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Over the Weekend 7/19/21: COVID Pauses UK Productions, Downey Signs Up for HBO Series, and More News

July 19, 2021 08:30 | By

Happy Monday!  Well, it would be if not for the fact that our lead story is about a number of productions that had to pause due to positive COVID cases. It’s almost as if everyone has forgotten that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.

Bridgerton

Bridgerton (Netflix/Liam Daniel)

Two of Netflix‘s UK productions, the popular series Bridgerton and the feature adaptation of Matilda the Musical, have both partially shut down production due to positive COVID cases.

The second season of Bridgerton shut down indefinitely on Saturday after discovering its second positive case in three days through the company’s mandated testing protocols. The production halted temporarily for 24 hours on Thursday after a positive COVID test was found amongst the crew, but after a second positive test arose, the production has been shut down indefinitely until Netflix and the show’s Shondaland producers can figure out a timeline and strategy for resuming production. So far, no cast members have been affected or tested positive.

The situation at Matilda has been described more as a “coronavirus outbreak” mere days after Bridgerton was hit by two positive cases. According to Deadline, this outbreak hit the first filming unit on the Working Title musical adaptation, based on Roald Dahl‘s novel. That means main production will be down for ten days while the second unit continues to film. Matthew Warchus, who directed Matilda the Musical on the West End and Broadway, is helming the feature which will be released by Sony/TriStar Pictures theatrically in the UK on December 2, 2022, while Netflix will handle streaming in the rest of the world the same month.

Not to be outdone by Netflix, HBO’s own Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, had to shut down its own production for a day, also according to Deadline. That has been paused for two days after a positive case was found in Zone A, the zone that includes cast and crew. Production will resume on Wednesday after they’ve had time to isolate and contact trace those who were around the production member who tested positive.

Meanwhile, the British government continues to push with reopening the country despite the fact that 52,000 people in the country tested positive on Friday, as well as there being 49 deaths. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were forced to go into self-isolation following contact with the country’s positive-tested health secretary Sajid Javid.

By comparison, the United States had 30,000 positive COVID tests on Saturday, but that’s out of a population of over 325 million vs. the United Kingdom’s 66.6 million overall population.

Oddly, last week, UK media regulator Ofcom had suggested it could expand its wildly popular television tax break in the country to overseas streamers such as Netflix to provide local public service content. The idea is to get outside-of-London TV productions to invest in “less commercially attractive genres of content” to give UK audiences more public service programming while it’s on the decline from the likes of the BBC.


Alchemist

The Alchemist (HarperOne)

You may remember a few weeks ago when we mentioned the long-in-development adaptation of Paulo Coelho‘s The Alchemist would finally go into production this September. That, too, may not happen, although that won’t be due to COVID. The planned movie adaptation has spent almost two decades with stops and starts as it passed from one studio to another, but it finally seemed to be moving forward when Will and Jada Pinkett Smith‘s Westbrook Studios came on board and the main cast was confirmed.

The project was already in preproduction with some of the crew and cast on the ground, but financing has hit “undisclosed obstacles,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, and the project has been shut down with the crew sent home. Apparently, this isn’t so much a financial issue since the film was fully financed but possibly a “rights-transfer issue,” which could theoretically be resolved, putting the shoot back on track within the next few weeks. THR‘s source, a spokesman for the film said, “This isn’t a financing issue, this is just an issue with a rights transfer. There was a gap in an ordinary-course execution of the production rights transfer, and as a result, production entered a temporary shutdown. We expect to be back up and running with our incredible cast and crew as soon as the rights transfer concludes, and we can get everyone back on set.”

I guess this installment of “Over the Weekend” is primarily bad news as Danny Boyle‘s Pistol, his FX biopic series about the Sex Pistols, has hit a major snag in the form of former Pistols frontman, John Lydon, who wants to block the use of the band’s music in the series. Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook have taken Lydon (aka “Johny Rotten”) to London’s High Court to resolve the dispute, as they obviously want the music to be available, being that it’s based on Jones’ memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol.  Lydon’s lawyer has said that Jones’ book paints Lydon “in a hostile and unflattering light,” and they expect the series to be just as “disrespectful.” Lydon says that the songs can only be used with his blessing while his bandmates say that any licensing requests can be determined by a majority of the surviving band members. Friction in the group is nothing particularly new, as the band barely lasted long after forming in the ’70s after the death of bassist “Sid Vicious,” despite a few reunions in the decades since then.

In other far better news, Dwayne Johnson announced the wrap of his upcoming Warner Bros. superhero film, Black Adam, via social media. The movie heads into post to prepare for its release in almost exactly a year, on July 29, 2022.


Titane

Titane (NEON)

The Cannes Film Festival wrapped over the weekend with awards handed out by the jury led by filmmaker Spike Lee. French filmmaker Julia Ducournau‘s horror-thriller Titane won the coveted Palme D’or after a kerfuffle when Lee accidentally announced the festivals’ top prize first, rather than at the end. Titane is Ducournau’s second film after the acclaimed Raw in 2016. Titane is only the second movie by a female director to receive the coveted prize, although only a few past winners — most notably Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite and the Coen Brothers‘ No Country for Old Men — have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Director Leos Carax won the directing award for the festival’s opening night film, Annette, which was expected by the band Sparks, who wrote the film. (Annette will be streamed via Amazon in August.) The screenplay award went to Ryusuke Hamaguchi for his three-hour feature, Drive My Car. Caleb Landry Jones and Renate Reinsve won the prizes for actor and actress, respectively, for Nitram and The Worst Person in the WorldAsgar (A SeparationFarhadi‘s A Hero and Compartment No. 6 tied for the festival’s “Grand Prix” while Ahed’s Knee and Memoria tied for this year’s Jury Prize.


GoldenGlobeLogoThe Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), who hands out the annual Golden Globes, came under fire earlier this year due to its lack of diversity and inclusivity, as well as claims of corruption, which led to many studios and agencies pulling their clients from taking part… before NBC shut down the chances of a 2022 show altogether.  On Friday, the HFPA board announced that it had put more “pieces into place” after updating its Code of Conduct for members and hiring a diversity consultant back in May.

The HFPA announced more of its reform plans via the following statement:

“HFPA membership approved the draft bylaws for a final vote with no amendments, demonstrating its continued commitment to foundational change. Official ballots will now go out via mail to the membership, with a final vote tally in early August.

The HFPA also approved new gift, travel and conflict of interest policies. Under these new policies, HFPA members shall not be permitted to accept promotional materials or other gifts from studios, publicists, actors, directors or others associated with motion pictures and television programs.

With these updates, our members have completed virtually all of the reforms agreed upon in May — including establishing a functioning hotline (with grievances to be investigated by an outside group), approving a new code of conduct, and bringing on trusted DEI advisors.

We will continue to update the industry on our progress as we vote on new bylaws that will create an inclusive, diverse, and accountable organization — one that our members, stakeholders, and partners will be proud of.”


Robert Downey

Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 3 (Marvel/Disney)

Shifting into some casting, Robert Downey Jr. has signed on for his first non-MCU role since Avengers: Endgame, as he will co-star in The Sympathizer, a series collaboration between HBO and A24 adapted from  Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) is signed on to direct the series, as well as act as co-showrunner with Don McKellar. That duo will exec. produce along with Downey, Susan Downey and Amanda Burrell for Team Downey.  Also, exec. producing is Niv Fichman and Kim Ly from Rhombus Media as will Kim Ly. The co-production marks the second collaboration between HBO and A24 after the Emmy-winning series, Euphoria. Nguyen’s novel is an “espionage thriller and cross-culture satire about the struggles of a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy during the final days of the Vietnam War and his resulting exile in the United States.” There is a worldwide search for the title character, who will co-star opposite Downey, as well as a predominantly Vietnamese ensemble cast.

In a statement, Downey said, “Adapting Mr. Nguyen’s important and masterful work requires a visionary team. With director Park at the helm, I expect this to be a creative producing adventure for Susan, me and Team Downey and a stimulating process for myself in playing these complex supporting roles. A24 and HBO are the perfect combination of partners and co-parents. … It’s exactly the type of challenge I’ve been craving, and I believe we will deliver an exceptional viewing experience to our audience.”

Antonio Banderas

Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics)

Antonio Banderas has joined the cast of the untitled Indiana Jones 5, another production plagued by issues over in the UK, where he will co-star with Harrison Ford and the already-announced cast of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Boyd Holbrook, and Shaunette Renée Wilson. The movie is being directed by James Mangold (Ford v Ferrari) and has been in production for nearly two months despite some injuries suffered by Ford. As expected, Banderas’ role has been kept under wraps along with most of the movie’s plot.

Kyle Allen, who will be seen this fall in Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story, has been cast as Romeo in Rosaline, the comedic and revisionist take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which currently stars Book Smart‘s Kaitlyn Dever in the title role and Isabela Merced as Juliet. 20th Century Studios recently picked up the film after it hit the market from previous studio, MGM, and it quickly tapped Karen Maine to direct. 21 Laps‘ Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen are producing. The film is adapted from Rebecca Serle‘s novel, When You Were Mine, by (500) Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

Emmy-nominated reality show adventurer Bear Grylls and his company The Natural Studios has hired Escape From Pretoria director Francis Annan  to write and direct a modern-day reworking of The Count of Monte Cristo as its first scripted feature film. Set in Afghanistan, the original script from Tom Williams focuses on the friendship and rivalry between two special forces soldiers sent to the war-torn country. The project is produced by Into The Wild With Bear Grylls producer Natural Studios, Pure Grass’s Ben Grass and Christophe Charlier.

Grylls released a statement with his production partner Delbert Shoopman, saying, “It’s fantastic to welcome Francis to the team on this new adventure. We were enthralled by Escape From Pretoria, and loved the nail-biting, palpable tension that Francis brought to it, and we’re looking forward to him making a sophisticated thriller with style, telling this classic never-give-up story with heart and soul.”


I Carly

Miranda Cosgrove and Nathan Kress in iCarly (Paramount+)

On the TV side of things, Paramount+ has renewed its iCarly reboot for a second season in the middle of its charter run on the streamer. Picking up ten years after the original Nickelodeon series, the series has original stars Miranda Cosgrove, Jerry Trainor and Nathan Kress reprising their roles as Carly Shay, Spencer and Freddie, respectively. They were joined by new cast members, Laci Mosley and Jaidyn Triplett.

Paramount+ is also turning to some of its classic films for content, announcing it has greenlit Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, a ten-episode prequel series to the hit 1978 musical movie, Grease.

The series from Paramount Television Studios is the first official scripted series ordered by PTVS President Nicole Clemens since taking on a senior role as President, Paramount+ Original Scripted Series. The series will take place four years before the events of Grease, focusing on four outcast girls who form the Pink Ladies: Rizzo, Frenchy, Marty and Jan, as well as new characters not from the movies. Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies ended up Paramount+ after being put into turnaround by HBO Max where it had received a straight-to-series order. (Yes, folks, we’re at the point in streaming where one streamer puts a series into turnaround, and it immediately ends up at another streamer.)

The prequel is written and executive produced by creator and showrunner Annabel Oakes (Atypical), while Marty Bowen will executive produce through Temple Hill and Erik Feig will executive produce via Picturestart.

Continentnal

The Continental from John Wick (Lionsgate)

From The Hollywood Reporter‘s Heat Vision comes word that Albert Hughes, one half of the filmmaking Hughes Brothers behind Menace II Society and The Book of Eli, will direct two episodes of the three-part limited series, The Continental, which spins-off from Lionsgate’s hit John Wick series, starring Keanu Reeves.  The Continental  is a prequel to the films, taking part in the film’s unique “hotel for hitmen.” Originally, it was going to be a regular ongoing series, but it’s now been cut back to three episodes to be shown over three nights. Hughes recently directed the premiere episode of Showtime‘s The Good Lord Bird.

It may be little surprise that actor Ian McShane will also be returning for the fourth John Wick movie after co-starring in the previous three movies.

Deadline reports that the ITV Studios adaptation of Louise Candlish‘s best-selling real estate novel, Our House, has cast Martin CompstonTuppence Middleton from Downton Abbey, and Rupert Penry-Jones (The Drowning) in key roles. The four-part series tells the story of Middleton’s Fi Lawson, who arrives home one day to find a family of strangers have moved into her house with her husband, Bram (Compston), having vanished. Bram and Fi need to try to make sense of the events that led to a devastating crime and how they each are going to survive the chilling truth. Penry-Jones will play Toby, who is in a relationship with Fi, while Buket Komur plays Bram’s new partner, Wendy. Weruche Opia from the Emmy-nominated I May Destroy You will play Fi’s best friend. Produced by Red Planet Pictures, filming has already begun in London with Bridgerton‘s Sheree Folkson directing from a a screenplay written by Simon Ashdown (EastEnders). ITV will distribute internationally with Belinda Campbell from Red Planet as executive producer, Tom Mullens as producer, on the project greenlit by  ITV drama chief Polly Hill.

A lot of television premiere dates were announced last week, although NBC is not moving forward with Law & Order: For the Defense, the latest planned spin-off from the successful franchise, as that has now been scrapped.


Space Jam

Space Jam: A New Legacy (Warner Bros.)

There were some interesting developments at the box office over the weekend as Warner Bros. released Space Jam: A New Legacy, starring Lebron James and Don Cheadle, into just under 4,000 simultaneously with a launch on streamer HBO Max. Many, including myself, presumed that Marvel Studios‘ Black Widow would remain #1 for a second weekend in a row, but it was hit by a pretty massive 67% plunge from its opening weekend to put it into second place. Instead, Space Jam won the weekend with an estimated $31.7 million after taking in $13.1 million on Friday, which didn’t include any Thursday previews. (Warner Bros. is maintaining a literal day-date release between theatrical and streaming.)

Black Widow took second place with $26.2 million, again down 67% from its pandemic opening weekend record of $80 million, and it currently has grossed $132 million domestically after ten days, which makes it likely to join the $150 million domestic club with A Quiet Place Part II and new member F9 very soon.

Sony Pictures released the horror sequel, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, into 2,815 theaters on Thursday afternoon, where it pretty much tanked with $8.8 million — $10 million less than the original movie opened with two years ago — despite only being available in theaters with no streaming or VOD option.

F9: The Fast Saga took fourth place with $7.6 million, down just 33% from last week, and as mentioned above, it became the second film to make more than $150 million during the pandemic with a four-week domestic gross of $154.8 million.

The Focus Features doc, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, directed by Oscar winner Morgan Neville, opened with a respectful $1.9 million in 927 theaters to take eight place with roughly $2,000 per theater.

Unhappy about the developments with Black Widow, the National Association of Theater Owners (aka NATO) released a statement on Sunday decrying Disney’s decision to give the movie a simultaneous PVOD release last weekend and how that potentially hurt the film’s second weekend due to piracy and no need for those who paid the $29.99 for Premier Access on the Disney+ streamer to ever need to go see it in theaters.

Although NATO’s math may be faulty, it attests that Black Widow would have opened somewhere between $92 and 100 million or as much as $130 million if not for the concurrent PVOD release of the movie, which also allowed for high-quality pirated copies to be released last weekend.

We’ll hold off on trailers for now, although there are likely to be some new ones by Wednesday.