Studiocanal sees bright prospects for Grant Sputore’s ‘I Am Mother’

Hilary Swank in ‘I Am Mother.’

Executives at Studiocanal are so confident that Grant Sputore’s I Am Mother will get a meaningful US release they plan to launch the sci-fi thriller in Australia after the US.

Adelaide Film Festival audiences will see a work-in-progress of Sputore’s debut feature, which stars Hilary Swank, newcomer Clara Rugaard, a former Disney Channel star in Denmark, and Rose Byrne, on October 12.

Rugaard plays a lonely teenager who is raised by ‘Mother,’ a kindly robot designed to repopulate the Earth following the extinction of mankind. That bond is threatened when a blood-drenched woman played by Swank turns up, calling into question everything the girl had been told about the outside world.

Byrne will voice the robot, which was designed by Kiwi special effects house WETA Workshop. Sputore described the collaboration with the WETA team led by founder Richard Taylor as a “dream.”

After starring in Peter Rabbit and Juliet, Naked, Byrne will be seen next alongside Mark Wahlberg in Sean Anders’ Instant Family, which will open here in January via Paramount. She hailed Sputore as an exciting talent and the film as “unique, eerie, unnerving and visionary.”

“The film is a very thoughtful, sophisticated sci-fi thriller which is more in the realm of an Ex Machina than The Predator,” Greg Denning, Studiocanal Australia/NZ head of sales and acquisitions and development manager, tells IF.

“We are very confident about the film’s potential to be snapped up by a savvy US distributor for North America in the coming months, so we have no immediate plans to date the film until we see how that plays out and how it could be leveraged for our own market.”

Greg Denning.

“It’s a thriller which we hope will get the hearts and brains of audiences pumping in equal measure,” says Sputore, who co-created the project with screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green, inspired by how technology is so closely woven into society.

The producers are Southern Light Films’ Tim White and The Penguin Empire’s Kelvin Munro, with Anna Vincent and Lloyd Green co-producing. The investors include Screen Australia, the SAFC, Adelaide Film Festival, Screenwest, Lotterywest, Fin VFX, Blockhead and Kojo.

Mister Smith Entertainment pre-sold the rights to every major international territory except China based on the cast, script and early footage. White is confident of deals for the US and Canada, where Endeavour Content is handling sales. “We are in a good position,” White tells IF.

Studiocanal is developing three Australian features via its Cultivator Fund: a drama based on the true story on Vienna Mozart Boys’ Choir and their choirmaster who were trapped in Australia during World War II, with Goalpost Pictures; Helena, a biopic about the Polish-Australian-American cosmetics businesswoman Helena Rubinstein, with producers Antony Waddington and Marcus Gillezeau; and another to be announced.

“We are always looking for both Aussie and Kiwi projects that will resonate, that are moving, positive and uplifting and have a clear audience, which will stand out in the marketplace or be counter-programmed against the kinds of films that the studios are making,” says Denning.

Among its biggest successes this year are Paddington 2, which grossed $10.2 million, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ($7.1 million), Hereditary ($3.6 million) and Back to Burgundy ($957,000).

Pitched at younger audiences, Maya the Bee: Honey Games grossed $248,000, just $8,000 short of the first film’s result, and above the distributor’s $230,000 target. As an alternate content release the animated movie will get the benefit of an accelerated home entertainment window, feeding off the theatrical campaign. With ancillary sales factored in Denning says: “We were pleased with Maya; overall it has met or exceeded our expectations.”

The distributor is releasing 15 titles theatrically this year plus a number of festival titles. Already there are 12 on the slate plus some French films for 2019. Roughly half come from the parent company.

Tuck (Tim Minchin) and Robin (Taron Egerton) in ‘Robin Hood’. (Photo by: Attila Szvacsek).

Denning is bullish about the upcoming line-up which includes Otto Bathurst’s action-adventure Robin Hood, starring Taron Egerton Jamie Foxx, Jamie Dornan, Ben Mendelsohn and Tim Minchin, which opens on November 22; Marjane Satrapi’s Radioactive, a biopic of Marie Curie with Rosamund Pike; Jonathan Levine’s Flarsky, a comedy featuring Alexander Skarsgård and Charlize Theron; Richard Starzak’s A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon; and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 3.

Like most independents the company is being more selective, aiming to ensure there is a theatrical audience for each film it buys and that the numbers stack up to both acquire and release.

“There are examples of mid-range titles still working theatrically, or breaking out to be bigger than mid-range, but they’re more the exception unless they’re targeting a specific audience as opposed to a broad one,” he says.

“There definitely needs to be a big enough hook or zeitgeist for these films to cut through or they have to represent great counter programming to everything else at a given time. Just simply having good cast and an OK story doesn’t cut it anymore.”