AFM Finance Panel: XYZ, Cinetic, The Exchange, Village Roadshow Talk

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Exciting material with this morning’s AFM Finance Conference and yesterday’s interview with Borat writer Dan Mazer. Check out these highlights from the sessions, including Producing without a Completion Bond and Low Budget Films with Huge Profit Potential featuring  Brad Krevoy, Motion Picture Corporation of America, Brian O’Shea, The Exchange, and John Sloss, Cinetic Media as well as Jillian Apfelbaum of Village Roadshow, Pictures, Nick Spicer of XYZ Films and Zachary Tarica The Forest Road Co.

AFM Finance Conference 11/11/20 @ 9:30AM

Highlights from today’s 1st AFM Finance Conference Panel: Producing Without a Completion Bond

 Panelists:
Brad Krevoy, CEO, Motion Picture Corporation of America
Brian O’Shea, CEO, The Exchange
John Sloss, Founder, Cinetic Media

Moderator:
Jill Goldsmith, Co-Business Editor, Deadline

The current state of Insurance and Production?

Brian O’Shea: “It’s really been a standstill ever since COVID happened…We were in the midst of one production we had to stop …we moved the production from Eastern Europe to the UK, and found that there was more of a likelihood of finding a bond given that there were more insurance-backed opportunities there. It was all private investment, so they had to find a new investor and it was required that he had to have a bond so they were forced to move out of the UK…I was in the midst of trying to figure that issue out during the COVID process, and so I was out there trying to find investors that do non-COVID investment, or backed investment by bond…and it’s really difficult to find.”

Brad Krevoy: “What we decided to do is go full steam ahead on the basis that very few people would be able to take the risk to make more productions, and our thinking was ‘Okay, we’re going to make these movies and everybody will want them.’ What we didn’t fully figure out was that ad revenue was going to be a little bit lower and that the studios were going to limit what they were going to release, but we still continued and still moved forward.”

“In that process, during that exploration, we discovered some very interesting things…We made seven movies and one TV series which we shot in three locations.  One was Canada and they have it together. The US policy, when it comes to protecting all of us….it’s messy, it’s very messy and confusing. But in Canada, they make you do a two-week quarantine, and I mean it’s a severe quarantine…they track you! We were able to get Covid-insurance, $50K for half a million worth of insurance…we bought a little bit of the insurance to reduce and hedge our risk a little bit. It does exist, they offer that product, but it’s very expensive”

“There were quite a few films made and still being made [during the pandemic] under previous policies still in effect that did not have a COVID exclusion. A company, particularly a broadcaster, will have a year-long insurance policy, so long as that policy is still in effect, it covers COVID.”

John Sloss: “It’s the films in the middle that are really challenged. The ones above $2M but below the studio, I think have largely ground to a halt. When we talk about PRIA, we’re talking about sovereign subsidies…In England, they’ve got $500M from the government to subsidize production” “What it does is give an additional ability to attract production to your physical location, so if you’re willing to basically be the insurance company as a government, you can have a leg up certainly on the US but on a lot of other locations.”

“If you look at all the states in this country that subsidize with their tax fees and all of the soft money that we’ve come to rely on, a state covering COVID insurance risk is not so different from a state giving tax rebates, it’s an actuarial calculation. I would call upon the commissioners out there to give some serious consideration [to this] if they want to take advantage of this situation to draw a lot of production to where they are.”

Brad Krevoy: “By the time the governments, at least in the US, get around to figuring this out, it will be too late because we’ll have a vaccine, hopefully.” “The level of development with scripts and writers is at an all-time high right now…I think that’s a common theme.”

What will the Post COVID reality look like?

Brad Krevoy: “It will be the roaring twenty-ones! Content is going to come back strong, and it is going to be happy times, it is going to be fantastic for all of us….There’s going to be tremendous demand…The biggest hope of all for independents, that’s transformational, is going to be advertising-supported VOD. That is going to give life to us for many years, AVOD will be the ship we all ride on for a while”

How companies are Forging Forward and International Support

Brian O’Shea: “The German government is backing insurance relief up to a certain amount, and that is enough given the budget of a [certain] film, which is $10M, that they’re basically putting up…no more than 15-20% of the film budget for COVID insurance, and that is enough for film financers to move forward with the bond.”

John Sloss: “There’s no absolute normal prescription…there is no rehearsal for this period. We’re kind of figuring this out as we go along.”

Brian O’Shea: “We have done a number of films non-bonded with strategic investors in the film. They need to move money…there’s a lot of money out there that is not being worked…there are some investment groups out there that are willing to take a risk and that have been successful, so there are specific investor groups that are taking opportunities on non-bonded films…but…they have to feel comfortable with the package in general.”

John Sloss: “You don’t always need a completion bond, but if you’re working through conventional finance channels where you’re not at the high-risk edges of these arbitrageurs and if you’re working with commercial banks or you’re taking contracts from territorial buyers who have committed to pay on delivery of a completed film — if you’re taking those to a bank to borrow against it and fund your production, you really do need a bond.”

Brad Krevoy: “Sometimes in COVID, the riskiest thing is not making to the post-production process. So what you might be able to do is get a bond for a post at a normal price and you’re just hoping that every day of production goes the way you want it to so that you can still convert some of your contracts into cash.”

What positive outcome of the pandemic could there be for the independent product when COVID clears?  

Brad Krevoy:  “There’s a huge demand. You have all the new streaming services coming online. You have the AVOD coming online. All the mechanisms are aligned.”

John Sloss: “There’s only so much you can do at this moment but the consumption hours for content have exploded because everybody’s quarantined in their house, watching. It happens to coincide with the launch of all SVOD services that are going to be chasing Netflix. The real bottleneck here is in production, and when the pandemic passess…the bottleneck is going to open up….sowhat a smart person does is create the best possible source material they can right now…when the production opens up again, people are going to be working 24 hours a day.”

What Content is Wanted?

John Sloss: “I think documentaries are going to fare well.  They have not been as impacted. We’re all moving towards episodics…they’re doing that for scripted, doing that for docs, and I think that is a very fertile area to focus on at this moment.”

Brian O’Shea: “It’s about content, and people needing content…I’m meeting with a lot of broadcasters too, major broadcasters in Europe, and they are looking for content as well.”

Brad Krevoy: “Movies will reflect the culture, and that culture will have more uplifting, fun properties as opposed to dramatic projects. I think you’ll see a little bit of a shift with people wanting stories that make you laugh, that make you cry, or make you think.  I don’t know how horror will fare as it’s not in my wheelhouse.”

John Sloss: “The most reliable genre is the New…something that has not been seen before.  When we had Napoleon Dynamite, we saw about 500 scripts after that that were take-offs on Napoleon Dynamite or tried to capture that vibe.  It’s not necessarily within the realm of everyone to create something new and yes emotion is important and passion is important but if you have a chance at creating something no one has seen before that has the greatest chance.”

AFM Finance Conference 11/11/20 @ 11AM

Highlights from today’s 2nd AFM Finance Conference Panel: Low Budget Films with Huge Profit Potential

Panelists
Jillian Apfelbaum, EVP, Content, Village Roadshow Pictures
Nick Spicer, Partner, XYZ Films
Zachary Tarica, CEO & Director, The Forest Road Co.

Moderator
John Rhodes, Co-Founder, Screencraft

How do you Decide on Budget?

Zachary Tarica: “It’s what you can afford, it’s what you can put together. The thing we press on as a film finance company is making the budget make sense for the project.”

Nick Spicer: “Most scripts have a minimum budget that it’s going to take to actually make what’s on the page. And there are certain production elements that are immutable in a project, but that doesn’t mean that the movie is worth that amount of money, or worth that amount of money in one iteration versus another. So, what we do is that we always value the project with realistic assumptions for cast, realistic assumptions for what we think we would be able to get in terms of production value, and we figure out what we think the movie is worth to the market.”

What do you look at to decide value?

Nick Spicer: “It’s one part science and one part instinct. I wish that I could tell you exactly how to value a movie and you could go do it and it was easy math. But a lot goes into it, because it’s a creative industry and because you’re trying to gauge audience taste, which is a very hard thing to do. The best thing to do is look at comps…the breakout successes of the past five years — those are usually not realistic comps for a low budget movie.”

Zachary Tarica: “The first thing I do when I look at even the top line of a budget is try to figure out what type of coverage that film can have.  We see hundreds, even thousands of projects, [where] we’re having a real, honest conversation with the production company looking at it and saying, ‘There’s a really good chance here that you lose $6-7M….“It’s important to go into it with that open mind looking at your budget with an accurate…or realistic outcome.”

How has Success Evolved?

Jillian Apfelbaum: “What determines a film’s success in this new environment is directly related to the reason why the film is being made…it is not often that a high risk, the low budget movie can have huge financial returns. That doesn’t mean it’s not a success, especially if you’re trying to prove a filmmaker, build relationships, build your own production company, try it for awards…While financial success is definitely one of the areas in which a movie can be successful, there are other areas in which there are achievements that have value in the long-term growth of a producer or company.”

Zachary Tarica: “There’s so much more to it that can ultimately get you to where the profitability needs to be…The lower the budget, the more important the distribution plan is, the correlation’s 100.” “We’ve had some really interesting case studies, where films sub $500k…have done incredibly well.”

Nick Spicer: “Huge profit potential does not mean $100M at the box office. If you have a movie for $25k-$50k and you sell it for $150k…that’s a really good return…don’t expect that it’s going to become the next Paranormal Activity.”

Can a film Have Success without Name Talent?

Zachary Tarica: “It’s having a pinpoint audience…you have to have an audience that’s interested in what you think you’re creating and really hone in on that audience so that this is something that is sellable.  We had low budget filmmakers that drove cross-country selling packages to churches and made a profit.”

Jillian Apfelbaum: “I think Nick’s company [XYZ] is also doing something really interesting when it comes to the audience in that they’re doing a lot of local language productions.  I’m also fascinated by the faith-based audience and think that there’s a total market there.” “I think there’s a market for local language, for the Spanish language, especially in the US and South America. There is an opportunity to find value in your film outside of the US.”

Nick Spicer: “Local language is booming…Netflix is capped out on subscribers in the US so their growth is entirely international, so there’s a pretty great appetite for local language content.”

Jillian Apfelbaum: “Calling casting directors and asking them who is in the next wave of movie stars or TV stars that you can access before they hit it, that’s really helpful too…Making a movie takes time, so if you cast someone ahead of their break…we made a movie called ‘Hot Summer Nights’ with Timothee Chalamet in it before Timothee Chalamet got big. Our movie didn’t come out until after Timothee had done several major movies, and it ended up really bolstering the success of the film.”

The Impact of COVID

Zachary Tarica: “[In one instance] a false positive COVID test can cost the production company about $200k, so think about that when you have a…$1M to $5M budget film…the issues of quarantine, a bubble, travel, the contingency, the insurance, the things that go into it [planning for COVID] are things that we’re not always thinking about as filmmakers that really come into play here.”

Maximizing Profit Potential?

Jillian Apfelbaum: “Genre is critical in the development stage…if it’s horror or thriller, it is going to have a stronger chance at breakout success and a larger audience than if it’s a drama. Otherwise, finding ways to maximize production value without increasing cost is always really effective, and that has to do often with visual effects, and when you’re going practical versus going visual…but I think the biggest determining factor has to be genre.”

AFM Podcast Session 11/10/20 @ 11AM

Highlights from yesterday’s Filmmakers Podcast ft. Dan Mazer: How to Make Movies, From Indies to Studio Features & Working On Set

Hosts
Giles Alderson, Creator & Host, The Filmmakers Podcast
Ian Sharp, Founder, Sharp House

Guest
Dan Mazer, Writer & Director, LBI Entertainment

On Home Alone reboot:

“We were making a movie in March…and they read on Deadline that we were about to be shut down!”

“We made the announcement, we shut down, without knowing when, if, how we would come down having a five million dollar set still standing in Montreal for all that time…and more pertinently, having a young, 11-year-old boy as our lead with the clock ticking on whether he was going to hit puberty”

On Borat 2:

“With Borat, obviously there you’re in the real world; film sets are sort of hermetically sealed, we’re tested five times a day [he def meant week]…but with Borat, that’s a very different scenario”

“I remember on the first day of shooting, we were waiting for the COVID test for the makeup person to come through, we couldn’t start until that came through and sat in a car park waiting for a negative result for nine hours…and then we lost the light and had basically a half hour’s worth of filming”

Dan on getting financing during covid:

“People started to look more towards…comedy, I think the need for people to just have the stress and strain taken away and to be able to just laugh at stuff has come to the fore”

Dan on success:

“One thing that I’ve learned…the things that have been the most successful that I’ve done have tried to break the mold in some way, and anything that feels familiar or like you’ve seen it before or like a facsimile of something…however good it is, it’s much less likely to breakthrough”

“Daring to be different is really the answer to making an impact”

“As with most things with filmmakers, it’s about ego. As a director, it’s very easy to get high on your own supply and just think you’re a god because everyone’s so nice to you, and you don’t have to listen to anyone…but my attitude to filmmaking generally is surrounding yourself with brilliant people and let them be brilliant and that will steer the ship”

Dan: “[On when Home Alone is coming out] It’ll be next Christmas!”

(Source: Press release provided by Jennifer Garnick, AFM Press)

 

 

AFM: MARIO LOPEZ and TONY ALVA’s OLLIE Skates into World Market Premiere

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Film Mode Entertainment’s OLLIE, Starring MARIO LOPEZ and TONY ALVA,

Skates into its AFM World Market Premiere

LOS ANGELES (November 10, 2020) – Clay Epstein’s Film Mode Entertainment announces the acquisition and AFM world market premiere of the live-action, animated family comedy, OLLIE. The new feature film, now in development stars Mario Lopez (Saved By The Bell) and world-renowned skateboarder, musician, and entrepreneur Tony Alva, one of the original members of the Z-Boys.

A skateboarding bulldog, the legendary Tony Alva, talking dogs, all wrapped up in a family film. Get the popcorn machine ready! We’re excited about how things are coming together and can’t wait for audiences to get a chance to join in on the fun.” Said Lopez.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Mario, Tony, and such an amazingly talented and diverse team on Ollie,” said Epstein. “This exciting, comedic and adventurous film has all of the components to be a major hit with viewers of all ages across the world. We look forward to introducing this very special project to the global marketplace and fans everywhere.”

OLLIE is about CJ, a 13-year-old boy, who is having a tough time getting by at his local skatepark. His life takes a dramatic, adventurous, and positive turn when he is befriended by Ollie, a skateboarding bulldog who was just fired from his watchdog job. The two band together and use Ollie’s incredible talent to save the family business.

Lopez will produce as well as provide the voice for Ollie.

Both Lopez and Alva have amassed major followings from dedicated fans all over the world. Lopez is best known for his iconic, starring role on Saved by the Bell and as a celebrated anchor, host, and reporter for top-rated news entertainment shows like The Talk, Access Hollywood, and Access Daily, with hundreds of credits to his name in film, television and on Broadway.

Alva, known across the globe as a legendary and pioneering skateboarder, is ranked in the top 10 of the most influential skateboarders of all time, was one of the originators of vertical skateboarding, and an original member of the infamous Zephyr Competition Skateboarding Team, also known as the Z-Boys. He is featured in the documentary on Santa Monica and Venice Beach skate culture DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS which was fictionalized into the hit feature film LORDS OF DOGTOWN featuring a star-studded cast that includes Heath Ledger, Nikki Reid, Emile Hirsch, and Victor Rasuk.

Also producing is Mark Roberts via Roberts/David Films, along with Lorena David. Clay Epstein is executive producing.

Roberts teamed up with Lopez to produce both The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia for Netflix (2020) and Feliz NaviDAD, a Christmas movie about a single father, for Lifetime Television premiering in their holiday line up on November 21, 2020. Most recently Roberts completed a documentary about the life of Painter/Activist Carlos Almaraz, Carlos Almaraz / Playing With Fire (Netflix), as well as Love and Betrayal on the Force, a true crime documentary (streaming on AMAZON).

Film Mode Entertainment is representing the world on OLLIE.

About Film Mode Entertainment

Film Mode Entertainment is a leading worldwide sales agent, production entity, and distribution company, focusing on commercially driven feature films of all genres and budget sizes. Film Mode represents projects at all stages of the filmmaking process, often as Executive Producer, with the aim of helping producers and distributors achieve maximum exposure for their films. Film Mode’s recent titles include CRYPTO starring Kurt Russell, Luke Hemsworth, and Alexis Bledel, HOOKING UP starring Brittany Snow, Sam Richardson and Vivica A. Fox, STAGE MOTHER starring Academy Award nominee Jacki Weaver, Lucy Liu and Adrian Grenier, and DREAMKATCHER starring Radha Mitchell, Lin Shaye, and Henry Thomas.

Previous releases include SUGAR MOUNTAIN starring Jason Momoa, and THE GOOD NEIGHBOR starring Academy Award nominee James Caan. Film Mode accelerated their growth and expanded their capabilities by entering into a partnership with SCREEN MEDIA, representing their catalog of more than 600 titles, including WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance, and MONSTER, starring Charlize Theron who won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress for the film. The company also has its own distribution arm, as well as a documentary label, DocMode. Film Mode is based in Beverly Hills, CA.

(Source: Press release provided by Lon Haber, Lon Haber & Co.)

AFM: Jason Isaac’s RAINFALL First Look Footage

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Film Mode Entertainment Presents First Look Footage of Ken Jeong, Temuera Morrison, 
Daniel Gillies and Jason Isaacs’ RAINFALL

 

LOS ANGELES (November 10, 2020) – Clay Epstein’s Film Mode Entertainment announces the AFM market premiere with first-look footage of the highly anticipated sci-fi action epic adventure RAINFALL, starring Ken Jeong (Crazy Rich Asians, The Hangover), Temuera Morrison (Aquaman, The Mandalorian – on Disney+ ), Daniel Gillies (The Originals) and Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter series of films, The OA, The Death of Stalin, The Patriot, Black Hawk Down).

The film is produced by Carly & Carmel Imrie (Occupation, Red Billabong) and American co-executive producer Todd Williams (The Nun, Alex and Me).

“We are very excited to be presenting what some outlets have already dubbed to be one of the most ambitious Australian films ever attempted. This film is a lot of fun and will take the audience on an intense and emotional ride from beginning to end. Rainfall is loud and proud!” Said Carly and Carmel Imrie.

Film Mode Entertainment is representing worldwide rights on RAINFALL outside of Australia and New Zealand.

RAINFALL is currently in final post-production.

About Film Mode Entertainment

Film Mode Entertainment is a leading worldwide sales agent, production entity and distribution company, focusing on commercially driven feature films of all genres and budget sizes. Film Mode represents projects at all stages of the filmmaking process, often as Executive Producer, with the aim of helping producers and distributors achieve maximum exposure for their films. Film Mode’s recent titles include CRYPTO starring Kurt Russell, Luke Hemsworth and Alexis Bledel, HOOKING UP starring Brittany Snow, Sam Richardson and Vivica A. Fox, STAGE MOTHER starring Academy Award nominee Jacki Weaver, Lucy Liu and Adrian Grenier, and DREAMKATCHER starring Radha Mitchell, Lin Shaye, and Henry Thomas.

Previous releases include SUGAR MOUNTAIN starring Jason Momoa, and THE GOOD NEIGHBOR starring Academy Award nominee James Caan. Film Mode accelerated their growth and expanded their capabilities by entering into a partnership with SCREEN MEDIA, representing their catalogue of more than 600 titles, including WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance, and MONSTER, starring Charlize Theron who won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress for the film. The company also has its own distribution arm, as well as a documentary label, DocMode. Film Mode is based in Beverly Hills, CA.

(Source: Press release provided by Lon Haber, Lon Haber & Co.)

American Film Market 2020 Day 1 Highlights “Spotlight On Russia”

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Day 1 at the 2020 Online American Film Market (AFM) kicked off its morning session with Keynote Speakers, Mark Gill of Solstice Studios, and Elissa Federoff, President of Distribution. Neon. Both conversations offered a plethora of detailed and insightful information on topics ranging from exhibition to distribution and timing of releasing films during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

 

Evgenia Markhova

The first-afternoon session, “Spotlight on Russia,” hosted by Roskino CEO, Evgenia Markova, provided an introductory overview of New Russian Cinema and upcoming Russian Television Series.  High energy features with strong production values were on full display. Seeking co-production and co-funding partners, one of the first pieces presented was Die Hards from Russia’s Channel 5 TV, closely resembling the Bruce Willis-led, global phenomenon Die Hard franchise. Covering the full gamut of genres with Russian gangsters, love stories, inspirational, historical, and war, a look at the “Spotlight on Russia,” was illuminated.

The dramedy of Chicks seeks to capitalize on both the local and global markets with a swanky and sultry cast dealing with real-life situations with comedic relief. Set for a 2020 November release, Check it out. You’ll be glad you did!

Red Ghost set in WWII theatre of combat puts on full display the unearthly prowess and determination of the Russian soldier on the battlefield – cunning, baffling, powerful! A must-see piece.

Other promising TV and theatrical titles featuring strong Russian-themed action include The Conquest of Siberia and Run.

The Queen, a teenage comedy featuring a social media darling who also doubles as a professional tennis player has all the dressings of when Maria Sharapova meets a randy Clueless’s, Alicia Silverstone.

Wrapping up the impressive Russian lineup were the animated features for the young viewer, The Golden Hive,  and the older viewer, Silver Skates. Targeted features with compelling narratives. Highly recommended!

The follow-up session to “Spotlight on Russia” featured a panel of Russian women sharing their experience with key art and merchandising in “The Wow-effect of Russian Movies’ Marketing Localization,” moderated by Screen International’s Geoffrey Macnab.

An excellent primer on developing a consistent audience and being sensitive to regional cinema differences.

A storied filmmaking industry featuring the pioneering and ground-breaking montage of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Russian Cinema is seeing widespread popularity throughout Europe and is finding more followers on Youtube. Hostess Markhova showcased the riveting series, Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, released on YouTube in April 2020. The powerful storyline with exquisite costuming and make-up, make this an Editor’s Choice.

Keep an eye for these pieces and for opportunities to team up with production and distribution companies.

AFM 2020 Opens with Keynote Conversations and Speakers from Solstice Studios and NEON

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFM Day 1 Opens

The 2020 Online American Film Market (AFM) kicked off its Day 1 morning session with Keynote Speakers, Mark Gill of Solstice Studios, and Elissa Federoff, President of Distribution. Neon. See below for highlighted topics from the moderated conversations follow. The AFM continues through December 13th. For more information visit the AmericanFilmMarket.com.

Keynote Conversation 1 / AFM Opening Session

Mark Gill, President & CEO, Solstice Studios

Moderated by Anthony D’Alessandro, Managing Editor, Deadline

On releasing Unhinged into theatres:

“Our idea was that we could be first and probably elevate a film of an otherwise modest budget of $33 Million Dollars against Tenet which is hundreds of millions of dollars or Mulan and that we might have an opportunity to elevate the movie. And that is actually what happened.  But it wasn’t for the faint at heart because we had five release dates.  Every time we thought it was done another outbreak would happen somewhere in the US or theatres wouldn’t open or Tenet would move.  It was just the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve been doing this for a long long time.”

On his perceptions of the theatrical landscape before releasing Unhinged and what he learned:

“It looked like Asia was well ahead of the US and Europe certainly too so we allowed the international folks to release first which is not all that common and it worked out great….What we were looking at were three things you have to get to line up.  There are three sets of planets: There are the theatre owners obviously.  There were other distributors, notably Warner Bros. for Tenet and at that time Disney with Mulan.  And then, of course, there’s the public health situation. Our theory was if we waited until Fall things could easily get worse – which is what we see happening.  Our thought was that in the Summer we had a chance. And going first was important since no one else wanted to do it.  I’m glad we did. It worked out well for us but it was also an important statement to make about why theatres matter and that people would go.”

Other Countries and Pandemic give hope.

“You’ve got more and more films pushing, FOX has just moved a couple of things.  It just does not look good. So I was glad to see Pfizer released good news about a possible vaccine.  That’s clearly going to be key.  The other thing that is incredibly heartening in the long-run is if you look at Japan and China and Korea, where the public health situation is under control, they’re breaking records.  So, people like going to the movies.  They just want to do it in a way that allows them to relax and enjoy and feel comfortable doing it and not enough of them are right now in the US.”

On what makes a film like Unhinged ripe right now for the current marketplace.

“I have three theories about that. The first is the movie has to be good enough.  The second is, for some reason men seem to be a little more willing to go to theatres than women. And third is that it’s a good way to blow off some steam.  We’re all living in a very very tense time.  Unemployment is high. Everything is uncertain. It’s tough for everybody. So if there’s a chance to go and just enjoy some craziness on the screen as opposed to the craziness in our real lives, that’s what the exit polls are telling us that people are liking about these kinds of movies.”

 Why Solstice stuck to a full theatrical release for Unhinged.

“Where possible, we want to be in theatres. That’s what we’re [Solstice Studios] all about so as others are running from it – you’ll see the majors making fewer movies for theatres which were coming anyway but are now just accelerated – that will create more opportunity in the long run for mid-sized films to run in the way that they used to.  The impressive list of films that the AFM has been a part of for the last 40 years, those are precisely the kinds of films that are going to benefit from this once there is a vaccine.”

On the potential of having a shortage of films for the international markets by next year. Will we hit a dry spot?

“What we’re starting to see from the production side is a number of movies gearing up for late winter or early spring starts. But that means they’re delivered a year from then so by the time we get to Cannes or certainly Toronto I think there is going to be a shortage of films.”

On Good Joe Bell

“We bought Good Joe Bell for the world which means that we will sell it internationally after we’re done doing a little bit of work on the film.  I thought it was very very strong but not quite where it needed to be in terms of hitting critical mass. It will be done in the next 2 ½ – 3 weeks and then we need to probably take it to Berlin and we’re looking at releasing it for Academy Award consideration – which is by February 28th this year.  I’ve never seen that before.  It’s an emotionally compelling film.  We all unanimously agreed on that which never happens.”

On Selling International

“We have chosen so far to just sell the movies one at a time to independent distributors in all the key markets.  It’s worked out surprisingly well.  It was fascinating working with all these distributors as they were facing what we were which was essentially ‘Is our country going to be open? Are the cinemas going to be open? Is anybody going to go?’ And what was just so impressive was how many of them – whether it was the UK or France or Australia or Italy, there are so many countries that did so well with the movie [Unhinged].  The reality is that on this movie we got out alive and getting out in a pandemic was quite an achievement. A huge part of that was the international distributors taking a lot of risk in trying to do what we did, and in some cases doing it even better than we did.  Australia was blow out good for example and this was with 30% of their country closed.”

Keynote Conversation 2 / AFM Opening Session

Left to right, Brent Lang and Elissa Federoff

Elissa Federoff, President of Distribution, NEON

Moderated by Brent Lang, Executive Editor, Film & Media, Variety

 On theatrical coming back.

“We know that audiences will come back to the movie theatres. That the theatrical landscape will be vibrant again.  This is very exciting news about the vaccine because potentially it makes the span of time a little shorter…”

“We’ve always projected we would be back and our movies would be in those theatres. We love the cinema so much.  It is the best way to see a movie  I truly believe there is no virtual offering, there is no streaming equivalent there’s no digital equivalent to being in a movie theatre with an audience having a completely immersive experience in the dark, no phones, no talking, no distractions and of the audience being a character in that film. That really changes the whole dynamic.”

On how NEON has adapted a pandemic strategy in the short term.

“Over the pandemic, we’ve released a ton of films.  We’ve released more films than probably the majority of our independent counterparts have.  We’ve been buying films, we’ve been producing films. We’ve taken this opportunity to pivot our strategy and release our films digitally and with Hulu.”

“Ammonite, we are releasing this Friday in theatres and then we’re putting it on PVOD on the 4th of December. This is the first PVOD release that we’ve done and we’re really excited about it. Inside this pandemic and inside this award season, this is a highly strategic way that we are releasing this film.  LA is not open, New York is not open, San Francisco is not open so we don’t see the theatrical box office at this moment to be the same as it has been in the past and we believe it will be in the future.   This has been previously very very successful for us when we released Bachelorette for example or Snowpiercer – the VOD was so robust that it actually made the film just as viable as if we had put it in theatres and spent the P&A.  So this works great for Ammonite.  We have several other movies on our slate and we would absolutely love them to see them in theatres.  We have Gunda, we have The Killing of Two Lovers, we have several other films for next Spring that we have not yet slotted for our release calendar and fingers crossed theatres are back and everyone is going.”

 

On why they’ve been so active releasing films during this time.

“Independent film has always been a very very difficult business.  It’s always been hard to release these films.  We’ve always found challenges in the marketplace with theatres even when every screen was open.  We’ve always felt the competitive nature of the business. When tentpoles were there when other independent films were there and we were all vying for our spot.  So we’ve always been up against something and it’s never stopped us. We truly want to bring films to people.  We want to bring them out when people want to see them the most which are now when they want to be fulfilled by something.  Our films and a lot of Independents are, in some cases, so much more important than the tentpoles because they reach so many different audiences and really specific niche audiences who may not find something in the digital space.”

“We really wanted to stay relevant and bring, buy, and release films at a time when production is struggling, and the exhibition is struggling. We want to support artists.  So much of this time period has been in doubt and we don’t know when we will ‘get back to normal’.  I don’t think we should wait to get ‘back to normal’.  We should pivot and figure out strategies that will help us now.”

View on Drive-in Theatres.

“I think what has shifted is that they typically were seen as theatres that only play very commercial films.  They haven’t been in the space of anything really different. And now they’re playing the independent film for the first time.  They’re playing art releases.  They’re playing movies from smaller companies and not just the major studios and that’s what has shifted so much about drive-ins. We love having them in our plans.  People feel safe.  I see them sticking around.  I think we’ve opened up both the audiences for Drive-ins and the theatres themselves to think more about independent film.”

On Windows Shifting

“The reality is that multiplatform releases have always been around. We’ve always had then as part of our strategy for certain kinds of releases and many other companies have as well.  We’re no stranger to the short window or the multi-platform release.  What’s exciting about right now is that the studios are kind of acknowledging it as a way to release a film.  NEON is not a company that believes every film is one size fits all – there will always be films for us and for the entire world that will need a very long and thought out release in theatres for 180 days before they go to VOD.  We love those.  Films like Honeyland.  We would have never released that in any other way than a long thought out release. Parasite the same thing.  But then there have been other films like Snowpiercer that we did a compressed window and we put it on VOD and it was very very successful for us.  It made in excess of $10 Million on VOD.  And the fact that we can be flexible, I think just opens up many more avenues in our business.”

Stay tuned for the upcoming “Spotlight on Russia” coverage!

 

Tribune Pictures and The Exchange feature adaptation of ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES adds talent

Posted by Larry Gleeson

JOSH HUTCHERSON AND MORE JOIN LIEV SCHREIBER’S ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES

Photo Credit: John Russo.

Venice, Italy/ Los Angeles, CA, November 9, 2020: Tribune Pictures and The Exchange announced today that feature movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s final novel and NY Times bestseller ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES just added award-winning actor Josh Hutcherson and award-winning Italian actress Sabrina Impacciatore.

Propelled to stardom by the HUNGER GAMES franchise and the critically acclaimed independent film, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, Hutcherson currently stars in the Hulu TV series Future Man. Impacciatore wrote and starred recently in Italian box office success THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

n pre-production in Venice, Italy, Hutcherson and Impacciatore are joining six-time Golden Globe nominee actor Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan, Spotlight, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), award-winning Italian breakthrough actress Matilda De Angelis (Susan Bier’s The Undoing), award-winning Italian Laura Morante (CHERRY ON THE CAKE, THE BALL) and Academy Award-nominated Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini (QUANTUM OF SOLACE).

Produced by Robert MacLean of Tribune Pictures, the adapted screenplay by BAFTA-award-winning screenwriter Peter Flannery is directed by award-winning Spanish director Paula Ortiz (THE BRIDE) with award-winning director of photography Javier Aguirresarobe (BLUE JASMINE, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, THOR RAGNAROK, THE ROAD).

The film is being produced in association with Jianmin LV and Spring Era Films. John Smallcombe and Ken Gord are also producing, William J. Immerman and Justin Raikes are Executive Producers. Andrea Biscaro is Italian Line Producer. Filomena Cusano is production counsel.

ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES is the story of Colonel Richard Cantwell, played by Schreiber, a semi-autobiographical character partially-based-on Hemingway’s friend Colonel Charles T. Lanham. Hemingway had his own relationship with Italian aristocrat, Adriana Ivancich. Cantwell is a complex and conflicted character, wounded and damaged both physically and mentally by the war, seeking inner peace, and trying to come to terms with his own mortality.

“Adding Josh to this internationally renowned cast is very exciting. His popularity and talent will help make this film even more valuable to our buyers,” said Brian O’Shea, The Exchange C.E.O.

Hutcherson is represented by The Beddingfield Company, The Gersh Agency and Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush, Kaller & Gellman, Impacciatore by Gianni Chiffi and Volver Consulenze Artistiche.

The Exchange’s Virtual AFM’20 line-up includes Liev Schreiber’s ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES, Noomi Rapace’s THE THICKET, Kumail Nanjiani’s THE INDEPENDENT, Trace Lysette’s MONICA, Zoe Saldana’s KEYHOLE GARDEN, Anna Faris’ SUMMER MADNESS, Sundance’20 SPREE, Tribeca’20 Drew Barrymore’s THE STAND-IN, completed movie GRINGA, Sundance’20 and Berlinale’20 documentary WELCOME TO CHECHNYA, documentaries WELCOME TO DALE and STREET GANG,

(Jazo PR press release provided by Laurent Boye)

Ethan Hawke boards NEW film ZEROS AND ONES by Abel Ferrara

Posted by Larry Gleeson

ETHAN HAWKE BOARDS ABEL FERRARA’S NEW POSTMODERN, WAR-TIME THRILLER

“ZEROS AND ONES”

CAPSTONE GROUP’S BLUE BOX INTERNATIONAL TO LAUNCH SALES AT AFM THIS WEEK

LOS ANGELES, CA (November 9, 2020) Four-time Academy Award-nominated actor and filmmaker Ethan Hawke (First Reformed, Boyhood), Cristina Chiriac (Siberia, Tommaso) and Phil Neilson (Siberia, Ben-Hur) have joined seminal filmmaker Abel Ferrara’s (Bad Lieutenant, The Funeral, Kings Of New York) upcoming thriller Zeros and Ones.

Both written and directed by Ferrara, filming begins in Italy later this month.

JJ (Ethan Hawke) is an American soldier stationed in a Rome under siege, locked down, and at war.  The Vatican being blown into the night sky is only the beginning of our hero’s journey to uncover and defend against an unknown enemy but threatening the lives of the entire world.

Christian Mercuri’s Capstone Group will launch sales at AFM this week under its Blue Box International label and will co-rep domestic with CAA Media Finance.

Zeros and Ones is produced by Diana Phillips (Bad Lieutenant, Siberia, Alfie) of Rimsky Productions, and Philipp Kreuzer (Guns Akimbo, The Happy Prince, Run & Jump) from Maze Pictures.  Award winning cinematographer Sean Price Williams who most recently lensed Cannes Film Festival Official Selection Good Time directed by Benny and Josh Safdie and starring Robert Pattinson, anchors the production below the line team.

Danny Chan of Almost Never Films will serve as Executive Producer alongside Brent Guttman and Don Young.

“Zeros and Ones is a film of lockdown and war, danger and espionage, American soldiers, Chinese middlemen,  Mid Easternholy men, provocateurs, diplomats, rogue elements of the CIA and KGB.  I cannot wait to roll the cameras next week in a way that is safe because this film was written during and with anunderstanding of the pandemic,” declared Ferrara  

“Buyers are hungry for compelling and original storylines in the hands of master filmmakers and Zeros and Ones ticks all the right boxes,” Mercuri stated. “Coupled with worldclassproduction values and locations that includes the eerie backdrop of present-day Rome which has a feeling of Paris at the end of WW2, this film is a package not to be missed.”

In a career that spans over three decades, Ethan Hawke’s prolific filmography includes screen performances in Dead Poets Society; Reality Bites; Gattaca; Training Day; Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; Boyhood; Born to Be Blue; Maudie; Richard Linklater’s trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight; and First Reformed, among countless others.  He is also a noted filmmaker, author, and currently makes his television debut as star, co-writer, and executive producer of Showtime’s critically acclaimed limited series, The Good Lord Bird.   

Long-time independent filmmaker Abel Ferrara has built a cult audience following with his stylish, neo-noir imagery, gritty urban settings, and provocative award winning films. A Film Festival favorite, his credits include Siberia, The Addiction, The Funeral, Blackout, Pasolini, Tommaso, Mary, Bad Lieutenantand the crime-thriller King of New York starring Christopher Walken.

ABOUT CAPSTONE GROUP

Capstone Group is an independent film financing and international sales company focusing on high quality commercial films with worldwide box office appeal.  Established in 2017, Capstone is headed by renowned international sales and distribution veteran Christian Mercuri who has sold, financed and produced over 150 feature films with distribution contracts exceeding $1.7 billion USD and a worldwide box office exceeding $3 billion USD.  In its first years, the company has financed and/or licensed films with 

International stars such as Angelina Jolie, Mila Kunis, Chris Pratt, Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Prior to forming Capstone Group, Mercuri helped finance and distribute projects such as The Wolf of Wall Street, The Expendables, Dumb and Dumber To, and Out of the Furnace.

(Source: press release provided by MLPR)

AFM 2020 ONLINE OPENS WITH A RECORD NUMBER

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFM 2020 ONLINE SET TO OPEN MONDAY WITH A RECORD 562 exhibitors, PARTICIPANTS FROM 78 COUNTRIES, More Than 1,450 BUYERS AND 465 FILMS Screening

205 Speakers from 20 Countries Come Together Over 70+ Sessions Covering a Breadth of

Timely Topics Critical to the Global Independent Motion Picture Industry

Los Angeles, CA – November 9, 2020 – Kicking off today, the American Film Market (AFM®) announced today that it will welcome the global industry with participants coming from 78 countries and 42 U.S. states – more countries than any AFM in the last decade.  To date, a record 562 Exhibitors are registered for AFM 2020 Online from 48 countries with the largest exhibitor presence coming from the United States with 259 companies followed by Italy (59), the United Kingdom (46), Russia (25), Germany (20), France (19), Canada (17), Republic of (South) Korea (14), Japan (12), and Thailand (11).  The current list of Exhibitors can be viewed here.

The world’s Buyers will also be in attendance with 1,468 Buyers from 66 countries confirmed to date, the largest number coming from the United States, followed by Japan, the United Kingdom, Republic of (South) Korea, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, and Canada. Buyers from the world’s leading digital platforms will also be in attendance. 465 films from 184 companies and representing 24 countries will be screening in the AFM’s On Demand Theatre.

In keeping with its mission to provide timely information and knowledge, the AFM will present its largest programming lineup to date with 205 speakers from 20 countries across 71 sessions centered on opportunities and solutions for finance, production and distribution in the wake of the pandemic.  The Programming kicks off online on November 9 at 9:30 AM PST with The Future of Film Conference featuring Keynote Conversations with Mark Gill, President and CEO, Solstice Studios and Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro; and Elissa Federoff, President of Distribution, NEON and Variety’s Brent LangPanels and presentations in partnership with leading industry organizations and institutions will also take center stage, including AAFCA, BFI, NAACP, NALIP, NIFS, SAG-AFTRA, SAGindie, The Black List, The Film Collaborative, USC Annenberg Hollywood, Health & Society, WGAW, and Winston/Baker.

The AFM2020.Online platform was created to serve AFM’s multiple audience segments and features eight dedicated areas including Industry Offices, LocationEXPO, the On Demand Theatre and MyAFM.  One of AFM 2020’s key differentiators is its truly unique and interactive video networking capabilities. With technology provided by the company Filmocracy, participants can meet in the Networking Pavilion with 180 online tables for video discussions on preset topics or meet-ups they can schedule. Filmocracy also supports the two Stages, including session replays, and the Info Center, enabling AFM to provide the “face-to-face” connections that happen organically in Santa Monica.

Jonathan Wolf, AFM Managing Director

Jonathan Wolf, AFM Managing Director commented, “The global film industry has set aside this week to connect for deal making, presentations, and education, and to gather marketplace intel from one another.  AFM’s engaging online experience, with the types of serendipitous meetings that happen organically in the halls, hotels and parties each year in Santa Monica, will keep everyone in touch and ensure that independent film continues to reach audiences around the world.”

The AFM programming lineup will take place live on Stages 1 and 2 with replays available within a few hours.  View the full schedule of sessions and speakers for AFM 2020 Online. Highlights include: 

Monday, November 9

Global Sales and VOD in partnership with The Film Collaborative: Wendy Bernfeld, Rights Stuff, Todd Olsson, Highland Film Group, Brian O’Shea, The Exchange, Orly Ravid, The Film Collaborative and Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, and Gabrielle Rozing, Fortissimo Films.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Inform Success: Nadira Azermai, ScriptBook, Tobias Queisser, Cinelytic, Debajyoti “Deb” Ray, RivetAI, and Andrea Scarso, Ingenious.

California: The State of On Location Filming presented by the Film Liaisons in California Statewide (FLICS)

Tasha Day, City of Long Beach, Eve Honthaner, The California Film Commission, Sabrina Jurisich, Film Shasta, Beverly Lewis, Placer-Lake Tahoe Film Office, and Donna Washington, FilmLA.

Discover New Voices in partnership with Winston|Baker: Adhrucia Apana, Curiosity Entertainment, Janaé Désiré, Creative Artists Agency, Gina Reyes, Verve Talent & Literary Agency, Sophia Yen, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Viviana Zarragoitia, Three Point Capital.

Show Don’t Tell Podcast: Director and host Noam Kroll and screenwriter Bryan Hill to talk Screenwriting on a Micro-Budget.

Trends in Japanese Cinema & Television presented by JETRO: Chiyako Slawinski, Producer & Consultant and
Chuck Williams, Lightbeam Entertainment, LLC.

Spotlight on Russia: Meet Russian Content at AFM 2020 presented by ROSKINO: Evgenia Markova, ROSKINO

Tuesday, November 10

Spotlight On: Production in Alberta presented by the Calgary Film Centre: Linda Ambury, Production Manager and Producer, Luke Azevedo, Calgary Film Commission, Tom Cox, Seven24 Films, Mark Ham, Alberta Film Commission, and Erin O’Connor, Calgary Film Centre.

AFM’s Pitch Conference: Producer & Agent, Cassian Elwes (Mudbound, Dallas Buyers Club), Elizabeth Haggard, Participant Media, and Lee Jessup, Screenwriting Career Consultant & Coach.

The Filmmakers Podcast: Hosts Giles Alderson and Ian Sharp talk to Writer/Producer/Director Dan Mazer (Borat, I Give it a Year) about making movies, working on set and the writer/director/producer relationship.

The Producer’s Guide Podcast: Founder of Broken Road Productions, Producer and host Todd Garner and WWE wrestler turned actor John Cena will discuss Producing Comedy in Today’s Hollywood, A Serious Business.

Indie Film Hustle Podcast: Host Alex Ferrari and Producer Franco Sama on Raising Money in a COVID World & The Future of Film Distribution.

Building a Marketing Toolkit for Independent Features: Katherine MacDonald, Paramount Pictures and Russell Schwartz, Pandemic Marketing Group.

High Concept and Low Budget: Using the Writers Guild of America Low Budget Agreement in Uncertain Times:

Bradford Schleder WGAW and Joy Young-Sang, WGA.

Made by Africans, Watched by the World: Mayenzeke Baza, AAA Entertainment, Bradley Joshua, Gambit Films, Rethabile Ramphakela, Burnt Onion Productions, Pascal Schmitz, AAA Entertainment.

Navigating and Negotiating Intimacy on Set in partnership with SAG-AFTRA: Amanda Blumenthal, Intimacy Professionals AssociationGabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRAJim Kleverweis, Executive Producer (Euphoria, Insecure and Silicon Valley), Alicia Rodis, Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, and David White, SAG-AFTRA.

New Zealand: Challenges and Opportunities for Film in a COVID World in partnership with the Screen Production and Development Association of New Zealand: Richard Fletcher, SPADA and Libertine Pictures, Patrick Frater, Variety,  Rob Tapert, Executive Producer (Don’t Breath, The Grudge), Chelsea Winstanley, Producer, Executive Producer, Director (This Too Shall Pass).

Wednesday, November 11

Producing Without a Completion Bond featuring Jill Goldsmith, Deadline, Brad Krevoy, Motion Picture Corporation of AmericaBrian O’Shea, The Exchange, and John Sloss, Cinetic Media.

Low Budget Films with Huge Profit PotentialJillian Apfelbaum, Village Roadshow Pictures, John Rhodes, ScreencraftNick Spicer, XYZ Films, and Zachary Tarica, The Forest Road Co.

Managing Financial Risk from Script to Screen: Ryan Broussard, Media Services Payroll, Gregoire Gensollen, Tucker Tooley Entertainment, David Offenberg, Loyola Marymount University, Gary Raskin, Raskin Gorham Anderson Law LLP.

Facts Matter: Health & Science Accuracy Onscreen in partnership with USC Annenberg Hollywood, Health & Society:  Kate Langrall Folb.

Blockchain Streaming Platforms presented in partnership with the Blockchain Global Entertainment Alliance:
Patrice Poujol,  Lumiere Project, Jake Craven, Breaker, Adrian J. Garelik, CEO, Flixxo, Trinabh Gupta, UCSB, Serban Simu, Eluvio.

Film Riot PodcastHost Ryan Connolly and writer/director Colin Levy talk Directing a Blockbuster Film on an Indie Budget.

Thursday, November 12

How to Secure the Right Cast for a Greenlight: Randall Emmett (The Irishman, Power), Caroline Couret-Delegue, Film Seekers, Jenny Jue, Downtown Casting, Laura Rister, Untitled Entertainment.

Pandemic Production Challenges & Solutions: Richard Botto, Stage 32Chris Moore, Producer (Manchester by the Sea and Promised Land)Celine Rattray, Maven Pictures, and Jennifer Westin, MarVista Entertainment.

What’s Working in the Pre-Sales MarketplaceKimberly Fox, MadRiver International, Jeffrey Greenstein, Millennium Media, Inc., Jeremy Kay, Screen International, and Nat McCormick, The Exchange.

The Black List Can Change Everything About How You Find Future Projects with The Black List’s Franklin Leonard and Terry Huang,

A Conversation with Lloyd Kaufman: Make Your Own Damn Movie in 60 Minutes or Less!

Who Did I Offend Now? Cultural Competency in Storytelling presented in partnership with the NAACP:  Kyle Bowser, NAACP, Darnell HuntUCLA, and Brittany A. Little, Universal Television.

 U.S. Film Incentives: From Application to Audit presented by Media Services Payroll Presentation:
Nicole Ameln
North Star Incentives, Inc., David Benavente, Cast & Crew Entertainment Services, David Brauer, Brauer & Co., PC, Marco Cordova, Monarch Private Capital, Ryan Broussard, Media Services Payroll,

Friday, November 12

Working with Sales Agents: Tamara Birkemoe, Foresight Unlimited, Clay Epstein, Film Mode Entertainment, and Jordan Yale Levine, Yale Productions.

Keep Calm and Carry On Filming in partnership with the British Film Institute (BFI:) Adrian Wootton, Film London and the British Film CommissionAnna Mansi, British Film Institute, Julia Oh, Film4, and Alison Thompson, Cornerstone Films.

Deciphering Streaming Models & the Path to VOD Distribution: Audrey Delaney Blue Fox Entertainment, Bruce Eisen, Digital Advisors Linda Nelson, Indie Rights, Lise Romanoff, Vision Films, and James Schamus, Symbolic Exchange.

Standing Out in the Streaming Game – What Platforms and Audiences Want: Scilla Andreen, IndieFlix, Cameron DouglasFandangoNOW, and Erick Opeka, Cinedigm Digital Networks.

Distributing & Monetizing Feature Documentaries: Anna Godas, DogWoof, Gregg Goldstein, Variety, Kevin Iwashina, Endeavor Content, John Von Thaden, Magnolia Pictures, Krista Wegener, Participant Media.

Navigating Hollywood During COVID-19 : How To Find Success For Your Project During A Global Pandemic in partnership with the African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA): Jen Barrett, Creative Shop FacebookMegan ColliganIMAX Entertainment and IMAX Corp, Malik Ducard, YouTube, Mike Jackson, Lifted Film Co., and Gil L. Robertson IV, African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA).

Everything You Imagine In One Country: Colombia: Catalina PortoCaracol TV

Casting Global Talent: Who do Latinx Audiences Want to See? in partnership with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP): Christopher Acebo, Broken English Productions, Aaron Ashford, Pantelion Films, Liliana Espinoza, NALIP, Carla Hool, Casting Director.

For more information and registration, please visit americanfilmmarket.com.

About the American Film Market® (AFM®)
The AFM is the most efficient film acquisition, development, and networking event in the world. More than US$1 billion in production and distribution deals are closed every year — on both completed films and those in every stage of development and production. Over five days in November, 7,000+ professionals from 70+ countries access the entire global catalog of available films and projects, attend world-class conferences, and connect with decision-makers. The AFM is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance®.

(Press release provided by Jennifer Garnick |VP, Communications Independent Film & Television Alliance)

Final Thoughts on ‘The Mostly Virtual’ AFI FEST 2020

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI FEST 2020 presented by Audi attracted the largest national audience in its 34-year history.

Michael Lumpkin, Director AFI Festivals

“With an audience of more than double from last year, we welcomed over 200 filmmakers and guests from around the world for Q&As and panels,” said Michael Lumpkin, Director AFI Festivals. “This year’s festival was truly a celebration of film across the country with festival-goers joining us online from all 50 states.”

I concur. Thank you to Michael and the entire AFI FEST team for making this year’s ‘mostly virtual’ festival top-notch!

Sofia Coppola shares a photo during her 2020 AFI FEST Tribute

Highlights of the 2020 festival included a Centerpiece Drive-in screening of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… (DIR Regina King) at the Rose Bowl; the World Premieres of I’M YOUR WOMAN (DIR Julia Hart), PINK SKIES AHEAD (DIR Kelly Oxford) and REALLY LOVE (DIR Angel Kristi Williams); screenings of highly anticipated films including COLLECTIVE (COLLECTIV) (DIR Alexander Nanau), THE FATHER (DIR Florian Zeller), I CARRY YOU WITH ME (Heidi Ewing), MY LITTLE SISTER (DIR Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond), NEW ORDER (NUEVO ORDEN) (DIR Michel Franco), NINE DAYS (DIR Edson Oda) and WOLFWALKERS (DIR Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart); a conversation with Dr. Stacy Smith on the portrayal of characters with mental health conditions in film and television; a discussion with the director and cast of SOUND OF METAL with the Deaf community; a conversation with Academy Award® nominee, producer, director and writer Ava DuVernay about elevating and supporting BIPOC filmmakers; the Indie Contenders and Doc Roundtables; and Tributes to Sofia Coppola, Kirby Dirk, Mira Nair and Rita Moreno.

Additional Highlights

A few of my favorite additional highlights included Elle, an AFI Conservatory Showcase selection. Elle is a coming-of-age story and character-driven drama that explores themes such as self-discovery, unrequited love, and the ambivalence and intimacy that exists within female friendships. In the Director’s Statement, AFI Conservatory Alumna, Nicole Vanden Broeck writes,

Nicole Vanden Broeck

“I have always believed in the power of cinema to comfort us, to tell us that we are not alone, that others have felt what we’ve felt, that we share our struggles and our heartbreaks, that there is someone out there that understands.”

 

Elle

Technically and artistically, Elle hits all the marks. Strong cinematography by Guido Raimondo. Warm and intimate production design from Evan Welch. Seamless editing (Chris Tenzis, Editor). Believable and highly naturalistic acting with Sarah Sawyer as Elle and Ron Dadon as Sam. And, an emotionally rewarding narrative written by Vanden Broeck and Asher Jelinsky and a beautiful mise-en-scene to match. Gabrielle Cordero produced Elle. Highly recommended with a runtime of twenty-one minutes and a team to keep an eye on!

At the Virtual Industry and Filmmaker Mixer, I had the pleasure of connecting with Matt Yoka, director of Whirlybird, his feature documentary on the pioneering and groundbreaking TV aerial news reporting team of Bob Tur and Marika Gerard. Yoka crafts his work from 2,000 hours of recorded flight tape, direct interviews, news archives, still photos, and more. The result is a dynamic visual history of the biggest Los Angeles news events in the last 30 years including the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and the pursuant, criminal assault of truck driver, Reginald Denny, at Florence and Normandy after the Rodney King beating verdict and subsequent acquittal of the four white police officers charged. And, if that wasn’t enough the duo broke and captured the infamous O.J. Simpson ‘White Bronco’ car chase which became “the apex of live news coverage” with approximately 80 million viewers tuning in. A must-see!

Whirlybird

While I didn’t get an opportunity to connect with Sean Penn during the mixer, I did view Citizen Penn. I’ve long been a fan of Sean Penn as an actor beginning with his Mick O’Brien role in the 1983 Bad Boys and I was semi-aware of his Haiti relief efforts in 2010. As an Army Reservist, my battalion was on alert for deployment. In the documentary, Director Don Hardy, sometimes eloquently and sometimes pragmatically, reveals Sean Penn has diligently changed his image through Penn’s extensive efforts to aid assistance to his fellow ‘man’ in war-torn, disaster-laden, disaffected countries beginning in 2002 with the war in Iraq right up to the current COVID-19-infected United States.

Citizen Penn

Utilizing a plethora of photographs, direct interviews, and archival news footage, documenting the devastation and suffering along with footage from one camera operated by a Haitian police officer who accompanied Penn at all times following the country’s 2010 earthquake. Penn was adamant about his efforts not being used for overt publicity but allowed the official to have and operate a camera at his own discretion. Penn stayed on the ground for several months returning often guiding not only relief efforts but also debris and gravel removal. More recently, Penn began hosting an annual gala raising several million dollars from a limited guest list as his efforts are taking root. Highly recommended and quite compelling. A must-see!

Left to right, Meet The Press’s Chuck Todd, and The Reagans Director, Matt Tyrnauer.

THE REAGANS (DIR Matt Tyrnauer), presented by Meet the Press and Chuck Todd,  screened Parts 1 and 2 of this compelling and extremely timely re-examination of President and Mrs. Reagan. Chock full of evocative archival footage and illuminating contemporary interviews, THE REAGANS asserts Nancy’s central role in her husband’s career, shines a light on the darker aspects of the Reagans’ climb to power, and provides a revelatory perspective on how the political tactics used in the ‘60s and ‘70s are a progenitor of our current national politics. The screening was followed by an in-depth conversation between Chuck Todd and Tyrnauer as they discuss the subjects, several of the Reagan biographies, and Tyrnauer’s previous documentary, Where’s My Roy Cohn.

Belushi

Belushi, from Showtime Documentary Films, directed by award-winning, filmmaker R.J. Cutler, reveals the complicated, singular, and too-short life of a beloved American icon who helped change American culture and comedy, John Belushi, a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences around the world. From his early years growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, Belushi showed an extraordinary talent for comedy and music. But, it was a visit to the Second City theater in Chicago where Belushi established himself and from that moment on he became an unstoppable and pioneering force in the comedy world. His audacious rendition of Joe Cocker singing the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends,” proved to be the star shot launching pad. Cutler utilizes still photos, archival footage, home videos, animation, and telling letters from John to his high school sweetheart girlfriend and later wife, Judy, that paint a picture of Belushi’s passion, love, and humanly struggles.

Belushi’s insatiable drive for success and fame kept the candle burning at both ends. When his acting attempts in 1941, Neighbors, and Continental Divide failed to provide him the accolades of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, Belushi sought consolation and creativity in dark habits as he continually pushed himself for greatness. As a performer, John Belushi grasped the importance of developing and recreating himself on stage and felt a high degree of compulsion to do this on the big screen. Belushi’s ambitious drive and need for approval reached its limits on March 5, 1982, at the hotel Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Belushi was found alone, not breathing, and unresponsive. The coroner’s report stated the cause of death was “acute cocaine and heroin intoxication.”

Cutler captures what John Belushi was as a performer and scratches the surface of who Belushi was as a person. Told linearly using previously unheard audiotapes, the film also examines Belushi’s life in the words of his collaborators, friends, and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman and his wife, Judy Belushi. As much as I enjoyed experiencing his comedic genius again, there is more to John Belushi than what appears in this screening of Belushi.  Yet, Cutler does an excellent job of creating a framework of understanding some of the comedic legend’s motivation and unmet needs with a well-researched and documented biographical treatment. Belushi is scheduled to launch on November 22, 2020, on Showtime. Highly recommended.

Wander Darkly

Thriller/Drama Wander Darkly,  is as good a film as I’ve seen this year. Written and directed by Tara Miele, and starring Sienna Miller as Adrienne and Diego Luna as Matteo,  Wander Darkly is a surreal journey into conflict resolution between a young couple following a traumatic car accident. On its most basic level, Wander Darkly is a relationship film challenging boundaries while seeking the answer for continuity. In a very non-linear approach, the couple relives the past through the duality of their shared moments including fond memories from the initial courtship through the truths of the present as they attempt to rediscover the love that binds them together as they face an uncertain future. Miller in a tour de force performance crushes it as Adrienne pulling out all the emotional stops exploring grief, joy, and love. Wander Darkly is scheduled to be in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand on December 11th. Check it out! You’ll be glad you did!

Uncle Frank

Uncle Frank, an Amazon Original Film, starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, and Stephen Root (Office Space), and directed by Alan Ball, tells the story of a young, rural South Carolinian woman, Beth, (Sophia Lillis) a precocious spirit with a connection to her rarely seen Uncle Frank.

When a death in the family occurs, Beth and Uncle Frank embark on a road trip back to South Carolina delving into deep interpersonal dialogue on sexuality and death before being unexpectedly joined by Wally. Along the rest of the way, Beth is exposed to bigotry, homophobia, and a warm, loving relationship. Once she and Uncle Frank are back in small-town, rural Creekville, South Carolina, the past reveals itself, and moments for self-reflection and overcoming imposed beliefs come to pass.

Uncle Frank, a character-driven drama, is quite entertaining and could easily pass for a period piece, much like Green Book, with its costuming by Megan Stark Evans,  production design by Darcy C Scanlan, its superb cinematography by Khalid Mohtaseb, and with the layered narrative (screenwriting, Alan Ball) dealing with family, remorse, death, loss, same-sex relationships, religion, as well as social norms and beliefs in the Deep South.

Seeing Bettany cast had a lot to do with my viewing selection of Uncle Frank. And, he doesn’t disappoint as he carries the heaviness, the emotional weight, of Uncle Frank. My hat’s off to Casting Director, Avy Kaufman (Brokeback Mountain). Bravo! Uncle Frank is scheduled for a U.S. release (internet) on November 25th, 2020, and is a beautiful, entertaining film. Very warmly recommended viewing!

MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY

The Closing Night Presentation was the World Premiere of MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY (DIR Errol Morris), followed by an interesting conversation between Indiewire’s Ann Thompson and Morris (available along with 69 other conversations here.)  In MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY, Morris delivers a tell-all story of Johanna Harcourt-Smith, a once young, Swiis born, Paris-raised, jet-setting, an aristocratic, Jewish woman who cavorted with the high priest of LSD, Timothy Leary. My Psychedelic Love Story is the story of Harcourt-Smith and O’Leary as they circumvent extradition and indulge themselves in daily acid trips for a two-month period before Leary is extradited back to the US, incarcerated, and eventually released. At the time there was much speculation Harcourt-Smith was a CIA plant – a Mata Hari of sorts. MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY will be airing on Showtime!

Wolfwalkers, an Apple Original Film from Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny, Ireland, the animation studio that previously produced The Secret of Kells (2009)  and Song of the Sea (2014) completes an Irish folklore animated trilogy spanning slightly more than ten years.

Wolfwalkers is set in 17th-century Ireland, a time of great change with successive transfers of land from catholic to protestant ownership and where administrative and political power passed into the hands of a new English minority (Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 15, No. 60, Sep 1967, pgs. 366-375).  Literary references to the Arthurian Camelot myth and to historical figure Oliver Cromwell are smoothly incorporated as well. Moore and Stewart encapsulate this situation in a magical friendship that develops between two young girls, Robyn and Mebh.

Wolfwalkers, steeped in historical significance, is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films I have had the pleasure of viewing and experiencing and it’s a film the whole family can watch! Wolfwalkers is set to be released theatrically on October 30, 2020, by WildCard in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on November 13, 2020, by GKIDS before debuting on Apple TV+ on December 11, 2020.

Stay tuned for the upcoming holiday film guide!

HollywoodGlee celebrating the start of the 2019 AFI FEST presented by Audi. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

AFM 2020 ONLINE ADDS SESSIONS SPOTLIGHTING AI, BLOCKCHAIN, CASTING, DIVERSITY, DOCUMENTARIES, PITCH, AND STREAMING TO PROGRAMMING LINEUP

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Announces Speakers from CAA, Cinedigm, Dogwoof, EFO Films, Elevated Film Sales, Endeavor Content, FandangoNow, IndieFlix, Magnolia Pictures, NAACP, Participant, ScriptBook, UCLA, Universal, Verve, and Winston Baker 

Networking to Take Center Stage with Opportunities to Connect via Video by Genres, Location, and Specialty Topics 

Los Angeles, CA – November 3, 2020 – Ahead of its kick-off next week, the American Film Market (AFM®) today announced new topics and speakers added to the expansive AFM 2020 Online programming lineup that will bring 70+ sessions and 200 speakers over five days, November 9-13, alongside the AFM’s marketplace and screenings at AFM2020.online.

Plans for AFM’s Networking Pavilion have also been revealedThis truly unique online experience gives attendees the opportunity to explore and join over 100 video discussions / “tables” every hour with small groups focused on various genres and specialty topics ranging from Documentary to Horror to Socially Responsible Storytelling.  Additional “tables” will offer hourly meet-ups for dozens of countries and U.S. cities, providing the “face-to-face” connections that happen organically in Santa Monica.

While the AFM doesn’t officially start until Monday, November 9, three buildings on the AFM Campus – the Industry OfficesLocationEXPO, and the On Demand Theatre will go live on November 4 for pre-market screenings and project previews.

Additional topics and speakers joining AFM’s two online stages and previously announced conferences, panels, conversations, workshops, podcasts and presentations, include:

  • AFM’s Pitch Conference featuring Producer & Agent, Cassian Elwes (Mudbound, Dallas Buyers Club), Elevated Film Sales, Elizabeth Haggard, VP Narrative Film, Participant Media, and Lee Jessup, Screenwriting Career Consultant & Coach.
  • How to Secure the Right Cast for a Greenlight featuring Randall Emmett (The Irishman, Power), Co-Chair & Producer, EFO Films, Caroline Couret-Delegue, Managing Director, Film Seekers, Jenny Jue, Owner & Casting Director, Downtown Casting, Laura Rister, Producer, Untitled Entertainment.
  • Who Did I Offend Now? Cultural Competency in Storytelling presented in partnership with the NAACP with Kyle Bowser, NAACP, Darnell Hunt, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, UCLA, and Brittany A. Little, Vice President, Drama Development, Universal Television.
  • Distributing & Monetizing Feature Documentaries with Anna Godas, CEO,DogWoof, Gregg Goldstein, Author, Variety, Kevin Iwashina, Agent, Endeavor Content, John Von Thaden, Head of Acquisitions, Magnolia Pictures, Krista Wegener, EVP, Sales and Distribution, Participant Media.
  • Using Artificial Intelligence to Inform Success featuring Nadira Azermai, FounderScriptBook, Tobias Queisser, Co-Founder & CEO, Cinelytic, and Debajyoti “Deb” Ray, CEO,
  • Discover New Voices presented in partnership with WINSTON | BAKER with Adhrucia Apana, Founder & Producer, Curiosity Entertainment, Janaé Désiré, Media Finance Executive, Creative Artists Agency, Gina Reyes, Television Lit Agent, Verve Talent & Literary Agency, Sophia Yen, Partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Viviana Zarragoitia, Vice President, Three Point Capital.
  • Standing Out in the Streaming Game – What Platforms and Audiences Want featuring Scilla Andreen, Co-Founder & CEO, IndieFlix, Cameron Douglas, VP of Home Entertainment, FandangoNOW, and Erick Opeka, President, Cinedigm Digital Networks.
  • Blockchain Streaming Platforms presented in partnership with the Blockchain Global Entertainment Alliance with Jake Craven, VP, Content Partnerships,Breaker, Adrian J. Garelik, CEO, Flixxo, Trinabh Gupta, Professor at University California Santa Barbara, Rouslan Ovtcharoff, Founder, Blockchain Global Entertainment Alliance, Patrice Poujol, Founder & CEO, Lumiere, and Serban Simu, President & Co-Founder, Eluvio.

As previously announced, AFM’s programming will kick off on November 9 with two marquee one-on-one conversations: Mark Gill, President and CEO of Solstice Studios, will take the online stage to discuss his views and predictions of how independent film, the marketplace, and audience consumption will change in the near future with Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro. The morning will continue with a dialogue with Elissa Federoff, President of Distribution for NEON, who will share her insights with Variety’s Brent Lang on the future of feature film distribution and exhibition.

View the schedule of sessions and speakers for AFM 2020 Online. For more information and registration, please visit americanfilmmarket.com.

About the American Film Market® (AFM®)
The AFM is the most efficient film acquisition, development and networking event in the world. More than US$1 billion in production and distribution deals are closed every year — on both completed films and those in every stage of development and production. Over five days in November, 7,000+ professionals from 70+ countries access the entire global catalogue of available films and projects, attend world class conferences, and connect with decision makers. The AFM is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance®.

(Source: Press release provided by Jennifer Garrick, VP, Communications, Independent Film & Television Alliance)