The title of this panel was Financing and Packaging: From Indie to Studio, but in fact, the most studio-like film, Rush , by the major director, Ron Howard, and produced by Brit indie production company Revolution (Andrew Eaton) and Hollywood-based Cross Creek (Brian Oliver), is actually quite independent.
Rush (U.S. Universal, International Sales by Exclusive)
Ron Howard and his producing partner Brian Grazer whose imagine Entertainment have had an overall deal at Universal for 27 years, however, this mid-budget
range film of some $50,000,000 was considered not "big enough" for the majors.
To read more about this complex and fascinating film and its international film business background, read the following articles which are quoted throughout this article with thanks and acknowledgement to:
· Variety September 13, 2013 (reprinted at the end of this blog)· Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2013
Aside from major director Ron Howard himself, the second “major” element of the film is that Universal is the North American distributor of the film. This happens through the three year minimum-6-picture distribution deal Brian Oliver’s Cross Creek has with Universal in which Cross Creek produces and finances either its own films or films chosen from Universal’s development slate. Cross Creek is set up to generate up to four films per year, with Universal to distribute at least two of them with a wide-release commitment.
ISA (International Sales Agent) Exclusive Media is also an independent. This too is the result of Oliver’s deal with Exclusive to jointly finance two projects per year.
Cross Creek, putting its own cash into the project, split the cost of the picture with Exclusive who financed it through a bank loan made against pre-sales generated in 2011 at the AFM. With Howard there to promote the project to buyers, Exclusive secured around $33 million in foreign pre-sales. See Cinando’s list of distributors .
Additionally, Oliver and Eaton structured the project as a U.K.- German co-production, enabling them to secure about $12 million in soft money from Germany (Egoli Tossell) in accordance with U.K.’s co-production treaty. As a result, U.K. rights ended up with Studiocanal.
Brian Oliver is a “one of Hollywood’s biggest and more unusual financiers of risky films, with coin coming mostly from oil and real estate investments in Texas”. This major Hollywood financier/ producer takes chances which prove his astute, if askew, view of what makes a “Hollywood” picture an indie at the same time, as shown by his credits, The Ides of March and Black Swan.
Andrew Eaton is a British producer with deep Hollywood connections through the British community here, e.g., Eric Fellner of Working Title, the British production company currently owned by Universal. (Parenthetically, I bought U.S. rights to Working Title’s first film, My Beautiful Laundrette for Lorimar along with Orion Classics and so I was quite thrilled to have a chance to be in touch with the talented Brits once again).
Working Title had worked with Andrew Easton on Frost/Nixon. Eric Fellner loved the script and offered it to Universal for funding. However, as said, Universal passed on it because it was too small.
“It is going to be easy for people to think this is a Hollywood movie, and it just is not,” quotes Variety from the film’s British screenwriter, Peter Morgan, who penned Frost/Nixon which was also directed by Howard. “It is a British independent film directed by a Hollywood director.”
Eaton and Oliver spoke of how they put this film together.
“We must champion the fact that this is basically 80% a British film in terms of the people who worked on it, the way it was structured and the way we ran it,” says Eaton, who was behind such indie films as 24 Hour Party People and the Red Riding TV series.
Can a Song Save Your Life? (U.S. UTA, ISA: Exclusive)
Exclusive has another film here, Can a Song Save Your Life? which is also repped by Rena Ronson, Co-Head of the Independent Film Group of UTA. Directed by John Carney who came to the public’s attention with his micro-budgeted Once which plays on stage here in Toronto at the moment, in New York and elsewhere regularly. The Weinstein Company picked it up in Toronto, reportedly paying around a $7 million minimum guarantee for U.S. rights with a P&A commitment of at least $20 million.
UTA as an agency also packages both large (studio) and smaller indie films. Rena Ronson, the co-head of UTA Indie explained how her own indie roots -- first at indie distributor Fox-Lorber and continuing into international sales before becoming the “indie agent” at WMA, succeeding the “indie” founder, Bobbi Thompson, have taught her to speak the language of the international as well as the independent film business. She knows the major modes of operating as well as she knows the independent style of business. She further explained that the successes of the larger films permit the “smaller”, i.e., “indie” films to be made.
UTA repped films in Toronto are listed below. For a full report of rights sold, before, during and after Toronto, watch SydneysBuzz.com for the Fall 2013 Rights Roundup.
Writer/Director: John Carney Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Mos Def, Cee-Lo Green Publicity: Falco / Shannon Treusch, Monica Delameter U.S. Producer Rep: UTA / CAA . ISA: Exclusive Media Group
U.S. rights were acquired at TIFF 13 by TWC for a record breaking $7 million.
Since first announcing it in Cannes 2012, Exclusive has made other deals as well for Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan (Tanweer), Germany (Studiocanal), Japan (Pony Canyon Inc), Philippines (Solar Entertainment), Russia (A Company), So. Korea ( Pancinema), Switzerland ( Ascot Elite Entertainment Group ), Taiwan ( Serenity Entertainment International ), Turkey (D Productions), the Middle East ( Front Row Filmed Entertainment).
TIFF Special Presentations:
Director: Liza Johnson Writer: Mark Poirier Writer (Novel): Alice Munro Starring: Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Hailee Steinfeld, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Nolte Publicity: Prodigy PR, Erik Bright
North American Sale: UTA / Cassian Elwes. ISA: The Weinstein Co. Sena has rights for Iceland.
Director: Michael Dowse Writer: Elan Mastai Writers (Play): Michael Rinaldi & T.J. Dawe Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Rafe Spall, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Amanda Crew Publicity: Strategy PR / Cynthia Schwartz, Michael Kupferberg US Sale: UTA / Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler & Feldman. ISA: eOne
After UTA sold the The F Word to CBS Films for the U.S. for around $3 million in Toronto, Entertainment One Films International completed other international sales. Besides Canada and the U.K., eOne itself will release the film in Australia/New Zealand, Benelux and Spain feeding its own international distribution pipeline. Other sales include Germany to Senator Entertainment, Middle East to Front Row Entertainment, Nigeria toRed Mist, Russia to Carmen Film Group, Turkey to Mars Entertainment Group
Writer/Director: Kelly Reichart Writer: Jonathan Raymond Starring: Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat Publicity: Ginsberg/Libby, Chris Libby North American Sale: UTA ISA: The Match Factory
Writer/Director: Ti West Starring: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil, Gene Jones Publicity: DDA, Dana Archer, Alice Zhou North American Sale: UTA / CAA ISA: IM Global sold to Pegasus Motion Pictures Distribution Ltd . For China
As of this writing, rather 1 hour ago, Magnolia Pictures, which lost on an earlier bidding war here for Joe, is finalizing a deal for the picture reportedly for seven figures.
Coincidentallywith the beginning of the Toronto Film Festival, the front page of L.A. Times quoted Rena Ronson in an article called "Making history as cameras roll" (print edition) or "Wadjda' director makes her mark in Saudi cinema" (online edition) about Wadjda , (ISA: The Match Factory) last year’s Venice and Telluride film which Rena had spotted at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, where it won a script award. It was written and directed by a woman which is notable in such a male-dominated part of the world. She met the writer-director, Haifaa Mansour, and that led to working with her for the next two years to finance the film. Its $2.5m budget was backed in part by the Rotana Group, the largest media company in the Middle East, owned primarily by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The German production company Razor Film owned and operated by Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul whose first coproduction in 2005, Paradise Now brought them into international prominence and who also picked up last year’s TIFF groundbreaking film from Afghanistan,The Patience Stone, and previously coproduced Waltz With Bashir, came on board and brought German broadcast deals and German film funds as well.
Doha and Film Financing
The fourth panelist was Paul Miller, Head of Film Financing, from the Doha Film Institute , Qatar's first international organization dedicated to film financing, production, education and two film festivals. Doha encourages submission for financing film financing opportunities from anywhere in the world. The DFI Grants program supports first- and second-time filmmakers in producing and developing their own stories. There are two funding rounds per year. Applications are considered from three regions (basically divided into the Middle East, developing nations and the rest of the world – with some exceptions -- each with different eligibility criteria.
Consideration for funding is open to feature-length films in development, production and post-production, as well as short films in production and post-production. Since 2010, DFI has provided funding to more than 138 filmmakers.
Beyond the regional grants program, DFI also invests in a diverse slate of international productions to encourage greater collaboration, mentorship and co‑production opportunities between Gulf countries and the rest of the world. Co-financing applications apply to both Middle Eastern and international feature films, television and web series. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year.
Four films at TIFF that Doha has helped finance:
Mohammed Malas’s Ladder to Damacus, screening in TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema section; Jasmila Žbanic’s For Those Who Can Tell No Tales in the Special Presentation section. Both films were co-financed by DFI. DFI grant recipients Néjib Belkadhi’s Bastardo and Mais Darwazah’s My Love Awaits Me by the Sea screening in the Contemporary World Cinema and Discovery sections, respectively.
The fifth panelist, Ted Hope, Director of the San Francisco Film Society, a non-profit training, festival, and funding operation is known to everyone from his history with Good Machine (which was acquired by Universal and renamed Focus Features), and from his blog Hope for Film/ Truly Free Film . In his always-inimitable fashion, Ted proposed a new sort of financing, called "staged financing", based on a progressive meeting of certain criterion from development through distribution. This way of financing is similar to the venture capital models of financing. His broad ideas on what has to change with the industry's funding and packaging methods brought the panelists and the audience to heel at attention. I reprint his blog after this because this idea goes against the current grain of financing an entire film which may or may not prove to be the final box office bingo winner it always purports to be when securing full financing.
The SFFS provided some funding to Thomas Oliver's 1982 which is in TIFF this year. Aside from winning US in Progress’ $60,000 in post-production services at this year’s Champs Elysees Film Festival, 1982 also received SFFS’s $85,000 post production grant and participated in the SFFS’s A2E labs. The film is being represented by Kevin Iwashina’s Preferred Content.
The panel became very animated as Ted Hope and Rena Ronson faced off about whether a film is made for a broad audience or whether, if targeted correctly, it could actually make money with niche audiences. As always, the two of them, both equally astute, brought much to bear on both sides of the argument. And, I, as the panel’s moderator, hereby declare, They are both right.
The broader the audience the more potential for making money.
However, as Ted points out, with crowd sourcing, crowd funding and crowd theatrical exhibition, there are many other ways beyond ticket purchases that filmmakers can offer in order to make money with their targeted audience.
This, as well as the great contributions made by Doha’s Paul Miller and Revolution’s Andrew Eaton could have extended the panel into a full day. Paul Oliver of Cross Creek was the quietest, perhaps most reticent, of the speakers, but he amply demonstrated that he is one who puts his money where his mouth is. His acumen and taste make us all grateful for his existence as he is a pivotal point person in creating works of art that create substantial revenues for a sustainable art house film business.
The audience as well was most enthusiastic with their questions and post panel discussions with panelists who stayed to talk.
ARTICLES REPRINTED HERE:
Posted: 06 Sep 2013 05:15 AM PDT
Each day I become more and more convinced that staged financing could be a cure to much of the Film Biz’s ills. Staged financing? What? Is the phrase not exactly center of your conversations right now? Why not?!! Whatsamattawidyou? Don’t you know a good solution when you see one?
Although it already exists in many fields, and even in a few small patches of our own yard, I recognize that a staged financing strategy is not yet the force behind Indieland’s own gardening. I am however growing convinced it could yield a far more fruitful harvest than our current methods. A staged-financing ecosystem can’t be built in a one-off manner though. Although it also does not need to the rule of the realm, it needs a permanent eco-system to support it.
Staged financing is part of a much bigger solution that we urgently need to bring to our industry: a sustainable investor class . We need smart money and need to stop seeking, encouraging, and propagating dumb money. Most film investors get out, win or lose, by their third film (I have been told this and don’t have the stats to back it up now, but if you do, please share — otherwise just trust that is what my experience has shown). The value of most independent money in the film biz is the money itself, and that is not good for anyone.
Staged financing is exactly what it says to be. I know in this world such literalness is a strange thing, but there is it. Staged financing is a funding process that is there for each distinct stage. In comparison, it is the opposite of up-front financing — the type that monopolizes the narrative feature world. I am proposing that we institutionalize the staged-financing process and make it easier to finance your film in drips and drabs. Why am I so bullish on what probably sounds like hell to many? Why do I think it will save indie film? Let’s count the ways.
So if Staged Financing is this marvelous thing, why have our leaders not yet delivered it to you? Well, they don’t care about you; didn’t you know that?
And if Staged Financing could really save Indie Film, why has the community not constructed this marvelous ecosystem yet? Well, we’ve all been too busy chasing shiny objects and marveling at the reflections fed back of us.
But change is here. We have hope. We can build it better together. And I have already started. The San Francisco Film Society is committed to it. We have others who want to be part of. We are have spots for more to join in. And we are going to help a few select projects really rock this world.
Watch this space. Let’s do it together and truly astonish the world with your awe inspiring work. Just don’t be slack, okay?
“Rush,” the high-octane car racing film about the public rivalry between legendary Formula One drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the 1970s, has all the markings of tinseltown’s latest flashy biopic, withRon Howard at the wheel, Chris Hemsworth as its star, and Universal Pictures releasing the film Sept. 27. But that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It is going to be easy for people to think this is a Hollywood movie, and it just is not,” says the upcoming film’s British screenwriter, Peter Morgan, who penned “Frost/Nixon,” also directed by Howard. “It is a British independent film directed by a Hollywood director.”
As the majors focus more on putting their money behind mega-budgeted projects with built-in brand awareness — sequels, reboots, films based on toys, videogames and comicbooks — filmmakers are finding Hollywood’s studio system rapidly shifting under their feet.
“Because studios are less interested in the midbudget area, there is a massive opportunity for independents to step into that (area) at the moment,” says “Rush” producer Andrew Eaton of London-based Revolution Films.
Indeed, it’s getting harder to set up a midbudget range original project at a studio, even for veteran filmmakers like Howard and his producing partner Brian Grazer, whose Imagine Entertainment has had an overall deal at Universal for 27 years (the longest standing deal U has had in its 100-year history with a production company). That’s forced directors to look elsewhere to tackle the kinds of films now considered too risky to make or the ones that won’t fill retail shelves with merchandise.
Another Hollywood vet, producer Marc Platt, who’s had a production deal at Universal since 1998 after stepping down as its production head, similarly had to find indie financing for his film “2 Guns” after Universal said it would not bankroll the picture but simply distribute it.
With “Rush,” Howard found himself in an entirely new role as the director of a $50 million film that was his first to be independently financed — through a series of bonds, contingencies and pre-sales. He also was a director for hire, replacing Paul Greengrass, who was originally set to bring the showy personalities of Hunt (Hemsworth), a British playboy; and the more serious Austrian champion Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) to the big screen.
“We must champion the fact that this is basically 80% a British film in terms of the people who worked on it, the way it was structured and the way we ran it,” says Eaton. The exec, who was behind such indie films as “24 Hour Party People” and the “Red Riding” series, is modest, and like most Brits politely shies away from the spotlight, tending not to grab credit even when its due.
But he believes “Rush” shows off Blighty’s mettle.
“These are the kinds of films we should be making in the U.K. because we can do it, and we can do it for better value of money,” he says.
Morgan began writing the story of Lauda, a friend of his wife’s, on spec some years ago, intrigued by the driver’s courageous comeback just 40 days after a devastating crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix that severely burned his face and saw him lapse into a coma, and how that might play against Hunt’s notorious womanizing and party lifestyle that gained him rock-star status.
Eager to work with Eaton again after Fernando Meirelles’ “360,” Morgan showed the producer the first draft of “Rush,” and Eaton was hooked.
“Andrew was always going to be a great fit for this project,” Morgan says. “If (the) responsibility was to make this at a price, Andrew could do this. He could make a $50 million film feel like a $150 million film.”
With Greengrass, another Brit, attached to direct, Morgan showed the script to close friend Eric Fellner at his Universal-owned British production outfit Working Title. Fellner, who had worked with him on “Frost/Nixon,” loved the new script and offered it to Universal for funding.
But the studio passed, considering it risky subject matter, given the biopic elements and low profile of F1 racing in the U.S. Universal also didn’t believe the film could be made for the right price. Still Fellner stayed onboard, and his contacts in the F1 arena proved invaluable. His relationships with Ferrari and McLaren thanks to his work on documentary “Senna” enabled “Rush” to enlist the brands in the pic without losing editorial control.
“Ron (Howard) jokes that my major contribution was engine noise,” Fellner says. “Maybe I can take credit for a bit of that.”
Soon after Universal passed, Cross Creek Pictures topper Brian Oliver reached out to Eaton to finance the project — so eager that he offered to put up $2 million before he even signed the deal so that Eaton could order replicas of the 1970s cars to be ready in time for the shoot. He also was instrumental in steering Hemsworth toward the project.
“Typically we don’t spend that kind of money without knowing the movie is going and the budget is done,” Oliver says. “But I was passionate about the script, and I really thought it was a film with a lot of heart, not just a race car movie.”
Cross Creek, also behind “The Ides of March” and “Black Swan,” has quickly become one of Hollywood’s biggest and more unusual financiers of risky films, with coin coming mostly from oil and real estate investments in Texas.
“He’s an unusual maverick in Hollywood because he really fought to get the budget to the highest level he could,” says Eaton of Oliver. “There’s no bullshit with him — he gets stuff done.” Adds Fellner: “Without Brian, the film wouldn’t have gotten off of the ground. He put his money where his mouth is.”
Shortly after funding started coming together, Greengrass dropped off the project due, ironically, to his issues with the budget. Within 24 hours, Morgan and Fellner enticed Howard to come onboard. The financing arrangement intrigued him, but what really attracted Howard was the ability to re-create the world of Formula One in the 1970s “when sex was safe and driving was dangerous,” as he has said in past interviews.
“Ron was incredibly gracious in trusting us to deliver,” Eaton says. “He was very smart about knowing we needed to make this film in a different way. He’d never made a film with a bond before, and never made a film with a contingency before, but he rolled up his sleeves and was ready to learn.” Some of that indie spirit has already rubbed off on Howard, who is now sticking with a mostly British crew on his next project, “In the Heart of the Sea,” including “Rush” cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and costume designer Julian Day. “Heart” lenses in London.
Exclusive Media came in as the final partner on “Rush,” brought in by Oliver under his deal with Exclusive to jointly finance two projects per year.
Cross Creek split the cost of the pic with Exclusive, with the former putting its own cash in to the pic and the latter financing through a bank loan made against pre-sales generated in 2011 at the AFM, where Howard helped shop the project to buyers. The move proved a success, as Exclusive secured $33 million in foreign pre-sales.
Additionally, Oliver and Eaton structured the project as a U.K.-German co-production, enabling them to secure about $12 million in soft money.
As a result, U.K. rights ended up going to Studiocanal. Universal agreed to distribute “Rush” in the U.S. through its output deal with Cross Creek.
Eaton pressed to put all of the money raised on the screen. “Rush” became the highest-budget film he had ever worked with after 2000’s “The Claim,” which cost $18 million to produce.
“(‘Rush’) was financed in exactly the same way we finance every independent film, and we approached shooting in the same way as we do everything — you try to put as much money as you can onscreen,” Eaton says. “It’s about not wasting money on things you don’t need, like private jets and extravagances.”
Hollywood has tried to bring to life the world of Formula One before.
Sylvester Stallone directed “Driven,” which originally was set in the world of F1, before he changed course and based it on rival CART racing, instead.
The reason? To gain access to F1, filmmakers must first get the greenlight from the often polarizing Bernie Ecclestone, the 82-year-old billionaire who holds a tight grip on the racing league that has long counted the elite as fans, including Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, and celebs including Michael Fassbender, Patrick Dempsey, Gordon Ramsey, George Lucas, and Cirque de Soleil founder Guy Laliberte.
Although Stallone tried to gain Ecclestone’s approval, “I apologize to fans of Formula 1, but there is a certain individual there who runs the sport that has his own agenda,” Stallone said in 2000. “F1 is very formal, and it’s very hard to get to know people.”
David Cronenberg also planned to direct a tentpole around F1 for Paramount, in 1986, with the director scouting the project by attending Grand Prix races in Australia and Mexico. The film, “Red Cars,” would have revolved around American driver Phil Hill winning the world championship for Ferrari in 1961. Plans were shelved when Ecclestone decided not to support the project. Instead, Cronenberg published a limited edition art book based on the screenplay in 2005.
One of the few cinematic standouts so far is Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Senna,” about the charismatic Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna, killed in a race in 1994 that’s show in the docu. “Senna” went on to earn $8.2 million, and helped educate viewers of the sport by focusing not on the races but Senna’s iconic presence and his impact on pop culture.
“Rush” is looking to put a spotlight on the personalities behind the wheel and the often riveting rivalries between drivers — what many consider the real draw to the sport. Bruhl has compared them to “modern knights constantly facing death.”
As the film races toward its September release — it will be shown at the Toronto Film Festival out of competition — Howard has screened it for not only racing fans but Formula One, itself.
He recently showed the film to a group of F1 drivers (including Lauda, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa) at Germany’s Grand Prix, calling that audience the toughest test so far, and comparing the experience to screening “Apollo 13” to NASA’s astronauts and mission controllers in 1995.
In his efforts to promote the film, Howard has called the Hunt-Lauda rivalry one of the greatest in all of sports. “Their story is so remarkable, you (could) only do it if it was true, because people wouldn’t quite believe it. They were willing to risk their lives to attain this elite status. They paid a price for it, but they defined themselves.”
Morgan also has been doing his part to reassure F1 fans that the film is authentic, stressing that it’s about the people in the cars, and not the sport itself.
Any way the wheel’s spun, it’s clear the film’s overall success will largely be driven by how it plays overseas. “Rush” will need to appeal to an international audience that’s more familiar with F1 — a sport second in popularity only to soccer — than to those in the U.S.
But Howard needs to hook moviegoers closer to home — making the American director’s job a much tougher sell.
It’s not really that surprising that there’s nothing all that American about “Rush.”
Formula One is still struggling to find an audience in the U.S. It’s looking to change that through a new $3 million broadcasting deal with NBC Sports that airs 13 races on the cable channel, two on CNBC, and four on NBC. The Monaco Grand Prix was the first of four F1 races to air live on NBC this year, with the final race taking place Nov. 24 from Brazil.
Ratings have averaged a 0.3 rating, although the Monaco race was watched by 1.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched Formula One race on U.S. television in six years, and up 40% over last year’s race when it aired on Speed TV, Nielsen said.
Promos have emphasized the speed of F1’s jetfighter cars, its international appeal and Olympics-like profiles of the drivers.
Formula One also is looking to rev up new fans in the U.S. through the opening of its first permanent track in Austin, Texas, last year, known as the Circuit of the Americas. Howard attended its first race, where Lauda also roamed the track’s garages.
What’s ironic is that Howard isn’t a very good driver. He proved that recently racing around the track of BBC’s hit show “Top Gear” to promote “Rush,” ending up in second to last place on the series’ celebrity leader board — behind Genesis’ Mike Rutherford.
Host Jeremy Clarkson was quick to mock him, saying “We finally found something you can’t do. Good at directing, brilliant in ‘Happy Days,’ a charming human being — but utterly crap at driving.”
Ron Howard's Risky Formula One Movie, 'Rush'
Can this Euro-centric car racing film play in the U.S.?
By RACHEL DODES CONN
Ron Howard's films, like "Apollo 13" and "Frost/Nixon," typically deal with issues very familiar to American audiences. His latest project, Mr. Howard's first independently financed film, is a bit of a departure: "Rush" chronicles the rivalry between Austrian Formula One racer Niki Lauda and his nemesis, the British driver James Hunt, over the course of the historic 1976 season. While competing in Nürburg, Germany during treacherous weather conditions, Mr. Lauda (Daniel Brühl, right) crashed his Ferrari and sustained severe burns to his face and lungs. Yet, fueled by a desire to beat Mr. Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, above), a playboy type whose wife (Olivia Wilde) ran off with Richard Burton, Mr. Lauda was back in his car just six weeks later—still wearing his bandages—to race against him in the Italian Grand Prix.
When Mr. Howard received the script on spec from screenwriter Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon," "The Last King of Scotland"), he wasn't a Formula One fan and didn't know who Messrs. Hunt and Lauda were. "I looked them up on Wikipedia," he admits. But as he read about the racers' personalities, he started to see broader themes that would appeal to U.S. moviegoers. "Maybe this is the American in me identifying this," he says, "but both these guys are utterly and entirely individuals—there was no Yoda telling them to seek their higher self."
For Mr. Howard, the process of researching "Rush" was surprisingly similar to learning about space travel for his "Apollo 13," because he found himself having to make arcane automotive engineering terms accessible to viewers. "It was really fun to understand a sport that combines cutting-edge technology with very dangerous competition," he says. "The visceral, cool and sexy element offered a kind of cinematic experience that nowadays exists only with sci-fi."
Formula One isn't nearly as popular in the U.S. as Nascar, and the subject matter is likelier to play well overseas, where the film's financing came from.
It premiered Monday, in London, a few weeks before its U.S. opening. The filmmakers say it's more than just a sports picture, and they expect it to appeal
to women as well as men.
SAUDI FEMALE FILMMAKER SUCCEEDS IN MAKING A MOVIE ABOUT A GIRL WHO WANTS A BICYCLE
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Sept. 6, 2013
In a country where women can't freely move around, Haifaa Mansour covertly films the story of a girl's quest for a bicycle.
The production lost two days to sandstorms. The crew faced a last-minute scramble when the nervous owner of a mall changed his mind about allowing filming there. Some days locals chased the cameras away; other days they brought platters of lamb and rice to the set, and asked to be extras.
Meanwhile, the director hid in a van, speaking to her cast via walkie-talkie. In Saudi Arabia, where driving a car is a subversive act for a woman, a 39-year-old mother of two has done something remarkable: written and directed what her distributor believes is the first feature film shot entirely in the ultraconservative kingdom.
Haifaa Mansour is the director of "Wadjda," a drama about a plucky 10-year-old girl who enrolls in a Koran recitation competition in order to win money for a bicycle she's forbidden by law to ride.
Like her young protagonist, Mansour's own story is one of feminine moxie.
In a sly protest of the country's ban on women behind the wheel, she drove herself to her wedding in a golf cart. Because women in Saudi Arabia can't mingle publicly with men outside their families, she shot her movie covertly on the streets of the capital, Riyadh. With movie theaters banned, she screened "Wadjda" in two foreign embassies and a cultural center.
Petite, self-assured, wearing white high-tops and blue nail polish, Mansour is modern in both her fashion and bearing. She speaks English quickly and colloquially, dropping frequent "you knows" into conversation. And she isn't afraid to counter misperceptions about her homeland, as when she gently corrected Bill Maher for calling Mecca the Saudi capital during a recent appearance on his HBO show.
Laced with empathy and humor, "Wadjda" is a quietly provocative portrait of a culture that straddles the centuries, where men wear the ancient white thobe but carry the latest iPads and women hold important jobs as doctors and news anchors but have yet to vote in an election.
"I didn't want to make a movie about women being raped or stoned," Mansour said in an interview in Beverly Hills in June. "For me it is the everyday life, how it's hard. For me, it was hard sometimes to go to work because I cannot find transportation. Things like that build up and break a woman."
The eighth of 12 children of a poet, Mansour grew up in a small town in a home that she describes as nurturing for a little girl.
"My family is very traditional, but my parents are very supportive, very kind," she said. "I never felt I can't do things because I'm a woman."
When Mansour was a teen, her mother removed the light veil she wore while picking her daughter up from school, a gesture that mortified the young woman at the time, but empowers her when she reflects on it now.
Though movie theaters have been shuttered in Saudi Arabia for decades for religious reasons, Mansour said her father, like others, often rented VHS tapes at Blockbuster for the family to watch -- she grew up on Jackie Chan movies, Bollywood productions, Egyptian cinema and Disney animated films. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was a particular favorite.
"In small-town Saudi, there is nothing to do. You don't get to exercise your emotions because nothing much is happening, you know?" she said. "So to see people falling in love and fighting, it's so powerful, you see beyond your small town."
After earning her bachelor's degree in comparative literature at the American University in Cairo, she returned to Saudi Arabia but quickly felt stymied.
"Going back to Saudi as a young woman, trying to assert yourself in the workplace, you have all those ideas … and all of a sudden you realize because you are a woman you are not heard," she said. "It was such a frustrating moment in my life. It was as if you are screaming in a vacuum."
The idea of women holding jobs still unnerves some Saudi men -- writer Abdullah Mohammed Daoud recently encouraged his more than 97,000 Twitter followers to sexually harass female grocery store clerks to intimidate women from working.
Recalling the freedom she found in movies, Mansour decided to make a short film with her siblings serving as cast and crew, a thriller about a male serial killer who hides under the black abaya worn by Muslim women. Her work -- two more shorts, a documentary and a stint hosting a talk show for a Lebanese network -- focused largely on the untold stories of Saudi women.
In 2005, at a U.S. embassy screening of her documentary, "Women Without Shadows," Mansour met her future husband, American diplomat Bradley Neimann. They now have two children, 2 and 5, and live in Bahrain, where Neimann works for the State Department.
When her husband was posted in Australia, Mansour pursued a master's in film studies at the University of Sydney, and wrote the script that became "Wadjda."
The story was inspired by her now teenage niece, who has tamped down her rambunctious personality to fit into Saudi norms.
"I thought, 'Wow, a woman writer from Saudi Arabia won?'" Rena Ronson said. "I had to meet her. She was so open and tenacious and smart."When Mansour's script for "Wadjda" won an award at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, it caught the eye of the co-head of the independent film group at United Talent Agency.
Over the next two years Ronson helped Mansour secure financing for her film, which cost a little less than $2.5 million. The primary obstacle, as far as many potential Middle Eastern producers were concerned, was Mansour's desire to shoot in Saudi Arabia, which she felt lent her story authenticity.
The production finally won the tacit approval of the Saudi government -- one of its backers is Rotana Group, an entertainment company primarily owned by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Another major financier is the German company Razor Film.
Finding actors was another hurdle. Mansour and her producers recruited child performers through small companies that hire folkloric dancers for the Eid holidays. Many of their parents were uncomfortable with a movie about empowering women.
A week before she was scheduled to start shooting, Mansour still hadn't cast her title character when 12-year-old Waad Mohammed entered the room in blue jeans, with headphones clapped over her ears. Singing along to Justin Bieber, she won over Mansour with her sweet singing voice and tomboyish style.
The movie's half-German, half-Saudi crew worked around the rhythms of Saudi life, using cellphone apps that alerted them of the five daily prayer calls. The Germans carried notebooks; the Saudis relied on oral planning.
On the first day of shooting, a start time of 7:20 a.m. came and went. "I don't know what we were thinking," said German producer Roman Paul. "I don't think 7:20 exists in Saudi time. We Germans learned to relax, and the Saudis learned that there is a benefit to doing things at a certain time."
Despite tension on the set -- both from disapproving observers and from the German and Saudi crews learning to work together -- Mansour was buoyant, Paul said.
"She's very fast in overcoming new difficulties, and in an upbeat spirit," Paul said.
Last summer "Wadjda" premiered at the Venice and Telluride film festivals, earning praise for Mansour's subtle direction and a U.S. release from Sony Pictures Classics, which handled the Oscar-winning 2011 Iranian drama "A Separation," about the dissolution of a marriage.
"'A Separation' was such an eye-opener to me in the sense that there were people questioning whether the film went too specific into the Iranian culture," said Michael Barker, co-president and co-founder of the Sony unit. "But if the overall story has a universal appeal, in 'Wadjda' it's about parents and kids and restrictions and freedom, that's something we can all relate to."
Sony Classics has been showing the film to noted feminists -- Gloria Steinem and Queen Noor of Jordan both attended screenings -- and will release it in the U.S. slowly over the fall, starting Sept. 13. (The movie premiered in multiple European countries this summer.)
Mansour said she plans to work in Saudi Arabia again. For her, screening her movie in the kingdom was a high.
"Film is about uplifting, embracing the love of life, it's about moving ahead, it's about victory," she said. "It's not about defeat."
One victory has already been won. This spring, a new law went into effect: With some restrictions, Saudi women are now allowed to ride bicycles.