Two specialty titles opening this coming weekend might have had studio backing in the past if not for the changing nature of the biz. Darling Companion and The Moth Diaries traveled a more “independent film” route on their way to the screen, bypassing controls that may have lead to very different films — if they would even have been made at all. Downtown Express used music and the backdrop of New York City to tell its story shot on a tight budget, while Kevin Macdonald’s doc Marley found non-financing challenges on its way through production. Also encountering unexpected turbulence during production, Jesus Henry Christ shot north of the border during some particularly crazy events in Toronto.

Darling Companion
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Meg Kasdan
Cast: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Lawrence Kasdan’s latest returns his focus to baby boomers reminiscent of some of his past work. In this feature, he spotlights the story of a woman who loves her dog more than her husband. And naturally the situation worsens when he loses the dog. “What we were shooting for is trying to talk to that generation and about their lives as John Updike did in the Rabbit series,” Darling Companions producer Anthony Bregman told Deadline. “It’s along the lines of other [Kasdan] films that check in with that generation.” But unlike the director’s past work including The Accidental Tourist and The Big Chill, studios did not come knocking. “The industry has changed a lot since those films came out,” Bregman said, adding that studios shy away from stories like Darling Companions so the production had to take a different approach in order to get the feature completed. “This time, it was an independent production with a quicker shoot. We didn’t have the same luxuries that are typical of a studio film,” he said. “The challenge was to stick to the agenda while maintaining a high production value and ambitious casting.”

Werc Werk Works came on board as the production’s main financier and were undaunted by the material.”They were up to the challenge and dove right in,” added Bregman. “Our actors showed up for ‘a bottle of wine’ and they worked very hard to promote it.” The film’s stars along with Kasdan and his co-writer have traveled with the film to festivals including Miami, Santa Barbara, Boulder and more doing interviews. “It’s a movie that plays well with festivals and to packed houses,” he said. Sony Classics will open Darling Companions in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend followed by more major markets in coming weeks.

Downtown Express
Director: David Grubin
Writers: David Grubin, Kathleen Cahill
Cast: Philippe Quint, Nellie McKay, Michael Cumpsty
Distributor: International Film Circuit

“Our biggest production challenge was our low budget,” director David Grubin told Deadline about his debut feature Downtown Express. The veteran television and documentary director said he was faced with a 17-day shoot for a production that would normally take 30 days, but he was aided in part by a veteran producer who knew the ropes for how to bring both large and small productions to fruition. “I had a great producer, Mike Hausman, who did Brokeback Mountain, Gangs Of New York and others,” Grubin said. “He said we’d have to work long hours and we’d have to make those long hours count.” Private equity backed the film which centers on a Russian violinist on scholarship studying classical music but who is drawn to the rhythms he hears on the streets of New York. Grubin noted that one of the biggest drivers of the film’s narrative is music, so special attention was paid to the authentic sounds one encounters on the city’s streets. NYC’s subways also provide a bridge to its disparate neighborhoods, which feature prominently.

“The film depends upon getting a feel for New York and the clash of cultures in New York,” Grubin said. “The trains connect these worlds from the Russian neighborhood in Brighton Beach to the music scene at Lincoln Center.” Apart from money issues, Grubin said the production faced a number of obstacles when shooting in the subway because of a myriad of restrictions, limiting where and when they could film. “But I think if you have more money, you can shoot in more areas of the subway,” he added. Downtown Express will open at New York’s Quad Cinema this weekend. Depending on its performance, it will roll out to other markets.

Marley
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Subjects: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Cliff
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Producer Charles Steel again teamed with director Kevin Macdonald for Marley after the filmmakers were approached by producer Steve Bing who financed this documentary about the late reggae pioneer. Steel and Macdonald made The Last King Of Scotland in 2006. The pair were approached after both Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme were attached at various points, but in the end were not able to take it on. “We had a wish list of everyone we wanted to interview for the film,” Steel told Deadline. “But it took a lot of persuasion to get many of them. There are a lot of Bob Marley projects out there, and some people are very reluctant to take part. [We] had the challenge to persuade people to come together for this particular moment and to say that this is the right way to tell this story.” One trump card Marley had going for it was backing from Bob Marley’s family including his son Ziggy Marley. Use of Bob Marley’s music was assured with family support, though their backing did have some pitfalls. “Having the family on board didn’t always persuade people to participate,” said Steel. “There are a lot of divisions out there from falling-outs that have occurred. Sometimes it made it more difficult.” In the end, dozens participated and Marley was completed last May.

The film debuted at Berlin and SXSW this year. This weekend Marley will debut theatrically and via day and date VOD through Magnolia Pictures. It will also be available through Facebook, potentially tapping into Bob Marley’s 30 million-strong following on the social networking site.

The Moth Diaries
Director Mary Harron
Writer: Rachel Klein
Cast: Sarah Bolger, Sarah Gadon, Lily Cole
Distributor: IFC Films

Producer Edward Pressman and director Mary Harron found box office success back in 2000 with their feature American Psycho (over $34 million worldwide) and re-united for horror feature The Moth Diaries. Originally slated as a Paramount production, Harron and Pressman parted with the studio after it pushed to have the story incorporate elements similar to American Psycho. Harron “saw The Moth Diaries as a psychological channel that focuses on young women,” Pressman told Deadline. “So we took it away from Paramount so we could do it the way we wanted.” Financing was a challenge because it lacked heavy-hitting star wattage, but they found resources through Montreal-based Mediabiz. The project also took advantage of Canadian subsidies through Telefilm in addition to help from the Irish Film Board and Lionsgate in the U.K. (Lionsgate released American Psycho).

The film “gets criticized because it isn’t what some people in this area of film think it should be,” said Pressman. “But it’s more of a complicated women coming-of-age thriller than a straightforward vampire film. It’s more sophisticated.” Shooting lasted about a month with some pickup shots added during editing. Pressman said The Moth Diaries is more akin to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides than vampire films like Twilight to which some have compared it. IFC will open The Moth Diaries in New York City and surrounding areas before expanding to additional markets.

Jesus Henry Christ
Director-writer: Dennis Lee
Cast: Jason Spevack, Toni Collette, Michael Sheen
Distributor: eOne

Reliance Entertainment, Red Om and Sukee Chew spearheaded Dennis Lee’s Jesus Henry Christ after they read his script and “fell in love with it,” Lee told Deadline about the feature’s beginnings. The groups came on board with financing and the project shot in Toronto in 23 days. Even though financing was secured, the project had to run on a tight schedule and its cast also posed some challenges. “Our main leads were children, so our compressed schedule was even tighter,” Lee said. Other surprises added logistical challenges to the shoot in Canada’s largest city. “We were shooting on location during the gay pride parade, the G-20 conference and the subsequent riots,” added Lee. And “with Queen Elizabeth II visiting the city, you can imagine what it was like to get around town. I felt really sorry for our sound team, but we had the most amazing cast and crew, so we were able to make our days.”

The film’s domestic distributor eOne is partnering with Tribeca Film for a day and date theatrical/VOD release. Lee sites Tribeca’s branding (the film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year) as a plus for the film’s awareness. They’re timing Jesus Henry Christ‘s rollout this weekend with the continuing 2012 Tribeca Film Festival to maximize exposure.

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