First look at Neil Marshall’s Highland sales title ‘The Lair’; production underway in Hungary

The Lair follows Sgt. Tom Hook as he is tasked with leading a unit to find Lt. Kate Sinclair after the Royal Air Force fighter pilot was shot down in Afghanistan. Pursued by insurgents, Sinclair has sought shelter in an abandoned bunker where she unwittingly releases the Ravagers – a half human-half alien man-made biological weapon.

Hook and his team, accompanied by a handful of British SAS troops, must save Sinclair from insurgents and the Ravagers before they overrun the area and threaten the entire world.

Additional cast just announced includes Leon Ockenden, Mark Strepan, Hadi Khanjanpour, Harry Taurasi, and newcomers Kibong Tanji and Troy Alexander.

Principal Photography started on location in Hungary on July 11. Daniel-Konrad Cooper of Rather Good Films Ltd. Is producing, and executive producers include Marshall, Kirk, Joe Simpson, Phil Rymer, Simon Williams and Samantha Allwinton.

Ingenious Media and Ashland Hill Media Finance are funding the feature, and co-producers Jonathan Halperyn and Daniel Kresmery of Hero Squared provide production services in Hungary.

“It’s great to be back in the thick of the action with such a stellar cast and crew, and I’m thrilled to be shooting in Budapest again,” said Marshall. “This movie really captures the mood and intensity of my early work, not to mention the blood and guts. I think horror and action fans are going to get a real kick out of The Lair. “

“We are very excited to start production on The Lair,” said Highland Film Group CEO Arianne Fraser and COO Delphine Perrier. “The project received great attention from worldwide distributors when we first introduced it [at the AFM last year].

“Neil’s previous film, The Reckoning was a solid success in the independent world, and we know he is ready to take on another great creature feature – a genre he is beloved for. The talented ensemble cast will certainly deliver for horror-action-thriller fans too looking for a dynamic story and an edge-of-your-seat experience.”

Below-the-line crew on The Lair includes cinematographer Luke Bryant (The Reckoning), VFX producer Sean Wheelan of Filmgate (Pathé’s Centurion, Summit Entertainment’s The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard) production design by Mónika Esztán, costume design by Mária Fatér, and prosthetics by Bálazs Novák (Pieces Of A Woman, Paramount’s Hercules)Casting is by Jeremy Zimmermann (Dog Soldiers).

Among Highland’s current sales titles are: The Good Neighbor starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Luke Kleintank; Bandit with Josh Duhamel, Mel Gibson, and Elisha Cuthbert; Renny Harlin’s The Misfits starring Pierce Brosnan, Nick Cannon, and Tim Roth; Gasoline Alley starring Bruce Willis, Luke Wilson, and Devon Sawa; Supercell with Alec Baldwin; Panama starring Cole Hauser and Mel Gibson; and Wash Me In The River with Robert De Niro, Jack Huston and John Malkovich.

By Jeremy Kay, Screen Daily

Why some US sales agents are getting into direct distribution

Faced with collapsing windows and an expanding array of digital releasing options, sales agents are moving into US distribution to better serve their filmmaker partners.

Unlike mini-majors Lionsgate, Miramax and STX, whose distribution and sales arms have co-existed for years, companies such as XYZ Films and Highland Film Group developed their sales, production and finance operations first. They see US distribution as complementary and a way to offer a full suite of services.

In June, XYZ Films announced it had hired former Drafthouse Films and Neon COO James Shapiro to head its new US distribution division. The company run by Nate Bolotin, Nick Spicer and Aram Tertzakian launched 13 years ago as a production entity and built a reputation for championing elevated international genre fare like Gareth Evans’ The Raid, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, and Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. The trio grew their sales business and recently moved into financing through a $100m production fund established with Finland’s IPR.VC. US distribution was the logical next step.

“As we’ve evolved with the needs of our filmmakers, distribution has always been on the roadmap,” says Bolotin. “We wanted a closer relationship with our filmmakers in a way that would allow us to deliver their movies to the consumer in the most efficient way possible. To be there from development through to distribution was always the goal.”

The expansion comes as the pandemic and the rise of streamers have accelerated the collapse of theatrical windows in the US to the point where the exclusive runway has been cut by almost 50% in the past 18 months, from 75 days to 45. Being able to move fast on a US release has become more important than ever. As XYZ Films’ president of international sales and distribution Tatyana Joffe says: “Having control of the windowing, and working collectively with our key international partners to create marketing campaigns, will greatly contribute to our global release strategy in capturing broader audiences, which will ultimately ensure better performance worldwide.”

With the two divisions working hand-in-glove, Bolotin says the company will be able to weigh up the benefits of multi-territory acquisitions and global acquisitions more efficiently, and craft exclusive theatrical, day-and-date and straight-to-digital releases on in-house and third-party titles. The first film to go will be Something In The Dirt, which is in post and expected to debut in 2022.

Arthouse genre sales agent Yellow Veil Pictures has also opened a US distribution shop and will kick off with the release of Frida Kempff’s Swedish genre title Knocking, followed by Mattie Do’s Laotian title The Long Walk. Co-founder Joe Yanick says the expansion is a natural progression for the bicoastal company, which launched in 2018. Releases will be handled on a case-by-case basis. “We can set all dating to be the most optimal for worldwide partners,” he says. “It gives us immediate insight into where things need to go, how fast things need to move.”

Highland Film Group launched The Avenue, headed by JJ Caruth, in September 2020 and recently opened Pierce Brosnan heist thriller Misfits in US cinemas, followed by TVoD rollout several days later. Highland’s international partners are releasing the film around the same time. “We saw that shift in consumer behaviour [with] people looking for content at home,” says Caruth. “The value of Highland having a domestic distributor for our international partners is that I can provide them with a full suite of marketing assets. We can really be a full-service partner.”

Patrick Ewald, CEO of Epic Pictures, expanded from sales, production and financing into US distribution in 2013 and has released films such as The Wave. Ewald says a day-and-date release with the US works well in English-speaking territories and notes being able to co-ordinate territory releases can mitigate piracy in regions such as Latin America.

“For films we produce, if it makes sense for us to do a deal with a US or a multi-territory distributor, we will sell it,” notes Ewald. “If not, then we know we can distribute ourselves. There’s a benefit to that — as we’re investing in more content, it’s an insurance policy to know that if we don’t get the number we need, we can still release it ourselves and recover some of that investment.”

By Jeremy Kay, ScreenDaily

First Look: Josh Duhamel in Crime Thriller ‘Bandit’

Josh Duhamel (pictured above), Mel Gibson, Elisha Cuthbert and Nestor Carbonell star in “Bandit,” which Highland Film Group is selling at Cannes. Allan Ungar directs. Kraig Wenman wrote the script based on author Robert Knuckle’s best-selling novel and journalist Ed Arnold’s interviews with Gilbert Galvan Jr., who lived under the name Robert Whiteman when he was dubbed the Flying Bandit in 1987

Based on the true story of the Flying Bandit, who successfully got away with 63 bank and jewelry heists during his crime spree, “Bandit” tells the tale of the career criminal (Josh Duhamel), who escapes from a U.S. prison and crosses the border into Canada, assuming a new identity. After falling in love and getting married, he claims to take a job as a traveling security consultant and his crimes continue. Only when he turns to lifetime gangster Tommy (Mel Gibson) for an investment, does his simple career become complicated and he becomes embroiled in the biggest job in Canadian history and at the center of a special forces cross-country manhunt.

Produced by Jordan Yale Levine and Jordan Beckerman of Yale Prods., Eric Gozlan of Goldrush Entertainment, and Ryan Donnell Smith of Thomasville Pictures

By Carole Horst, Variety

Dennis Quaid on Cannes Market Title ‘The Tiger Rising’ and Playing Ronald Reagan

Before Netflix docuseries The Tiger King enthralled homebound audiences early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, actor Dennis Quaid had his own experience with a tiger.

“When you see a tiger up close, you are drawn towards it, at the same time of wanting to run away,” says Quaid of meeting a real-life tiger, with whom he shares the screen in the Cannes sales title The Tiger Rising.

Based on the children’s book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, the story follows a 12-year-old who discovers a tiger in a cage in the woods behind the Florida motel where he lives with his widowed father. Quaid plays the mean-spirited motel owner Beauchamp, who is keeping the animal captive.

The movie, which will screen for the first time at the Cannes market, where Highland Film Group is handling worldwide sales, also stars Queen Latifah, Christian Covery and Katherine McPhee Foster.

Quaid talked to THR about meeting his movie’s titular tiger, as well as his upcoming projects, including playing former President Ronald Reagan.

What made you sign-on to The Tiger Rising?
Like the book, it takes you over like a dream through the mind of this child and this incredible creature that represents something magnificent. I was captivated by the story and, of course, by the tiger. This was before Tiger King. The character turned out to be like the sub-culture of Tiger King. [Laughs.]

What attracted you to Beauchamp?
He thinks very highly of himself and his self-esteem is rooted in this tiger. [While] the kids are in awe of this animal, his purposes [for the tiger] are not worthy. He wants to use him for business and he says, “Real men deal in tigers.” But I also saw some humor in him. I thought he was unknowingly humorous.

Were you able to meet the tiger?
They brought the tiger down a month before shooting to get him acclimated for shooting. They filmed him separately after we had shot the scenes. But I went out and met the tiger and was in close quarters with the tiger, outside of the cage, actually. It is something you really respect, let me tell you.

There is the trope to never work with animals or kids. Having worked opposite several kid co-stars, what are the joys of working with children?
One thing is they have shorter hours, so you get off earlier. [Laughs.] Kids are generally very good actors to work off of because they are just themselves, and so are animals, really. They don’t know so much about techniques. They are inclined to live life one moment at a time. They play make-believe all the time, and that is really what we are doing out there — a grown-up version of make-believe.

You’re playing Ronald Reagan in the upcoming movie Reagan. Do you feel any added pressure to playing a former President of the United States?
There is quite a bit of pressure to get him right on a number of levels. He is somebody, in my life, that I saw like John Wayne and idolized. The challenge there was to make him a human being — to get past all the veneer of what he was and get to who he was. Or, at least, my interpretation of who he was. There is so much research to be done going in because it’s Ronald Reagan, so everyone knows how he talks and walks and looks. Then you have to learn that, forget it and just do the scene. Whereas a piece of fiction is just something of your own making. I read three biographies on him, and YouTube is fantastic. If you want to be an actor, just watch YouTube. [Laughs.]

Is there any type of role or project that you haven’t done yet that you would like to do in the future?
I am getting ready to do one, actually, it is called Wing and Prayer. It is another true story and it is about a guy who is on a plane with his family, and the pilot has a heart attack and he has to fly the plane. I have always wanted to do one of those movies where they say, “Can anyone here fly an airplane?” I learned to fly when I was doing Gordo Cooper for The Right Stuff. I am excited to revisit that.

By Mia Gallupo, The Hollywood Reporter

First look: Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Cannes sales title ‘The Good Neighbor’

Screen can reveal a first-look image of Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Good Neighbor, which Highland Film Group is selling at the Pre-Cannes Screenings this week. 

Stephan Rick directs the thriller based on the 2011 German film Unter Nachbarn. He also directed the original.

Rhys Meyers and Luke Kleintank star in the story of a budding friendship between neighbours that turns sour when one of them accidentally runs over and kills a young woman. Dean Altit and Yulia Zayceva are producing.

Highland is selling international on the title, currently in production, with CAA handling US rights.

By Orlando Parfitt, Screen Daily