Writer/Director Ryan Coogler‘s Sundance Film Festival sensation Fruitvale Station is now, just ten months later, hitting the awards season with strong impact. He was nominated Tuesday for Best First Feature at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, but as he told an audience of AMPAS and Guild members at Deadline’s THE CONTENDERS event earlier this month, the motivation for making his debut feature came from a much deeper place than just creating a prize-winning movie. The trip from real-life events to bringing them to a worldwide audience had a profound impact on the young filmmaker.
The Contenders 2013: Writer/Director Ryan Coogler On ‘Fruitvale Station’ – “I Felt Like It Happened To Me” (Video)
Harvey Weinstein & ‘Fruitvale Station’ Director Ryan Coogler Joining Michelle Obama At White House Film Workshop
EXCLUSIVE: Just over 12 hours after tonight’s screening with President Obama of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom at the White House, Harvey Weinstein will be back at the Executive Mansion to talk film again. This time the Weinstein Company co-chairman will be with First Lady Michelle Obama at 10 AM PT for the Careers In Film symposium she is hosting Friday. Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler and One Chance director David Frankel will join Obama and Weinstein. Naomie Harris, who plays Winnie Mandela in Long Walk To Freedom, also will be participating. The filmmakers’ discussion will be moderated by Gayle King. Coogler also will be joining the Obamas, Harris, Weinstein and Mandela director Justin Chadwick and star Idris Elba at the screening tonight, I’ve learned. The Friday event is designed to teach high school students from Washington DC, NYC and Boston about the film industry.
Deadline’s sold-out award season kick-off The Contenders unspooled Saturday at the Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Take a look at our special guest panelists from this year’s crop of Oscar hopefuls from …
‘Fruitvale Station’ Duo Ryan Coogler And Michael B. Jordan Team With Sly Stallone On MGM ‘Rocky’ Spinoff ‘Creed’
EXCLUSIVE: MGM is setting Ryan Coogler to direct Creed, and the studio is in early talks with Coogler’s Fruitvale Station star Michael B. Jordan to play the grandson of Apollo Creed in a continuation of the Rocky saga that Coogler is going to write with Aaron Covington. Sylvester Stallone will reprise Rocky Balboa as a retired fighter-turned-trainer. This comes in the wake of a strong summer platform opening for Fruitvale Station, the film that won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Awards at Sundance, and captured Prize Of The Future at the Cannes Film Festival, where Coogler and Jordan were the toast of the Croisette. Coogler intends for this to be his directorial follow-up to Fruitvale Station so the intention is to make it happen quickly.
Now, I know the knee-jerk reaction is to say it’s hard to get excited about what amounts to the seventh film in the Rocky series. This feels different to me, mostly because of how it came together. Much the same way that Coogler burned with the desire to tell the tragic story of Oscar Grant in his feature debut and begged Jordan to play the role in the $900,000 budget film, this whole idea also came from Coogler. When he signed with WME, Coogler identified Creed as a dream project. While Coogler already had the relationship with Jordan, the agency put him together with Stallone. Stallone, who is right now heavily involved in a stage musical transfer of his original Oscar-winning 1976 film Rocky, loved the idea and felt it was strong enough for him to bring back his signature screen character. Stallone and Coogler then approached MGM’s Gary Barber and Jon Glickman, and they flipped for it. The film will be produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who produced the original, along with Stallone and Kevin King.
The intention is for Jordan to play the grandson of Apollo Creed (played in the early movies by Carl Weathers). Raised in an upper-crust home thanks to the ring riches earned by his grandfather, the young man doesn’t have to box and his family doesn’t want him to. Yet, he has the natural instinct and gifts and potential that made his grandfather the heavyweight champion until Rocky Balboa took his crown in 1979′s Rocky II. Creed’s grandson needs a mentor and turns to Balboa, who is out of boxing completely and not eager to return.
The late film critic Roger Ebert and award-winning Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler were the honorees at last night’s third annual Celebrate Sundance Institute event at The Lot in Hollywood. Ebert’s widow Chaz was on hand to accept the Vanguard Leadership Award for her husband, who died April 4 but had hoped to attend in person. The Sundance Institute announced that the Roger Ebert Scholarship For Film Criticism would be established in order to promote ”passionate and articulate aspiring young film critics” in the legendary critic’s memory. Sundance founder Robert Redford presented the award to Chaz Ebert and recounted his own personal connection to Roger. Redford recalled meeting him in 1980, right as the actor-director was starting to formulate plans for the development of the Sundance Lab, even before the Festival was started several years later. Ebert, there as a journalist, was interested in covering the beginnings of the Sundance Lab, which would foster independent film.
The Cannes Film Festival is over for me, and when I come to a place like this, I find myself asking, where are the next stars coming from? Between Fruitvale Station’s Michael B. Jordan and writer-director Ryan Coogler, and Inside Llewyn Davis’ Oscar Isaac, I feel like I got three answers to that question over the course of a weekend.
I come to Cannes primarily to chase deal stories, as I do in Toronto and Sundance. At those other two, the threat of transactions leaves me confined to a hotel room waiting for action. The sporadic action here allowed me see movies and stroll down a rain-soaked Croisette. The drivers here are entirely dangerous in their tiny cars; one driver trying to turn came so close to plowing into my leg that I had to pound his hood with my fist (luckily I didn’t damage my typing finger, which would have cut my output in half). I also made time to see movies including Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Behind The Candelabra. While Steven Soderbergh ends the movie-making part of his movie career 24 years after it began here when he won Palme d’Or in 1989 for sex lies & videotape, the road is just beginning for Jordan, Coogler and Isaac. Based on the films I saw here, each has a long drive ahead.
I spoke briefly with Isaac following the Inside Llewyn Davis premiere and jokingly asked him how they possibly could have overlooked him for Les Miserables, given his remarkable singing chops. He seemed jolted for a moment and then smiled as I did, because we both knew this was much, much better. Joel and Ethan Coen created a tour de force folk-singer role for him that any actor with pipes could only dream about. “This might sound cliché, but I feel like I’ve been training 33 years just for this movie,” said the 33-year-old actor. Judging by the talk I overheard between CBS Films and Isaac’s reps about keeping room in his late-year schedule for Oscar-season stumping, Isaac wasn’t overstating the case.
Coogler, meanwhile, is a 27 year old who hails from Oakland, and who got a football scholarship and then went to study film at USC. He found his feature debut in the story of Oscar Grant, the young man whose accidental shooting by roughshod cops atop a train platform created national outrage. Jordan plays Grant and to watch him, Coogler and their cohorts staring wide-eyed at the Cannes premiere crowd at the Palais was charming. A standing ovation must have lasted 10 minutes, and I can’t recall a movie where I saw so many audience members in tears, a remarkable accomplishment since so many absorbed the dialogue through subtitles. Much of the movie’s power is Jordan’s engagingly accessible screen persona, but a lot of credit goes to Coogler. As I and other journos milled around him, I could see Coogler bristle when they put him in the “black filmmaker” category, and it doesn’t surprise me that one reason Harvey Weinstein won Fruitvale Station over other bidders is that he was the only mogul who, when speaking to Coogler, drew parallels to films like The Bicycle Thief, classics Coogler studied in school. Coogler made more right decisions in this movie than is usual for a first-time feature director. His best one: making this a family story and not an angry urban polemic. It makes Oscar’s tragedy relatable to anyone who has abruptly lost a loved one (it hit me like a sledgehammer). As for the Cannes adulation, Coogler was overwhelmed, but applied a lesson learned on the football field when he was a wide receiver. “You constantly remind yourself over and over to concentrate on catching the ball and securing it first, before you try to run with it.” It is all about attention to technique and detail, he said, and he’ll take his time figuring out the next film. It will be something he can make personal, the way he did Fruitvale Station.