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NEWS


EXCLUSIVE: Jack Huston has stepped in to play the male lead in Wash Me in the River, joining Robert De Niro and John Malkovich in the Randall Emmett-directed action drama.

Taylor Kitsch exited the role, this after agreeing to replace Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Baker. The action-thriller is in the vein of No Country for Old Men. Huston will play a recovering addict who goes Man on Fire toward every drug dealer he thinks might have played a role in his fiancée’s death. Two cops are hot on his trail. Huston had a celebrated turn as an assassin in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

EFO Film’s Emmett, George Furla, and Tim Sullivan will produce. The company has been prolific during a COVID-19 moment where indies have been hard pressed because of the lack of coronavirus insurance. EFO restarted and finished production on Midnight in the Switchgrass, which marked Emmett’s debut. EFO now is shooting Out of Death, the Mike Burns-directed drama that stars Bruce Willis, Jaime King and Lala Kent. In January, it will start Hair of the Dog with Gerard Butler. Wash Me in the River shoots this month in Georgia and Puerto Rico. The script was written by Adam Taylor Barker, and Chris Sivertson did a rewrite.

Alex Eckert, Nicholas D’Angelo and Lydia Hull are the executive producers. Highland Film Group handles international sales.

Huston is repped by CAA and Untitled.

By Mike Fleming Jr, Deadline

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The 41st American Film Market was the first AFM to take place online, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the the world of independent film has kept its chin up amid daunting challenges.

“I would say it’s a comfortable mixture of cautious but buoyant,” said David Garrett, CEO of Mister Smith Entertainment.

AFM opened on the morning of Nov. 9 on a surprisingly upbeat note as drugmaker Pfizer revealed early data from its coronavirus vaccine that showed it is more than 90% effective — good news that offered promise of a return to movie theaters and soundstages in early 2021. Neon’s distribution president Elissa Federoff expressed guarded optimism that North American audiences will return when the COVID-19 crisis begins abating, during the Future of Film Conference.

“People truly want to get out of the house,” she added.

The prospect of no parties on the Santa Monica Pier, no poolside meetings and no drinks at Shutters and Casa Del Mar did not deter participation. The five-day total: a record 570 exhibitors from 48 countries, 1,487 buyers from 66 countries, and 465 films screening.

Jonathan Wolf, AFM’s managing director, noted, “The expense of coming here is working in favor for those who can’t make all the major markets every year and only come to Santa Monica every two or three years. All those people were here this time.”

Todd Olson, president of international for Highland Film Group, noted that AFM is coming eight months after the pandemic started.

“The first virtual market at Cannes was a very different animal to the usual in-person markets so we adapted as we could,” he said. “The speed of the business slowed down somewhat because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID and the situation at the time. Then Toronto came and being a virtual market allowed more participants than compared to the physical festival/market. By the time AFM arrived, everyone had a better sense of their slates, what they were going to need in this coming year and the way COVID was affecting their market.”

Wolf noted that he was pleasantly surprised that technical issues were at a minimum. “We had five people on the help desk and we were overstaffed,” he added.

Brian O’Shea, CEO of The Exchange, said the activity was brisk. His company unveiled the casting of Josh Hutcherson to go along with Liev Schreiber in “Across the River and Into the Trees,” with shooting starting this month in Italy.

“We are definitely selling and closing financings,” he said. “We’re pushing people to get things done. There are less distractions. You have to be very prepared. You can slap in a lot of meetings back to back and run through a lot of possibilities.”

O’Shea said he is not discounting the value of meeting person to person and added, “But we’re adjusting to changing circumstances. The costs of getting insurance and getting bonded are a challenge. People are very engaged. There’s a real need for new product. The most important thing you can do is show is that you’re moving forward and bringing new things, showing footage. That creates momentum. We’re doing that with Drew Barrymore’s ‘The Stand In,’ which we completed earlier this year.”

AFM got a negative jolt on Nov. 11, when Lionsgate revealed it had dropped out of distributing the Gerard Butler action movie “The Plane” because producers were unable to obtain production insurance that would cover a COVID-19 outbreak. Lionsgate boarded “The Plane” a year ago at the AFM, announcing that it had bought the rights to the film for North America, Latin America, the U.K. and India.

Buyers and sellers at the online AFM have said that the uncertainty over obtaining insurance is a pervasive challenge, making completed films more desirable. And Brad Krevoy, chairman of the Motion Picture Corporation of America, expressed plenty of optimism about 2021 during the Nov. 10 finance conference.

“It will be the roaring twenty-ones! Content is going to come back strong, and it is going to be happy times, it is going to be fantastic for all of us,” he said. “There’s going to be tremendous demand. The biggest hope of all for independents, that’s transformational, is going to be advertising-supported VOD. That is going to give life to us for many years.”

Highland Film Group’s executive VP of sales Laura Voros said the adjustment to a virtual market was working: “The market is going very well and we’ve been super busy, with back to back meetings. Meetings on our virtual platform are a bit more challenging than meetings in person, so we started last week to make sure we could meet with everyone and we’re considerate of the time differences. Our buyers seem to be getting more comfortable with virtual meetings. They’re opening up and buying more and pursuing titles harder.”

By Dave McNary, Variety

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Fresh off of launching their own domestic distribution outfit, Arianne Fraser and Delphine Perrier’s prolific sales, financing and production company returns to AFM with a full slate of star-driven genre fare.

In 2010, sales agent Arianne Fraser learned that a rival had scooped up foreign rights to sell Paranormal Xperience 3D, a Spanish horror pic about five medical students investigating an abandoned mining town in search of paranormal evidence. It was the perfect title for Fraser to bring to that year’s Cannes film market. In an industry where most sales companies are run by men, Fraser soon learned she hadn’t been trumped by one of the usual suspects. She was beat out by the French-born Delphine Perrier, who had just launched her own L.A.-based sales firm after departing Paramount Vantage.

Not long after, at a posh dinner thrown by a foreign buyer at a villa in Monaco, Fraser and Perrier were seated together. Within months, they decided to join forces, and are presently getting ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Highland Film Group, a prolific sales, financing and production company famed in particular for its focus on high-octane action, thriller and horror fare. Fraser is CEO, and Perrier, COO. Last month, the duo announced they are launching a new domestic distribution company, The Avenue Entertainment. Run by JJ Caruth, the Avenue’s first release will be Dimitri Logothetis’ martial arts sci-fi film Jiu Jitsu, starring Nicolas Cage and Frank Grillo. The movie will hit theaters and VOD simultaneously on November 20th.

The films on Highland’s AFM slate are replete with top talent, including Wash Me In the River, starring Robert de Niro, John Malkovich and Taylor Kitsch; Mark Neveldine’s Panama, starring Cole Hauser and Mel Gibson; and Ambush, starring Aaron Eckhart, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Connor Paolo.

Elegant and tough as nails, Perrier and Fraser aren’t afraid to sell movies that may happen to involve high-profile figures who have sparked numerous headlines, including actress Charlotte Kirk, whose past relationships with two Hollywood studio chiefs led to their ousters. At AFM, Highland will be screening The Reckoning, directed by Neil Marshall and starring Kirk (the two are engaged in real life). Fraser and Highland are also selling Marshall’s just-announced new film, The Lair.

Another Highland market offering is Me You Madness, a campy comedy-thriller marking the feature directorial debut of Louise Linton, an actress and the wife of Donald Trump’s U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. STX has acquired U.S. rights to the movie while Highland is handling international.

Recent Highland titles includes Alec Baldwin’s RustYouth, starring Pierce Brosnan; Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s Becky, starring Lulu Wilson, Kevin James and Joel McHale; the Bella Thorne and Jake Manley-starrer Infamous; and Andrew Baird’s Zone 414, starring Guy Pearce, Matilda Lutz and Travis Fimmel.

The duo spoke earlier this month with The Hollywood Reporter about conducting business amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the fateful night they met a decade ago.

What is the advantage of a virtual market?

Perrier There are always distractions at an actual market, and there’s always someone knocking at your door.

Fraser We feel very prepared, mostly because we are not dealing with things like travel and making sure your plane is on time and making sure your apartment is ready when you arrive. It’s nice spending good, quality time with buyers. At a market, you have 30 minute meetings running on top of each other. We aren’t in such a fast-paced environment now, but I do miss the human contact.

You have done a lot of male-action driven pictures. Why has that worked for you?

Fraser It isn’t so much male-driven. Entertainment is entertainment. We fell into a niche that has worked really well for us that has allowed us to grow the company. It’s fun to sell stuff that people want to watch.

Perrier I never thought being a woman makes a difference. We just fell into a niche. We kept going and it works.

You have several movies going into production. Are you confident that you can pull it off with resurgence in COVID-10 cases?

Fraser This is always the question: ‘are we confident we can close the financing?’ Yes. Will there be a second wave of COVID-19 and the world collapses again? We don’t know the answer. We believe and trust in our producing partners that they’ve come up with all the proper protocols.

What are your ambitions for The Avenue considering how challenged the theatrical landscape is?

Fraser Our distribution arm is part of a much bigger puzzle. It lets us streamline financing for films, and creates early marketing buzz. I don’t think the pandemic will last forever, but one positive is that it gives us a lot of comfort in acquiring films for a home environment. I don’t think the theatrical business will ever go away. Everybody likes to see a movie on the big screen. It’s going to be about creatively trying to reach your audience wherever your audience is. The trailer release of Jiu Jitsu generated over 3.3 million views. This film represents the opposite of the pandemic, which is hard and depressing. Consumers today are looking for good old-fashioned fun. We as a company have definitely created that kind of content. I think it’s presently easier to reach your audience because they are at home.

Do the ongoing headlines about Kirk impact your ability to sell The Reckoning to foreign buyers?

Perrier Internationally, people don’t care as much about these things.

Fraser We haven’t been impacted by the controversy because we’ve been focused on the material. We were already involved in the movie way before any of these media. Neil Marshall is an incredibly talented director.

Perrier Charlotte delivered a very wonderful performance and I’m very proud of her.

How did you come to connect with Louise Linton and Me You Madness, which tells the story about a rich Malibu woman who has a homicidal appetite for the opposite sex.

Fraser Through Cassian Elwes. He sent us a link to the movie, and said he thought it would be best for women to sell to it. It’s a great romantic movie for February. (laughter)

Have you met with Linton?

Perrier We had a Zoom call with her. She is very talented and an artist. She was able to write the script, direct and acted in it. It’s great entertainment. We are very independent women, and this is an homage to women.

How did you two meet?

Fraser Funny enough, I started Highland and Delphine started her company at around the same time. I was going after a new project, but I lost it to a company called Stonebrook. When I got to Cannes, Stonebrook was right across from me selling this movie I really wanted.

Perrier From my side, everybody was telling me to sell dragon movies. Who the f—k sells dragon movies? People said, ‘Arianne Fraser does.’ I was coming from Paramount, where no one was selling dragon movies. Who was this Arianne, I thought?

Fraser When we ended up sitting together at dinner in Monaco, we said we should meet back in L.A. Of course we didn’t, because who actually follows up? It took us until AFM later that year, where we saw each other again. We met the next week and decided to partner.

Perrier We had a three-hour meal at BOA’s Steakhouse.

How has your life changed since COVID-19? Like your counterparts, you previously spent much of your time away from L.A. at various festivals and markets.

Perrier I’m a very positive person and for me, it was a well-needed pause. I get to spend more time with my kids, who are nine and seven, instead of constantly traveling.

Fraser It has been very rewarding. For me, this year has been about rediscovering nature. I went on a camping trip at Mount Whitney — where I had had absolutely no cell service.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

By Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

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The Aaron Eckhart action thriller Ambush has added Vikings and The Tudors star Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Connor Paolo from ABC’s Revenge.

The Mark Earl Burman directed and written feature follows a group of young elite commandos, led by Captain Drummond (Eckhart), who are tasked with collecting highly classified information that can change the fate of the war. On the edge of the jungle, the team is attacked by the overwhelming invisible force of the enemy army. Drummond’s young team must overcome their apprehension in order to pursue the force into the complex labyrinth of Cu Chi tunnels, with enemy soldiers and traps at every turn. Jason Genao also stars. Michael McClung also co-wrote.

Highland Film Group is handling international sales. Saban Films is set to release the film in North America.

“Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Connor Paolo are just wonderful actors and a great compliment to Aaron and Jason for this edge of your seat actioner. Filming starts at the end of the month and I can’t tell you how happy I am that the stars have aligned, and we can start shooting. It’s a happy day,” Highland Film Group CEO Arianne Fraser said.

Ambush is the ideal package for the worldwide marketplace, and we look forward to working with Mark Earl Burman and the rest of the crew,” continued Highland Film Group COO Delphine Perrier.

The film is produced under the Dark Mark Productions banner and by Burman, alongside EPs Anthony Standberry, David Unger of Artist International Group, Arianne Fraser and Delphine Perrier of Highland Film Group, Scott Powell, Randy Burman, Wayne Willbur, and Harsimranjit “Harry” Ahluwalia.

Rhys Meyers is represented by Artist International Group and Paolo is represented by Paradigm Talent Agency and Link.

By Anthony D’Alessandro, Deadline

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The adage about never forgetting your first time carries extra resonance for Randall Emmett, who shot his feature directing debut – Florida‐set crime thriller Midnight In The Switchgrass starring Emile Hirsch, Bruce Willis and Megan Fox – at the height of the pandemic. In mid-March, just five days into the Puerto Rico shoot in San Juan and the Dorado Beach resort, production on the $15m feature was shut down.

The Puerto Rican governor declared a state of emergency, so Emmett – who has produced more than 100 features including The Irishman and Silence – immediately flew the cast back to Los Angeles and sent the local crew home. He began daily calls with the Hollywood unions and guilds to discuss protocols. “That became our mission – how do we get back to work, what’s it going to cost, how are we going to keep everybody safe?”

When guidelines began to emerge, Emmett brought the production – sold by Highland Film Group – back to Puerto Rico in July, ready to implement a strict set of protocols. He checked the entire cast and crew into the same hotel to keep them safe.

It was to be in vain. Two members of the production had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in California, and, despite testing negative prior to flying to the Caribbean island, they tested positive again on arrival. It turned out to be a false positive, but Emmett was not prepared to take risks and shut down the production for a second time, without shooting a single day.

“The first time I was devastated,” he recalls. “The second time I was optimistic and excited and then, of course, heartbroken. I felt at that point, with cases spiking around the world, the safest things was to try to mount it in California.”

With cast intact and a mostly new Californian crew, Emmett and his producer partners found a 200-acre ranch in Santa Barbara to act as base for the rest of the shoot. They prepped in August and shot in September with union-compliant protocols that included Covid-19 supervisors, regular testing, zoning and masks. “It looked like outer space – everybody’s got shields and face masks and gloves, and you’re keeping distance,” he says. “It’s still making the movie but it was a little different to what I was used to.”

While Emmett estimates Covid-19 protocols have brought “substantial” additions to

the budget – the consensus among the production community is that it can be up to 20% – it is better than the alternative. “If you don’t follow union guidelines, they will shut you down.”

By Jeremy Key, Screen Daily

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