Straight Up Films Options ‘Dead Mountain’; Nonfiction Book Examines Soviet-Era Hiking Disaster

EXCLUSIVE: Straight Up Films has optioned the nonfiction bestseller Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story Of The Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar. Blacklist screenwriter Brandon Lee Tenney has been tapped to write the screenplay.

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EXCLUSIVE: Straight Up Films has optioned the nonfiction bestseller Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story Of The Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar. Blacklist screenwriter Brandon Lee Tenney has been tapped to write the screenplay.

The book details the unsolved 1959 deaths of nine hikers in Russia’s Ural Mountains, in an elevation called Dead Mountain. Soviet investigators later determined that hikers, apparently fleeing some kind of threat, had torn open their tents and ran barefoot out into the snow. No signs of any struggle were found, though more than one of the dead had injuries consistent with blunt force trauma. Unsurprisingly, the inability to determine what actually happened gave rise to numerous wild theories, ranging from the Soviet military was conducting secret weapons experiments in the area to an attack by extraterrestrials.

Eichar spent half a decade researching the incident, retracing the route taken by the hikers himself, interviewing surving family and friends and examining extant documents. Tenney’s script will dramatize the book’s account, focusing on the last days before the hikers died and on the bonds formed between them. Kate Cohen, Marisa Polvino and Casey Carroll of Straight Up Films will produce with Eichar; Peter Sussman is the executive producer.

Most recently, Straight Up Films produced 2014’s Transcendence and the Natalie Portman starrer Jane Got a Gun, which is in postproduction. Tenney is represented by WME, Art/Work Entertainment and attorney Neil Meyer. Eichar is with WME and Sussmanagement.

‘Transcendence’ Producers Nab Rights to Sci-Fi Novel ‘Thirteen’ (Exclusive)

Kenny Golde is adapting the film, which is being produced by Straight-Up Films’ Kate Cohen and Marisa Polvino along with Vinson Films’ Tripp Vinson.

Transcendence producers Kate Cohen and Marisa Polvinoare heading back to the future.

The Straight-Up Films duo, who developed and produced the Johnny Depp vehicle, have acquired the rights to the futuristic noir thriller Thirteen.

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Kenny Golde is adapting the film, which is being produced by Straight-Up Films' Kate Cohen and Marisa Polvino along with Vinson Films' Tripp Vinson.

Transcendence producers Kate Cohen and Marisa Polvinoare heading back to the future.

The Straight-Up Films duo, who developed and produced the Johnny Depp vehicle, have acquired the rights to the futuristic noir thriller Thirteen.

Written by Richard K. Morgan, the novel was first published 2008 and won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature. Morgan previously won the Philip K. Dick Award for distinguished science fiction writing.

Kenny Golde will write the screenplay. He most recently adapted Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi thriller End of Eternity for New Regency and is the writer of Forsaken, which is set up with Hyde Park and Parkes/MacDonald with Jean-Luc Herbulot attached to direct. Golde also penned the indie World War II film Walking With the Enemy, which is currently in theaters.

Cohen and Polvino are producing Thirteen alongside Tripp Vinson through his Vinson Films. Vinson brought the novel to Cohen and Polvino. Lisa Zambri will executive produce.

Cohen also wrote and produced the Nick Stahl/Alicia Witt drama Away From Here, which Polvino executive produced. Polvino previously produced The Education of Charlie Banks and Brooklyn Rules.

Vinson has several projects in varying stages of production including Solace, starring Colin FarrellAnthony Hopkins and Abbie Cornish in post-production; the Dwayne Johnson actioner San Andreas, which is currently filming; and is beginning production this week on the thriller Eloise, featuring the directorial debut of Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Robert Legato (TitanicHugo). On the television side, Vinson executive produces the hit CBS series Intelligence.

Golde is repped by APA, manager Jon Karas and attorney Darren Trattner.

Morgan was handled by Alan Nevins of Renaissance Literary & Talent.

Natalie Portman’s ‘Jane Got A Gun’ heading for U.S. sale

Relativity Media and The Weinstein Co. are in talks for U.S. rights to Jane Got a Gun, starring Natalie Portman , Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich and Rodrigo Santoro. The deal came together after footage was shown at Cannes this week. The companies had no comment, but an informed source confirmed the talks.

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Relativity Media and The Weinstein Co. are in talks for U.S. rights to Jane Got a Gun, starring Natalie Portman , Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich and Rodrigo Santoro. The deal came together after footage was shown at Cannes this week. The companies had no comment, but an informed source confirmed the talks.

CAA is repping domestic rights and Exclusive Media is selling international rights to Jane at Cannes.

Jane is produced by Scott Steindorff, Portman and her Handsomecharlie Films, Aleen Keshishian, Terry Dougas, Scott LaStaiti and Straight Up Films’ Regency Boies.

Gavin O’Connor directed Jane, replacing Lynne Ramsay as director on the indie Western. Ramsay departed in March just before shooting was to start in New Mexico. Gun, penned by Brian Duffield, stars Portman as a woman who asks an ex-lover for help save her outlaw husband from a gang out to kill him. Joel Edgerton plays the ex-lover, while Jude Law and Bradley Cooper were on board to play the leader of the gang — a role finally filled by Emmerich.

Michael Fassbender had been set to play the ex-lover role but left the project several weeks before production started.

O’Connor’s directing credits include Pride and Glory and the pilot of Showtime’s The Americans.

Deadline.com first reported the talks for sale of U.S. rights.

Filmmaker Jesse Moss Joins Disorderly Conduct For Spots, Branded Content

Production house Disorderly Conduct has signed director Jesse Moss for commercials and branded content. Earlier this year, Moss’ documentary The Overnighters won a Special Jury Prize for Intuitive Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival. The Overnighters was also nominated for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize in Documentary.

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Production house Disorderly Conduct has signed director Jesse Moss for commercials and branded content. Earlier this year, Moss’ documentary The Overnighters won a Special Jury Prize for Intuitive Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival. The Overnighters was also nominated for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize in Documentary.

The Overnighters is an intimate portrait of job seekers desperately chasing the broken American Dream to the tiny oil boomtown of Williston, North Dakota. With the town lacking the infrastructure to house the overflow of migrants, a local pastor starts the controversial “overnighters” program, allowing down-and-out workers a place to sleep at the church. His well-meaning project immediately runs into resistance from his community, forcing the clergyman to make a decision, which leads to profound consequences that he never imagined.

Following Sundance, Disorderly Conduct executive producer Ron Cicero first began speaking with Moss about expanding into advertising projects. Also after Sundance, The Overnighters continued on the festival circuit garnering the Inspiration Award at the Full Frame Fest, the Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and playing at such events as Tribeca and Hot Docs.

The Overnighters--which is distributed by Drafthouse Films and begins its nationwide theatrical run this month--adds to a far reaching lineup of documentaries shot, directed and produced by Moss, including Con ManSpeedo: A Demolition Love Story, and Full Battle Rattle.

“I’m drawn to unique, complicated and often conflicted characters ” related Moss.  “Digging beneath the surface, their stories reveal emotional, surprising, funny and universally resonant truths about American life.”  He added, “My work reflects an equal concern for the structure of dramatic storytelling and the surprise of the spontaneous moments and unexpected possibilities that define unscripted filmmaking.”

Moss said he is excited to make his foray into branded work via Disorderly Conduct, with its highly curated roster and connections to both the advertising and feature film worlds. Moss joins a directorial lineup at Disorderly Conduct which includes Brett Foraker, Daniel Levy, Jan Wentz, Luis Gerard, Eric Stoltz and Francesco Calabrese.

“Jesse has an instinctive ability to find and connect with people whose stories translate magnificently on screen,” explains Cicero. “He’s a thoughtful storyteller who is adept at bridging the narrative and the core brand idea and creating content that people relate to in a very honest and compelling way.”

Founded in 2013 by co-CEOs Kate Cohen and Marisa Polvino and EP Cicero, Disorderly Conduct is sister company to film development and production company Straight Up Films. Supporting a roster of prominent directing talent, Disorderly Conduct collaborates with leading advertising agencies and entertainment brands to create commercial content for play on mobile screens to movie screens and everything in between.

In June, Disorderly Conduct’s Integrated Campaign created by Hill Holliday and directed by Eric Stoltz (Glee, Nashville, Believe), for non-profit The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, was honored with a Gold Lion at the first-ever Lions Health Awards. The company has also produced commercials and brand work for such clients as Audi, Nike, MTN, Jeep, Dunkin Donuts and Ford. Sister Company Straight Up Films develops and produces feature films including Transcendence, Jane Got A Gun, The Door In The Floor, Away From Here, Manos Sucias, A Shot At Glory, and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

Straight Up Conversation

Don’t ask Kate Cohen or Marisa Polvino what it’s like to be a woman in the business. “So many people ask us that question” (including me). “I don’t even pay attention to the fact that there are different genders, because if I think I’m a minority like that, than I behave in a certain way, and that’s not constructive for running a business,” says Kate. “Because what you focus on is really important (in business) and if we sit there and focus on, ‘oh I’m a woman in film, it’s a boys club’ or whatever… If we have that kind of attitude, then we’ll always remain in the background. It’s important to not give that any thought or attention.” A philosophy (or one of a few) that’s clearly working out for them. With one of 2014’s most anticipated blockbusters already behind them and an exciting slate of projects on the way, the background seems like a place they don’t really have to worry about. (more…)

Don't ask Kate Cohen or Marisa Polvino what it's like to be a woman in the business. “So many people ask us that question” (including me). “I don't even pay attention to the fact that there are different genders, because if I think I'm a minority like that, than I behave in a certain way, and that's not constructive for running a business,” says Kate. “Because what you focus on is really important (in business) and if we sit there and focus on, ‘oh I'm a woman in film, it's a boys club’ or whatever… If we have that kind of attitude, then we'll always remain in the background. It's important to not give that any thought or attention.” A philosophy (or one of a few) that's clearly working out for them. With one of 2014's most anticipated blockbusters already behind them and an exciting slate of projects on the way, the background seems like a place they don't really have to worry about.

After years of producing independent film(s) in New York, they started their company, Straight Up Films (1) in 2008, moving to LA in 2012. Since then, these women have worked toward the top of the industry, where they continue to climb. Their partnership and approach are a dynamic one/one combo, nurturing and developing new voices with an independent mentality, while rubbing shoulders and working with some of the biggest talent (and dealmakers) in town. What's next for Kate and Marisa? Sky's the limit. Straight up.

(1) In 2014, Straight Up Films’ "Manos Sucias" won Best New Narrative Feature Director for Josef Wladyka at the Tribeca Film Festival and their feature, "Transcendence," directed by Wally Pfister, with Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Morgan Freeman, released theatrically in the US and Asia.

Jonathan Mayor: When did you first decide you wanted to be into the business? How'd you actually get involved in the business?

Marisa Polvino: I really think always, to be honest. I've always loved films and I grew up loving them, and I wanted to find a way to work in them in any capacity. Acting was kind of the most obvious for me at that time, because at first, that's all I'd really see in watching a movie. 'Look at that actor or actress', because I didn't think yet in terms of producing or directing or set design. Then, when I was in college I studied film, and I studied directing, and theater, and broadcasting, and I went to London and started taking acting classes the Polytechnic School of London.  So when I came back from London and moved to New York, I moved as an actress. Though I realized, very, very soon thereafter, that it was not the avenue for me to take, because it takes a particular discipline and passion to reach any level of success, and what I found was that I was actually much more interested and passionate in everything happening behind the scenes, and how mechanically a film got made, or even distributed into theaters. And so I got an internship at a small commercial production company, and I started doing absolutely anything I could do, on any kind of shoots (from music videos to commercials), and then from there, met somebody who wanted to make a feature. And we cobbled together like twenty-five grand and shot a feature called “My Life In Turnaround.”  And so I went from literally doing everything on set to producing a film in a very short time and I never looked back from there. At the end of that shoot, I was like this is the best thing in the world. It's so much fun, there's such a level of camaraderie, that you are all creating something together, in hopes of it being really great to resonate with an audience. So that's my story. Kate?

Kate Cohen: I decided I wanted to get into the business when I wrote a film... actually that's not true. I decided I wanted to get into the business before that, because I felt like I really didn't know how to do anything else. I grew up in it, and everyone around me in my circles were all in it, So that's all I related to. I was (obviously) a huge film fanatic and was really intrigued by the business. I never thought I was going to be a producer, that definitely happened by accident, but the decision was made for me when I realized there was nothing else I (ever) wanted to do.

JM: When exactly was that for you... and then how did you actually get involved in the business?

KC: Ten years ago. I started raising money for people for small films. People I knew would ask me if I could help them raise money and I didn't really know what I was doing but I knew a lot of high net worth individuals and was able to do it. And then I wrote a movie nine years ago with somebody, and I wanted to get it made and knew people that could get it made, and they were going to, but ended up having personal issues that caused them to back out, and that's when I decided I was just going to produce it myself. And it took many years, but that's how I ended up producing. I say this all the time: I didn't know what I was doing. I literally Googled what does a producer do and figured it out as I went along. So, that's how I got in. I got started by raising money.

JM: Where'd you go from there, and how did you guys hook up?

MP: Kate had written the screenplay and she was out at Sundance trying to put it together... the financing and all that, and I ended up at Sundance that year (reluctantly). I had left the company I was working with just before then and was still trying to figure out if I even wanted to stay in the film business or get into something else, but I ended up going to Sundance and meeting Kate there. And we came back to New York from the festival and we ended up getting together shortly thereafter, which we always say is shocking because we both reschedule so much. But we actually set it up and met that first time we planned it, and then continued to meet. And she sent me her screenplay, and we kept on talking about that and how she was doing in terms of raising money.

KC: And I saw something in Marisa, who had already been doing it for many (many) years at that point, and I thought there was a lot of synergy between us and I saw that we had very different skill sets. I mean both of us can develop, both of us are creative... but Marisa hates raising money and I loved working with her. And we were meeting constantly, so I said why don't we just do this together, and I'll raise the money for a company. Meaning I'll go source some investors, and we'll start a company. And it kind of just organically happened.

MP: We both share a lot of similarities in terms of taste and material and how we creatively approach and develop things; and we share the same ideas about who we want to work with in the business on the directing front, on co-productions, partners... so we're very similar. We have a shared vision and goals for the company, which is fantastic because when you have a partnership, you want to make sure that your goals are aligned and there's no independent agenda at play (which there isn't for us). And we also have specific skill sets. Like for myself, I come from a world of production, so I very much understand the mechanics of making movies, and the mechanics of building a budget and a schedule. I'm also very involved in negotiating and dealing with the contracts and the lawyers and the nuts and bolts and the day to day operations of the business, and Kate is the opposite of that. She's out there networking and building strategic partnerships, and finding new opportunities. Not that we're not both doing that, she's just more the face of the company being out there, bringing in new people to talk to, be it talent, to financiers, to projects. And then collectively we decide if it's something we want to explore, and if it is, then we both develop the material and work with the writers and directors, and work with the casting directors to cast it. So in terms of the day to day, we share things, but we're also very different in terms of our primary skill sets.

JM: Can you verbalize the shared vision you have for Straight Up Films? Or what the goal was when you formed?

MP: For us, as a company, we are very filmmaker and story driven. And coming from the world of independent film, we've always wanted to work with visionary directors, as well as working on films that have stories with very strong universal themes, and a core emotional connection for an audience. But we also wanted to take the independent spirit and put it on a larger screen–finding projects that we could work on that are grounded in a core emotional story but can speak to a wide audience. I think when we got together, the goal was, how do we take the spirit of independent films and make them on a larger scale without compromising artistic integrity in the process? I think for us, our mission for the company is to build a media company that speaks to audiences across all platforms in a way that is grounded and innovative… for example, working with directors who have new ways or new techniques in filmmaking. We have a commercial division as well.

KC: We're expanding into television. And we're toying with the idea of a foreign sales arm and a music division. Almost like a mini studio.

MP: I just want to add that the whole Straight Up aspect to this is that this business is unfortunately infiltrated by not the most transparent people, and so we wanted to make sure in everything we're doing, that we’re “straight up” about it. That what you see is what you get. We're very transparent in all of our dealings. We don't have our own personal agendas. We're really massively collaborative here and the intention is to have a unified goal for an entire team. That's a big thing for us. That we have a whole level of transparency.


KC: We do what we say we're gonna do!

JM: What encouraged the move from New York back to Los Angeles, and what do you feel like you gained?  

KC: It was a really obvious move for us because, for one, we were getting into bigger and bigger films. And once the company got financed it was definitely a game changer. We were constantly meeting, or on every call we had... everyone was in LA. We had to start coming out here more and more, and then Transcendence got green lit and everybody was out here (for that), and all of the relationships we had were out here. And it was frankly just becoming more annoying to be in New York. We definitely needed a presence. People were starting to realize who we were, and what we were doing, and were much more entrenched in the business every time we came to LA. We got so much done, because we got to meet everybody and drive things forward, and then we'd go back to New York and be in the background. And it was also an expansion for us. We knew we were going to start a commercial division. We knew we were going to eventually get into television. And all of the players and everyone we want to be our colleagues, are all pretty much, not all, but most of them, in Los Angeles.

MP: I mean it's also unfortunate but true that the state of independent film (in New York specifically) is really diminishing. For years I avoided living in Los Angeles because I wanted a life outside of the business. And living here in LA, it can be very difficult to get away from it because it's absolutely everywhere. Everyone who your kids go to school with, has a parent in the business, or everyone you meet at the grocery store.

KC: Your car mechanic is a stuntman. It's everywhere.

MP: It just permeates. Every single aspect of the area revolves around the business, and there's pros and cons to that. But being here now, I think it's much more of a positive thing because in many regards, it's a very very small business. And there's an ability to be really, truly six degrees of separation here, and you're actually entrenched in the business. You go to parties (or wherever) and build relationships, and that extends to a dinner party or an event where you keep re-seeing people that you've met. And that's really not the case in New York. Like you have to come to LA, or go to one of the festivals, and over that five day, saturated time, make a lot of contacts. But then you retreat back home and it's hard to keep those relationships growing, because you're not in it every single day. And so much of the business is relationship based, it's a benefit to building a business here. Because the opportunities are on every single street corner. And the relationships are on every single street corner.

JM: What's your favorite part of the filmmaking process, or your job?

MP: I like developing the material. Working with the directors and writers.

KC: I like pushing it to get made, doing whatever we have to do. Just driving it forward.

JM: What are some other things you guys are working on? Can you tell me about Disorderly Conduct (2) and some of your future projects?

KC: We just had an announcement that came out last week on a movie that we're producing with Tripp Vinson called Variant 13.

MP: It's based on a book series out of the UK by Richard Morgan. It's a very smart sci-fi thriller. Not that we're the sci-fi company (by any means), but there's a handful of projects in that vein that we're looking at. And then there's a couple of others that we're working on that we can't disclose yet.

KC: Regarding Disorderly Conduct (which is our commercial division), we just signed a couple more directors. I mean that division is only a year old and we already have a really strong roster of A level reps in each territory.

MP: As the business evolves, it seems that there is a tremendous amount of crossover in all platforms. So filmmakers direct commercials, they also do TV. And TV directors also do commercials as well and everybody has their hand in a multitude of pots. And we really wanted to be a company that moves much more into media than just film. And we found that a lot of the directors that we were talking to or working with, were directing commercials. And we thought, that's something that we should explore for a division of the company. Disorderly Conduct is really built on that notion of massively talented directors that have a strong sense of cinematic vision and storytelling, where we can take material that they personally want to develop and work with them to develop it and get their films made in the feature world. It’s about working with directors in both arenas. If there are opportunities for a feature director we're working with that aren't necessarily commercial directors but want to explore that space, we can find opportunities for them with some of the larger brands that want an event commercial, and are looking to name feature directors to do their Super Bowl spots, or their Olympic spots... where they want a name brand outside of the usual commercial directors that are out there with all the other production companies. One of our spots, directed by Eric Stoltz for Hill Holliday and Drugfree.org just won Gold Lion at this year’s Cannes Lion Health.

(2) Supporting a roster of prominent directing talent, Disorderly Conduct is collaborating with leading advertising agencies and entertainment brands to create commercial content for play on mobile screens, movie screens, and everything in between. Recent work includes a Cannes Gold Lion winner, "Mind Your Meds," directed by Eric Stoltz for Hill Holliday and Drugfree.org.

JM: What advice would you give to people trying to break into producing movies, or new media?

KC/MP: (in unison)  Just do it!

MP: And do not accept no for an answer. Do not take things personally. Do not lead with ego. Just keep pushing forward and things will happen. You can will things into existence.

KC: I heard that the odds of making it into the business are kind of like winning the lottery. Like how many people want to write a screenplay or want to work with a studio and can't even get a meeting with an assistant. I've heard everything. That scares a lot of people and I've seen a lot of people get defeated when they hear things like that. So, I think you need to be slightly delusional and do whatever it takes, whether it's reasonable or not, or in the box or not, you just have to make a decision and do whatever it takes to get there. I think that's also a personality thing. I don't think everybody is capable of that but I do think, if people are scared, that they should just be scared and do it anyway.

JM: Tell me about the differences between putting together a small indie film and a hundred million dollar movie like Transcendence and getting it in 3500 theaters ?

KC: It's funny, I was telling a friend of mine, who’s a very known actress... I was mentioning the size of the film when we were gearing up to go into production. She's been in a lot of big movies and says: It's really no different than a small movie. You just have a lot more people who can fuck it up! And now now that we've done it, I can say that's true. But the developing process and getting it into production, and casting, getting the financing, it was all the same (with Transcendence) except the budget was much bigger, and Johnny Depp is a big movie star, and so is Morgan Freeman, and we worked alongside amazing filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and amazing studios like Warner Bros, and Alcon, who is a fantastic production company. I really can't say there was any distinct difference between doing something like that and a smaller film, because I've also made a million dollar film, and we went through the exact same process as on Transcendence. And then we were in production on a thirty million dollar film, and it was the exact same process. And now we're doing other movies and they're the same.

MP: I think the one thing that was different for me on Transcendence was how exposed we were when the film came out. And how public it was both in a very good way and in a very bad way. Because the lead up to the film was on everybody's mind, so everywhere we went people couldn't wait, and they'd tell us, and then the film came out and it wasn't received in the way that we wanted it to be received and it was so public, you just can't get away from it. It was in the newspaper, it was on the news, it was in the financial reports, and everywhere we turned it was about the movie and it not being as well received as it was anticipated to be. I had a very emotional reaction to it. It's like you're giving birth to something, you work on something so hard and want it to be perfect. This is the whole point of taking the emotion out of it and not taking it personally. That was a huge lesson for me with this movie. People are going to love it and people are going to hate it and you can't take it personally either way. Just work hard, be proud of the work you do, and go on from there.

JM: What's the best advice you've ever gotten about the business?

KC: You can't fall off the floor! That's the best. But I don't remember who told me. And then another thing I was told was, “Everyone's an asshole, don't take it personally.” That was from a mogul who’s been producing movies for like forty years. Just keep it real. Walk in the door with no expectations. Do what you do, say what you mean, and that's all you can do.

MP: Always be fearless and lead with integrity and honesty. Never let your ego get in way when making decisions, big or small. A closed mouth doesn't get fed, so don't shy away from asking for what you want and need. Who dares, wins.

JM: Any secrets to success in Hollywood?

KC: No.

MP: Actually wait. There is one. The secret to success is actually showing up. Because the majority of people don't.

Produced By

Filmmaking is a collaborative sport, and few people know this better than producers Marisa Polvino and Kate Cohen, who met at Sundance in 2007 and one year later co-founded Straight Up Films. Polvino had recently left her post as head of production at Revere Pictures, where she had financed and produced films like I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, The Door in the Floor, and The Education of Charlie Banks. Cohen, who came from a publicity background, was in the process of producing her own script, Away From Here. “We just kept on talking,” Polvino says of their chance meeting in Park City. “The more we got to know each other, the more we realized that we were very aligned with our vision for what a company could look like.” Recent projects include Wally Pfister’s ambitious directorial debut, Transcendence, and Gavin O’Connor’s upcoming Jane Got a Gun, starring Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor.  (more…)

Filmmaking is a collaborative sport, and few people know this better than producers Marisa Polvino and Kate Cohen, who met at Sundance in 2007 and one year later co-founded Straight Up Films. Polvino had recently left her post as head of production at Revere Pictures, where she had financed and produced films like I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, The Door in the Floor, and The Education of Charlie Banks. Cohen, who came from a publicity background, was in the process of producing her own script, Away From Here. “We just kept on talking,” Polvino says of their chance meeting in Park City. “The more we got to know each other, the more we realized that we were very aligned with our vision for what a company could look like.” Recent projects include Wally Pfister’s ambitious directorial debut, Transcendence, and Gavin O’Connor’s upcoming Jane Got a Gun, starring Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor. 

How would you define your company?

Marisa Polvino (MP): Our real goal is not only to find emerging talent and work with filmmakers who have a strong vision for their material, but also to find stories that, at their core, are very grounded. Transcendence was a “big idea” film, because it dealt with AI technology and the future of the world that’s very much within our reach. But what drew us to the material was that it was a love story.

What elements attract you to a script?

MP: I tend to gravitate toward sci-fi.

KC: And I’m the sappy sap who wants to make The Notebook over and over again. [Laughs.]

MP: Because we’re balancing both film and commercial divisions, we’re certainly interested in finding filmmakers who are trying out new technologies and innovations. We’re working with Brett Foraker on The Speeder, which is a car-chase film, but it’s also a relationship-driven, coming-of-age story. So we’ve been talking about how we can break boundaries in an innovative way in terms of storytelling and technology.

Did you receive a master class in visuals working with Wally Pfister?

MP: This was hands-down our biggest film, and I think it would be a biggest film for a lot of people. In some respects, just because of the way Wally approached it stylistically and the choices he made, it’s a different movie than it could have been. A different director would have approached it very action-y and high concept – the Roland Emmerich version – whereas Wally’s approach was intimate and symbolic.

How deep is your involvement in the technology of a movie?

KC: I think it depends on with whom we’re working, because with some directors you don’t need to be hands-on. It also depends on whether we’re investing in the film as well, which is not to say that we’re not protecting the money regardless, but each film is treated differently.

How are your contributions segregated?

KC: I’m definitely more of the front man when it comes to raising money, networking, needing to know the right person in the room. I love the art of the deal; it’s one of the most satisfying buzzes. Even when it doesn’t work, when the person says no, I think my greatest strength is not understanding what “no” means.

MP: My experience is in the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. But I’m also very story-driven, so I spend a lot of time reading material. I love developing [the script] with the writer and the director and then the physical production as well. I’m also the administrator in the company, so I deal with all the contracts and boring administrative stuff.

KC: But she’s really good at it! [Laughs.]

Is star power an important part of your formula?

KC: Unfortunately, it is, because we want to mitigate as much risk for our investors as possible and are heavily reliant on foreign sales, which require a certain level of name in a movie. There’s also a level of comfort in knowing that these people are pros and have done this many, many times and really can carry a movie.

MP: One of the most difficult parts of casting is finding the person that works both creatively and financially, because we’re locked into 10 guys and 10 women – well, five women really.

KC: Three women!

MP: Yeah, more like three women who really, financially, make sense for the budget around the world.

Are there specific challenges you face as a female producing partnership?

MP: On some of my early jobs, I was one of the only women on set, and that has changed a lot. Now you have women who are grips and electricians, and, of course, producers. [Cinematographer] Mandy Walker, who shot Jane Got a Gun, was incredible. But we have a commercial division and it’s very hard to find female directors. That’s where there just seems to be a disparity that has to change.

KC: Also the majority of our projects require partners, and we’re treated a little bit differently – like we’re sitting outside the fence and have to work 10 times harder to make our way in. You have a group of guys in the meeting, and then you have two strong women and, I’m making an assumption, but it can be threatening and sometimes we can feel it. But I have to say that Marisa and I do a really good job of acting like that elephant’s not in the room.

“Mind Your Meds” Campaign Wins Gold at First Cannes Lions Health Awards

Integrated Campaign Created by Hill Holliday for The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Wins Only U.S. Gold Lion Award in the Pharma Category.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing teen substance abuse and supporting families impacted by addiction, and agency Hill Holliday, were honored with a Gold Lion at the first ever Lions Health Awards for the public service campaign “Mind Your Meds.” The campaign was developed by Hill Holliday for the Partnership as part of its Medicine Abuse Project.

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Integrated Campaign Created by Hill Holliday for The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Wins Only U.S. Gold Lion Award in the Pharma Category.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing teen substance abuse and supporting families impacted by addiction, and agency Hill Holliday, were honored with a Gold Lion at the first ever Lions Health Awards for the public service campaign "Mind Your Meds." The campaign was developed by Hill Holliday for the Partnership as part of its Medicine Abuse Project.

The "Mind Your Meds" TV spots were directed by actor/director Eric Stoltz and were designed to raise awareness about the issue of teen medicine abuse. The campaign uses haunting imagery to suggest that you might not always know who's taking your medication. The spots portray an adult opening a bathroom cabinet for medication. When the mirrored door closes, the reflection is that of a teenager, the implicit message being, "mind your meds."

"Winning a gold Lion is obviously fantastic, but helping to raise awareness and stop prescription medicine abuse among kids is even better, " said Lance Jensen, Chief Creative Officer at Hill Holliday. "We get up every day hoping our creative work makes a difference for our clients. When the rest of the world notices too, it reminds us why we're in this business."

The win represents more than a creative award. The inaugural Cannes Lions Health Festival addressed the rapidly changing state of health care marketing and highlighted the power of " life-changing creativity" in a growing category, encouraging those in the industry to seek creative satisfaction in doing work that does good.

Teen medicine abuse is a pervasive and devastating problem, with one in four teens admitting to using a prescription drug to get high or change their mood. Most teens who report medicine abuse say they get those medications from their family or friends. The Medicine Abuse Project is a multi-year effort led by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and is designed to help combat this public health crisis deemed an "epidemic" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"To be recognized with a Gold Lion by the prestigious Lions Health Awards is not only an incredible honor, but it is exceptionally timely and important as the devastating problem of medicine abuse is more prevalent and deadly than ever," said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. "It has been an honor to work with Hill Holliday on this important initiative that has educated parents about what they can do to prevent the problem that is affecting millions of people and families across the country."

The first ever Cannes Lions Health festival honors the best in creative healthcare communications. The festival took place on June 13 and 14, 2014 at the famous Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France. In the event's inaugural year, 800 people from 50 countries gathered to share, judge and celebrate the life-changing creativity of the world's best healthcare communications. "Mind Your Meds" was the only campaign from the United States to win a Gold Lion at the awards.

Director Eric Stoltz is affiliated with Disorderly Conduct, the Los Angeles-based commercial production company headed by Kate Cohen, Marisa Polvino and Executive Producer Ron Cicero who helped make the "Mind Your Meds" campaign possible. Disorderly Conduct is a division of Straight Up Films, the feature film company co-producing Transcendence with Johnny Depp as well as the Natalie Portman film Jane Got a Gun.

About the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is dedicated to reducing teen substance abuse and supporting families impacted by addiction. We develop public education campaigns that drive awareness of teen substance abuse, and lead teen-targeted efforts that inspire young people to make positive decisions to stay healthy and avoid drugs and alcohol. On our website, drugfree.org, and through our toll-free helpline (1-855-DRUGFREE), we provide families with direct support and guidance to help them address teen substance abuse. Finally, we build healthy communities, advocating for great access to adolescent treatment and funding for youth prevention programs. As a national nonprofit, we depend on donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and the public sector and are thankful to SAG-AFTRA and the advertising and media industries for their ongoing generosity.

About Hill Holliday

Hill Holliday is proud to be among the top creative marketing agencies in the country, with 950 employees across its network. We work on some of the nation's largest and most respected brands, and our success came by putting people and ideas first. We were founded in 1968 and today we bring unbeatable talent and expertise to every area of modern communications on behalf of industry leaders like Cadillac, Verizon Wireless, Bank of America, Dunkin' Donuts, (RED), John Hancock, Major League Baseball, TJX, Merrell, Capella University, Chili's, Novartis, Great Wolf Resorts and WHOLE WORLD Water. For more about our people, our work, and our culture, please visit http://www.hhcc.com.

Disorderly Conduct’s Eric Stoltz wins Gold Lion for Hill Holliday

Noted actor and television director (Glee, Nashville, Believe) Eric Stoltz has broken into the commercial space: with a Gold Lion. The Mind Your Meds campaign, for Hill Holliday and The Partnership at DrugFree.org‘s Medicine Abuse Project, is Stoltz’s first foray into the spot arena. He signed with production boutique Disorderly Conduct just last year.

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Noted actor and television director (Glee, Nashville, Believe) Eric Stoltz has broken into the commercial space: with a Gold Lion. The Mind Your Meds campaign, for Hill Holliday and The Partnership at DrugFree.org's Medicine Abuse Project, is Stoltz's first foray into the spot arena. He signed with production boutique Disorderly Conduct just last year.

“We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to give back, do what we love with our talented friends at Hill Holliday AND launch Eric’s career in commercials in such a significant way,” said Ron Cicero, EP at Disorderly Conduct.

The spot aims to encourage safeguarding of prescription medication in American homes. One of two spots can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/74317830  AdAge reports his involvement was motivated, in part, by the death of Glee star Cory Monteith last year.

This is the first year for Lions Health at Cannes , the world’s largest healthcare communications awards. Out of 1,400 entries, only 66 were awarded.

Disorderly Conduct, headed by Co-CEOs Kate Cohen and Marisa Polvino, and EP Ron Cicero, is a boutique production company based out of Santa Monica. The shop currently represents directors Brett Foraker, Jan Wentz, Jesse Moss, Daniel Levi, Luis Gerard, and Francesco Calabrese. Sister company Straight Up Films, recently released Wally Pfister's Transcendence, and just wrapped production on Gavin O’Conner’s Jane Got a Gun. 

How To Go ‘Straight Up’ With Production

Founded in 2008 by Marisa Polvino and Kate Cohen, Straight Up Films has productions starring the likes of Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman, and SUF produced “Manos Sucias,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Fest; the film’s director Josef Wladyka walked away with a best new narrative helmer nod. (more…)

Founded in 2008 by Marisa Polvino and Kate Cohen, Straight Up Films has productions starring the likes of Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman, and SUF produced “Manos Sucias,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Fest; the film's director Josef Wladyka walked away with a best new narrative helmer nod.

“Manos Sucias” was shot in Colombia. What advice do you have about producing outside of the U.S.?
MP: It is vitally important to acquaint oneself with the local film community whenever you are shooting overseas. They are incredibly helpful in making introductions to the best crew, equipment, and locations available. They also understand and will advise on the local cultures and nuances associated with filming in that territory. There are a multitude of tax advantages around the world, and doing the necessary amount of research while choosing a location can help reduce your negative cost and mitigate risk.

What was the biggest challenge about starting a production company?
MP: Finding the right partner and subsequent team members whose collective vision for the company, taste in material, and future goals are aligned. It’s very difficult to grow and be successful in this business when the people you are working with put their own agendas first. Filmmaking is a very collaborative process, and finding the right people to work with is essential.

What advice do you have for women who want to produce or start their own production companies?
MP: Just go out and do it already, and don’t let anyone stop you. It is a humbling and empowering journey being a woman in this industry today, but that being said, none of us have any excuses. The business of making movies is a difficult world for everyone, not just women. We don’t make a habit of thinking of ourselves as “women in the industry.”

What can actors do to make your job easier?
KC: We’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the most capable and professional actors out there. I don’t know if anyone can make the job easy, but they certainly make it rewarding with their incredible talent and dedication to bringing the characters we love to life.

What types of projects do you hope to add to your résumé? Actors you’d love to work on a production with?
MP: Our selection process is extremely filmmaker and story driven, as well as curating commercial projects that reach across several media platforms. We have taken chances with first-time film directors, like Wally Pfister on “Transcendence,” but are also working with more seasoned filmmakers. We would love to work with Steve McQueen, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell, Benh Zeitlin, David Lynch, Tarantino (of course), PTA, Spike Jonze. We would also love to work with more female directors: Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, Dee Rees.

We have worked with some fantastic actors. In the future, it would be amazing to work with Rebecca Hall again, as well Cate Blanchett, who also wants to direct. Other actors on our dream list are diverse as well, but some actors that come to mind who continually amaze us with their talent would be Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Sean Penn, Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren, Elizabeth Olsen, Kate Winslet, Rooney Mara, Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba… There is a world of talent out there, our list could go on!

What do you have on deck for future projects?
KC: I would love to find a smart psychological thriller to add to our slate, but I’m open to almost all genres. We don’t like limiting ourselves and potentially missing out on something truly amazing.

New Michael Jackson Song Backs Jeep Summer TV Campaign (Watch)

Today Epic Records and Jeep launched a global brand campaign for the car company’s Altitude Edition in which Michael Jackson’s new single “Love Never Felt So Good” is featured in four 30-second TV commercials. The campaign will air from today (May 8) and run through summer. (more…)

Today Epic Records and Jeep launched a global brand campaign for the car company’s Altitude Edition in which Michael Jackson’s new single “Love Never Felt So Good” is featured in four 30-second TV commercials. The campaign will air from today (May 8) and run through summer.

The track is from Jackson's second posthumous release “Xscape” (out May 13, Epic) and was co-written in 1983 by Michael Jackson in a session with Paul Anka (who played piano on the track) and Kathy Wakefield. Two new versions of the song were recorded: one produced by John McClain co-executor of the Jackson estate (with John Branca) is featured in the new ad; and another helmed by the trio of Timbaland, J-Roc and Justin Timberlake finds JT duetting with Michael and debuted this week at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The campaign's origin came in late-March when Epic chairman and CEO Antonio “LA” Reid played the album for Chrysler CMO Olivier Francois. “I played him almost every song,” Reid says. “When we played 'Love Never Felt So Good' he made the connection and went ‘Bingo! This was what I was looking for!'" Francois, for his part, says that when he first heard the track he got up off the couch in the Epic offices and started dancing and hopes the ad will have the same impact on consumers.

A former music producer and publisher, Francois is credited with rejuvenating Chrysler's music branding strategy with an impressive string of ads featuring major music placements. This includes Eminem’s two-minute Super Bowl ad for Chrysler; the new Fiat spot with Sean “Ciroc" Combs at a desert party while Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” blares; and a previous ad for Jeep with Lenny Kravitz. Jackson, however, provides Francois a greater opportunity to take his work global.

When asked how big the spend would be on the new campaign Francois wouldn’t give an exact figure but said it would be bigger than the Diddy Fiat spot. According to Kantar Media, Fiat spent $17 million on measured U.S. media in the first three months of 2014, when the still-active Diddy campaign was just starting to roll out.

Jeep also hired multicultural ad agency GlobalHuefor the creative who gave the commercial a summer-y outdoor feel. One ad is shot primarily at the beach, another is more World-Cup-friendly and shows celebratory Latin American soccer fans while another focuses on basketball and features Cleveland Cavalier point guard Kyrie Irving. That campaign was co-sponsored by USA Basketball, which holds global b-ball tournaments throughout summer.

Nearly five years since Michael Jackson's unexpected passing, his brand shows little sign of flagging. Since his death on June 25, 2009, Jackson's albums have sold 12.8 million in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. His “This Is It” concert film grossed $261 million worldwide while "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour," a partnership between the Jackson estate and Cirque du Soleil, last year became the ninth-top-grossing tour of all time with earnings of $325.1 million from 407 shows drawing nearly 3 million concertgoers. A second Cirque du Soleil show, "One," began a residency at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas last year.

Music from "Xscape," according to Reid, will also be featured in ads by Xperia, a line smartphones and tablets by Sony, Epic’s parent company. The label chair said the ads will air outside of the U.S. He also confirmed that Pepsi, which has had a long-standing relationship with Jackson, has no immediate plans for a tie-in with this album. A video currently being filmed for the Timberlake version of “Love,” however, will feature one rather large product placement: a Jeep Altitude.

Conversations About ‘Away from Here’

The Johnny Depp science fiction film “Transcendence” has been kicking around theaters for the past two weeks, but there’s a smaller gem of a movie—independently co-written and co-produced by Kate Cohen, one of “Transcendence’s” producers that’s only available for streaming.  (more…)

The Johnny Depp science fiction film “Transcendence” has been kicking around theaters for the past two weeks, but there’s a smaller gem of a movie—independently co-written and co-produced by Kate Cohen, one of “Transcendence’s” producers that’s only available for streaming. 

It’s called “Away from Here,” and like “The Woodsman,” it treats a normally sensational subject, adult sex with minors, with refreshing sensitivity. Directed by Bruce Van Dusen, it’s a raw, sweet-natured film, brilliantly-acted by leads Nick Stahl and Alicia Witt, and it deserves wider attention.

Unlike in “The Woodsman” in which Kevin Bacon’s character, a pedophile just released from jail who tries his hand at adult romance for the first time, the protagonist’s past actions aren’t all that reprehensible. Stahl’s James has just served six years in prison for statutory rape, but the age difference wasn’t so jarring.

As a twenty year-old youth minister he was avidly pursued by Jessica (Mary Regency Boies), a rebellious fifteen year-old churchgoer who just happened to be the preacher’s (“Twin Peaks’s” Ray Wise) daughter, and eventually the two struck up a consensual romance. Now feared and loathed by his former friends and family, James, post-release, is living a lonely existence as a restaurant line cook where he catches the eye of bitter, wounded waitress Lily (Witt). Gradually, they break down each other’s forced stoicism, but as they begin to slip into a normal relationship, Jessica shows up, firmly breaking the code of her family’s restraining order, to make uninvited amends.

Kate Cohen, co-founder of Straight Up Films, based part of “Away from Here” on her own adolescent scandal/tragedy.

“I was fifteen and was really in love with a twenty-eight year-old guy, and he ended up going to jail,” Cohen said. “It was absolutely horrible and devastating. It was sort of healing for me to write this movie.”

Cohen developed the script with Timothy Michael Cooper and Bradley Lawrence. The latter writer, who remained uncredited, had an evangelical past and introduced that angle to the story.

Despite the controversial subject matter, neither Cohen, Witt nor Stahl worried about potential audience vitriol.

“When we did screenings for the film, a lot of guys I spoke to afterwards said they felt so conflicted,” Cohen recalled. “They said, ‘If my sister was fifteen and with someone in their twenties, I’d never forgive them.’ But somehow in this movie, it comes off like they really did love each other and weren’t so far apart in age. Plus, there’s something about Nick that’s so sweet, you just feel for him anyway.”

“I think it would have been a different story if James had been thirty-five, but he’s twenty and Jessica’s fifteen,” said Witt. “I’m not saying what he did was right, obviously the timing was wrong and the right thing would have been to wait a few years. But she wasn’t really victimized. I didn’t see James as someone that deserved to be put away and never come out again, which is how I feel about child molesters.”

Stahl said he was immediately drawn to the role because of its moral complexity.

“He’s trying to shed the past as much as he can, wrestling with his own shame,” he explained. “I thought the script did a great job at capturing that.”

Both Witt and Stahl were captivated by the story’s central romance from the get-go, particularly the notion of both characters’ fear at becoming intimate with one another.

“I think Lily is only willing to open up to someone equally wounded,” said Witt. “And if you’re not two eighteen year-olds just starting out, you’re going to have a history, and there are things in all of our pasts that we’re embarrassed by and don’t want to ever reveal, things that a potential partner might be repulsed by and want to close the door on.”

Interestingly, the original script contained a subplot that painted Lily in a more sordid manner than what we see on the screen (in the final film, her sadness stems mostly from her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and general bad luck with men).

“There was a scene where Lily says her first sexual experience was when she was sixteen and it was with someone much older,” Witt remembered. “It would have been so fascinating if she’s had a similar experience [to James] yet still gets so angry [when she discovers his past]. I think [that hypocrisy] is within many people. If someone cuts you off in traffic, you get angrier about it if you’re the type of person that does that. If you’re not, and somebody does that to you, you just kind of shake your head and say, ‘Oh, hope you get there in time!’”

Cohen did not elaborate on why that scene was cut, saying only, “It just didn’t work.” Another initial idea that was eventually deemed “too dark” by Cohen involved Wise’s preacher plotting to murder James, resulting in the accidental death of his daughter.

Witt and Stahl’s searing chemistry is the fundamental reason to see “Away from Here.”

“There could not have been a better Lily in my mind,” Stahl said.

“Neither of us had acting school experience, yet we’ve both been acting since we were little,” Witt added. “We’re not into massive amounts of rehearsal or running lines until they’re beaten to death. Also, I don’t really like to know where the camera is. I like long lenses, or cameras moving around. I’ve always been resistant to finding my light, or unblocking myself when there are actors in front of me.”

Cohen, who raised the money herself for the film, which cost just over $1 million and was shot in twenty-four days, with Queens and Brooklyn filling in for St. Louis, maintained that she has no regrets about not seeking a theatrical release for “Away from Here.”

“I do work on big studio movies and this is such a small one,” she said. “I love the film, but I just know the kind of money you need to spend to have a successful theatrical release, and we just couldn’t get the kind of marketing behind it that would warrant that. I felt we’d have a really good reach in the VOD market.”

Witt is also content with the film’s online-only status.

“I don’t think it’s any indication of whether something is worth liking,” she said.