EXCLUSIVE: Sam Rockwell has been set to star in The Eel, with Roberto Bentivegna directing his script that made the 2012 Black List. Deal occurs as Rockwell zips to Park City for tonight’s premiere of the Lynn Shelton-directed Laggies, in which he stars with Chloe Moretz and Keira Knightley, the latter a 28-year old who avoids her boyfriend’s marriage proposal by hanging out with high schoolers.
The deal also brings Rockwell together with producers Kevin Walsh, Nax Faxon and Jim Rash, the team behind last year’s Sundance sensation The Way Way Back. The trio is forming a production company they haven’t gotten around to name yet. Faxon and Rash, who helmed The Way Way Back, is next booked to helm The Heart with Kristen Wiig, which Walsh is producing for Indian Paintbrush. They are also directing Fatrick, a 20th TV/Fox pilot from co-creators Nahnatchka Khan and Corey Nickerson.
In The Eel, Rockwell will play an escaped convict who is ensnared in a plot by a corrupt sheriff to kidnap the young heiress to an oil fortune, complicating his quest for freedom. Bentivegna won the Alfred P. Sloan screenwriting award at Columbia University, and hs’e co-writing Spirit House with Chase Palmer for FilmNation. The Eel will shoot this fall in the Southwest and Bentivegna is here in Park City to meet with financiers. Walsh acknowledged that last year’s Sundance trip will be hard to top; The Way Way Backwalked away with the 2013 fest’s big deal. Read More »
The race for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars this year is shaping up to be another impossibly competitive contest. Jared Leto, Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Steve Coogan, Harrison Ford, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Bruhl, Chris Cooper, Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, Casey Affleck, George Clooney and so many others already are staking a place in this crowded field. Fox Searchlight alone has viable contenders in its fall films with 12 Years A Slave’s Michael Fassbender and Enough Said’s James Gandolfini, who could grab a rare posthumous nom for one of his final film performances.
But Searchlight also has another contender who might be forgotten since his film came out way way back in June. Right. June. Can we remember back that far? When The Way Way Back was winning acclaim at the beginning of summer, the one name pundits found to ignite a nascent Oscar supporting contest was the wryly funny, smart and memorable turn from the criminally never-nominated Sam Rockwell as Owen, the wisecracking manager of Water Wizz Water Park and mentor to 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who has one unforgettable summer working there. Rockwell, who easily could — and should — have been nominated for last year’s Seven Psychopaths or his extraordinary work in another Searchlight film, Conviction (2010), alwayshas been good. He’s an actor’s actor who first gained major notice after more than a decade acting in TV and films by playing game show host and CIA looney Chuck Barris in Clooney’s Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002). Mainstream moviegoers probably know him best as Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, while he has also gained a cult following for 2009′s Moon, a low-budget predecessor to Gravity (a film Rockwell says he loved). But his performance in The Way Way Back (which also deserves recognition for the sharp original screenplay from writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash of Oscar-winning Descendants fame) was a real standout — and that’s in a cast that includes fine work from Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Allison Janney, among others. No one pitched Sam Rockwell to me in this endless season of pitching. I sought him out to talk about it.
Fox Searchlight‘s The Way, Way Back made a splash as the 4th of July holiday weekend rolled on, opening in 19 theaters Friday and grossing an estimated $572K for hot $30K PSA. Not bad going up against the huge debut of Despicable Me 2 and the left-over blockbusters crowding the multiplexes. As one industry insider said to me Sunday, “Fox Searchlight just knows how to open movies.” Magnolia Pictures bowed doc Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me in a pair of showings. The film rallied a good number of fans of the ’70s-era band it spotlights to come out, grossing $21K. Millennium‘s Stuck In Love, however, debuted with less traction though in a fairly hefty 21 theaters. The feature grossed just over $38K for a $1,816 average. And in expansion RADiUS-TWC‘s doc 20 Feet From Stardom shot well past the 7-figure threshold. The crowd pleaser will likely be the highest-grossing doc of 2013 in the next week as it continues its momentum. CBS Films‘ The Kings Of Summer also hit the $1 million mark in its sixth frame. Read More »
Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor. While the masses will head to the likes of Despicable Me 2 and The Lone Ranger this Fourth of July weekend, some who beat to a different drum will seek new specialty films taking a break from the heat and the BBQs. Fox Searchlight is opening The Way, Way Back with Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, probably the weekend’s highest-profile limited-run title. Millennium Films will debut Stuck In Love this weekend. The filmmaker with Kristen Bell, Jennifer Connelly as well as a surprising addition the cast. The filmmaker lured his childhood hero, author Stephen King to join the project after relaying a childhood story. First Run’s A Girl And A Gun is one of the weekend’s nonfiction offerings, spotlighting guns and women. Cohen Media Group’s Just Like A Woman is the first U.S. production of France-born filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb. And Magnolia’s Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me spotlights ’70s band Big Star. Its release will mirror a slew of special events.
The Way, Way Back
Directors-writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: Steve Carell, AnnaSophia Robb, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Amanda Peet
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Producer Kevin Walsh had been a fan of The Way, Way Back script since it first appeared on the Black List. Walsh met co-writer/co-director Jim Rash and began putting together a plan for the project in 2010. He had been looking for a project that was under $5 million. “The timing was great,” said Walsh. “We spent a year attaching people and were able to get [Steve] Carell. That propelled us when he became attached.” Initially, production was set for North Carolina but moved to south of Boston to accommodate Carell. The shoot ran pretty smoothly minus some bumps. Photography took place at a water park where regular customers were present. “We couldn’t afford to close the whole thing,” noted Walsh. “At one point Sam Rockwell used the PA system for one scene and didn’t realize his voice was being broadcast throughout the whole park. The owner of the park ran over and grabbed the mic from him.” The production also battled rain, including torrential downpours in the last eight hours of the shoot. “We joked that it was Nat and Jim’s baptism,” said Walsh.
Almost exactly one year ago, Fox Searchlight released Beasts Of The Southern Wild. The Sundance sensation was significant in many ways, but it also stood out as the only 2012 Best Picture Oscar nominee to have been released in theatres in the definitely NOT Oscar-friendly first half of the year — and coming at the tail end of June it made that distinction by the skin of its teeth. The fact is, in Oscar’s modern era at least, it’s just not wise to risk a release in the first half of the eligibility year if you want to have a serious shot at Best Picture or other major Oscars. In the last five years only seven films have managed to buck the trend (Hurt Locker and Up in June 2009; Winter’s Bone and Toy Story 3 in June 2010; and Midnight In Paris and The Tree Of Life in May 2011 were the others), and that’s only because the Academy doubled its potential Best Pic noms from five to 10. In 2008, the last year there were only five nominees, no film was nominated in the top category that wasn’t released in the second half of the year.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and the long list of Oscar’s Best Picture winners have included early-release films that forced voters to have longer memories: Hurt Locker, Crash (May 2005), Gladiator (May 2000), Braveheart (May 1995) and Silence Of The Lambs (February 1991). The latter was particularly impressive since you would have to go back to Patton in 1970, during Hollywood’s road show era where films played a year on a single screen, to find another Best Pic winner released as early as February. That one definitely went against the grain of thinking in the modern era of Oscar campaigns.
So with the 2013 Oscar race hitting the halfway point this week, and assuming Friday’s crop of The Heat and White House Down are not Best Pic caliber, is there anything that has hit theatres pre-July that looms as a serious Best Picture contender? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Read More »
Anyone who predicts sleeper hits ahead of the summer is either very brave or very spun. But these are the pics expected to emerge through the cracks of tentpole action: All benefit from obvious counterprogramming, festival hype, and demo-targeted storytelling. In chronological order:
– IFC’s Frances Ha has high awareness among its targeted younger-skewing arthouse crowd and exhibitors. “It’s certainly getting talked about in the right places for the audience they’re going for,” one NATO member tells me. Star Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach are indie darlings and scored a talked-about New Yorker piece last week that boosted their profile as a filmmaking couple. According to an IFC Films rep, it’s the sleeper they’re banking on when it releases May 17. “We think we’re going to get great word of mouth,” they tell me.
– CBS Films has two indie pickups budgeted at under $2M each that they’ve slotted into the summer. Sundance pickup Kings Of Summer (formerly Toy’s House) stars three youngsters and has TV stars Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, and Megan Mullally supporting. The studio’s hoping for its Stand By Me-esque story to build momentum with a May 31 limited release. “It’s a movie about discovering in general — which people who see arthouse films spark to,” a studio insider tells me. “And discovery is part of what makes a sleeper hit”. CBS Films is hoping it becomes this year’s Salmon Fishing In The Yemen which was a surprise success for the studio last year.
– Upstart distrib A24 is new to the summer game and has two more youth-skewing pics on tap after scoring a minor youthquake with the sexploitation Spring Breakers in March. The first is Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring will get a NY-LA limited opening June 14 two weeks after its Cannes premiere. Read More »
The Way, Way Back is the coming-of-age story of a 14-year-old introvert who spends a difficult summer vacation with his single mom, her not so warm and fuzzy boyfriend and his daughter. Having a hard time fitting in, the teen finds unlikely friendships with the prickly manager and the misfit workers at a run down water park. Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph and Liam James star in the pic directed and scripted by Oscar-winning The Descendants scribes Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Fox Searchlight won a nearly $10 million bidding war for the film in one of the most spirited auctions in recent memory at Sundance. It’s set for release July 5th. Check out the trailer:
UPDATE, 10:19 AM:Fox Searchlight confirms that it has closed the deal on The Way, Way Back, saying it’s for just under $10 million. Since I was up all night writing cross-eyed to break the story hours ago, I would rather not repeat myself, so here is the early-morning story again, and I’ll put the official press release below my original story break when it arrives (it’s there now).
EARLIER EXCLUSIVE, 4:09 AM: The Sundance Film Festival has emerged as one of the craziest for deal making in recent memory. After a wild all-night negotiating session following a raucous premiere screening yesterday of The Way, Way Back, Fox Searchlight has emerged as the frontrunner to acquire domestic rights and several other territories. The price tag is around $10 million minimum guarantee, with a P&A and theatrical commitment.
Searchlight was among bidding distributors that include Lionsgate, FilmDistrict, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Bros. Buyers began mobilizing right after the film’s Monday 3:30 PM first screening at Eccles Theatre, and numerous sources have been telling me all night that this has been one of the most spirited auctions in recent Sundance memory.
By the time the deal gets closed this morning, it should also be just about the richest deal ever made at the festival, as the sale of additional foreign territories will raise the value of the deal even higher. The rabid pace of deal making and the high numbers are a surprise to me, because both buyers and sellers expected the films to go in low upfront deals. Then, the buyers started discovering an exceptional crop of films programmed by Sundance. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: OddLot Entertainment is partnering with Sycamore Pictures to co-finance The Way, Way Back, the comedic drama written and being directed by Oscar-winning The Descendants co-scribes Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Production kicked off yesterday in Massachusetts on the film, which stars Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell and Liam James. Kevin Walsh is producing via his Walsh Company banner, along with Tom Rice of Sycamore. OddLot’s Gigi Pritzker will now executive produce with Faxon, Rash, Sycamore’s Ben Nearn, and George Parra. The story follows a teenager (James) who comes into his own over the course of the summer through an unlikely friendship with the manager of a local water park (Rockwell). Collette plays the boy’s mother and Carell is her carousing boyfriend. Pritzker’s production banner OddLot most recently produced the Ryan Gosling-starrer Drive, Rabbit Hole and From Prada To Nada.
EXCLUSIVE: Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet have been added to the cast of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s comedic drama The Way, Way Back, which begins shooting Monday in Massachusetts. The co-writers, who won the Adapted Screenplay Oscar this year for The Descendants,are making their directorial debut on their original screenplay about a teenager (Liam James) who comes into his own during the summer through an unlikely friendship with a local water-park manager (Sam Rockwell). Toni Collette and Steve Carell co-star as the boy’s mother and her carousing boyfriend, and Faxon and Rash are playing a pair of waterpark employees. The Groundlings alums also are executive producing with Ben Nearn and George Parra, and Kevin Walsh and Tom Rice are producing. The scribes also recently sold an original action-comedy starring Kristen Wiig to Indian Paintbrush that Walsh will produce, and they are writing a second feature for Alexander Payne, Jim Burke, and Jim Taylor’s Ad Hominem Enterprises, the team behind Descendants.