artistry and performance that tells us so much about his character. There’s an elegance, a heroism, a nobility about both Yen and Chirrut.”

Baze Malbus, a pragmatic soldier, has grown up with Chirrut and will follow his closest friend to the ends of the universe. Jiang Wen, one of China’s biggest stars, was the perfect complement to Yen’s Chirrut and the perfect choice to play Baze. Of his character, Jiang Wen says, “Ultimately, he’s a good man at heart and very honest and is very loyal to his friend Chirrut. And Chirrut’s friends are his friends.”

Bodhi Rook is a cargo pilot who works for the Empire but changes course when faced with a harsh truth. Riz Ahmed, who plays Bodhi, says of his character: “Gareth described Bodhi as a guy in a war movie who isn’t supposed to be there. Everyone on the team is a soldier or warrior in some way and there’s this guy who is there by accident but realizes he has to step up and make himself valuable. He’s an everyman, someone audiences can relate to.”

Rogue One has its own creative and uniquely designed droid—K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial security guard now loyal to the Alliance. The 7’1” K-2SO is played by Alan Tudyk, who brings his sense of comedic timing and presence to the task of bringing the droid to life via motion capture.

“Alan is like all great comic actors in that, as funny as he is, he can pull at your heart strings as well,” offers Gareth Edwards. “We didn’t want K2 just to be the comic relief. There is something slightly tragic about him trying to find his place in the world. There are moments of fun, but Alan gives him a soul.”

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Saw Gerrera is perhaps the most complicated character in this story and certainly unlike any other we have seen in the Star Wars universe before. Originally introduced in the animated series, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Saw is an outlaw rebel, a man who believes that the Empire must be defeated, but at what cost? Is it acceptable to sacrifice the innocent for the greater good or does that make him as guilty as those he opposes? To play the role of Saw Gerrera, Edwards looked no further than Academy Award®-winning Forest Whitaker. “Saw is very clear about what he believes,” says Whitaker about his character. “He’s willing to do things he thinks are necessary to save the people.”

Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is Jyn’s father and a brilliant scientist. On becoming part of the Star Wars family, Mikkelsen says, “It’s a big honor to be part of this legendary film universe. Something very interesting to me about Star Wars is that it’s quite human, even though we have Droids and different kinds of creatures that look very different from the human race.”

Director Krennic plays a pivotal role in Star Wars history. He is the man behind the creation of the Death Star, a weapon he knows will allow the Empire to take full control of the galaxy through means of fear. Ben Mendelsohn signed on to play the villainous character.

Regarding casting Mendelsohn, Kathleen Kennedy comments, “Ben Mendelsohn was one of the first people Gareth [Edwards] started talking about for Krennic. He’s unsettling but at the same time there is a childlike quality about him. He’s very unpredictable and I think finding a villain that could be juxtaposed against Darth Vader was a real challenge. Ben has found this remarkable character you can’t take your eyes off on screen.”

Making Rogue One

Neal Scanlan who won a BAFTA Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is once again responsible for creating the creatures that inhabit the world of “Rogue One.”

Gareth Edwards gave Scanlan and his team creative freedom and a chance to develop the characters in a new way. He wanted the characters to be spontaneous and that allowed the characters to evolve naturally. The end result is that the creatures are treated the same as the other actors on set, even to the extent that Scanlan asked the hair and make-up team to add dust, grime, sweat and grease to the creatures, just as they would any of the other cast.

Being the world’s leading authority on visual effects, executive producer John Knoll was able to introduce new and exciting technologies to the production of “Rogue One.” Knoll brought real-time visual effects to the set making it possible for Edwards to be able to gauge what the final world would like while he was actually shooting the film. The real-time visual effects would literally create the environment on the screen for Edwards to watch as the cast performed the scene.

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Knoll also introduced new techniques when shooting the interiors of the ships as they battled through attacks by the Empire. Historically, although a craft may be placed on a gimbal to simulate movement, the exterior would often be blue or green screen but Knoll and his team built a giant wraparound LED screen that was 50 feet in diameter with a central band 20 feet high and had imagery play on the screens. By taking this approach they could add lasers that fly by in the space battle, creating a very realistic look.

The filming of ”Rogue One” primarily took place again at Pinewood Studios, but where possible Edwards also built sets in actual locations both in England and as far afield as Iceland, Jordan and the Maldives.  Examples of the practical sets include the rebel base Yavin 4, an enormous set built to scale at 350 feet long by 200 feet wide; and the 58-foot wide, 21-foot high Death Star, painstakingly recreated from research and photographs.

“The Edge Of Seventeen is a story of a girl trying to find connection and contact with anything and anyone.  The most satisfying thing is watching her realize that it’s been there all along.”

Creating a film about growing up in our digital age took a writer who could poignantly capture the voice of this generation. From writer/first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge Of Seventeen is a coming-of-age comedy with a refreshingly authentic voice.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) and Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) are inseparable best friends attempting to navigate high school together… until Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and Krista begin dating. With her view of the world rocked, Nadine is forced to see the people in her life – including her well-meaning but distracted mother (Kyra Sedgwick), and unlikely mentor and History teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) – with fresh eyes and new appreciation that people—and life—are more complicated than she thought.

Fremon Craig was inspired to pen The Edge Of Seventeen by the authentic teen films of her youth, a type of film not often found in today’s marketplace.

“I’ve always been intrigued by periods of rapid emotional growth and self-examination, when situations change around us, forcing us to step into new roles and re-determine who we are and how we feel about ourselves. I started this project in an effort to try to capture this particular age and generation as truthfully as I could and with a respect for the complexity and messiness of it all. Passing from youth to adulthood is intense and terrifying and beautiful, and in many ways the experience of anyone, any age, shedding their old self and becoming new. I wanted to explore that.”

The Edge of Seventeen

Kelly Fremon Craig (Writer/Director) makes her directorial debut with the poignant and funny coming-of-age drama The Edge of Seventeen from her original script. James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films acquired the project in 2012, and developed the screenplay with Fremon Craig. She was born in Whittier, CA and graduated from UC Irvine with an English degree. Fremon Craig started out writing sketch comedy and spoken word poetry in college, then landed an internship in the film division of Immortal Entertainment, where she read her first film script and began to pursue screenwriting. Fremon Craig now resides in Los Angeles with her husband and young son.

Fremon Craig’s spec script about a girl and her best friend in high school came to the attention of legendary Oscar and EmmyAward-winning producer James L. Brooks at Gracie Films.

“Kelly had a first draft and when we first talked – just as she was leaving the office – she turned around and she said ‘No one will ever work harder than I do.’  And that did it,’” laughs Brooks.

“Our time together had been just a surface meeting until that moment.  I took it as somebody telling their core truth.” “Honestly, I wasn’t captivated by that first draft,” admits Brooks.

“It was good work.  But when Kelly said that, then we went to work.  She went away for a big chunk of time.  I’m a big believer in research.  She’d bring back interview tapes and we’d look at it and it would inspire us.” “The first time I read the script, I thought this is special,” remembers longtime Brooks collaborator and Gracie Films producer Julie Ansell.

“The characters were so full and so funny. We spent almost four years working on it, which is our process.  This is what we like to do.  We look for character-driven comedies and drama.  We like to find a person with a voice, with something to say, and then help the writer fine-tune it.  This is an amazing piece of writing”

“The thing that’s so great about Jim is he is so committed to capturing something honestly,” comments Fremon Craig.  “Part of why we have such a good relationship is we both go nuts over getting the details right.  Jim is always pursuing the truth. When we started this process, we took a journalistic approach.  Are we saying something real? I really tried to figure out what was going on emotionally today, and how technology is affecting relationships.  But interestingly, I found so much of the core things were exactly the same as my own coming-of-age experience.”

“Kelly came back with a second draft and it was oceans away.  I have never thought it possible that there could be that great a difference between a first and second draft because in that second draft, there was a voice, there was somebody who saw the world differently,” says Brooks.

“With every movie there is a constituency and that constituency knows whether or not you are telling the truth. There were people who talked differently and yet revealed themselves to be familiar people as they talked differently. The dialogue was brilliant, the story came together and it was daring and fresh. I was flap-jawed. From that point, Kelly was an extremely talented woman taking the express train to her destiny.”

“Kelly was amazing during the whole development process,” agrees Ansell.  “She threw herself into it.  She got into the pain and everything she found elevated the script from a very funny, sweet script into something that really hit you honestly.  Kelly captures the voice of these kids, and got the emotions that I remember feeling back in high school, when there’s inherently so much drama and so much that you learn about yourself.  You have to go through the pain of finding out who you are, to come out the other end as a stronger person.”

“You are paying very righteous dues when you do research,” adds Brooks.  “The third time you hear something you think it’s generally true.  But also, meeting those kids, seeing those faces in your head… it creates something in you that wants to serve their truth.  It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference in creating characters that linger.”

“In my opinion, she wrote literature,” Brooks furthers.  “A voice is an unusual thing in Hollywood, and for somebody to come along with an individual voice and get their movie made is a big deal.  When there’s a distinctive voice in a script, and it doesn’t happen that often, it’s great to show up.  At 3:00 in the morning on a cold set, you have to know why you’re there.”

Brooks describes the story succinctly. “After reading the first draft, there were some people who wanted to title the film Besties, and that first draft focused on a friendship between two girls.  But now it’s about a lot more than that.  The friendship is still the catalyst for a lot of action, and the story is mainly about this central character Nadine, but there are a couple of people in this movie with secrets, which adds great tension.”

Nadine and Krista are inseparable friends… until Nadine discovers Krista has quietly begun dating Nadine’s older brother Darian.

“Nadine’s a girl who has always been on the outside, but she’s had her one anchor, her best friend Krista,” Ansell describes.  “But it’s that time to start growing and moving on and Krista’s started to do that.  Nadine comes to realize that a lot of what she thought about the people in her life is actually not true.  She begins to see life through eyes other than her own. By the end of the movie, she starts to understand that people and life are more complicated.”

Gracie Films’ reputation for acclaimed and thoughtful material as well as their track record for mentoring fresh filmmakers made it the perfect home for Fremon Craig and her screenplay.  “I don’t do this very often and when I do, the motivation is always the same… a writer with a real voice, and that writer will always play a continuing role with the movie.  That’s all we do with our little group,” says Brooks.

“The first writer we worked with was Cameron Crowe for a picture called Say Anything, and he ended up directing that project.  With Wes Anderson on Bottle Rocket, we knew he was going to direct going in, and with Kelly we knew it going in.  We knew this would be her film to direct.”

As with any first-time director, there were concerns.

“Kelly is an Orange County girl, just a delightful human being and there was a moment when we worried whether she’d be too nice for the job,” laughs Brooks.  “But she’s a force of nature.  I don’t think she knew it was going to come to her like that.  It’s a passion project and something went off inside her.  Two days in, we knew she was born for the job, which has been great to see.”

Co-Producer Amy Brooks adds, “One of Kelly’s strengths is that she’s always open, always learning and she can’t get her fill.  Even when filming, Kelly never stopped the research process.  Kelly brings rawness and laughter, and I feel so lucky that I get to go to work and sit next to Kelly every day. She allows you to be yourself.  That’s what the cast feels and I know that’s what the whole crew feels.”

The dialogue in the movie is particularly raw, especially from the main character Nadine.

“We might be the only R-rated movie that cheered when we were told that we could be an R.  Not because we wanted to be a shocking R, but because to be an R meant letting everybody let it rip and be themselves.  It wasn’t like we’re gunning for a certain rating, it was just about being real,” says Amy Brooks.  “It is rated R for reality.  The film had to have the cadence and the heart and rhythm of how people really talk to each other.  That was so important to Kelly.  If you spend two seconds with Kelly, you see she goes for the truth all the time.” “Plus every five pages there’s a twist,” adds Amy Brooks.  “When you started to think you’d figured out what this movie was about, there was a surprise.  The story is familiar and comforting, like you want a movie to be, but full of surprises.”

The film has themes that will resonate with all audiences.  “When times seem really down, you learn from it and go through it and become stronger,” adds Ansell.

“It’s about how friendship can wax and wane and change.  People change, a mother and daughter can come to understand each other a little bit more.  Audiences will feel an affection for Nadine and what she’s gone through in learning to understand herself, and come out ultimately feeling like this character’s going to be okay.”

Amy Brooks adds, “Kelly really captured the comedy and sadness in how a family falls apart and comes together and falls apart and comes together while they’re grieving.  She also captured that teacher that calls you out, that you hold onto for the rest of your life because that teacher got you as you…saw you and celebrated that.  I hope everyone feels ‘I got this movie in a personal way and it’s mine.  This movie was for me.’  But this movie is for all of us.”

“I hope that people watch this film and think ‘I know that person, I am that person, I’ve been there, and I’ve felt that’,” comments Fremon Craig.  “I hope people see themselves reflected in it.  That was my own experience writing it.”

“This movie fits into that genre of the classic John Hughes films and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but also I feel like this is breaking the mold,” says Jenner.  “I haven’t read a movie that’s about coming into your own and finding yourself that has perfect balance between comedy and drama, but this makes you laugh and cry like you’re a baby.” “You feel like you watched someone go through something, and really struggle to get there, but get there at the end,” says Richardson.  “The lesson is no matter how hard and intense something seems in the moment, you’re going to get through it, learn from it, and end up being stronger.”

“When people come out of this movie, I really want them to know they can make it through.  I wish more people had told me that high school will end,” says Calvert.  “You’ll get out.  There is life beyond.  If I could speak to anyone struggling in high school, I would tell them that it ends.  Life gets more interesting as you age.  You do not want to peak in high school.”

“Growing up watching movies, they’ve always given me hope that no matter how bad problems get, you can solve them if you have the will to,” shares Szeto.  “I hope this film draws attention to how fragile we all are and how, as human beings, our greatest asset is to be empathetic, which can also be our greatest downfall.  Sometimes we overreact and it’s okay to admit that.”

Steinfeld sums up, “The Edge Of Seventeen is a story of a girl trying to find connection and contact with anything and anyone.  The most satisfying thing is watching her realize that it’s been there all along.”

“As a romantic, I wanted to write a story from point of view of a girl who made that love worthwhile”

The much anticipated feature film adaptation of Lauren Kate’s worldwide bestselling young adult novel, Fallen comes to the big screen with a cast of exciting young stars and directed by award-winning Australian director Scott Hicks.

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Hicks (Shine) directed the film with a script by Michael Ross. The original screenplay was adapted by Kathryn Price and Nicole Millard.

Fallen is seen through the eyes of Lucinda ‘Luce’ Price (Addison Timlin), a strong-willed seventeen-year-old living a seemingly ordinary life until she is accused of a crime she didn’t commit.  Sent off to the imposing Sword & Cross reform school, Luce finds herself being courted by two young men to whom she feels oddly connected (Jeremy Itvine and Harrison Gilbertson).  Isolated and haunted by strange visions, Luce begins to unravel the secrets of her past and discovers the two men are fallen angels, competing for her love for centuries.  Luce must choose where her feelings lie, pitting Heaven against Hell in an epic battle over true love.

Published in 2009 from debut author Lauren Kate, Fallen topped the New York Times’ best sellers list, inspiring three sequels and a prequel to complete the series.  To date the series has sold over 9 million copies across 30 countries around the world.

“Luce and Daniel’s story created a global community of fans. I think of this movie as a love letter to them,” says Kate.

“I’m delighted to have directed Fallen.,” says Hicks.  “I was drawn in by the intriguing premise of Lauren Kate’s story, the powerful array of memorable characters, and the timeless romance between Luce and Daniel. I enjoyed working with a very fine cast, including the exceptionally promising talents of Addison, Jeremy and Harrison, and the remarkable Joely Richardson,” says Hicks.

 

The story behind the adaptation of Lauren Kate’s best-selling young adult novel Fallen began some two years ago when Scott Hicks, the acclaimed Australian director whose international hit Shine won its leading actor Geoffrey Rush a Best Actor Academy Award, was approached by producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Grey of Mayhem Productions. The novel hadn’t been published so the producers were taking a gamble but the emotional power of the book’s story, its raw passion and the intriguing characters it introduced, proved a compelling draw for the director.

“I was intrigued by the story,” explains Hicks. “It’s essentially a gothic teen romance that has been going on for a thousand years. I really liked the characters and felt that there was a real possibility of doing something very interesting and which was not just centred around visual effects but was about characters the audience could really care about. And the characters would be complex enough to sustain a series of films. So it was a chance for me to make a film in a genre I hadn’t done before.

“I also liked the idea of the closed world of the reform school Sword & Cross where no one has cell phones or computers or the accoutrements of modern life,” he goes on. “It meant that the relationships have to be founded on the people themselves and how they interact. I was intrigued by the strange group of youngsters Luce encounters there and how she responds to them – Luce is at a very low point of her life and she has no idea what’s going on and doesn’t understand why the people and situations there feel familiar. We know a great deal more than she does. I found the unravelling of that mystery fascinating.”

“Unbeknownst to Luce, she and Daniel have been in love for all eternity,” continues Hicks. “It takes a while for her to discover who this strange young man who seems so familiar but who she’s never met before is, and it’s also a journey of discovery for herself too. At same time, the third person in the triangle, Cam, is very eager to engage with her and she finds it very difficult to sort out the puzzle of what’s going on between these people. It’s a very mysterious and romantic story, not one of flowers and hearts, but one of passion and the danger of love and romance and I wanted to focus on that”.

Indeed, Lauren Kate was first inspired to write the Fallen novels by the romance in the story of fallen angels giving up their place in heaven for the untested love of human women that appears in Genesis. “As a romantic, I wanted to write a story from point of view of a girl who made that love worthwhile,” she says. “The idea of a love that has cosmic consequences and that addresses deep betrayals and big motivations has always reached me deeply and I’m happy that they reached others through my books. Luce has an obsession with making impossible love possible. She falls in love with Daniel but that love dies, and she’s desperate to break the curse because she believes the love is worth it. Her openness and deep faith in the power of love is her defining characteristic. Luce is lost when we meet her and every day is an obstacle but Daniel is a ray of light even though he acts badly. She makes her world about him. It’s a deep faith in love that’s very admirable.”

It was the battle between the two young rivals for Luce’s affections that also intrigued the director. He says: “Cam and Daniel have that strange mix of being almost brothers in that they’re bound into this story and yet there’s also an intense rivalry between them. They don’t represent good and bad, they’re both fallen angels, so therefore they’re both bad boys and it’s a struggle between them about higher issues in a mythological world. Luce is a pivotal character in that and they both want to assert control over her destiny.”

Hicks spent some eight months working on the screenplay with collaborator Michael Ross. “It was a fantastic collaboration,” says Ross. “We were both drawn to the timelessness and romance of the story and the challenge was turning the novel into a 90 minute movie but it was an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Lauren Kate had, not unsurprisingly, some hesitation about the novel’s being adapted for the big screen. At her first meeting with Scott Hicks, however, those feelings were swept aside. “Any nervousness I felt about giving my story away was allayed,” she says. “Scott gets it, he’s wise, he has a very sensual perspective of the story, and he connects to same things as my readers. It was crucial to me that the film convey the essence of the story. We talked a lot about the chemistry between the characters, not just Luce and Daniel, but between them all, and they had to be executed perfectly and Scott had a solid grasp on that and that filtered down through the cast.”

“Characters always start the book for me,” continues the author. “What Luce taught me, when she wants to do something, I have to follow her. The book comes alive when characters come alive. What’s delighted me most about visiting the set is to realise that there’s a whole energy and world that exists between lines I wrote and beyond the pages. Seeing the actors portray the characters in ways that is so faithful to who they are. It’s exciting to find that they are alive in their own right.”

Satisfying the Readers

Lauren Kate’s Fallen launched a series of five novels that took the publishing world by storm. Published in 2009, Fallen introduced a group of memorable characters and a compelling romance that spanned the eras and enthralled young adults around the world. The series – Fallen, Torment, Passion, Rapture and the Fallen in Love collection of novellas set in the Middle Ages – has become a smash hit with over XX (INSERT LATEST FIGURES) million copies sold in North America alone. Her stories, featuring star-crossed lovers and fallen angels, has sold in over 30 countries around the world.

It’s no surprise then that the filmmakers were keenly aware of the novels’ fans while they were writing and making the film adaptation. It was with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and anxiety that the cast had to deal with the thought that the fans would be watching their every move!

“It’s been exciting knowing they’re out there and cool to share in their excitement,” says Addison Timlin. “I’ve felt a responsibility to respect them. You have to acknowledge it’s because of the audience that you’re here. It’s great to have this group are out there rooting for you. They’re a powerful group and it’s lovely to love something and to care about something so much. There’s also a certain terror in disappointing them but I do read tweets I get or letters I’ve got and they love this character in a way I completely understand. I hope we did the books justice. I think the fans will be pleased in how we’ve translated it to film because we’ve stayed true to the story.”

Jeremy Irvine agrees: “It’s different to other movies because of its huge fan base,” he says. “I hope the fans will want to see it, and we’ve had no choice but to make it good. That’s scary and increases the pressure as an actor.”

That the film was set up before the novel was published has meant the filmmakers have watched the fan base grow during development and pre-production. “When we set the film up, the book hadn’t come out so we didn’t know if it was going to be a hit,” says producer Mark Ciardi. “It did and it’s been really exciting to see it come together.  When Lauren Kate came on set, she said it felt that the characters were completely true to what she had conceived. It was very exciting to see her reaction to it coming to life.”

“The novel has sold over XX (INSERT LATEST FIGURE) million copies worldwide,” says executive producer Campbell McInnes. “With such a successful series, our duty was to stay true to the story in terms of filming, character and tone.”

As far as Lauren Kate is concerned, that duty has been resoundingly fulfilled: “The readers are thrilled!” she says. “They can’t wait! I see the movie as a love letter to the community of readers.”

 

David Koepp talks about writing the screenplay for Inferno, the third highly anticipated adaptation in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of novels.

Following up on the worldwide successes of The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009) is Inferno,  the latest addition in the $1.2 billion film franchise, the best-selling adult book of 2013, proving that readers around the world can’t get enough of Robert Langdon.

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DAVID KOEPP has written and directed the films Premium Rush (2012), Ghost Town (2008), Secret Window (2004), Stir of Echoes (1999), The Trigger Effect (1996), and Suspicious (1994). He wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for the films Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), Angels and Demons (2009), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), War of the Worlds (2005), Zathura (2005), Spider-Man (2002), Panic Room (2002), Snake Eyes (1998), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Mission: Impossible (1996), The Shadow (1994), The Paper (1994), Jurassic Park (1993), Carlito’s Way (1993), Death Becomes Her (1992), Toy Soldiers (1991), Bad Influence (1990), and Apartment Zero (1989). Premium Rush, Zathura, and Ghost Town were co-written with John Kamps. Koepp was born in Pewaukee, Wisconsin and graduated from UCLA’s film school in 1986.

 

At a press conference, veteran screenwriter David Koepp talked about about writing the movie adaptation of Ron Howard’s Inferno.

Inferno marks the third in the Robert Langdon franchise, following 2006’s The Da Vinci Code and 2009’s Angels & Demons, and finds Tom Hanks returning as the franchise’s hero. In Inferno, Dr. Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia and must team up with Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) to recover his memories and stop a madman from unleashing a plague inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Inferno also stars Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, and Sidse Babett Knudsen.

So the first big question is: What do you get as an award when the worldwide box office for the movies you’ve been involved with pass $2 billion?

Well you get certificate good for working again in Hollywood. Whenever something does well I think, “OK, that buys me another 18 months” and when something does poorly I think, “I wondering if that eats into my 18 months?”

That’s really funny. You’ve been working in Hollywood as a screenwriter for a very long time, how has your process changed at all or do you still have a very typical routine?

I have a typical routine. I mean, you know, I think writing scripts for me hasn’t changed since my early twenties, which is…you know there’s thinking, research –Thinking is just like when you have an idea that’s just rattling around in your head for a year, or a week, or two years or whatever. Research, which can be extensive or not depending on the subject. Outlining, first draft, and perpetual rewrites. So that has not tended to change, the only thing that really changed was I used to work at night, and since I have kids I work in the day. Because you know kids force you into more of a regular schedule. But I think that still screenwriting, the best that tends to come from fewest people in the room and so that’s why I thought it would be nice to work with successful directors, because they tend to get the space that you need and you get a lot of other people in the room. I know that like the writers rooms is very popular in TV and certainly there’s a lot of per TV, like everyone else I watch a lot of TV these days but I don’t think the writers room approach has ever really worked for movies or maybe I’m just not good at it. I like the push and pull of two people talking, you know I try to go and seek out those situations although they’re harder and harder to find because of the way the movie business has changed.

I don’t think when there’s ten screenwriters on a project you get a coherent vision.

Right, and not even like cooking up the story. I mean it’s not even just sequential stuff, sequential writers. I don’t have a lot of success when there’s three or four people trying to come up with a story and I’m supposed to go write it. I don’t do well in that situation.

Jumping into Inferno, the ending of the book is different than the ending of the movie. I’m curious, without going into the exact specifics, how that came about, that discussion of, “we’re gonna make some changes.”

I think that there’s ideas that you can work out in book… I don’t know how to answer it exactly without falling back into the cliché that, “well books and movies are very different.” But they are and there’s ideas –I ideas and people’s thoughts can work great in a book but you have no access to them really in a movie. And I think the ending of the book which I found really cool, as a book was not something that I felt you could dramatize very well in terms of what people say and do, which is really all you have in a movie, what people say and do, what we see and hear. The book rested on an idea and some thought processes and having the opportunity to…well the book half the Earth is realized at the end. And that’s a cool idea, that’s a really cool idea and I enjoyed reading about it and he gets to spend a couple pages expounding on that idea, but unless I put that in some character’s mouth as a monologue that doesn’t give me much to dramatize. So it felt like we needed a different ending, which would suit the movie.

When you’re writing the screenplay, but you have an author like Dan Brown who is very popular and arguably pretty powerful with his stuff, how much are you guys talking back-and-forth and how much is it Dan just saying, “Hey the movie’s gonna be the movie and the book’s gonna be the book.”?

I think Dan says that –I don’t really communicate with Dan much if at all. We met several times and I like him and he’s been very encouraging and supportive of the movies and two of the scripts I’ve written for the movies. But I find that a novelist and a screenwriter don’t really, you know, we don’t have a lot to talk about. It was the same with Michael Crichton, I adapted two of his books without ever meeting him. I find that most of the communication going through the director is really the way to go because I can speak frankly about the problems I might be having changing the book and he can speak frankly about the problems he might have with the script without trying to navigate that with each other. If I wrote a book and some idiot screenwriter was adapting it I wouldn’t want to hear about it, because I would think everything they’re doing is wrong. So if somebody else adopts your child I don’t think you want to watch them raise them. I think the only time I spent a lot of time with an author of a book was Edwin Torres in Carlito’s Way because it was really about his childhood and people he really knew and an experience that he really had. And I knew nothing about it so the sole source of my research was his wife who I did get to hang around some.

When you’re writing a script like Inferno or maybe any of your other scripts, how cognizant are you of writing with a budget in mind and how much are you, “I’m gonna write the script and I’m gonna let the director and the studio figure out how to pay for it.”?

You know, I used to worry about budget and then [Steven] Spielberg told me on one of things I was writing for him, “Don’t worry about that. There are no limits except your imagination.” So I really try not to think about it at all and I write what I want to see. The only thing I care about is what I want to see when I’m at the movie, and then I hope that other people want to see that too. Because they’ll tell you if something’s a problem and you just think of another way to do it, but I think that you can’t self-sensor that way unless something’s ridiculous. But usually if you write a twelve page chase, that’s gonna be a budget problem and structurally also because that’s an awfully long chase, are you sure you want that there? So the demands of the story often takes care of budget problems themselves.

One of the things I really like about Inferno is that the antagonist… so many movies have a shitty antagonist and it’s very frustrating as a moviegoer, and one of the things I liked about Inferno is Ben Foster’s characters is playing someone trying to deal with real world problems, and maybe he’s going about it a little extreme, but it’s a conversation piece we should all be having. Can you talk about having a strong antagonist with a clear vision.

Well, the great thing is that about the character is that he’s got an excellent point and to me he’s the best kind of antagonist because he can articulate and defend his point, and you can even agree with him, and you can agree with him all the way up until the last part. He says there’s a terrible overpopulation problem, I agree with that. All of the woes that are plaguing humankind can be traced to human overpopulation, spread of disease, global warming, you know, the list goes on, I agree with all that. We need to do something to combat overpopulation, I totally agree with that. What we should do is wipe out half the planet and sterilize the other, “Wait a minute! I was with you for a long time there but you lost me on that last bit.” That’s where the madness or the sociopathic part of the bad guy comes in. But the good ones you don’t want them to have just a level of malevolent intent, the more defensible it is and the more sense it makes, the more formidable they are as a villain. For me the real challenge of this film was that he was dead from page 2, that makes it tricky.

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Talk a little bit about when you’re writing a script like Inferno, how much are you meeting with Tom [Hanks] and Ron [Howard] or the studio and sort of talking about knowing what you’re gonna do before doing it? How’s that process work at the beginning in terms of figuring out what you’re gonna do and how many people are involved in the kitchen?

There’s conversations at the very beginning with Ron [Howard] and the studio, Tom [Hanks] some although he wants you to try it and give him something to react to. It really is just conversations with Ron and the studio where you say what’s important to you, what might be tough to adapt or need changing from a book to a movie, the broad strokes of it all. Then I’ll start announcing what my problems are and someone will inevitably say, “Well, yeah that’s why we called you though.” That’s the lonely time, because it’s all your problem and you really have to give them something to react to. You know there’s some conversations, really extensive, they want to know. Generally, your intent is to preserve what they like and change what’s problematic. But after that you just have to go do it. Some entities like to see an outline, which I’m loathed to do. I’m happy to talk through an outline, but writing them up is terrible because I write an outline for myself but it’s not really a readable document. If you give it to somebody you can say this is an outline and it lacks character depth and humor and then inevitably they will call you and say, “I’m not feeling the characters deeply and it’s really not that funny.” and you’re like, “Yeah, well, it has none of the tools of a screenplay. I had only the boring bits.” So long answer, but the short version is: a couple extensive conversations, and then I gotta go try it.

You wrote Panic Room and I hear all the time about actors’ experiences working with David Fincher, in fact, I’m fascinated by it. But I don’t get to talk to too many screenwriters about working with him, so what was that process like, collaborating with him?

He was great. He was the greatest. He’s so protective of writers, it’s really lovely. I mean, he will push you –as he pushes anybody and as he pushes himself– to do better, but most directors do. What’s really touching is he takes –He doesn’t like people fucking with his writer at all, that’s his job. I remember we were at some meeting at the studio prior to shooting and they gave me some notes that I didn’t particularly like and I think I sort of made a face or something, and he excoriated the executive for giving me the note, he just really let him have it. And I thought, “Yeah! I’m not doing that note, that’s fucking stupid!” And then we left the meeting and we were walking down the hall and he said, “You know you really ought to think about that, it’s a really good point.” [Laughs.] And I was like, “Oh, I get it. You just don’t want them telling me what to do.”

I think that’s the way it is in real life with everybody. If something’s a success, you’re gonna just deal with ego. I know you’re working on Indy, but what other scripts are you currently working on, or are you just like a one-project-at-a-time person?

I do one at a time. What’s nice is if you –I have a couple of my own things, one or two things that I’m doodling in my down time. But I try to write on specs as much as I write adaptations or things that people ask me to do. And I think I’ve been pretty good at it, I wish it was 50-50 but it’s like 60-40 for things people ask me to do. The problem with specs is that sometimes they get in and sometimes they don’t, they vanish without a trace. But you always gotta have your own stuff going, you cannot stop, even though Hollywood has sort of turned away from original material a little bit, that’s no reason for you to stop.

I was gonna say it does seem like since I first moved to California, Hollywood was buying a lot more spec scripts, and it was just a different marketplace than it seems now. It’s so infrequent to hear studios buying specs.

I asked a studio executive recently and I said, “What’s with you guys and specs?” and he said, “I love specs! The problem is nobody writes them anymore” and he said, “What can we do to encourage people to write more specs?” and I said, “Buy some! That would really help. If people read about a couple of specs getting bought, I promise you most of the west side of L.A. will start freaking out.”

Inferno has every reason to be exciting to audiences, because it has drama, it has action, it’s a thriller, it has a human dimension.

Following up on the worldwide successes of The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009) is Inferno, the third highly anticipated adaptation in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of novels.

The film re-teams director Ron Howard with Tom Hanks, who returns in one of his signature roles playing the quick-thinking and resourceful Langdon, with a screenplay by David Koepp.

David Koepp talks about writing the screenplay for a $1.2 billion film franchise

Hanks says that Inferno marks a major point of departure for the character.  “He usually knows everything there is to know about symbols, art, history, architecture, politics, and geopolitical cultures.  But when the movie starts, he has no idea where he is or why,” says Hanks.  “He goes to Venice, Florence and Istanbul – places he is supposed to know backwards and forwards, but he doesn’t.  The mystery starts immediately – how did he get amnesia?  Why is he here?”

 

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Tom Hanks, Dan Brown and Ron Howard during the filming of Inferno.

Inferno finds the famous symbologist (again played by Tom Hanks) on a trail of clues tied to the great Dante himself.  When Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories.  Together, they race across Europe and against the clock to stop a madman from unleashing a global virus that would wipe out half of the world’s population.

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Inferno, the latest addition in the $1.2 billion film franchise, was the best-selling adult book of 2013, proving that readers around the world can’t get enough of Robert Langdon.

Dan Brown is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including The Da Vinci Code, Inferno, The Lost Symbol, Angels & Demons, Deception Point, and Digital Fortress. There are more than 200 million copies of Dan Brown’s books in print worldwide, and his novels have been translated into 56 languages. He lives in New England with his wife and is a graduate of Amherst College and Phillips Exeter Academy, where he spent time as an English teacher before turning his efforts fully to writing. Visit him at www.danbrown.com and follow him at @AuthorDanBrown on Twitter.

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Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard is one of this generation’s most popular directors and his portfolio includes some of the most popular films of the past 20 years. From the critically acclaimed dramas A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 to the hit comedies Parenthood and Splash, he has created some of Hollywood’s most memorable films. Howard earned an Oscar for Best Director for A Beautiful Mind, which also won awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Howard’s skill as a director has long been recognized. Howard made his directorial debut in 1978 with the comedy Grand Theft Auto In 1995, he received his first Best Director of the Year award from the DGA for Apollo 13. Many of Howard’s past films have received nods from the Academy, including the popular hits Backdraft, Parenthood and Cocoon,. Howard’s recent films include In The Heart of the Sea, and Made In America, a music documentary he directed staring Jay Z for Showtime. He also produced and directed the film adaptation of Peter Morgan’s critically acclaimed play Frost / Nixon. Howard is currently in post-production on a documentary series about the rock legends The Beatles. He is also working on the series “Breakthrough,” in its second season, and on “Mars,” both for NatGeo.

Hanks explains the enduring attraction of the franchise.  “There is something Dan Brown has figured out – everybody likes a good puzzle, especially one you can actually figure out the clues to one at a time and solve,” he says.  “These movies give that to the audience – it is almost an interactive film, and it has been like that since The Da Vinci Code.”

Borrowing its title from Dante’s masterwork, the Latin word for Hell, Inferno has the added component of a psychological thriller.  In the film, Dr. Robert Langdon wakes up to face his biggest challenge yet – he has lost his memory.  Haunted by feverish visions and intense headaches, he must find out what has happened to him, and why.

Hanks explains, “Hell for Langdon in the movie is both a state of mind and a very physical experience because he is wracked with pain in his head and he is tortured by the fact he is ignorant of the reasons why.”

“Without a doubt, Robert Langdon goes through his own personal form of hell at the opening of this movie – his personal Inferno,” says Dan Brown.  “He wakes up in a hospital room, people are trying to kill him, and he has no idea what this artifact is that he’s carrying.  He has to follow a trail of clues to find out who wants him dead and why.  At the end of the day, he realizes that the stakes are far greater than his own personal drama – really, the future of the planet is at stake.”

Inferno is the most visually stylistic film in the series so far, with a series of cryptic dream sequences that take audiences inside Langdon’s head and lend an entirely different feel than previous installments.  That is precisely what draws director Ron Howard to this series – out of 23 feature films made over more than three decades as a director, the only sequels he has chosen to helm are Angels & Demons and now Inferno.

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David Koepp (Screenplay) has written and directed the films Premium Rush (2012), Ghost Town (2008), Secret Window (2004), Stir of Echoes (1999), The Trigger Effect (1996), and Suspicious (1994). He wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for the films Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), Angels and Demons (2009), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), War of the Worlds (2005), Zathura (2005), Spider-Man (2002), Panic Room (2002), Snake Eyes (1998), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Mission: Impossible (1996), The Shadow (1994), The Paper (1994), Jurassic Park (1993), Carlito’s Way (1993), Death Becomes Her (1992), Toy Soldiers (1991), Bad Influence (1990), and Apartment Zero (1989). Premium Rush, Zathura, and Ghost Town were co-written with John Kamps. Koepp was born in Pewaukee, Wisconsin and graduated from UCLA’s film school in 1986. He lives in London with his wife and children.

“There have been characters that I love as much as I love Robert Langdon, but I always want to push myself to do something different.  It’s more interesting than repeating yourself,” Howard explains.  “But that’s what’s so great about the movies based on Dan Brown’s books – each of them is so different, and he explores such different themes in each adventure.  Inferno is the most stylistically different yet.  With this series, I get to go back and revisit a character I love while continuing to push myself in new directions.”

In the film, Langdon must make sense of clues relating to Dante’s epic poem.  Howard explains, “Langdon’s hallucinating mind is tormented by a man obsessed with Dante.  He’s forced to pick up the pieces and make sense of this clue path that’s been laid before him.”

“Dante invented our modern conception of Hell,” says producer Brian Grazer.  “In the book, Dante witnesses sinners on Earth punished by poetic justice.  That becomes the basis of the puzzles Langdon has to solve in this movie.  Dante described Hell; the painter Boticelli visualized Hell; but only Robert Langdon, the symbologist, can prevent Hell on Earth by stopping the release of a deadly virus.”

One of the reasons Brown’s books strike a chord is his genius at translating the real mysteries of history into pulse-pounding thrillers for modern audiences.

In Inferno, the underlying source for Brown’s inspiration is Dante’s Inferno.  Dante, the great Italian poet of the 14th century, sought to describe the journey of the soul toward God, with the first step being the rejection of sin.  In the epic poem, Dante himself is led through nine circles of Hell, where he sees unrepentant sinners punished by poetic justice: fortune tellers have their heads on backwards, unable to see what lies ahead; corrupt politicians with “sticky fingers” are submerged in boiling tar.  The greatest punishments are reserved for Dante’s greatest villains, all traitors: in Satan’s three mouths, to be chewed throughout eternity, are Cassius and Brutus, who murdered Julius Caesar, and Judas Iscariot.

For Brown, the challenge was to take a work of genius that has inspired readers and artists for 800 years and find the elements that would springboard him into a Robert Langdon thriller.  The answer came as Brown imagined what a modern idea of Hell would be, coming up with two concepts that fit neatly together: on the one hand, an overpopulated world, in which billions of people are unable to find sustenance, and on the other, a disease that takes out half the world’s population.  And for this Hell on Earth, Brown borrows Dante’s idea of poetic justice: in order to punish mankind for overpopulating the world beyond the planet’s means, a villain will release a deadly disease that will kill billions.

“I thought it would be a great idea to have a villain who has found that the population of the planet has tripled in the past eighty years, and decides it would be a great idea to fix the problem,” says Dan Brown. “I’d read Dante as a kid, both in high school and college, but I had to re-read it many times to try to understand how to make a thirteenth century epic poem palatable as a thriller.”

Of course, Tom Hanks returns as the Harvard symbologist.  Howard says the role fits the man like a glove. “Part of the reason everybody loves Tom in this role is that, in real life, he is Robert Langdon,” says Howard. “Both are driven by curiosity, share a dry sense of humor, and are men who, when faced with a puzzle, are like a dog with a bone – they are fascinated by the world around them and have the wonderful kind of mind that is able to decode it.  And that’s all on top of the fact that he’s one of the best actors of our generation.”

Hanks enjoys returning time and again to the role of Robert Langdon because there’s nothing quite like unraveling a riddle.  “Dan Brown created a character that can always be called into play: there’s always going to be a mystery worth analyzing,” he says.  “These movies are fun and you learn something.”

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones star in Columbia PIctures' "Inferno."

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones star in Columbia PIctures’ “Inferno.”

Once again, the international setting of the tale Dan Brown has spun offered the filmmakers a chance to surround Hanks with a cast of global actors: the British Felicity Jones as Sienna Brooks; the French actor Omar Sy as Christoph Bouchard; Indian star Irrfan Khan as Harry Sims; and Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen as Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey.  Ben Foster, an American, also stars, as the bioengineer Bertrand Zobrist.  “One of the thrilling aspects of a Dan Brown story is that the international setting truly offers the opportunity to cast the best person for the role, regardless of their nationality,” says Brian Grazer.  “It’s important and necessary, because one of the ways Ron is telling the story of Langdon’s global adventure is in surrounding him with a cast that looks and sounds like the entire world.”

Just as he did in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Dan Brown touches on topics in Inferno that are highly relevant to today’s world.  In Brown’s novels and in the films, Hanks points out, “There is always some degree of a question.”  In Inferno, the questions revolve around overpopulation. “Are there really too many people being born?  Is there a way we may be able to solve our overpopulation?  Or will our world become a new version of Dante’s Inferno?”

Like its predecessors, Inferno is also a truly worldwide adventure.  “That is one of the great bonuses of being in one of these movies,” says Hanks. “We have always gone to fascinating places, real places. On Inferno, we were actually on the roof of Basilica of San Marco in Venice and that is production value par excellence!”

“It’s always great when you’re making any movie when you can be in the actual locations,” says Howard. “Set construction is great, CGI is fantastic, but there’s nothing like when you’re actually in the place, and the way it influences everybody involved in front of and behind the camera.”

In typical Dan Brown fashion, the audience is right there with Langdon as he unravels each mystery, creating an unforgettable experience that audiences have come to expect from these films.

Inferno has every reason to be exciting to audiences, because it has drama, it has action, it’s a thriller, it has a human dimension,” explains Grazer. “It has all these sort of thriller components, a very big international cast, you travel throughout the world in a very kind of exotic and in some ways almost a fantasy way and it’s driven by Langdon played by Tom Hanks.”

The film, Grazer points out, works well as part of the franchise while also standing on its own. “If you haven’t seen The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons for that matter, you will still love it, because it works as a separate unit, as a film independent of any of that.  But it’s a great introduction to this global franchise.”

Ben Foster puts the experience into perspective. “I really love this series of films,” says Foster. “You learn something, there are great characters, you get to travel around the world and they keep you on the edge of your seat.  It is good, fun moviemaking.”

FUN FACTS

  • Zobrist’s deadly virus, Inferno, was made by the prop department with the following recipe: 40% water, 30% vegetable oil and 30% tomato ketchup.
  • Ron Howard enlisted the help of philosopher and futurist Jason Silva to help build the harrowing YouTube video Zobrist produces to support his idea that over population will lead to human extinction.
  • The prop department made a total of 15 Dante Death Masks for the film, ensuring they would never be caught without one.
  • Whilst filming in Florence, the production made a donation to the Palazzo Vecchio for the restoration of home of Dante’s death mask.
  • When Vayentha falls from the ceiling in the Hall of 500, in order to protect the ancient flooring, the SFX department manufactured a fake pool of blood made out of red silicone.
  • Langdon and Sienna were dressed in Ferragamo.
  • Whilst in Florence, Ron Howard was honored by the mayor and presented with the Keys to the City. In ancient times, when it was common for European towns to be ringed by walls, visiting dignitaries were presented with a key to the city gate as a gesture of trust and kindness.  Today’s gesture of presenting keys is similar in sentiment if not in function.
  • For the drone scene chasing Langdon and Sienna through Boboli Gardens, the camera team had to deploy two drones; one to follow the actors and the other to film the action.
  • Ana Ularu had never driven a motorbike before taking the part of Vayentha… now she is hooked and is looking forward to getting her license!
  • For filming Langdon’s visions of hell, the special effects department purchased 9,000 liters of fake, sugar-based blood.

A heartwarming story in the vein of the traditional holiday movies that everyone loves

The new comedy Almost Christmas tells the festive story of beloved patriarch Walter Meyers (Danny Glover of The Color Purple, Lethal Weapon series), who asks his family for one gift this holiday season––to get along.  If they can honor that wish and spend five days under the same roof without killing one another, it will be a Christmas miracle. almost_christmas_sd1_1050_591_81_s_c1

In the past decade, writer/director David E. Talbert has created beloved comedy films including First Sunday and Baggage Claim, but the 24-time NAACP Theatre Award nominee and Best Playwright winner admits that his first love has long been holiday movies.

“I’m just a huge fan of them…all the big, broad, emotional ones,” Talbert explains.  “I love the season and what it represents, so I thought, ‘What would it be like if I did my own holiday film?’”

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Born the great-grandson of a Pentecostal preacher, writer-director David E. Talbert’s roots run deep in the business of hope and inspiration. Having been about that business for over 20 years, the acclaimed Washington D.C. native stands tall as one of the highest-grossing and most recognizable brands in African-American inspirational musicals and comedies.Talbert’s love affair with words and the stories they create led him to become a highly acclaimed playwright where he earned an unprecedented 24 NAACP Theatre Award nominations, including a win for Best Playwright of the Year. His plays have been recorded and are now enjoyed worldwide in over 20 countries, spanning four continents. In 2008, Talbert made his filmmaking debut when he wrote and directed his original story First Sunday. In 2013, Talbert made his second film Baggage Claim, an adaptation of his own best-selling novel published by Simon and Schuster. In 2015, the award-winning multi-hyphenate continued to do what he loves by participating in a national tour of his 15th play, Another Man Will.Talbert is a graduate of Morgan State University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing and later attended New York University’s accelerated film program. A loving husband to his beautiful wife of 18 years, actress and producer Lyn, and a doting father to their son Elias, Talbert is a man most inspired to live life, to share laughter, to do what he was created to do.

As he brainstormed, Talbert reflected that most films in this genre revolve around the matriarch.  So for his next theatrical release, he wanted to make a film where the patriarch is the glue keeping everyone together.  “Being a new father myself, I thought it would be interesting to see the patriarch holding the family together,” reflects the filmmaker.

Talbert crafted a screenplay about a retired automotive engineer in Birmingham, Alabama, who lost the love of his life and mother of his four grown children the year before.  Now that the holiday season has arrived again, his troupe must deal with all of the emotions of celebrating with one another…while still mourning the loss of the pillar of their family.  As Talbert does best, the raucous humor that is a coping mechanism accompanying unthinkable loss—as well as the strength to pull together—became the through line of his script.

He sent his story to blockbuster producer Will Packer, known for his efforts in such worldwide franchises as Think Like a Man and Ride Along.

But it was the producer’s positive experience on the 2007 feature This Christmas that made him consider another offering in this genre.

Unbeknownst to Talbert, Packer had been thinking about making a new holiday film.

Packer recalls: “I’ve known Dave for a long time, but we hadn’t worked together professionally.  We did talk over the years about the kind of movies that we like, and I told him that if he had a project he believed I’d be interested in that I would read it and give him thoughts.”

It was during the development of what would become Almost Christmas that Talbert took his friend up on his offer.

“Dave sent me the script for what was then A Meyers Thanksgiving,” recalls Packer.  “I laughed out loud as I read it, and I enjoyed the warmth and heart of the characters.  I called him and said, ‘I love this.  There’s only one thing we have to change.  It’s got to be Christmas. ‘”

Talbert agreed with the note and steps to make the film began.

Still, Packer knew they needed another partner to solidify the project.  He reached out to actress and producer Gabrielle Union, with whom he had worked on the films in the Think Like a Man franchise, with the idea.

She reveals: “Will sent me the script and asked me what I thought, so I gave him my notes.”

But Packer had a broader role in mind for his longtime collaborator and after much discussion, Union joined the project.  “I saw the light,” she laughs.  “I saw myself as Rachel, and I signed on.  As well, Will was gracious enough to allow me to be an executive producer.”

Talbert and Packer leaned on Union in her new role, one she’s honed as one of the creators and the star of BET’s enormously successful series Being Mary Jane.

“As one of the EPs as well as talent, you become the bridge between everything that happens at basecamp,” Union states.  “That’s hair, makeup, wardrobe, transportation.  You become the link between your cast and all of those departments.  Being the link between the two sides is what I do best.”

Fellow executive producer Lyn Sisson-Talbert played an integral role in the aesthetics of the film she guided with her husband.  She explains a bit of their process: “David and I go over what the house looks like, how we see this family, how we see each character and what their background is.  Then I help him develop what that look and feel is, as well as the visual effects.”

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Production wrapped, the team took a moment to reflect on the experience that was Almost Christmas.  For the man who created it all, his film boils down to the gift of laughter through tears.

Concludes Talbert: “There’s so much with family, shenanigans and the drama that comes along with family, this story invites a lot of comedy.  You can probably hear me through the outtakes laughing and falling out of my director’s chair.  Everyone on this film caught on to that spirit, and the fact is we’ve made a very hopeful movie.  This is a love story of a man who loved a woman for 40 years, and the memories of her are magical memories because they had a great life.”

“It’s a heartwarming story in the vein of the traditional holiday movies that everyone loves, wraps Packer.  “The reason that people gravitate toward them every year is because it reminds you of the best and the worst things about family and the holidays.  Once you get together with family around the holidays you remember why you only want to see them once a year.  You remember why you don’t see them so much during the other 11 months…”

Blood Wars really goes back to the roots, the mythology, the ways of the past

The fifth installment in the hugely successful series, Underworld: Blood Wars celebrates a return to the brooding aesthetic introduced in the original 2002 hit Underworld, directed by Anna Foerster (Outlander, Criminal Minds) from a screenplay by Cory Goodman (The Last Witch Hunter, Priest), story by Kyle Ward and Goodman, based on characters created by Kevin Grevioux and Len Wiseman & Danny McBride.

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Vampire Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) fends off brutal attacks from both the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that has betrayed her. Aided by her only allies, David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance), she must end the eternal war between Lycans and Vampires, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice.  The fifth film in the hugely successful action-horror series picks up the action where Underworld Awakening left off. The Lycans have found a powerful new leader in Marius (Tobias Menzies), who has injected a fanatical sense of purpose and discipline into their previously ragtag ranks. Marius will stop at nothing to track down Selene in order to learn the whereabouts of her daughter Eve, a Vampire-Lycan hybrid.  Joined by David, Selene barely manages to elude her Lycan trackers until a truce negotiated by David’s father Thomas allows her to take refuge at the Eastern Coven, ruled by the ambitious Semira (Lara Pulver). In abject fear of the escalating Lycan threat, Selene’s former Vampire adversaries hope her legendary fighting skills will help them eradicate the Lycan scourge once and for all. But when Selene discovers that some of her Eastern protectors have traitorous agendas of their own, she and David are on the run again, forced to seek sanctuary behind the walls of the mysterious Nordic Coven, a peaceful sect of Vampires living in monk-like seclusion in the northernmost regions of the earth. But their newfound sense of security in the snow-covered lands of Var Dohr is fleeting, for wherever Selene goes, the centuries-old war between Vampires and Lycans always follows.

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Anna Foerster is a German-born, American director who makes her feature film directorial debut with “Underworld: Blood Wars.” She has helmed episodes of Starz’s hit series “Outlander,” as well as the television series “Criminal Minds,” “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” and “Unforgettable,” among others. Foerster is renowned for her many notable collaborations with director Roland Emmerich. She served as cinematographer on the Emmerich-directed films “White House Down” and “Anonymous,” for which she won the German Film Award for Best Cinematography, as well as second snit director/cinematographer on “10,000 B.C.” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” In addition to the above, Foerster served as second unit director/cinematographer on Æon Flux, and as visual effects cinematographer on films including “Stuart Little 2,” “Pitch Black,” “Independence Day,” and “Godzilla.” Foerster is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

”Blood Wars pushes Underworld mythology into exciting new realms while drawing on the strengths that continue to thrill fans 14 years after the series’ inception. “The thing that makes Underworld so successful is the fact that you’re immersed in this vampire world which is not real, and yet the drama between all these creatures is universal,” says director Anna Foerster. “I hope audiences are wowed by the action but I also hope people enjoy where Selene goes emotionally. After all this fighting and hardship, at the end she comes to a place where she has a new outlook on life. Selene is ultimately a tragic character, but if she can also evoke hope for audiences, then I think that’s a pretty big thing.”

Beckinsale expects Underworld: Blood Wars to satisfy a key expectation for fans of the franchise by showcasing Selene at her most warrior-like. “All sorts of horrible things happen to Selene but then she manages to dispatch everybody because she gets really pissed off,” the actress says. In between the fast and furious combat scenes, Underworld: Blood Wars offers a darkly thrilling cinematic vision of uncommon integrity.

“It’s difficult these days to get a genre movie of this type made if it’s not based on an existing comic book or video game or something like that,” Beckinsale muses. “Underworld is original, and given the fact that it also has a female lead there are a lot of reasons I feel really privileged to be one of those few women who gets to do this kind of movie. I think audiences like to see women taking names and kicking ass but I also think at this point, there’s a historical legacy element to Underworld that people find appealing.”

“Blood Wars really goes back to the roots, the mythology, the ways of the past,” says producer Richard S. Wright of Lakeshore Entertainment. “The set design, the costumes, the whole vision follows more from the first Underworld film than the fourth one.” Making her franchise debut, director Anna J. Foerster savored the idea of bringing the series back to its roots. “I really liked the first Underworld because it made a big statement at the time about a look and a world,” she says.  Shot in Eastern Europe, like the original Underworld movie, Blood Wars evokes an Old World atmosphere that pays homage to the series’ aesthetic DNA. But screenwriter Cory Goodman’s script also expands the franchise’s mythology, introducing a chilling new realm that pushes star Kate Beckinsale’s character Selene to her limits. “One of the most exciting components of the film is the Nordic Vampire Coven,” says Lakeshore Entertainment president Gary Lucchesi. “We have never seen these vampires before.”

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Cory Goodman (Screenplay By) first came on the scene after writing the 2011 Screen Gems film Priest starring Paul Bettany. Cory, along with his occasional writing partner Jeremy Lott, sold Lore to Warner Bros. with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson attached to star and American Sniper’s Andrew Lazar producing. Cory’s 2010 Blacklist script The Last Witch Hunter, was released by Lionsgate starring Vin Diesel, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood and Rose Leslie. In another seven-figure deal, Cory and Jeremy sold their Robin Hood pitch to Sony with Jerry Bruckheimer and Adam Goldworm producing.

To invest Underworld: Blood Wars with a fresh point of view, the producers recruited Foerster, a versatile German-born filmmaker who brought a wealth of action expertise to the project. She had previously directed second-unit action sequences on big-budget spectaculars including The Day After Tomorrow, worked on visual effects for such blockbusters as Independence Day, and directed Starz’s Emmy®-nominated time-travel series “Outlander.” “Anna’s action resume, combined with the skill she showed in directing actors for episodes of ‘Outlander’ made me feel she was the perfect choice to direct Underworld: Blood Wars,” producer Lucchesi says.

Franchise producer Tom Rosenberg welcomed Foerster into the Underworld family with enthusiasm. “Anna really understands action, she understands the camera and she understands special effects, which is a rare combination,” he says.  Foerster reveled in the opportunity to honor the Underworld aesthetic with her own take on the material.

“My approach on Blood Wars was to respect the fact that you already have this strong mythology, you have a very clear palette, you have rules for the Lycans and the vampires about when and why they transform,” she says. “I was excited to keep all those things because I think it would be a mistake to say, ‘Okay, now we do everything differently.’ Instead, I decided to take everything I thought was exciting about Underworld and build on top of that with new, unexpected elements.”   The idea of having a woman direct a franchise about a strong female character was a nobrainer, says Richard Wright of Lakeshore Entertainment. “Anna’s been able to breathe new life into the franchise in a way I don’t think anybody else would have done.”

As the star of four of the five Underworld films, Beckinsale continues to navigate subtle changes from one movie to the next. “It’s interesting to come back and play a character that you played before,” she says.

“I’m always dressed as Selene but the worlds have changed quite a lot for each movie. The first one we shot in Budapest and it looked sort of industrial and steam punk. Now, Blood Wars has a quite a medieval vibe to it. My outfit might stay the same but what the character’s going through and the world she’s moving through has been quite different each time. The reason I was interested in Blood Wars is that Selene goes through so much emotional stuff during the movie. That was really appealing to Anna as well.”

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For Beckinsale’s character, the stakes have never been higher. “There’s been this longstanding feud between Vampires and Lycans but in Blood Wars, Selene’s very much disenfranchised from both factions,” the actress explains. “She’s not really part of the team of vampires anymore and she’s on the run from everyone. Selene’s tough and incredibly inventive about killing monsters and all of that, but her motivation has always been love. In Blood Wars, it’s the love for her daughter Eve that keeps Selene going.”

Selene faces an even deadlier adversary in Tobias Menzies as Marius, the Lycan leader determined to find Selene’s daughter Eve so he can feed on her “hybrid” blood and spawn an invincible Lycan-Vampire army. Menzies, who earned a Golden Globe® nomination for his role in “Outlander,” savored the experience of playing the alpha werewolf. “It was wonderful working with Anna,” he says.

“You can feel her pushing the bounds of the genre, trying to reinvent the form and make it something fresh.”  Although the Underworld franchise has featured numerous acclaimed British thespians, including Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy and Derek Jacobi, producer Wright singles out Menzies’ Marius as one of the most colorful characters to share the screen with Beckinsale.

“Marius has a style and a flair and a verve to him that previous villains in Underworld haven’t had to the same extent,” Wright says. “Tobias was a great choice for Marius because he’s played villains before and attacked this role with great relish.”

When An English Woman Captured The Heart Of The King Of Botswana

The idea for A United Kingdom first came into being in 2010, when actor David Oyelowo was working on the film 96 Minutes. Its producers, Justin Moore-Lewy and Charlie Mason, had bought the rights to Susan Williams’ s book Colour Bar, which detailed the remarkable story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams.

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“I feel a huge sense of satisfaction about this film,” says British-born actor David Oyelowo, who plays Seretse Khama in A United Kingdom. Oyelowo admits that the film has been a passion project for him ever since he was given Susan Williams’s book Colour Bar six years ago: “I’m married to a wonderful white lady myself (actress Jessica Oyelowo, who plays diplomat’s wife Lady Canning in the film). We met as teenagers in the UK, and we have four beautiful kids. “But for me, making A United Kingdom isn’t about interracial marriage, it’s about the power of falling in love with another human being when the world around you has an opinion about it that’s contrary to your own, and then navigating it. Rosamund Rosamund admits that Ruth’s story touched her deeply: “It was this way she said ‘yes’ to life and love in the most unquestioning way. This script is about love, the extraordinary fortitude and strength that it can give you. She and Seretse fell in love in such a true and committed way. She wasn’t a political person, out to make a big splash. But in the pressure of fighting to be together, they ended up fighting for so much more.”

In 1947, Seretse Khama, the King of Botswana, met Ruth Williams, a London office worker. The attraction was immediate: she was captivated by his vision for a better world, he was struck by her willingness to embrace it.

Both felt liberated by the social upheaval that followed the war – Seretse sensed the opportunity for change as the Empire weakened, Ruth saw the possibility for a “bigger life” as women pushed for independence and equality.

They were a perfect match, yet their proposed marriage was challenged not only by their families but by the British and South African governments.  The latter had recently introduced the policy of apartheid and found the notion of a biracial couple ruling a neighbouring country intolerable.  South Africa threatened the British: either thwart the couple or be denied access to South African uranium (vital for the British nuclear program) and gold (vital to replenish reserves following the war) and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana.

Despite the terrible pressures they faced, Seretse and Ruth never wavered – they fought for their love every step of the way, and in so doing changed their nation and inspired the world.

“I remember very clearly Justin approaching me on set with the book, and handing it to me,” says Oyelowo. “I was so arrested by the image of the cover photo of Seretse and Ruth, looking very glamorous and happy. I knew nothing of them. I had no idea he was an African prince.

“But I read the book and was just intoxicated by the power their love had over political establishments. Their love was such a potent thing. It wasn’t like Ruth had grown up in some political family and always had this conviction about racism. So it was very clear to me that their love was very pure and diamond-like; it was able to cut through all this prejudice they faced, having got married.

“So when I first came upon this story, I became obsessed with the idea of it becoming a film. I’m a proud African, and an avid excavator of African stories that could be told on film.”

The three men tried to get the film off the ground – “to be honest, with very little success,” as Oyelowo recalls. “When we first sent the script out to agents and it was clear I would be playing Seretse, people said no.”

But he told people he worked with and liked about Seretse and Ruth’s story. Two of these would be key in the story’s progress to film.  Veteran producer Rick McCallum had produced a film with David in a significant role; Red Tails, about African-American pilots in World War II.

He recalls: “I have filmed all over Africa but I had never heard about this amazing part of Botswana’s history. I was enchanted by the story and thrilled that David had brought me the book and that I could be a part of making this film. He was so passionate about the project – and it was so apparent from the minute that George Lucas and I met him for Red Tails that he was going break out as an actor in a big way. I warned David that it would take some time – that he would have to be patient until he reached a higher profile but we all agreed from that moment that we would not, under any circumstances, make the film unless David played the part of Seretse. It was also extremely important for David that he wanted to play a major part in controlling the future of his own work by helping to produce the film as well. One of the big frustrations for David was finding stories that contextualise what it is to be black, told from a black protagonist’s point of view. We also all agreed that it was absolutely essential that we shoot the film in Botswana. There was a tremendous amount of pressure for us to make the film in South Africa (because of the infrastructure and tax breaks), but all of us were in agreement that the only place for us to make the film was where the events actually happened. The moment everything changed was when we had our first meeting with Cameron McCracken [London based MD of Pathe and Executive Producer of the film] – he committed immediately (having worked with David on Selma) and from that moment we were on our way, eventually joined by the BBC, the BFI and Ingenious.

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Guy Hibbert is a screenwriter and winner of four BAFTA TV Awards for writing the dramas No Child of Mine, Omagh, Five Minutes of Heaven and Complicit. He also received a BAFTA nomination for his work on the television serial The Russian Bride. Most recently, Hibbert wrote the screenplay for the highly acclaimed political thriller Eye in the Sky on which he also served as executive producer.

Oyelowo continued to bring former collaborators on board including producer Brunson Green, with whom he had done The Help, and screenwriter Guy Hibbert with whom he had collaborated on two films:  Blood and Oil, and Complicit. “Once we had Guy on board, we felt safe, we felt in good shape,” says McCallum, who admires Hibbert’s political savvy. “He got along extremely well with Susan Williams, they met a couple of times a week, and we arranged a trip to Botswana for him. He was already interested by the politics, but the moment he went to Botswana, that was it.  He fell in love with the people and the country”

Two crucial roles in the production were still not filled, and once again Oyelowo’s connections were crucial: “I met Amma Asante when I did a TV series 20 years ago, Brothers and Sisters. That was one of my first jobs out of drama school. Then, in the middle of our search for a director, I saw her wonderful film, Belle.  I talked to her about A United Kingdom and thankfully she responded to the material”.

Rick McCallum was ecstatic about Amma Asante coming on board: “She is a wonderful director and an extraordinary woman – every single frame of A United Kingdom bears the unique perspective of her own life and history.  She is relentless in getting what she wants and does it with a passion and sense of humour that enthused every member of our Czech, English, South African and Botswana cast and crew.”     Asante worked intensively with Hibbert on the script, bringing her own take on the politics, the love story and the voice of the characters.

Finally, Rosamund Pike joined the cast to play Ruth Williams. She and Oyelowo had worked together on Jack Reacher. “David sent me a book of photos of Ruth and Seretse, together with a script,” she recalls. “I scrolled through images of them. There was one of them sitting side by side, the two of them close up to each other. It was like someone had flicked on a switch. I felt tears streaming down my face. Something about them moved me so much.”

She then read the script: “It bore out everything I had hoped for.”

Says Oyelowo: “The story of Ruth and Seretse clearly had a real impact on Rosamund. She wrote me back this amazing e-mail: ‘I don’t know who they are, but they’ve touched me in a way I can’t explain. Tell me more.’ I did, and very quickly she said: ‘I want to do it.’”

After six long years, A United Kingdom was at last ready to go into production.

British director Amma Asante,

Amma Asante is a writer/director who debuted her feature film, BELLE, at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013 and received a strong reception and rave reviews. She was also honored with Variety’s Top Ten Directors to Watch in 2014., Asante’s most recent film A United Kingdom starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. At the BAFTA Film Awards in February 2005, Asante received the BAFTA Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a Writer/Director in a Debut Film. On the same night, she scored a double triumph at the 2005 Miami International Film Festival, winning the award for ‘Best Dramatic Feature in World Cinema’ and the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize for ‘Best Feature Film.’ Asante made an unusual entry into filmmaking. As a child, Asante attended the Barbara Speake stage school in London, where she trained as a student in dance and drama. She began a television career as a child actress, appearing as a regular in the popular British school drama “Grange Hill.” She fronted the ‘Just Say No’ campaign of the 1980s and was one of nine “Grange Hill” children to take it to the Reagan White House. She went on to gain credits in other British television series including “Desmond’s” (Channel 4) and “Birds of a Feather” (BBC1), and was a Children’s Channel presenter for a year. In her late teens, Asante left the world of acting and eventually made the move to screenwriting with a development deal from Chrysalis. Two series of the urban drama “Brothers and Sisters” followed, which Asante wrote and produced for her Production Company and BBC2. Asante’s 2004 feature film, A WAY OF LIFE, was her directorial debut and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival as well. The film won Asante 17 international awards for her writing and directing including The BFI London Film Festival’s inaugural Alfred Dunhill UK Film Talent Award, created to recognize the achievements of a new or emerging British writer/director who has shown great skill and imagination in bringing originality and verve to filmmaking. Additionally, Asante collected The Times ‘Breakthrough Artist of the Year’ at the prestigious South Bank Show Awards for writing and directing the film.

A significant factor in Asante’s decision to direct the movie was where its action takes place. “It’s set in Africa and London — the two places in the world that are most important to me. David’s passion was pivotal in convincing me to come on board, as was Rick’s tenacity and experience and his openness to my thoughts and ideas”.

Asante grew up in Streatham, south London, the child of Ghanaian immigrants; initially she and her parents lived in a one-room flat. Her parents started out in menial jobs, then moved on; her father who had qualified as an accountant was employed by HMRC, while her mother ran their family owned deli.

Asante identifies herself as ‘Black British,’ and thus views the world from a dual perspective that she calls ‘the extra eye’: “I’m the child of parents who were born and raised in a British colony and saw it achieve independence.  From the age of four, I would go back to Ghana for summer holidays. My father raised me as a daughter of Africa.  I know what independence meant to my parents and it therefore means a huge amount to me.  This was the opportunity to tell the story of one African country’s journey to independence.

“But I consider this as much a British story as it is an African story. It’s as much a part of Britain’s history as of Botswana’s. And it was important for me to walk in the shoes of all its characters. And that included the British politicians whose actions may have appeared stereotypically racist but whose motivation was to protect their national interest. I wanted to show the very real political predicament of the British Government.

“I also made a deliberate choice to tell the story through the eyes of both Seretse and Ruth.  Black audiences will recognise the experience of being ‘the other.’ But when Ruth arrives in Bechuanaland, it’s she who is the ‘outsider’ and she’s regarded with suspicion at first. So you’re dealing with the ‘other,’ whether it’s him in London or her in Africa. Each is in the other’s land. I really wanted to show Ruth desperately seeking to be accepted by the people of Botswana – she was not a “white saviour”, she needed them to support her, and it was as part of that community that she and the Bangwato become masters of their own fate”.

Amma’s previous work underlines her interest in stories that explore national, racial and cultural barriers and issues of social justice and equality. Her first film, A Way of Life (2004) (which she wrote and directed), dealt with three bigoted white teenagers in Wales who persecute a Muslim neighbour; it won many writer and director awards internationally, including a BAFTA for writer/director in a debut film.    The title character in her next film, the highly praised Belle (2013), was a young woman who was the daughter of a British admiral and an African slave, raised in the 18th century in a grand stately home as part of a wealthy family. Her guardian was Britain’s Lord Chief Justice, who later passed legal rulings that led to the abolition of slavery.

In terms of the decisions she made in shaping the film, Amma credits Colour Bar, Susan Williams’s biography of Seretse and Ruth: “It had a massive input on the choices I made.” She cites the book’s references to Seretse’s sister Naledi and Ruth’s sister Muriel as being ‘key’ to broadening the story’s context; they enabled her to flesh out those characters.

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“I think we’ve now reached a point where we can tell African stories through the eyes of African characters and that’s incredibly important to me” says Asante, “It means people of colour can be the centre of their own stories.  Our story is Ruth’s and Seretse’s love story, but I wanted to make sure this was not just a story about their love. What attracted me to Ruth and Seretse was not so much the fact of their interracial marriage, but what flowed from it – the unique political fallout and how they endured such intense prejudice.  I am always drawn to stories of people who fight for what they believe – the fact that Seretse and Ruth fought for their love and their country is what attracted me to their journey”.

History, Politics, Context

Author Susan Williams, whose book Colour Bar is the primary source for A United Kingdom, is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Affairs. Here she offers some background to the years in which the story took place:

The British Empire

“At the end of World War II, the British Empire covered a quarter of the globe, incorporating India; dozens of territories across Africa and Asia; and self-governing dominions such as Canada and Australia.”

The Meaning Of Protectorate

“Bechuanaland was one of a number of ‘protectorates’ within the Empire, where local rulers kept some of their traditional powers but were subject to British overrule.  Bechuanaland was lightly colonised because it had little to offer Britain: it was largely semi-desert, and diamonds and other minerals had yet to be discovered. The white population was small, and both racial inequalities and segregation were firmly established. There was no administrative capital within the territory, and British affairs were run from South Africa, through the British High Commissioner. The protectorate was managed on a shoestring, with limited resources available for education and health care. Many Batswana were malnourished, and it was estimated that at least a third of all babies died before the age of five.

“For the people of Bechuanaland, the designation “protectorate” was invested with a particular meaning – protection had been requested of Queen Victoria by Seretse’s grandfather to combat the threat of incorporation into neighbouring South Africa. Although British rule was widely resented by the Batswana, South Africa’s racism and policy of apartheid was considered a greater danger.”

The End Of Empire

“In 1947, the year before the Khamas married, India left the British Empire to become two selfgoverning nation states: India and Pakistan. In 1957, the year after Seretse’s return from exile,  the  Gold Coast became Ghana, the first British territory in Africa to achieve self-rule. African nationalism and the wind of change was sweeping the continent, and Bechuanaland became independent Botswana in 1966. Botswana was at that time listed by the UN as one of the world’s 10 poorest nations and the least developed nation in Africa. Its transformation over the intervening 50 years has been remarkable. “

Susan Williams’s detailed research

In the detailed research she undertook to write Colour Bar, Susan Williams visited Botswana, and all the towns associated with the Khamas’ story. She studied more than 1,000 files about the Khamas in Britain’s public records office; some of these were closed, but she persuaded the government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to have them opened for her. She also won the co-operation of the Khama family; Seretse’s son Ian (now president) was vicepresident at the time and he arranged access to records, photos, and people in villages she wouldn’t otherwise have been able to see: “But at no time did they seek to influence my perception of the past events. I’d never experienced that before.”

“There was a strong sense of duty and obligation between Seretse and Tshekedi for the sake of the nation,” she says. “They put aside their differences for the common good and the sake of the people. I draw a parallel here with Nelson Mandela.

Mandela actually sought political refuge in Bechuanaland in the early 1960s, before he was tried and imprisoned in South Africa. Addressing the nation of Botswana, Mandela declared: “We have so much to learn from you.”

Some authors have reservations about big-screen adaptations of their work, but Susan insists: “I loved the film. I’ve been choked up and sobbed, especially when Seretse and Tshekedi come together. It captures the truth of what happened. I feel totally honoured to be part of this. There’s a strong relationship between film and book.”

She praises director Amma Asante’s attention to detail: on one occasion Amma called Susan from Botswana to check the pronunciation of a character’s name. “They got it slightly wrong, so Amma reshot the scene,” Susan reports.  In pre-production, she received emails from producer Rick McCallum. “They were trying to find the exact house where Seretse and Ruth first lived in Serowe. I told them about it, where I thought it was situated.  People were trying to find the house. They could have found another, but they wanted the real one. To me, that’s part of why the film’s so moving.”   When Ruth died in 2002, Susan’s husband showed her a newspaper obituary about Lady Khama, as she had become: “He said: ‘this is your next book.’ And I could see it was an inspiring story.

“I saw the birth of Botswana as the birth of a nation, overcoming obstacles and difficulties with Seretse the founding father. He and Tshekiedi put aside their differences, and there’s a kind of integrity about that. There was a compulsion to me to tell that story of good triumphing over bad.”

Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with writer-director Sallas De Jager about his uproarious comedy Jonathan that deals with a dreamer and wannabe stand-up comedian who embarks on a roller coaster journey of self-discovery.

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Rikus de Beer, who plays Jonathan, with director Sallas de Jager during the filming of Jonathan

Who is Jonathan?

jonathan-2Jonathan is a classic underdog.  He is in his late 20’s and has big aspirations to become a big time stand-up comedian. His unique simple outlook on life, combined with the fact that he has no filter between his thoughts and what comes out of his mouth, is the foundation of his stand-up comedy humour.  He is unfortunately very entitled as far as life in general goes, and he enters competitions once or twice a year. When he doesn’t win, it’s never his fault and he believes that he was cheated out of his break.  When we meet him in the film he is still living with his parents and his saving grace and his biggest flaw is his brutal honesty. He needs to learn to survive as an outsider and to understand that respect and success is never given to you, you have to earn it.

Describe the story in your own words…

Jonathan, a dreamer and wannabe stand-up comedian in his late 20’s, still lives with parents. After another failed open mic performance he gets drunk and crashes his father’s car on the way home. This is the last straw for his loving but fed up parents and his father kicks him out of the house. Having nowhere to go he becomes a car-guard. After a very hostile reception by the other car-guards, the eldest car-guard decides to take Johnathan under his wing and teaches him the finer art of being a car-guard and more importantly, he teaches Jonathan about life and how to survive as an outcast. Jonathan also falls in love with a girl way out of his league. Will he be able to apply the lessons learned to make peace with his family, earn the forgiveness of his mentor and win the heart of the most beautiful girl he ever met?

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A born raconteur, Sallas has been telling stories through music as a member of the famous Afrikaans group, Klopjag, since 2002. He is not only a magician with lyrics and music, but he has also established himself as a competent writer, director and producer of more than 13 music videos, theatre productions and full feature films. Towards the end of 2008 he was one of the founding members of Bosbok Ses Films(BSF). BSF started work on an adaptation of the book, “Roepman” and Sallas with Jan van Tonder and Piet de Jager wrote the screenplay. The film, Roepman, was released in 2011 under wide critical acclaim. The film was a co-production between BSF and Danie Bester’s company, The Film Factory. During this time, the NFVF chose him as one of nine young writers to partake in the Spark workshops in Cape Town in 2010 and due to the success of his involvement; he was further selected to continue with the NFVF’s Sediba Masters Scriptwriting program in 2011 and successfully completed it in 2012. Sallas was also the producer and scriptwriter of the celebrated Boer War drama, Verraaiers. After the massive critical and commercial success of Verraaiers he made his directorial debut with the award winning drama Musiek vir die Agtergrond in the first half of 2013. In the second half of 2013 he produced Stuur groete aan Mannetjies Roux, which he also co-written with acclaimed South African writer Christopher Torr. Roepman and Musiek vir die agtergrond was sold for release in North America. Musiek vir die Agtergrond was also sold and released in Australia and New Zeeland. Stuur groete aan Mannetjies Roux is sold to be release in Australia, New Zeeland and the UK during the latter part of 2014. Musiek vir die agtergrond was an official selection for the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) in the “Above the cut”-section. It was the first Afrikaans language film ever to be selected for MAMI. In 2015 he directs his second feature film, Free State, of which he also wrote the screenplay for. Free State is was an official selection at more than 15 international film festivals across the globe and won 3 awards, including “Best Director” at the Luxor African Film Festival in Egypt as well as “Best Cinematography” at the Garden State Film Festival in New Jersey, USA. The film was released in April 2016 in South Africa and was also sold in Brazil and India. In 2016 he directs, Jonathan, his first comedy. Jonathan is a three part franchise which he created with John-Henry Opperman and Rikus de Beer. He is also the writer and producer. To date the five films he wrote or co-written the screenplays for, won 17 awards and numerous nominations, a testament that he understands character and writing for cinema. He won “Best African Director” at IIFFSA 2014 for Musiek vir die agtergrond. Having proved himself as one of the best dramatic screenwriters of his generation and delivering on expectations as director, Sallas is set to become one of the biggest writer/directors to rise from African shores!

You mentioned that it was an opportunity that arrived at the right time in your life. Tell me about this?

I believe the experience and the lessons learned through the mistakes I made the previous five films armed me with all the tools needed to take on the responsibility of contributing to an already massive brand, and to be able to add value at the same time.

I quickly realised that this kind of action driven old school comedy is much more difficult to write and direct than anything I’ve done previously, but then the experience kicked in, and I quickly realised that the basic principals of story is the key to writing and executing the script during principal photography. By basic principals, I refer to firstly a solid story –  interesting but real characters with relatable objectives – and strictly sticking to causality as far as events and the consequential actions taken by the characters.  There are no grey areas in this genre.

At the start of my career I didn’t have the patience or the skill to even attempt something like this, and it was even more tough because of the fact that the main character is a household name.  It therefore forced me to be creative within set boundaries of the character of Jonathan, as well as the extreme structural discipline the genre requires.  Because it was such a challenge, is was also almost magical when it all came together, and that sense of job satisfaction is rare and much appreciated.

You followed Jonathan on YouTube… is this a great new resource for filmmakers looking for great ideas?

I get my inspiration from life and people and the way they behave under pressure or react to pressure situations.  I don’t necessarily agree that YouTube is a great resource for filmmakers as far as ideas go.  I do however feel that it is an amazing platform for young performers to build a profile and a following.  When utilised smartly, it can kick start a career.  Year by year the South African Film industry is growing and for us to sustain the momentum and get our films seen, we need to create stars that puts bums on seats. YouTube is definitely one of the many platforms to achieve this.

You have touched our hearts with your screenplay for Verraaiers, and broke our hearts with Free State as writer and director, now you venture into the comedy realm with Jonathan.. tell me about this transition?

The transition was not as massive as I thought it would be. I believe that I’m a storyteller.  I’ve never considered myself as someone who sticks to a specific genre.  I would love to make more comedies in future, as well as action movies, and another genre I would love to explore is crime dramas and psychological thrillers.  I was very blessed to cut my teeth on films like Verraaiers, Free State and Roepman, because all of them forced me to really dig into studying human behaviour in familiar South African situations, at the same time to deal with universal themes.  With every screenplay you learn a little more and this gives you confidence to dig a little deeper in order to explore the core of the theme and the controlling idea of the story you are telling.  More importantly you learn to explore the counter idea, and you are more willing to explore the dark side, and I believe this is key in one’s quest to become a good screenwriter.

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It is important for a storyteller to explore outside their comfort zone… Your views on this?

Absolutely, I think at this point in my career I began to understand the value and the importance of the years of studying story structure, master plots, and watching thousands of films to understand the application of these building blocks.

If you’re lucky enough to get the opportunities I will advise screenwriters to step out of their comfort zone every opportunity you get.   My biggest fear is creative stagnation.

With your Klopjag success I am sure we can expect a musical in the future?

I will never exclude the possibility. At the moment I prefer to focus on creating music that enhances the tone and emotional journey of the characters.  I love the use of music as a tool to tell stories and I’m a big fan of the master soundtrack composers, and the powerful way melodies or a well placed and chosen song can enhance the emotional connection an audience takes home after a film.  Because of my background in music it helps me a lot to communicate to composers and musicians, and it definitely helps to explain what I want or to communicate what I hear of feel.

What excites you about being a filmmaker in South Africa?

To be part of a new generation of filmmakers in a developing industry excites me the most! At the moment we are still a story driven industry which allows us the rare opportunity to be able to try new things and to dream big dreams.  In the rest of the world, especially in Hollywood, it is very different.  They have a star driven industry which means that the popular actors in their choices of what roles they choose, are basically deciding which screenplays will become movies.  I’ve simplified it immensely now, but that the core truth of it.  In South Africa you can still get funding for a well written screenplay with a good story without having to attach A-list stars to you film.  We should treasure this while it lasts.

The world has also grown smaller and South African films, like Free State, have garnered much success internationally? Your views?

Talent and fresh ideas are our biggest strengths at this point, I believe we are on the brink of showcasing this on a more regular basis at international film festivals.  It took us a good part of ten years to get to a point where South African films are screened at festivals.  Unfortunately these festival selections do not always lead to distribution after the festival screenings.  And in that lies our biggest weakness at the moment.  I think we need more education and assistance in terms of festival strategies as well as understanding the international film markets. These are specialised fields, and at the moment producers and directors are taking the responsibility for this too.  This shouldn’t be the situation. We need to train people who specialise in turning festival selections into sales on a regular basis.  This key skill is seriously lacking in our industry and it’s something that needs to be remedied as soon as possible.  Up to this point institutions like the NFVF and DTI focused mostly, and rightly so,  on selling South Africa as a location and attracting productions to come and shoot their films here, but I think the next step should be to find a balance in terms of attracting productions, and actually selling South African content and building an audience for South African stories on TV and VOD platforms in the rest of the world, which will in time lead to proper theatrical distribution in other territories outside Africa.

This means that South African filmmakers must stop thinking about making a local film, but rather one the world wants to experience…. Your views on this.

Yes, but at the same time No.  It ties in to my answer to the previous question.  The focus in my opinion should be to tell authentic South African stories that deal with universal themes and relatable characters, dealing with universally relatable problems.  The moment we master this on a regular basis, we give ourselves a fair chance to kick open a place for ourselves in the international arena.  A movie that I always refer to, too illustrate this, is the British Film “The Full Monty”.  This film is authentically British and made for a British audience, no big US A-list star, but it tells the universal story of a group of men who needed to get their self confidence back.  It made truckloads of money all over the world and it grew the audience for British films and gave momentum for a lot stories set in Britain for the following 10 years after it’s release.

The future for screenwriters in South Africa is also loaded with potential… your views…

I have to agree with that.  We have fresh voices and new stories.  These are worth gold in places like Hollywood. It is unfortunately quite tough at the moment to make a decent living from screenwriting which means that out of necessity, focus is on volume instead of quality.  The simple reason is you need to eat, pay rent etc.  I cannot stress the importance of proper development funding enough.  I believe we have a lot of skilled writers, but they need to be empowered by being able to write under less financial and time pressure than is the case at the moment. It will benefit the whole industry. The silver lining is that there are a few people who realised this and things are going to change.

What do think are 3 traits of a great screenwriter?

Life experience,

The ability to listen to and then to analyse both sides of an argument and only then form an opinion.

Discipline.

What do you hope audiences will get from a Jonathan encounter?

My brief from my fellow producers was to get back to basics.  Film is in its purest form, escapism and I honestly believe that for 90 minutes the audience will be able to forget about everything else and go on this journey with Jonathan and laugh their asses off while doing so!

So many filmmakers seem to forget that films are about escapism and entertainment….

Absolutely and I must admit, I myself was guilty in this regard, but I feel over the last two of three years I’m getting closer to a balance between the beauty and the power of film, and the entertainment value. I suppose we’ll keep on learning and keep on trying!

What’s next for you?

I’m working on the script for the second Jonathan that will be shot somewhere towards the middle of 2017 and as always,  I’ve got a few other  ideas cooking…we’ll talk about that next time.

 

 

moana

Add this funtastic Moana hamper to your Xmas goodies!

If you want to be a winner, simply tell us who composed the song How Far I’ll Go , performed  by South African songstress  and performing artist Lira, who has recorded her own version of How Far I’ll Go, from Disney’s upcoming animation comedy adventure film Moana.

Send us your contact details with Moana in the subject line before December 31, 2016

Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 56th Animated Feature, is a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who is inspired to leave the safety and security of her island on a daring journey to save her people. Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana (voice of Auliʻi Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors who sailed before her. Together, they voyage across the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.  Go behind the scenes of Moana

How Far I’ll Go beautifully encapsulates the elements of Moana that resonate with me, to break away from conformity, to be bold, go out and discover what makes you uniquely you,” says Lira. “It’s a real honour to be involved! Also, the fact that Disney is able to incorporate and feature African voices in projects such as this, is truly exciting.”

How Far I’ll Go is written by Tony-, Emmy- and Grammy-winning lyricist/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who counts among his credits Broadway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and multiple Tony-winning “Hamilton” and the Tony-winning “In the Heights” who, when commenting on the track says “This is Moana’s chance to say for herself how she feels and where she belongs.”

 “We are delighted that Lira has lent her world-class talent and distinctively beautiful voice to How Far I’ll Go”, says Christine Service, Senior Vice President and Country Manager of The Walt Disney Company Africa. “Bringing her voice to the cinematic release of Moana adds a wonderful local dimension to this universal story of finding one’s true self. We are thrilled to be able to collaborate with Lira to bring this unique recording to South African families.”

Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 56th Animated Feature, is a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who is inspired to leave the safety and security of her island on a daring journey to save her people. Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana (voice of Auliʻi Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors who sailed before her. Together, they voyage across the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.   Go behind the scenes of Moana

 

“Who am I? I am a girl who loves my island. And the girl who loves the sea. It calls me.”

From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people.

“Moana is the 16-year-old daughter of the chief of Motunui,” says director Ron Clements. “She’s brave, determined, compassionate and incredibly smart. She has a never-say-die attitude and a profound connection to the ocean.”

“So it’s troubling to her, to say the least, that her people don’t go beyond the reef surrounding their island,” adds director John Musker. “They stay within the confines of that reef, and Moana doesn’t really understand why, especially since she’s felt drawn to the ocean her whole life.”

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Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana (voice of Auliʻi Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors who sailed before her. Together, they voyage across the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.

Moana was directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess & the Frog), from a screenplay by Jared Bush, who was responsible for helping to develop and shape character personalities and overall story for Moana.

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Ron Clements is a renowned storyteller and filmmakers at Walt Disney Animation Studios. With his long me collaborator John Musker, Clements has written and directed iconic feature films that have become part of Disney’s legacy, including beloved classics like The Little Mermaid in 1989 and Aladdin in 1992, as well as Disney’s 2009 return to hand-drawn Animation, The Princess and the Frog. Clements teams up with Musker again, this time venturing to ancient Oceania for an epic adventure about an aspiring wayfinder. Born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, Clements traces his interest in Animation to his first viewing of “Pinocchio” at age 9. As a teenager, he began making Super-8 animated films, including “Shades of Sherlock Holmes,” a 15-minute feature he animated single-handedly. “Shades” won critical acclaim and led to a part-time job as an artist at a television station, where he animated commercials for the local market. After graduating from high school, Clements came to California to try his luck at Animation. Because there were no openings at Disney, he worked for several months at Hanna-Barbera while studying life drawing in the evening at Art Center. With persistence and determination, Clements was finally accepted into Disney’s Talent Development Program, a training ground for young animators, followed by a two-year apprenticeship under Disney legend Frank Thomas. He quickly progressed through the ranks from in-betweener to assistant to animator storyman. His credits include Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, The Rescuers, Pete’s Dragon, The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron. Clements made his writing-directing debut with Musker on the 1986 feature The Great Mouse Detective.” Their credits also include 1997’s epic comedy Hercules and the intergalactic adventure Treasure Planet in 2002.

The story is inspired in part by oral histories of the people and cultures of Oceania, where filmmakers traveled to learn as much as possible. For centuries, the greatest navigators in the world masterfully navigated the vast Pacific , discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, around 3,000 years ago, their voyages stopped for a millennium – and though there are theories, no one knows exactly why. “Navigation on—wayfinding—is such a big part of Pacific culture,” says Musker. “Ancient Polynesians found their way across the seas, wayfinding island-to-island without the use of modern instruments, using their knowledge of nature, the stars, the waves and the currents.”

Adds Clements, “We heard many T mes from the people we met during our trips to the Pacific Islands that the ocean doesn’t separate the islands, it connects them. Voyaging is a real source of pride for Pacific Islanders, a part of their identity. They were, and continue to be, some of the greatest explorers of all time. This wayfinding sense is not only quite sophisticated, it is miraculous.”

“Many of the people Ron and John met explained that this belief stems from the deep pride Pacific Islanders have in their ancestors, who were the greatest navigators—wayfinders—that the earth has ever seen,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “That pride in their cultural traditions,that sense of connectedness to the ocean, and by the ocean, became central to the story. It’s why the story’s protagonist, and the film itself, is named ‘Moana’—the word for ‘ocean’ in many Polynesian languages.”

There are many theories, but no one is certain about what may have led to the 1,000-year gap in exploration before it resumed 2,000 years ago, leading to the discoveries of Tahi , Hawai‘i and Aotearoa (New Zealand). This rebirth—and the possible explanations behind it—sparked the filmmakers’ imaginations. Says Musker, “In our story, our heroine, Moana, is at the heart of the rebirth of wayfinding.”

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Telling The Tale

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John Musker is a renowned storyteller and filmmakers at Walt Disney Animation Studios. With his longtime collaborator Ron Clements, Musker has written and directed iconic feature films that have become part of Disney’s legacy, including beloved classics like The Little Mermaid in 1989 and Aladdin in 1992, as well as Disney’s 2009 return to hand-drawn Animation, The Princess and the Frog. Born in Chicago, Ill., Musker knew by age 8 that he wanted to become an animator. Inspired by such Disney classics as Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio, as well as Bob Thomas’ primer The Art of Animation, Musker developed a thorough understanding of the Animation process. His fascination with comics, cartoons and MAD magazine further stimulated his desire to draw. At Loyola Academy, Musker became a cartoonist for the school paper. His special brand of caricature included outrageous sketches of teachers and school celebrities. Musker continued to develop his caricature and cartooning skills throughout his college years at Northwestern University, where he majored in English and drew cartoons for The Daily Northwestern. Following graduation from college in 1974, Musker set out for California to pursue a career as an animator.

Pacific Island storytelling culture is celebrated as the film opens. Gramma Tala, the mother of Chief Tui and Moana’s greatest confidante, shares the tale of Te Fi , the mother island. “Her heart held the greatest power ever known: it could create life itself,” she says. “And Te Fi  shared it with the world.”

Gramma Tala’s story culminates with details of Maui, demigod of the wind and sea, who steals the heart of Te Fi , unleashing a terrible darkness that threatens the life and habitat of islanders throughout the region. Maui is confronted by Te Kā, a demon of earth and fire, and ultimately loses the heart of Te Fi  to the sea.

The film introduces a very special presence in Moana’s life: the Ocean—a living embodiment of the sea who’s chosen Moana to find Maui and return the heart of Te Fi , saving her island and her people from the darkness that has begun to take over. The only problem is that Chief Tui, Moana’s father, forbids voyaging beyond the safety of the reef that lies just beyond their shores. Tui has seen too many voyage past the reef—and never return—and out of love for his people, has forbade it. Moana must go against her father’s wishes to pursue her destiny set forth by the Ocean.

The mighty demigod Maui, a charisma c character in the film, was inspired by the varied tales and legends about him throughout the Pacific. Says Musker, “We were fascinated by the stories we read, the tales told to us by people of the region. In most islands, Maui is larger-than-life, a trickster and a shapeshifter. He could pull up whole islands from the sea with his fishhook; he had the power to slow down the sun. He is an incredible figure.”

Maui, who’s on his own journey of self-discovery, reluctantly guides Moana in her quest to become a wayfinder and save her people. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an ac on-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and, along the way, Moana discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.

“It’s a story that takes place many, many years ago, but with a contemporary feel,” says producer Osnat Shurer. “Our hope as filmmakers has been to create a universal story that is also an homage to the beautiful people of the Pacific Islands who inspired us along this journey.”

Research – Filmmakers Find Themselves in Oceania

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Screenwriter Jared Bush is responsible for helping to develop and shape character personalies and overall story for “Moana.” Bush is also co-creator, executive producer and writer for Disney XD’s animated comedy adventure series “Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero.” He also helped develop the Oscar®-winning features Big Hero 6 and Frozen, and served as a screenwriter and co-director for this year’s hit feature Zootopia. He began his career as a script reader for Academy Award®-winning director Robert Zemeckis. A Harvard University graduate with a degree in English and American literature, Bush is an avid traveller who has visited forty countries on six continents and an accomplished trombone player who has played with several jazz bands over the years.

When first thinking of seeing an animated feature in the beautiful Pacific Islands, directors Ron Clements and John Musker recalled from their youth beloved novels and paintings about the Pacific. But once they began exploring the incredible tales within Polynesian mythology a few years ago, the filmmakers realized they needed to dive much, much deeper. They knew they needed to go to the islands of the Pacific to see the places and meet the people in person.

Among the many people they met, one meeting stood out, recalls Clements. “An elder on the island of Mo‘orea asked of us something so simple and so revealing: ‘For years, we have been swallowed by your culture,’ he said. ‘This one  me, can you be swallowed by ours?’”

The Pacific Ocean is home to thousands of islands and island nations, known to generations as Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. But, as the filmmakers learned, many Pacific Islanders consider the en region not in sec tions, but as the whole of Oceania. Further, while the islands themselves range in size, inhabitants of these islands consider the ocean between them very much a part of their world—a world many  mes bigger than the United States. Filmmakers were deeply inspired by the people who live there, the cultures they celebrate, and the history and traditions passed down from genera on to genera on.

So Clements and Musker, along with a group of artists from Walt Disney Animation Studios, traveled to the southern region of Oceania. Their mission was to experience the islands not as tourists, but as observers, researchers and students—to listen. “We came away from these trips not only with ideas, images and inspirations for our story, but with an even stronger resolve that we wanted to make something that the people we met would embrace,” says Musker. “We aren’t making a documentary, of course; it’s an animated feature and a work of fiction. But our experiences infused our imaginations in a way we hadn’t anticipated.”

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Clements, Musker and several members of the production team ventured first to Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti . “We wanted to, as much as possible, avoid the ‘touristy’ things, to go deeper,” says Clements. “We wanted to meet people who grew up on islands; we wanted to listen and learn what makes these Pacific Island cultures so remarkable.”

The filmmakers spent  me within local communities, meeting and sharing stories and meals with elders and chiefs and their families, as well as teachers, craftspeople, farmers, fishermen and navigators. They consulted with experts in archaeology, anthropology, history, culture, music, dance, carving and more.

Deeply inspired by their  time in the Pacific Islands, filmmakers assembled a group of advisors the filmmakers named the Oceanic Story Trust (OST). The Trust includes anthropologists, educators, linguists, expert tattooists, choreographers, haka specialists, master navigators and cultural advisors who collaborated with Disney’s creative team. “The Trust has deeply influenced the look and feel of this film,” says Shurer. “The fil