“Shaun the Sheep” was ready for his closeup with his own movie, which Lionsgate unspooled Saturday in Westwood’s Regency Village theater with an interactive green carpet. They brought the farm with booths offering balloon toys, bumper cars and photo ops with Shaun.
The writing-directing team of Mark Burton and Richard Starzak said Shaun was ready for a spinoff thanks to his hugely popular TV show, which plays in 170 territories, as Starzak pointed out. Shaun made his debut in the 1995 Oscar-winning “Wallace and Gromit” short “A Close Shave.”
“He’s gotten quite big-headed and wants his own dry cleaner,” Burton said. “Very popular character, the farmer,” Starzak added. “He’s got a very big part in the film anyway.”
Jason Constantine, Lionsgate president of acquisitions and co-productions, said, “Aardman (Animation, the production company) for years and years has been the gold standard when it comes to stop motion and great family entertainment. And ‘Shaun the Sheep’ did such an incredible job with the TV series, the movie takes it to the next level.”
With “Inside Out” and “Minions” having been in theaters for a while, this release is well timed to grab the family audience, he said. “With one in June, one in July and this in August it’s perfect timing. We all know when children love something they want to see it multiple times.”
Steve Beeks, Lionsgate co-COO, said that since “Shaun the Sheep” had already bowed successfully in the U.K., “We’re able to use a lot of the things that they did, making our job that much easier.” To date, the film’s collected $59.7 million worldwide. The movie, he said, “works on two levels. You’ll love it and your children will too.”
In light of Relativity Media’s bankruptcy filing, Constantine and Erik Feig, co-prez of motion pictures, talked about Lionsgate’s approach to movie releases — discipline with a good measure of luck.
“With every single movie you try to see who the audiences is for and bring it to market in a responsible way to fight another day,” Feig said. “You even think back to our earlier days at Summit, even with ‘Twilight,’ it was made to be for a very specific audience. We thought it would appeal to them and it was not expected at the time that it would be as big of a franchise as it became. I think that’s really the key…. Meet the core and try to expand beyond that and you get lucky if a movie does break out, whether it’s a ‘Pitch Perfect,’ or a ‘Fast and Furious,’ or a ‘Twilight.’ Each one of those movies was once upon a time a niche/genre movie.”
Beeks said, “Sometimes you need luck, but we also have a lot of great people working really hard. One of the things you’ll see Lionsgate has that a lot of independents that have faltered over the years, as great as they are, is we have a significant library. We spent a lot of time focusing on content, we distribute over 18,000 titles from our library. I think, among other things, that’s one of the things that’s given us stability and staying power. Obviously we are a diversified company, not only in film but also television, home entertainment, we operate here as well as in the U.K. So I think those things allowed us to weather the tough spots. We all have them, but Lionsgate managed to get through them.”
“Shaun the Sheep” opens Aug. 5.
(Pictured: Richard Starzak and Mark Burton at the “Shaun the Sheep” premiere in Westwood)