Sidney Kimmel Entertainment is shedding its usual low profile, flying high with its Texas drama, “Hell or High Water,” becoming a serious awards contender.
Jeff Bridges has received a Gotham Awards nomination for his role as a Texas Ranger tracking down a pair of bankrobbing brothers. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay for the film that debuted in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard has also nabbed a Gotham nomination. Domestic grosses on the $12 million project have gone past $27 million for Lionsgate/CBS Films. Not bad for SKE, which seems to have found solid ground in the ever-shifting and contracting independent marketplace.
Carla Hacken, who joined the company in 2014 as president of production after stints at Fox and New Regency, admits that “Hell or High Water” — SKE bought the Black List script in 2012 — required steadfast backing from Kimmel during its development. That included shooting in 110 degree heat in the early summer.
“It’s so rare to have a film succeed like ‘Hell or High Water’ did,” she says. “It got willed into existence. It was like a giant boulder that ran over me a lot. It’s easy to lose your perspective on a movie. We were unsure right up until it got screened at Cannes.”
Hacken knew the project before she came to SKE as she’d tried to buy it while at New Regency. When she arrived two years later at SKE, it had fallen apart — but being at an independent turned out to be an advantage.
“We got a new director with David Mackenzie on it,” she says. “I don’t think it would have gotten made at a studio without a big director and big stars.”
Hacken has accelerated the company’s output, with movies co-financed and produced by SKE in her tenure: the romantic comedy “Sleeping With Other People,” John Turturro’s “Going Places” (in which he revives his Jesus Quintana character from “The Big Lebowski”); Ben Stiller’s drama “Brad’s Status”; and “The Book of Henry,” starring Jacob Tremblay and Naomi Watts with Colin Treverrow directing in between his “Jurassic World” gigs.
“Henry,” written by Greg Hurwitz, involves a boy and his brother being raised by their single mother. The boy has a crush on the neighbor girl and to protect her from harm from her father, he comes up with a plan to rescue her — which his mother discovers and decides that she will put into motion.
“‘The Book of Henry’ is almost impossible to pitch, in that it’s like ‘American Beauty,'” Hacken says, noting that studios simply are avoiding all but the most certain of bets in what they green light. Her track record at Fox 2000 included hits that were also critical successes like “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Unfaithful” and “Walk the Line.”
“When I left Fox, I felt as if movies were getting harder and harder to do,” she says. “I talked with Stacey Snider while she was at DreamWorks and Peter Chernin, who joked with me that I had high-end premium cable taste.”
Kimmel, 88, made his fortune in the apparel business. He has been involved, she says, with significant movies going back “9 ½ Weeks,” “The Kite Runner,” “United 93,” and “Lars and the Real Girl.” His goal as a philanthropist had been to give away $1 billion. “His true love and passion is fighting cancer,” Hakken says.
John Penotti, who came on board last year as president of SKE, notes that he’s had an 18-year relationship with Kimmel, first through GreeneStreet Films (where he produced ” In the Bedroom” and “Swimfan”) and has formed SKE Global with Ivanhoe Pictures, the production company backed by financier Robert Friedland and run by Penotti.
“Sidney’s taste is sublime — ‘Beyond the Pines,’ ‘Age of Adaline,’ ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ ‘United 93’ — and wonderfully distinctive,” Penotti says. ” The key question is always ‘am I moved by the story?’ I think we have an extraordinary opportunity. We get a constant stream of scripts.”