Thursday, January 04, 2007



WINNER of BEST FIRST FEATURE2006 New York Film Critics Circle

5 NOMINATIONS for Best Director, Best Feature, Best Female Lead, Best Male Lead, Best First Screenplay2007 Film Independent Spirit Awards

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, The Envelope - December 20, 2006 By James Bates,

Tiny ThinkFilm is getting more attention that it's had in its young life, thanks to accolades and praise for "Half Nelson" and the performance of star Ryan Gosling as an inner city teacher struggling with drug addiction.

The gritty drama has been picking up film critic awards, and received Independent Spirit Swards nominations for best feature, best male lead for Gosling, best female lead for Shareeka Epps and best director for Ryan Fleck, who also shares a best first screenplay nomination with Anna Boden.

"Half Nelson" is considered a breakthrough for ThinkFilm. Previously, the company was best known for award-winning documentaries such as the Oscar-winning "Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids" and the Oscar-nominated "Murderball."

Founded by a group of former Lions Gate Entertainment executives, ThinkFilm was bought recently by Los Angeles entrepreneur and producer David Bergstein. Mark Urman, the company's top U.S. executive, spoke from ThinkFilm's offices in New York.

What's it's been like to get this kind of attention?

There's not a day that goes by when someone isn't in a position to read about "Half Nelson." That wasn't the case when it was in active theatrical release. Now, it's part of the dialogue. On the January-February cusp, when this film is about to come out on DVD, if the gods are good, it will be an Oscar nominee in a major category. It would make an enormous difference on DVD.

How important is this to the company as a whole?

It's very important to prove to important filmmakers and important actors that we will match their commitment with our own, and that we can get people to take their work seriously. We can get it noticed, and if we can get it noticed then they can may get the sort of accolades they probably are doing the film for in the first place.
This has been a very defining season for us. We've had an amazing run in a short period with four Oscar nominations in as many years. We started with nothing but a smile on our face, a shine on our shoes and our reputations.

When you first saw "Half Nelson" did you focus immediately on Ryan Gosling?

We thought that the performance would be the thing that would drive the film coming and going. When other people say it's an Oscar-caliber performance you can mount a campaign.
If you're doing it for vanity, for appearance's sake or because someone expects you to do it -- and you're us -- you're an idiot.

How involved has he been in promoting the film?

Ryan is a young man who is a serious actor. He's a little shy. Like many very serious actors, he's not that keen on doing publicity. He's not somebody you go to and say I need you to shill. But he's responding to invitations to show up to accept awards and do the interviews he's comfortable doing.
He's been a grateful, responsible and polite grown up by showing up and acknowledging the fact people are applauding him. People are often asked to strut. I don't think it's in Ryan.
But I said from Day One that his greatest contribution to this campaign is to have given his performance. When people see the performance, they will burn incense and all he has to do is say thank you. Who doesn't enjoy saying thank you?

Does it bother you that he wasn't nominated for a Golden Globe?

We didn't expect it. It's the sort of film that rarely shows up on their radar. They are lovely people, but they aren't on the beat. You have to bring everything to them. We weren't counting on it.

What was the strategy behind releasing the movie in late summer?

The plan was always predicated on an August release because it needed to be the first serious film of the year. It needed to get a leg up on the fall. We kept it in very narrow release in August so that, for most people's purposes, it was a post-Labor Day film and the first Oscar-caliber film that people would see.

How long was that planned?

I thought about it in January. If you are a movie that has everything at your disposal -- you're omnipresent and a big studio movie -- it doesn't require that much strategy. If you're an independent film, it's all about strategy. Plus, I can't afford to hire everybody to advertise it everywhere and to do everything that people with unlimited money are doing.
You have to really think about what works. The exact moment when you open the film is as important as anything else. "Half Nelson"- - same performance, same funding, same everything -- if it had opened Oct. 6 we wouldn't be having this conversation today.

How level is the awards playing field for you?

The whole business of campaigns has become just that. It isn't so much that you have to spend the money, but the perception has to be that you are spending money. It's a fine line between spending stupid money that you don't have to spend and spending just enough so people feel like he's a contender because he's getting support.

What is the campaign costing?

Just to get the film into everyone's hands, and to encourage them to see it, is not inexpensive.
How many DVDs are you sending out? I would say about 8,000.

How much are they?

With the cost of shipping and handling, you're talking -- depending on where they go -- about $7 to $10 per. You're spending a lot of money to get it into people's hands. Then there's all the other things you have to do. If you find yourself winning awards, you've got to buy the table and you've got to fly people to the awards.

HALF NELSON opens here on 1 Feb 2007 at The Picturehouse

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