Jay and Mark Duplass have their roots firmly planted in the indie world going back to their 2005 debut The Puffy Chair at the Sundance Film Festival. The brothers have since taken on projects that include stars (and Mark Duplass has become quite the ubiquitous actor himself), but their latest film The Do-Deca-Pentathlon yearns back to their earlier work. Zeitgeist Films’ documentary China Heavyweight is the third by a filmmaking group that has been set in China, though it’s hoping it will be the first to be seen in the giant country. Martin Donovan wrote, directed and stars in his latest project Collaborator, which he tapped into Canadian funding to make, while Strand Releasing found Crazy Eyes ahead of its SXSW Film Festival debut, quickly nabbing the title they hope will appeal to the hipster crowd.
From the filmmaking group that made acclaimed docs Up The Yangtze and Last Train Home, EyeSteel Films’ China Heavyweight is also a non-fiction set in China. The film spotlights rural teens in the southwestern part of the county who are recruited as their country’s next Olympic hopefuls in boxing. “We set out to treat this [project] like it’s a theatrical film,” said producer Bob Moore from EyeSteel. “We didn’t want it to be a TV show with the perception that it would only have a short theatrical [life].” Distributor Zeitgeist Films, which also released Up The Yangtze and Last Train Home, came on board early on in the project for U.S. release, but the producers hope the film will also be seen in China unlike their previous titles.
“We want this to be considered a Chinese film,” said Moore. “We knew [this project] would never be considered for a [slot] in the limited number of foreign films allowed into the country ever year in order for it to play in China. The film is considered ‘Chinese’ but we’re still awaiting to premiere there. But this was a Chinese co-production which should allow it to go there.” The film shot between 2009 and 2011 and the filmmakers started cutting while still filming. The editing process allowed them to realize the focus of their story, which centers on a coach who works with the recruits. The film premiered at Sundance this past year. China Heavyweight will bow at IFC Center in New York.
Writer-director-star Martin Donovan said making Collaborator was a “real challenge” because it doesn’t neatly fit into a category. The comedy-drama centers on a playwright whose marriage and career are collapsing and has a run-in with a former neighbor who is a right-wing ex-con. “Having me play the lead didn’t attract a lot of dollars,” said Donovan. “I sent a draft to [producer] Ted Hope and we went about trying to raise money in the U.S. in the fall of 2008, right as the world was collapsing from the financial crisis.” While raising money domestically for the film, which is set in the U.S., didn’t happen, Hope and Donovan did make use of Canadian resources. Donovan holds Canadian residency, so he was eligible and received tax breaks and other incentives.
“I was a late bloomer and a young kid in the ’60s. I was very sensitive to what was happening,” recalled Donovan. “The kid two doors down from me was killed in Vietnam and it struck me. I wanted to make a film from my teen years and it took me a very long time to focus my thinking and write it.” Donovan said while pitching the script he ran into difficulty because it doesn’t fit a particular genre, but said audiences take to the film and it “keeps them on their toes,” adding, “I didn’t want to fall into genre or cliché story points. I really do feel like it’s not something people have seen.” The film shot 22 days in northern Ontario followed by four days in L.A. and two in New York City. Collaborator debuted last year at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic and had its U.S. bow at the Hamptons International Film Festival and Mill Valley Film Festival last fall. Tribeca Film will open it theatrically at IFC Center in New York Friday and it will open at the Egyptian in LA on July 20.
Culver City-based specialty distributor Strand Releasing first saw Crazy Eyes ahead of its SXSW Film Festival debut earlier this year and picked up the title. Strand released director Adam Sherman’s feature directorial debut Happiness Runs, which hit theaters in 2010, and were eager to see his latest film about a guy who never stops partying but falls for a girl who spurns his affections, leading him to re-evaluate his idle life. “Adam is an original voice and we really enjoyed working with him on Happiness Runs,” said Strand co-president Marcus Hu. “He showed us an early version of Crazy Eyes and we decided to go for it. He’s really funny.”
Hu said the film will appeal to a “hip younger urban audience” and have targeted online advertising and various promos on Facebook and elsewhere to reach that potential audience. Strand will open Crazy Eyes in New York and Los Angeles this week followed by the Bay Area and Seattle. “We’ll see how it performs at that point and expand from there,” added Hu.
Filmmaking duo Jay and Mark Duplass financed The Do-Deca-Patathlon about two brothers who compete in their own private 25-event Olympics on their own. After releasing bigger movies including Jeff Who Lives At Home (2011) and Cyrus (2010) with casts that include named talent, the latest film is a bit of a throwback to their earlier work that was decidedly outside the studio realm.
“The talking point here is how you release a film that is representative of our micro-budget films,” Mark Duplass told Deadline. “Very small movies are only going to get you so far. If you put some famous people in a movie, then people will definitely go see it more, it’s just the way it is. We made this before we did some of our studio work. We think it’s well-made, but it doesn’t have stars and we didn’t have the same savvy back then.” Duplass pointed out their first film, The Puffy Chair, never passed $500K at the box office. But to maximize this film’s reach, it is partnering with Red Flag Releasing for theatrical and Fox Searchlight, with which the pair have a relationship, for ancillaries. “We have a well-reviewed movie and we said, ‘Let’s see what we can do with this,’ ” Duplass said. “We said, ‘Let’s spend basically nothing and let’s use the muscle of Big Fox’s VOD placement and their internal marketing [prowess] so that it’s ‘free.’ ” Duplass said they’re hoping for $2 million-$3 million in ancillary markets and the title will perhaps reach 10-15 markets in its theatrical run. “Realistically, 250 markets is never going to hold, but we’ll look to the muscle of Fox to get it out on VOD”, he said. The film opens in 15 theaters Friday via Red Flag.