Andre Gregory spent 14 years rehearsing the play. Jonathan Demme took one week to film it. The extraordinarily engaging result is A Master Builder, which went into limited release today at New York’s Film Forum. It’s a movie that benefits from one director’s obsession with allowing his actors to live in their roles over time with another’s burst of creative energy. You can sense both up on the screen in this film of a story that might easily have seemed dated but instead comes across as a chilling tale — a “haunted house story” as Demme describes it. And perhaps just as important, it should mark the second time Gregory has introduced an actress who gives every sign of becoming a star. Her name is Lisa Joyce.
“She’s astounding,” Gregory told me in an interview from his home on Cape Cod. “I am hoping that my work with Lisa will have the same impact as my work with Julianne Moore did.”
A little history, then. In 1994, the late French director Louis Malle filmed Gregory’s equally long-aborning production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, starring Wallace Shawn in the title role and Moore as Yelena, the object of his (and every other male character’s) desire. It remains arguably the best film adaptation of a Chekhov play, and it figured prominently in launching Moore’s stellar career. Read More »
Jonathan Demme’s A Master Builder, an adaptation of a play based on the Henrik Ibsen play, has been acquired by indie distributor Abramorama and will be released July 23 in NY followed by a national rollout. Directed by Demme, it was titled Fear Of Falling when it premiered at last year’s Rome Film Festival. The film is based on a theater production — performed only a few times to friends — created for the stage by Andre Gregory, based on Ibsen’s The Master Builder, and translated and adapted by actor-playwright Wallace Shawn, who teamed with Gregory for the iconic indie pic My Dinner With Andre. Gregory and Shawn also star in the film, which tells the story of Halvard Solness (Shawn), a successful architect who exercises tight control over his wife (Julie Hagerty) who has never stopped mourning the death of their two infant children. When Hilde (Lisa Joyce), a mysterious young woman comes to visit, the once dominating, controlling and narcissistic Halvard finds himself apparently revived in every possible way. Jeff Biehl, Emily Cass McDonnell and Larry Pine also star.
EXCLUSIVE: Tom Rothman’s TriStar Productions is closing a deal to finance and distribute Ricki And The Flash, a hot package that had several studios circling because it comes with Meryl Streep playing a hard rocking mama. Scripted by Juno‘s Diablo Cody, the film will be directed by Jonathan Demme, and produced by Marc Platt and Mason Novick. This comes on the heels of TriStar’s deal with Robert Zemeckis to direct the 3-D experiential film To Walk the Clouds about the French aerialist Phillipe Petit who crossed between the Twin Towers on a wire in 1974. The project is based on Petit’s memoirs To Reach The Clouds and is being produced by Zemeckis with his ImageMovers Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Rothman. Landing Ricki and The Flash is a coup for Rothman.
Streep will play a rock n’ roll-loving woman who chased her tattered dream at the price of her family, but gets a last chance to get it right by reconciling with her estranged daughter. This isn’t some development deal. Rothman has committed to make the picture and Streep is already preparing. Demme has directed documentaries with Neil Young, and there was an impromptu encounter with Demme and Streep where Young was present, and the iconic guitarist and singer gave her some pointers. She has already demonstrated her ability to sing on Mamma Mia! This is new territory for an actress who has done most everything; her character belts out hard rock at night and is a grocery store checkout lady by day. Shooting begins this fall.
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Even when you are your home country’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, it’s hard not to get lost in the competition among all the participating countries. Morocco’s selection, the Nabil Ayouch-directed Horses Of God, has gotten the support of Oscar-winning helmer Jonathan Demme, who has signed on as presenter of the film. Inspired by the real-life 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca, the film explores how ordinary people can come to be involved in such desperate, unfathomable actions. The pic was acclaimed in Cannes, and Wild Bunch is selling distribution rights in the U.S. In a statement, Demme called the film “simply one of the very most powerful pictures that I have ever seen. Extraordinarily gripping and moving, the cinematic style is really breathtaking. I can’t remember being so blown away by the marriage of visuals and storytelling since the first time I saw Marty Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Bertolucci’s The Conformist.”
Related: Cannes Film Festival: Directors To Watch
Jonathan Demme’s ‘Fear Of Falling’ To Premiere At Rome Fest
Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme‘s Fear Of Falling will have its world premiere at the eighth annual Rome Film Festival in November. The film is based on a theater production — performed only a few times to friends — created for the stage by the actor-filmaker André Gregory, based on Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder, translated and adapted by actor-playwright Wallace Shawn. Gregory and Shawn also star in the film. Fear of Falling is produced by Rocco Caruso. The Rome fest runs November 8-17.
TrustNordisk Sells ‘We Are The Best!’ In Australia, Italy, Taiwan
TrustNordisk has closed multiple deals on Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best!, which premiered at Venice premiere and screened at Toronto. The Swedish teen punk film has sold to Australia (NewVision Films), Italy (Bim Distribuzione) and Taiwan (Maison Motion), with talks ongoing for other territories. We Are The Best! revolves around three young outsiders in 1980s Stockholm who find unity in music and form a punk band without having any instruments. Lars Jönsson for Memfis Film produced the film, which bows October 11 in Sweden.
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Oscar-winning Silence Of The Lambs helmer Jonathan Demme has been tapped to direct and executive produce AMC’s drama pilot Line Of Sight. The project, from Brotherhood creator Blake Masters, marks AMC’s first foray into the sci-fi genre. Co-produced by Fox TV Studios and AMC Studios, Line Of Sight tells the story of Lewis Bernt, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator who survives a mysterious plane crash, bringing him on an emotionally disorienting quest to discover the accident’s cause. WME-repped Demme also directed the pilot for the CBS drama series A Gifted Man, on which he served as executive producer.
EXCLUSIVE: When you see a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese or Jonathan Demme put their brand names on movies, you wonder how involved they get. Scorsese put his imprimatur on two films this month – Luc Besson’s Malavita and Andy Lau’s Revenge of the Green Dragons. Now, Demme has taken a “presenting” credit on Adam Leon‘s Gimme The Loot, hoping his contribution will be that people notice a worthy indie when it gets released in late March by IFC Films/Sundance Selects. Gimme The Loot won Best Narrative Feature at last year’s SXSW. Leon is a current nominee for an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Film.
Said Demme: “Knowing that Gimme The Loot is — astonishingly — Adam Leon’s first feature most certainly adds to the film’s extraordinary sense of achievement. But the sheer entertainment value of this very smart, hilarious, and heartfelt movie made by young filmmakers about contemporary young people, filmed and played with great freshness and originality, is what makes Gimme The Loot a truly thrilling experience — this is really one crazily accomplished American motion picture debut.” Read More »
Jonathan Demme will receive the Cinema Audio Society Filmmaker Award at the 49th CAS Awards on February 16 at Millennium-Biltmore in Los Angeles. Demme’s career spans 40 years as a writer-director-producer, and his credits include The Silence Of The Lambs, Philadelphia, The Manchurian Candidate, Married To The Mob and Neil Young: Heart Of Gold. All of those pics were made with sound mixer Chris Newman, who is receiving the CAS Career Achievement Award this year. Demme’s latest project is based on Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn’s adaptation of the Ibsen play Master Builder, now in postproduction. The CAS Awards will honor Outstanding Achievements in Sound Mixing in six categories.
While Jonathan Demme is busy writing the script for Stephen King’s upcoming thriller novel 11/22/63, and completing another script for an animated feature adaptation of the Dave Eggers novel Zeitoun, the Oscar-winning director has become so captivated by the Occupy Wall Street movement that he brought his camera down and filmed a 15-minute atmospheric piece, with at least one more in the works. Demme called it “an informercial for Occupy Wall Street, a citizen’s response to something important,” he said. “I have no agenda, but I’m an enthusiast and support this so passionately that in a tiny way I wanted to contribute.”
To Demme, Occupy Wall Street is a game-changing expression of youthful outrage reminiscent of protests against the Vietnam War and segregation. “I’m from the hippie generation, I came aware in that age of protests and demonstrations,” he said. “These young people are living that sense of potential change, and when you go downtown to see it, it’s such an oxygenated atmosphere that it’s thrilling. Many people dump on Barack Obama, they say once he got in office he didn’t do anything. But neither did we, the people who supported him and then went off and lived our lives. The only voice that has been in his face has been the Tea Party and I promise you, if Occupy Wall Street had taken root when the president was elected, we’d … Read More »
The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival has filled out the rest of its slate, which consists of 268 features and 68 short films that will unspool next month. The fest announced that the likes of Brad Pitt (Moneyball), George Clooney (The Ides of March), and U2 (the Davis Guggenheim-directed docu From The Sky Down) will be among a long list of boldface names at the fest.
Toronto added 13 films to its Masters Lineup, including the North American premiere of Gus Van Sant’s Restless, and a Discovery Programme lineup that includes the international debut of the Dee Rees-directed Pariah, which premiered in January at Sundance. The fest also announced its complete lineup for Mavericks. It includes a discussion with Christopher Plummer, who stars in Barrymore, the Erik Canuel-directed adaptation of Plummer’s Tony-winning performance as actor John Barrymore; a conversation between Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie; a conversation with Francis Ford Coppola, whose Twixt plays Toronto; Neil Young and Jonathan Demme as they premiere the documentary Neil Young Life; Tilda Swinton as she brings We Need to Talk About Kevin to the fest; and a discussion with Sony Pictures Classics founders Michael Barker and Tom Bernard as their distribution company reaches its 20th year milestone.
It looks like Jonathan Demme is the latest big name to jump on a Stephen King project, with the director confirmed to have picked up rights to King’s yet-to-be-released novel 11/22/63, about a teacher who travels back in time in an attempt to stop John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Demme, who recently signed with WME after seven years at ICM, is expected to write, produce and direct the adaptation. King’s new book (it comes out in November) and movie deal is just the latest for the horror-thriller icon, who in the 1980s and ’90s saw pretty much everything he wrote turn into a movie. Now, he’s really back in the Hollywood spotlight: Of course there’s the author’s seminal seven-book The Dark Tower, which Universal was flirting with adapting into three features and two limited-run TV series; he studio recently nixed the deal that had Ron Howard directing and Akiva Goldsman writing, and the project remains in limbo. Also, David Yates and Steve Kloves are circling and adaptation of King’s The Stand, and Warner Bros is developing It, about a terrifying clown, which was turned into a 1990 TV movie. On the TV side, A&E just greenlighted a four-part miniseries based on Bag of Bones starring Pierce Brosnan and Kelly Rowland.
EXCLUSIVE: No announcements yet from either agency, but Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (Silence Of The Lambs) had been an ICM client for seven years. The iconclastic helmer works in film moving between indie projects and big studio productions, TV, and theater. For Demme, ICM put together Rachel Getting Married, the Jimmy Carter documentary Man From Plains, and The Manchurian Candidate. But recently Demme has been pursuing passion projects with less success. His Neil Young documentary has failed to find a distributor. His Bob Marley documentary was reconfigered by Stephen Bing following a dispute with Demme. And the latest two scripts that interested Demme, The Angriest Man In Brooklyn and Honeymoon With Harry, did not find a cast. (See my previous, De Niro Balks, Demme Walks, Movie Chalks.)
Pete Hammond Remembers Sidney Lumet
Having covered Hollywood from a New York base for over 20 years, I watched Gotham hold its own because of filmmakers that included Jonathan Demme, Alan Pakula, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet. So let’s see where that leaves us. Demme doesn’t work often enough. Pakula, whose resume includes one of the greatest American movies ever in All the President’s Men, died in a freak accident on the Long Island Expressway. Allen has been on an extended tour of Europe that I admit has completely reinvigorated him as a filmmaker but hasn’t helped the production scene in Manhattan. Scorsese shoots all over the place, and Lee has had trouble getting his films funded even though he’s a voice well worth hearing. Finally, Lumet, the guy who made seminal movies like Network, 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, and continued directing films at such a fast pace that co-workers swore he shot while double-parked, passed away. Now, Lincoln Center has announced a summer series of films made by the great Lumet. It is worth checking out some of his great films. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for that electrifying new New York filmmaker who’ll have the clout to force productions to be shot in his backyard despite the high union costs, and who makes Gotham relevant again on the feature scene. Here’s the info on the Lumet retrospective:
New York, NY, June 27, 2011- Following a heartfelt and entertaining memorial for Sidney Lumet at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall with speakers and performers including Lauren Bacall, Walter Bernstein, Bobby Cannavale, Glenn Close, Jonathan Demme, James Gandolfini, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jenny Lumet, David Mamet, Phylilis Newman and Christopher Walken among others, the Film Society of Lincoln Center has announced the details today for a retrospective of the admired and beloved director’s work, Prince of the City: Remembering Sidney Lumet which will screen at the Walter Reade Theater July 19 – 25.
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Law & Order veteran S. Epatha Merkerson has joined CBS’ untitled Susannah Grant supernatural medical drama pilot. Jonathan Demme is directing the pilot, from CBS TV Studios and Timberman/Beverly, which centers on Michael (Patrick Wilson), an ultra-competitive surgeon whose life is changed forever when his ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle), a doctor running a free clinic, dies and begins teaching him what life is all about from the hereafter. Merkerson will play Michael’s assistant Rita. Without her help, he probably wouldn’t make it through the day as she is really the person running the office. Sassy and strong willed, Rita is not someone you should cross. Merkerson joins another late addition to the cast of the medical drama pilot, Julie Benz. Merkerson was approached for several projects in her first pilot season following her 16-year stint on Law & Order. The Emmy-winning actress, repped by ICM and Bob McGowan plays the lead in the upcoming Lionsgate/Tyler Perry movie We the Peoples, now in post-production.
Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro appear together in this weekend’s release of Limitless from Virgin/Relativity. So I decided to check on that other reteaming of Cooper and De Niro in the works for New Line, the heartfelt dramedy Honeymoon With Harry, with Jonathan Demme on board to direct. Well, it’s not in the works anymore because of the usual De Niro paralysis. I’ve learned that Demme recently dropped out because he grew frustrated with De Niro’s hemming and hawing about the project – even after Demme and Jenny Lumet (the same team that did the wonderful Rachel Getting Married) did a rewrite of the Paul Haggis script regularly featured on “best unmade” lists. I heard both New Line and Cooper loved the new version. But De Niro still balked.
“Demme basically said to Cooper, “De Niro will never do this. It’s a wild goose chase. Bradley, we should make this movie together,’” an insider explains to me. After circling the film since August, Jonathan was ready to go into pre-production. But Cooper “didn’t want to look disloyal by leaving De Niro on the side of the road”, another source tells me. When New Line couldn’t build a bridge between Demme and De Niro, Demme parted ways rather than “make the movie in a negative environment”. Now the pic is all but dead at New Line. Jeez, given how many lousy projects De Niro stars in these days, I find it surprising that the actor would balk at working on a movie with … Read More »
Leslie Bibb has been tapped for the lead in ABC’s dramedy pilot Good Christian Bitches, from ABC Studios, Kapital Entertainment, writer-exec producer Robert Harling and exec producer Darren Star. Based on Kim Gatlin’s book, it centers on Amanda (Bibb), a recently divorced mother of two who moves back to the affluent neighborhood where she grew up to find herself in the whirling midst of gossip, Botox and fraud. Crossing Jordan alumna Bibb, repped by ICM and manager John Carrabino, co-starred in the two Iron Man movies. She will next be seen in the feature comedy Zookeeper. Bibb joins previously cast Jennifer Aspen and Annie Potts.
The King’s Speech co-star Jennifer Ehle is set as the female lead opposite Patrick Wilson in CBS’ untitled Susannah Grant drama pilot. Jonathan Demme is directing he supernatural medical drama, from CBS TV Studios and Timberman/Beverly, which centers on an ultra-competitive surgeon (Wilson) whose life is changed forever when his ex-wife (Ehle), a doctor running a free clinic, dies and begins teaching him what life is all about from the here-after. Two-time Tony winner Ehle, repped by ICM and Independent Talent Group, recently shared a best ensemble SAG Award with the rest of the King’s Speech cast. She just finished shooting Contagion and The Ides of … Read More »
Feature and Broadway actor Patrick Wilson is making his first foray into series TV as the star of CBS’ untitled Susannah Grant drama pilot. Jonathan Demme is directing he supernatural medical drama, from CBS TV Studios and studio-based Timberman/Beverly Prods., which centers on an ultra-competitive surgeon (Wilson) whose life is changed forever when his ex-wife dies and begins teaching him what life is all about from the here-after. Wilson’s only previous TV gig was a co-starring role on the HBO miniseries Angels In America, which earned him an Emmy nomination. Wilson was approached by 3 drama pilots this season. As part of his deal for the Susannah Grant pilot, its production will be moved to New York where Wilson lives. CAA-repped Wilson most recently starred in the Sundance entry The Ledge.
In a series of stories, I’ll take an analytical look at the current broadcast pilot season and some of its trends and heroes.
In what was probably the last big pilot director signing this season, Jaume Collet-Sera yesterday closed a deal to direct ABC’s The River hours before the premiere of his new movie, the Liam Neeson starrer Unknown. It was a fitting end to a pilot director hiring season that was dominated by feature helmers.
Among those signed for pilots are Jonathan Demme (CBS’ untitled Susannah Grant), Shawn Levy (Fox’s Comedy Album), Phillip Noyce (ABC’s Revenge), Antoine Fuqua (Fox’s Exit Strategy), James Mangold (CBS’ Rookies) Michael Apted (ABC’s Hallelujah), Eclipse director David Slade (NBC’s REM), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director Niels Arden Oplev (CBS’ Redlich/Bellucci), Mark Romanek (Fox’s Locke & Key) and Easy A helmer Will Gluck (Fox’s Iceland). Two filmmakers, Stephen Gaghan and Michael Patrick King, are directing their own scripts, NBC’s S.I.L.A. and A Mann’s World, respectively, while Peter Berg is directing NBC’s Prime Suspect, which he also produces. Also approached for pilots were McG, Tony Scott and Brett Ratner, but no deals were made, mostly because of feature scheduling conflicts.
The trend of going after feature directors for pilots started in the early 2000s with the success of CBS’ CSI, which was attributed in part to the show’s distinct look and visual effects brought in by feature director Danny Cannon, who made his TV debut with the … Read More »