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End of Week Production Notes 1/29/21: SAG, PGA Lift Halt on Indie, Commercial Production, Two Acting Legends Die and More News


Once again, we’ve gotten through another week. Under normal circumstances i.e. “the before times”, the entire entertainment industry would be in Park City, Utah to celebrate films and filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival, which Below the Line will be covering but more with plans on figuring out what movies are worth covering over the rest of 2021.

Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson in 1973 (Photo by Hans Peters)

This past week saw the tragic passing of two absolute Hollywood legends, Cloris Leachman on Wednesday at the age of 94 and Cicely Tyson at the age of 96 on Thursday. Leachman won an Oscar for The Last Picture Show in 1971 and won eight Primetime Emmys, while Tyson won three Emmys including two for 1974’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination in 1973 for Sounder. She also received a Tony in 2013 for her performance in The Trip to Bountiful and received an honorary Oscar in 2018 and was put in the Television Hall of Fame last year. In some of the oddest timing, Tyson had just released her book, Just As I Am: A Memoir, and had been doing the talk show rounds for the past few weeks right up until Wednesday. Still, very tragic to lose both legends in the course of 24 hours.

This is going to be a hefty and jam-packed edition, so we’ll jump right into developments in the world of production. Late last year, SAG-AFTRA and a few other industry entities suggested that entertainment production remain on hold for a few weeks, but now, SAG-AFTRA, the Producers Guild (PGA) and the Joint Policy Industry that oversees the advertising industry suggests that commercial and indie film in Southern California could resume production starting February 1. We have yet to see FilmLA‘s report on January filming permits to see if the numbers dropped staggeringly after the original suggestion to pause. In a joint statement, the unions/guilds said: “While commercial and independent production may return to Southern California at this time, the parties maintain that film and television productions must abide by the industry-issued COVID safety protocols and will continue to monitor and consider orders or recommendations issued by the Public Health Department. Additionally, SAG-AFTRA and the JPC will move forward with reviewing commercial productions to help ensure that safety on set is maintained for members and industry personnel.”

Oddly, Deadline shared an interesting piece earlier this week about how indie productions have been affected by the added cost of mandatory COVID testing and the other costs involved with proper safety protocols on set, and the new companies that have been formed to help with said task and cost, including TNG Dx and Alburquerque’s Star Network. Some might remember that back in September, Below the Line ran a story with one such company called Saniset, who were providing those services to help get productions up and running.

COVID-19 affected all sides of production in 2020, and from the other side of the cost spectrum, AT&T CEO John Stankey said in a fourth quarter earnings call with investors that the company has faced many production challenges trying to get content onto its various services with all the shutdowns that have occurred.  “We are still fighting through getting the pipeline, dropping the content at the right rate and pace that we want to. We are kind of going hand to mouth on these right now… It’s just that tough and that much of a battle, literally show by show, to get this stuff done and get it into the funnel,” he said.

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)

If there’s any doubt that awards season has officially begun, the National Board of Review (NBR), one of the older national organizations that dole out movie awards announced its 2020 award winners with Spike Lee‘s Netflix film Da 5 Bloods won for Best Film and Best Director, which gives the film a nice leg-up going into awards season. Likewise, Riz Ahmed received the Best Actor award for Sound of Metal and Carey Mulligan received Best Actress for Promising Young WomanChadwick Boseman received the post-humous NBR Icon Award.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is already gearing up for its own award show on Sunday, April 25, announcing that 238 documentary features qualified to be eligible for the Oscars this year, breaking the 2017 record of 170 documentaries. That was also up from 159 last year, which might be due to the relaxed eligibility rules due to COVID-19 i.e. very few documentaries were able to have substantial theatrical runs.  Those documentaries will be culled down to a shortlist of 15, which will be announced on February 9. Likewise, the International Feature category saw 93 submissions  — the same as last year — with new countries entering for the first time being Lesotho, Sudan and Suriname. 27 animated features made it into the running, which seems like a lot only because there wasn’t nearly as many animated domestic theatrical releases in 2020 —  Onward and The Croods: A New Age were two of the few with anything resembling a wide theatrical release.

Let’s get to some casting, as this week saw a significant amount of announcements both for shows starting production, as well as those that should go into production soon. The week also offered a number of potential film reunions, but we’ll get to those.

Kristen Stewart as Princess Di (NEON)

One film that began principal photography this week is Spencer, the film about one weekend in the life of the late Princess Diana, who will be played by Kristen Stewart. It’s the new film from Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain (Jackie) with filming taking place in Germany and the UK with hopes by distributor NEON to launch the film in the Fall ahead of the 25th anniversary of Princess Di’s death in 2022. The studio has also released a picture of Stewart in the role (R) and the film’s tagline: December, 1991: The Prince and Princess of Wales’ marriage has long since grown cold. Though rumours of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at Sandringham Estate. There’s eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. This year, things will be a whole lot different.

And now for some of those announced reunions…

Just a few weeks after joining Marvel Studio’s Moon Knight series, Oscar-nominated actor Ethan Hawke will be reuniting Jason Blum and Blumhouse for their ninth collaboration, the thriller The Black Phone, which also reunites Hawke with his Sinister director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) and co-writer C. Robert Cargill. Production begins on the film in North Carolina next month with the film to be released eventually by Universal Pictures.  Most recently, Hawke starred in Blumhouse’s Showtime series The Good Lord Bird. 

More news regarding Jason Blum comes in the form of the Deadine story that Blumhouse is involved with reuniting Director Darren Aronofsky with his Requiem for a Dream star Jared Leto for Adrift. Leto has been pursuing the rights to the short story by Koji Suzuki (The Ring) for ten years with his Paradox production partner Emma Ludgate before bringing it to Aronofsky and Blum. The ghost story involves a fishing boat that discovers an abandoned yacht and proceeds to bring it to port.  But first, Aronofsky will start principal photography on his adaptation of the stage play The Whale with Brendan Fraser, which should start filming soon. Leto appears in this weekend’s primary release, The Little Things with fellow Oscars winners Denzel Washington and Rami Malek. (You can read J. Don Birnam‘s review here.)

After getting critical raves and awards for her 2020 film First Cow, filmmaker Kelly Reichardt will be reuniting with her frequent collaborator, Michelle Williams, for a new movie called Showing Up to be released via A24, who have released Reichardt’s last few films. Williams previously appeared in Reichardt’s Wendy & Lucy in 2008, the Western Meek’s Cutoff in 2010, and 2016’s Certain Women.

timothe Chalamet
Timothée Chalamet (Sony Pictures Classics)

Another potential reunion of note comes from the news that young actor Timothée Chalamet is in talks to reunite with Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, who directed Chalamet to an Oscar nomination for their previous film, Call Me By Your Name. Also in talks to join Chalamet is 26-year-old actress Taylor Russell, who literally made waves in her performance in the 2019 film Waves. The project, titled Bones & All, is said to be a horror love story written by Guadagnino’s Suspiria screenwriter, Dave Kajganich, and it’s supposed to involve cannibalism.

Speaking of cannibalism, this wasn’t exactly a week of wine and roses for another Call Me By Your Name star, as actor Armie Hammer, who was hit by a social media controversy last month, has stepped away from Paramount Plus‘ series, The Offer, about the making of Francis Ford Coppola‘s Oscar-winning movie The Godfather. Hammer had been set to play Producer Alan Ruddy.

Also, Elliot Page, who was going to star in Lionsgate and BuzzFeed‘s esports gamer comedy 1 Up, stepped away from the project that has just begun production in Toronto, replaced by Ruby Rose (Batwoman), says The Hollywood Reporter. The film is about a young woman named Valerie Lee, played by Paris Berelc, who “quits her college esports team, fed up with gaslighting from her male counterparts, and quickly realizes that her decision comes at the cost of her scholarship.” Rose will play Lee’s mentor, and also on the project is Taylor Zakhar Perez (The Kissing Booth 2), Hari Nef (Assassination Nation), and Nicholas Coombe.

The Sandman comic book (DC Comics)

A couple Netflix series cast-up this week with the long-anticipated dark fantasy show The Sandman, based on Neil Gaiman‘s beloved DC Comics series, putting together an impressive cast that includes Tom Sturridge  as “Morpheus/Dream,” Gwendoline Christie as “Lucifer,” Vivienne Acheampong as “Lucienne,” Boyd Holbrook as “The Corinthian,” Charles Dance  as “Roderick Burgess,” Asim Chaudry as “Abel” and Sanjeev Bhaskar as “Cain.” As someone who has read the comics, it sounds like they are remaining fairly faithful by adapting the initial story in which Dream is captured and imprisoned by Burgess, causing chaos in his realm, known as “The Dreaming.”

No word on where or when this may start filming but Wonder Woman co-writer Allan Heinberg is serving as Executive Producer and Showrunner, cowriting with Executive Producer David S. Goyer (The Dark KnightBatman Begins.) Netflix even released a logline for the series: “A rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are seamlessly interwoven, The Sandman follows the people and places affected by Morpheus, the Dream King, as he mends the cosmic — and human — mistakes he’s made during his vast existence.” They also got a statement from Gaiman himself, who said: “For the last thirty-three years, the Sandman characters have breathed and walked around and talked in my head. I’m unbelievably happy that now, finally, they get to step out of my head and into reality. I can’t wait until the people out there get to see what we’ve been seeing as Dream and the rest of them take flesh, and the flesh belongs to some of the finest actors out there. This is astonishing, and I’m so grateful to the actors and to all of The Sandman collaborators — Netflix, Warner Bros., DC, to Allan Heinberg and David Goyer, and the legions of crafters and geniuses on the show — for making the wildest of all my dreams into reality.”

Another Netflix series that announced its cast this week was Vikings: Valhalla, the spin-off/sequel to the popular History Channel series by Vikings creator Michael Hirst, after the  original series wrapped its sixth and final season in December. Sam Corlett (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Frida Gustavsson (Swoon), Leo Suter (The Liberator), Bradley Freegard (Keeping Faith), Jóhannes Jóhannesson(Cursed), Laura Berlin (Immenhof – The Adventure of a Summer), David Oakes (The Pillars of the Earth) and Caroline Henderson (Tuya Siempre) will be series regulars for the show set during the 11th Century that follows some of the world’s most famous Vikings, including Leif Eriksson, Freydis Eriksdotter, Harald Hardrada and William the Conqueror. Pollyanna McIntosh and Asbjørn Krogh Nissen will be recurring actors on the series that is expected to debut late in 2021 or sometime in 2022.

Carey Mulligan
Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman (Focus)

Actress Carey Mulligan is getting critical raves and awards for her most recent thriller Promising Young Woman, written and directed by Emerald Fennell, plus her new drama The Dirt makes its streaming debut on Netflix today. And yet, she’s already lining up her future projects, including Fingernails, the English language debut by Greek filmmaker Christos Nikou, whose 2020 film Apples impressed Mulligan enough to want to work with him. Apples is also Greece’s entry for the International Feature category at this year’s Oscars.

Earlier in the week, it was announced that production company Skydance Media had optioned the rights to Robert Rodriguez‘s Spy Kids franchise, and the plans are to reboot and reimagine the series with Rodriguez returning to write and direct. Skydance will produce and develop this reboot with Spyglass Mediawho owns the property.

Remember, that you can keep track of all film and television projects in whatever stage of development and production they are through Below the Line‘s Production Listings.

Sony Pictures Animation campus (Photo: Hackman Capital)
Sony Pictures Animation campus (Photo: Hackman Capital)

Mere days after taking over control of Raleigh StudiosHackman Capital Partners has teamed with Square Mile Capital Management to buy the Sony Pictures Animation campus in Culver City, a three-building 182,176 square-foot animation complex that’s an extension of Sony’s downtown studio lot. It’s across the street from Culver Studios, home of Amazon Studios, and the Culver Steps, also owned by Hackman and Square Mile.

Michael Hackman, CEO of the L.A.-based company said, “We have invested in Culver City for more than 15 years and are proud stakeholders of the city, which has experienced a vibrant revitalization and has attracted many of the world’s most innovative and important companies.”

Tomb Raider
Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider (MGM)

The planned Tomb Raider sequel from MGM, starring Alicia Vikander, which was previously to be directed by Ben Wheatley, will now be directed by screenwriter Misha Green, who will also make her directorial debut, according to Deadline. Green is best known for creating and directing HBO‘s breakout series, Lovecraft Country.

Speaking of Tomb Raider, it’s one of the properties being developed into an anime series by Legendary Television and Netflix along with Legendary’s Skull Island, the next entry in Legendary’s Monsterverse that includes the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong, which will be released at the end of March via Warner Bros Pictures. The latter acts as a follow-up to 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and it will be written and executive produced by Brian Duffield (Underwater) and animated by Powerhouse Entertainment (Castlevania). The Tomb Raider anime will be the latest animated version of the popular Square Enix video game character who previously had an animated series called Revisioned: Tomb Raider in 2007, which followed two live action series starring Angelina Jolie as the title tomb raider, Lara Croft. The new anime series will be written and exec. produced by Tasha Huo (The Witcher: Blood Origin).

Not to be outdone by the prominent streamer, HBO Max is also in very early development on an animated drama series based on its hugely popular Game of Thrones franchise, but there’s yet to be any details on the focus of the series or any talent involved.

Since animation has played such a large part in today’s production notes, we’ll end things with an animated trailer for Disney Animation Studios‘ upcoming feature Raya and the Last Dragon, which will hit theaters and be available via Disney+ Prime Access starting March 5.  It features the voices of Kelly Marie TranAwkwafinaGemma ChanDaniel Dae KimSandra Oh and Benedict Wong.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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