RIO DE JANEIRO –- One of the hallmark personalities of this year’s 15th Rio de Janeiro Festival was “Billy Elliot” director Stephen Daldry.
In the ninth week of shooting “Trash” an hour’s drive out from Rio, he found time to present “Billy Elliot” in Rio’s Favela do Alemao Cine Carioca, at a screening attended by ballet aficionados in Rio’s favelas, a tougher call than even Northern England.
Daldry also invited journalists to the set of “Trash,” his bigscreen adaptation of Andy Mulligan’s novel about three child waste pickers working and living in a rubbish dump. Rooney Mara (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) plays an NGO worker, Martin Sheen Father Juillaird.
Meanwhile, London-based PeaPie Films’ Kris Thykier and Andrea Barata-Ribeiro, at Sao Paulo’s O2 Filmes, presented “Trash” as a co-production case study at the RioMarket.
With Michael and Jeff Zimbalist’s “Pele,” produced by Imagine Entertainment, “Trash” — produced by Working Title, PeaPie and O2 Filmes, and distributed worldwide by Universal — rates as the highest-profile international production lensing in Brazil. It could well signal Daldry’s first social-issue action movie.
Unlike “Pele,” however, “Trash’s” use of Brazil as a location was no given.
The panel underscored the chain of talent and logic driving the co-production, its financial intricacies and the excitement for a London-based producer making a film in Brazil: “Trash’s” home market is one of the fastest-growing in the world.
Having optioned “Trash,” Thykier brought in Daldry. “We’d known each other for years. I had worked before on ‘Billy Elliot,’ a Working Title production, where I worked on publicity for my previous company Freuds. We’d always thought of doing something together again,” Thykier explained in Rio.
Thykier had been a partner to Matthew Freud, Richard Curtis’ brother-in-law. He originally sent the book to Curtis as a “sense-check.” Curtis is best known, of course, as a comedy writer. When the three waste-pickers -– Raphael, Gardo and Rat, played by Rickson Tevez, Eduardo Luis and Gabriel Weinstein — discover a leather bag on their heap, they fall foul of bent cops and a corrupt politico, and “Trash” moves into young-teen thriller terrain.
Dedicating much of his life to philanthropic work, Curtis had just come of writing Stephen Spielberg’s “War Horse,” and, said Thykier, fell in love with the material.
Having taught in India, Brazil and the Philippines, Mulligan set “Trash” in an imaginary and unspecified Third World country.
One challenge was to decide where to set the bigscreen makeover. The filmmakers visited Jardin Gramacho, the world’s biggest landfill, located outside Rio de Janeiro and pictured in Lucy Walker’s Academy Award–nommed docu-feature “Waste Land,” and met with Fernando Meirelles and Barata Ribeiro, its exec producers.
“This was a situation where the film was as much driven from the production side as the creative side. We knew we were going into uncharted territory,” Thykier recalled. “Stephen wanted non-acting Rio kids, authentically placed; he wanted to investigate this world. After ‘City of God’ and ‘City of Men,’ O2 Filmes had deep relationships with lots of communities. Their casting team, led by Chico Accioly, is one of the best I’ve worked with.”
“Trash” is 80% Portuguese-language, 20% English.
Thykier commented: “I’m fascinated by films like ‘The Impossible’, where language is no longer an issue, a Spanish story, Spanish team, done in English, then redubbed in Spanish. Language is not the issue it once was. There’s an audience willing to accept that people speak in a different languages.”
To drill down on authenticity, screenwriter-director Felipe Braga (“Latitudes”) was brought in to work on the Portuguese version of the screenplay. O2 Filmes screened 10,000 kids, cast three.
“Trash” is “a true co-production,” Barata Ribeiro said in Rio.
Push, however, had to come to shove: To draw down Brazil’s Fondo Sectorial Audiovisual subsidy and Brazilian tax-break coin, 02 Filmes had to qualify “Trash” as an official Brazilian co-production.
That was no formality. Brazilian regs demand a co-production treaty between Brazil and a film’s majority producer, Barata Ribeiro said. Brazil and the U.K. inked a co-production treaty in September 2012. This still has to be ratified, however.
So O2 Filmes set up “Trash” as an official co-production with Universal in Germany, which does have a bilateral pact with Brazil, Barata Ribeiro explained.
Universal in turns co-produced “Trash” with the U.K. under the aegis of the Council of Europe Co-Production Treaty.
Sheeraz Shah, Working Title head of legal and business affairs, led the co-production structure on the U.K. side.
Equity broke down as the U.K. (50%), Germany (25%), and Brazil (25%). Since the U.K. and Brazil will ratify their co-production structure around September 2014, Brazilian film authorities waived “Trash” through.
“Trash” is budgeted at R$28 million ($12.7 million).
It is “high-budget for a Portuguese-language film, low-budget for an international action movie,” in Thykier’s words.
But “Trash” can also play off its home market of Brazil, which has tripled in theatrical grosses over the last decade to R$1.64 billion ($741.1 million) in 2012.
Attracted by Daldry’s rep, two of Brazil’s biggest actors – Wagner Moura, the “Elite Squad” lead, and Selton Mello (“The Clown”), co-star.
For Thykier: “Brazil is a vast growing market, one of the most exciting theatrical territories in the world. Movies are becoming part of the culture.”
The producers built a real trash-dump, filled with cleaned trash, in a disused quarry, creating an artificial river and lake. Post-production will be carried out in London.
“We don’t want to make a favela movie. We want a film that is hopeful about the future. All of those things are peculiar to Brazil. The optimism we found was infectious,” Thykier concluded.