EXCLUSIVE: ImageMovers has acquired film rights to The Execution of Noa P Singleton: A Novel, the best-seller by first-time author Elizabeth L. Silver. Crown published the book in June. Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke and Jackie Levine will produce for ImageMovers. Sam Goldberg and Ilan Ulmer will finance development and will be executive producers. The Execution of Noa P Singleton is a murder mystery about a twentysomething college dropout who sits on death row for murder in Pennsylvania until a powerful attorney, the victim’s own mother, attempts to have the death sentence commuted. ImageMovers most recently produced the John Gatins-penned Flight, which Zemeckis directed. UTA brokered the book deal on behalf of Elizabeth L. Silver and publishing agent Richard Pine of Inkwell Management.
Like the Producers Guild earlier this week, the WGA did not produce a list of film nominees in the Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay categories that had any surprises. This in itself is not surprising since the WGA (I’m a member) — due to restrictive rules regarding eligibility of films only produced under the guild’s MBA or certain international affiliated collective bargaining agreements — had far less of a field from which to choose. The number of screenplays eligible overall is slightly more than a third of all scripts the Academy’s much smaller voting body is picking from (polls for Oscar nomination voting close today at 5 PM). As usual, we can look for several differences when the Academy reveals their writing nominations January 10th. Although nominees often vary between the two orgs, the final winners are usually much more in sync. Last year, both WGA Award-winning scripts — Midnight In Paris and The Descendants – went on to repeat at the Oscars. In 2010 though, only WGA Adapted Screenplay winner The Social Network repeated at Oscar time, while the Oscar winner for Original Screenplay, The King’s Speech, wasn’t even nominated at the WGA because it was ineligible.
Related: WGA Awards Nominations Announced
Christy Grosz is Editor of AwardsLine.
When Walter Parkes and his wife and partner Laurie MacDonald read the first 40 pages of John Gatins’ script for Flight in 2006, the adult drama about a substance-abusing airline pilot piqued their interest. The dark, character-driven story hearkened back to the type of films the major studios used to make on a regular basis. Neither Parkes nor MacDonald envisioned a high-wattage actor like Denzel Washington taking on the role — not only was Washington way out of the price range of a film that needed to be made on a modest budget, their main character worked in a field with few African-American pilots. Nevertheless, once the script made its way to Washington’s agent, the late Ed Limato, the actor read it and was hooked, according to Parkes. “The excellence of a project is no longer enough to get it made: It’s a combination of the quality of the material, the quality of the people making it, and, honestly, the financial circumstance under which the movie is made,” says Parkes, who points out that Washington’s enthusiasm (and, well, severe price cut) helped push Flight to the finish line. Parkes recently spoke with AwardsLine about how it all came together.
AwardLine: Hindsight suggests that Flight was a great project to take on, but did doing a midrange-budget adult drama give you pause when it first came across your desk?
Walter Parkes: It’s been so long that the business was slightly different then. We first got involved with the project in 2006. John Gatins sent us 40 pages, the only 40 pages he’d written, which only really took us to the crash and the immediate aftermath. While it wasn’t exactly clear where the movie was going, the quality of the writing and the strength of that premise were enticing enough that we felt that, if the script was completed correctly, it would attract terrific elements. And at the end of the day, that is necessary to get a movie like that made. We’re talking 2006, before the (financial crisis) and the way it affected Hollywood. You know, there were many independent labels then — Paramount Vantage would have been a good place for this — but over the course of the development, they pretty much stopped being in business, as did many of the specialty labels of other studios. All that meant was that it was less of a sure bet that the project would get made, regardless of the quality of the script. It really put it upon us to meet certain other criteria — mainly, get really amazing people to do it for very little money. (Laughs.)
One of the intriguing parts of the Oscar race for me is watching excellent movies, and then discovering how much adversity, disappointment and years go into them. Whether you’re even nominated, this part of awards season is a validation of the artists’ struggle, offering encouragement to others trying not to give up on their own passion projects. I’m not sure anyone in this race personifies that more than Flight scribe John Gatins. You can look at Flight and marvel at Denzel Washington’s performance or how much movie Robert Zemeckis put onscreen with only a $30 million budget. But the most compelling back story is Gatins, who wrote a script that fit no studio’s template of a make-able movie, particularly with Gatins’ insistence he direct it. Gatins became a successful writer after acting didn’t pan out. His only directing credit, Dreamer, was a family film about a broken race horse, the furthest thing from an R-rated drama about a coke-snorting drunk commercial airline pilot. It was inevitable that a decade of futility would leave Gatins feeling a bit like Ahab chasing the white whale. But here, Gatins bagged his white whale, even if the price was letting someone else be captain.
DEADLINE: Pulling a jet liner out of a dive by flying upside down seems crazy, but there is a knowing voice that informs the substance abuse struggles of Denzel Washington’s pilot. How long did you struggle with that?
GATINS: It was one of those things where you go to college, and get a mulligan for four years to go through stuff and sort things out. If after those four years the party doesn’t end, that’s when it becomes an issue. I was one of those guys who couldn’t leave the party. I moved to Los Angeles after I graduated from Vassar, and tried to sort it out for myself but just never really could. There were a few really dark years there, and some strained relationships with family and friends. I had lots of people worried about me, until I was able to…
DEADLINE: Pull out of the nosedive, so to speak.
DEADLINE: How did you come up with this movie?
GATINS: I was in Europe, working as a script doctor on Behind Enemy Lines. These naval pilots, very intense guys, told such great stories. Sobriety changed what had been a distaste for flying into a real fear, because I didn’t have a coping mechanism anymore when I was in the air. The Yankees and Mets were playing in the World Series, and I had to get back to see a game. I found myself in this plane sitting next to a pilot who just started telling me all these crazy stories and everything that was going wrong in his life. I’m pretty friendly, but sitting there on this plane, I didn’t want to know that the wife hates you and you’re going through an awful divorce and you’ve got a bad addiction, you’re an alcoholic. And then I had that “wait a second, what if?” moment. Let’s say you had this pilot with an addiction issue, and put him in a plane and there was one of those horrific perfect storm scenarios. Every pilot explained to me that in order for a plane to crash from pilot error, a really crazy series of things would have to happen because they have backup systems for every crisis. I thought, if I can put him in a situation like that, where he has to do some amazing feat of flying, and then later it’s revealed he was loaded, how would we feel about that guy and his heroic act? And what about his own self-appraisal when the media wants to hoist him up as a hero? I wanted to explore the life of this alcoholic faker, trying to convince himself he’s something that’s he’s not.
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.
One thing’s for certain about Flight: The Robert Zemeckis-directed drama starring Denzel Washington as an alcoholic pilot will never be a popular in-flight film. “After this movie, people are going to be waiting out on the steps for the pilot with a Breathalyzer test,” Washington recently joked in an interview.
Flight screenwriter John Gatins also does not recommend his story for in-flight reading. “I’ve gotten emails from people saying:, ‘Man, I made the mistake of opening your screenplay on a plane’”, Gatins says with a laugh. His fictional concept is not too far from recent fact: In 2009, not one, but two pilots were arrested preflight at London’s Heathrow Airport after failing Breathalyzer tests. Both planes, one American Airlines and one United, were coincidentally headed for Chicago.
Related: OSCARS: Handicapping Lead Actor Race
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.
With a lean budget of $30 million, Flight is an action film that could not afford a big movie star like Denzel Washington. Then again, this morally ambivalent character study of an alcoholic pilot flying under the influence couldn’t afford not to have a big movie star like Denzel Washington if it had a shot at getting made at all. Washington, 57, sat down with AwardsLine to talk about how and why he got involved, and how the numbers added up to make the role of troubled Captain Whip Whitaker a gamble worth taking.
AwardsLine: Industry observers have said this film wouldn’t have been made without you. It has so many of what Hollywood would call negatives — it’s both an action film and a character study, and that character is not a straight-up hero, he’s an alcoholic.
Denzel Washington: It was not a struggle to get it made, but the studio wanted to do it for a price, and we ended up with (about) $28 million, and (director) Robert Zemeckis made it look like $100 million, especially the plane sequence. So he and I threw our money back in the pot, took a tenth of our salaries.
Not much to crow about for the quarter that ended in September, although net profits benefited from foreign exchange rates and lower taxes. Viacom reported net earnings of $650M, +12.8% vs the period last year, on revenues of $3.36B, …
Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch has reportedly asked Paramount to obscure all images of its flagship beer in the Robert Zemeckis movie Flight. In the drama, Denzel Washington plays an airline pilot accused of drinking before captaining a plane. It includes scenes showing Washington consuming alcoholic beverages, including Budweiser and assorted vodka brands. The well-reviewed film opened #2 this weekend with $25M. Now, according to wire reports, Budweiser VP Robert McCarthy has penned a letter to Zemeckis’ Image Movers and to Paramount saying Anheuser-Busch had “no knowledge of the use or portrayal of Budweiser” before or during the film’s production and were not contacted by the studio. “We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving. It is disappointing that Image Movers, the production company, and Paramount chose to use one of our brands in this manner,” McCarthy said in the letter. “We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters.”
#1 ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ Muscles $50M Weekend; #2 ‘Flight’ Soars To $25M With Low Theater Count; ‘The Man With Iron Fists’ Weak $8.2M
SUNDAY 7 AM, 6TH UPDATE (Top Ten grosses below): Total moviegoing this weekend is $138.3M, which is a healthy +21% from last year. The good news is that as Hurricane Sandy recovery continued, Saturday became a big attendance day. Going into this weekend, less than 100 movie theaters on the East Coast remained off the grid on Friday. But that number went down as the power came on. The even better news was that NYC biz in particular was very strong – despite continuing transportation problems but because of cabin fever. ”Clearly, folks need and have an escape valve from the misery of Sandy – namely the movies,” one top distribution exec tells me.
Overall weekend domestic box office was led by Disney’s well-reviewed 3D blockbuster Wreck-It Ralph (playing in 3,752 theaters) whose gross went up a huge +58% from Friday to Saturday for an expected $50.0M through Sunday. It’s the biggest non-holiday opening for a Disney Animation Studios title. Clearly here’s a brand new original franchise for the Mouse House. This action toon went into Friday accounting for 20% of all online ticket sales at Fandango and MovieTickets. Yet there was some flopsweat by Disney not just because of the storm variable but because family tracking has been unreliable of late. (Remember Frankenweenie, anyone?) “I think they’re going to get enough teens to supplement the family audience and pop a real number,” a rival studio exec told me ahead of time. Pic did. Audiences gave Wreck-It Ralph an ‘A’ Cinemascore which should bode well for positive word of mouth and playability through the Thanksgiving holiday as there is little family competition in the marketplace until then. The toon infused from 30-plus years of video game history so target audience wasn’t just kids but also adults and game enthusiasts as well as males and females. (I always think the movie industry doesn’t understand how many gals play video games…) Fix-It Felix Jr classic-style game consoles toured the country, with stops at Comic-Con, gamer-focused events like Classic Gaming Expo and PAX Prime, as well as colleges, family events, Disney Parks, etc. The trailer debuted at E3 in June while the film itself had a strong presence at Comic-Con in July, including a Hall H panel with director Rich Moore and voice cast John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. As for its marketing campaign, Wreck-It Ralph had a huge Olympic integration, plus promotional partnerships with Subway, Nesquik, Gamefly, Netgear, Costco, and Lego. Global press junket in mid-October featured immersive experiences in the game’s worlds, followed by a special gaming press day in San Francisco in conjunction with Sega, Disney Mobile and Activision. The world premiere was held at the El Capitan Theatre on October 29. For animation fans and cinephiles, toon is playing in theaters with Paperman, a black-and-white 3D short film that features an innovative new hybrid of hand-drawn and CG animation.
Of course the Disney family fare swamped this weekend’s other newcomers which are debuting in only 1/2 as many theaters. But Paramount’s well-reviewed Flight (1,900 locations) enjoyed a +31% bump from Friday to Saturday and opened #2 with a surprise $25M this weekend. That’s enormous considering its medium theater count. Just think how many stars can’t even open pics to $20M with 3,000+ theaters. But Denzel Washington has a very loyal adult fanbase, and the pic from credited screenwriter John Gatins had good reviews despite (or because of) a bleak back half. Expectedly, movie is very soft with teens. But it received an ’A-’ CinemaScore which will help keep it overperforming tracking and stirring Oscar buzz. It’s certainly been a while since director Robert Zemeckis had a hit like this. Even better for Paramount, which has only released one live action pic since May (Paranormal Activity 4), is the fact that Flight cost only $31M. “That was the ground rule that everyone bought into.” Paramount gave it a release pattern similar to its 2010′s The Fighter which had a similar budget, dark story and awards chatter. As for marketing, Paramount launched the Flight trailer in June on Prometheus. “Our strategy was to aim our efforts at sophisticated moviegoers and have a strong push for men and African Americans,” a studio exec explains to me. Flight campaign kicked off for all four presidential debates’ TV coverage. That early awareness stunt led to an exclusive promotion on CBS. A heavy African-American push was made on BET, VH1 and urban radio) as well as VH1′s Basketball Wives whose reality cast screened the film and waxed enthusiastically about Denzel in a promotional spot. Of course there were big sports buys and lots of media. Flight had its world premiere Closing Night of the New York Film Festival on October 14th. Then Paramount and EPIX hosted an encore presentation in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles with audiences on the West Coast participating in a Q&A with Zemeckis, Washington, Don Cheadle, and John Goodman. Denzel appeared on Letterman, and Zemeckis on Fallon, for the first time those shows ever broadcast without an audience. Zemeckis also traveled the festival circuit (Chicago International Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival). Online, Paramount utilized a Twitter Promoted Trend, reaching 39M unique users in one day then added heavy African American targeting.
With just a 15% drop in its 4th weekend, Ben Afflecks Oscar-buzzed Argo from Warner Bros was mixing it up for #3 and #4 with Universal’s The Man With The Iron Fists (1,868 theaters) whose meh reviews helped sink its debut to a disappointing $8.2M this weekend. But that’s a more optimistic number than other studios’ $7.6M. Pic ended up with only a ‘C+’ CinemaScore which hurt word of mouth: Saturday’s gross was flat from Friday’s. Featuring MMA personality Cung Le, Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu and marking the directorial debut of RZA, he co-wrote with Eli Roth who also produced. But, c’mon, how many times have we seen hip hop artists crash and burn on their big screen projects? But not for lack of trying. ‘Presented by’ Quentin Tarantino, he was the film’s ‘creative godfather’ and marketed the fighting pic directly to the UFC homepage right in the wheelhouse of its target demo. Apparently, that’s a tiny number. Tracking was strongest with older males and ethnic moviegoers; exit polling showed the audience was 64% male vs. 36% female, and 47% aged 30 years and older vs. 53% under age 30. But grosses were on the low range of expectations. Good thing the pic cost only $15M. Universal explains it gave RZA a chance based on his lifelong kung fu fascination after he served as an on-set apprentice to several filmmakers over the years. The studio calls it “a low-risk project that is more a labor of love for an arriving new film artist than a potential big moneymaker for the studio.” Strike Entertainment’s Marc Abraham and Eric Newman produced. On November 12th, Universal will begin rolling out the film out internationally where it might perform better.
Paramount’s Oscar Hopeful Takes ‘Flight’ With Bi-Coastal Interactive Launch — Minus Denzel Washington
Paramount, expanding ways to reach awards voters, got interactive Monday with a bi-coastal launch of its Oscar-bait drama Flight, including a special screening and Q&A in New York beamed to four Arclight theaters in the Los Angeles area and another in San Francisco for invited guild members and press. Taking place the day after the film’s world premiere as the closing-night attraction of the 50th New York Film Festival, director Robert Zemeckis, writer John Gatins and several cast members including John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and Melissa Leo took part in the interactive post-screening Q&A that featured tweeted questions from the California venues and live queries from the NY crowd — many industry-voter types. Paramount clearly found a nice way to expand its Big Apple premiere, and it went off almost without a hitch. Almost.
The only downer for the studio was jettisoning the scheduled appearance of Flight star Denzel Washington, who was in attendance for the premiere Sunday night. He “was taken ill” according to the announcement at the outset of the Q&A, followed by audible groans from the audience. For the money being spent on this, as well as its awards launch, losing Denzel had to be a big disappointment for the studio. Still, the rest of this digital-age awards event went off without a hitch with premium network Epix teaming with Paramount to stage the interactive, multi-city event.
Other companies have begun doing this sort of thing including The Weinstein Company, which staged a couple of live interactive events like this last year with Meryl Streep among others. But the major studios, more bottom-line-oriented and not usually on the front lines of new Oscar campaign techniques, are suddenly jumping on board if recent activity is an indication. Last week, Disney/DreamWorks staged a “Conversation With Steven Spielberg And Daniel Day Lewis” following a nine-city screening of Lincoln at which audience members (mostly students) in those cities were able to text questions to the same AMC Lincoln (appropiate name) Plaza theatre that hosted today’s Flight screening. In the past, most awards-season guild screening Q&As (and they number in the hundreds) were simply for the audience that showed up and not usually even taped.
Here’s an early trailer for Flight, Robert Zemeckis’ return to live-action directing after his foray into performance capture animation. It is nice to see the helmer of movies like Forrest Gump, Cast Away and Back To The Future return to the screen, particularly with Denzel Washington as a troubled pilot …
Flight, which marks Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action feature since 2000′s Cast Away, has been given a November 2, 2012 wide release date, Paramount announced today. To make room for the drama, the studio has shifted the Barbra Streisand-Seth Rogen comedy …