AFM Facetime: Christopher Lemole, ‘Mudbound’ Producer at Armory Films

Christopher Lemole, who began his career at UTA, founded Armory Films in 2013 with partner Tim Zajaros. Since then, the Los Angeles-based film finance and production company, which creates, develops, produces and finances high concept and commercially viable content, has amassed an impressive slate of feature films spanning numerous genres and styles, including the 2013 cult classic “Zombeavers” and “Cabin Fever: Reboot,” which they produced with Cassian Elwes and Eli Roth. Armory Films’ current slate includes Dee Rees’ new feature “Mudbound,” which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Netflix will release it Nov. 17.

Mudbound” is making a lot of noise right now. What was the appeal of it for you?

For me, it’s just one of those rare films that is a very powerful and emotional story, but that also has a lot of lessons that you can take away from it. It speaks to a lot of issues, including race, class, women’s issues, civil rights issues — it’s one of those gems where a great story also works as a great vehicle for all of that.

It’s also very timely.

Incredibly so. What’s so interesting is that when you get to a movie, you don’t sometimes realize what you’re making. It wasn’t that I set out to make a movie about race or all these issues — it just kind of happened. And history happens, and suddenly it’s more relevant than you’d ever imagined. And movies can so easily fall apart, and in so many ways, but it all worked — from the great cast we got to the shoot. And I think it was really important that we shot at real locations in the South, which we did near New Orleans, although the story’s actually set in Mississippi. We didn’t use any soundstages, and that’s why it looks and feels so authentic. You can’t fake that — all the mud and dust, and then we also shot in Budapest for the wartime stuff and while we obviously didn’t have an enormous budget, we had to stay true to the material which has this huge scope. And then Dee Rees just knocked it out of the park. She did an incredible job, so it’s very gratifying.

What have you got at AFM?

We have the horror/thriller film “Mom and Dad” starring Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair, which we premiered at Toronto to great reviews, and we’re in the process of doing a North America deal with a big studio and also have a couple of remaining territories to sell. Then we also have “Arctic” starring Mads Mikkelsen, which we shot in Iceland last winter, and we have foreign territories to sell there too. And then we have “The Peanut Butter Falcon” starring Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Thomas Hayden-Church  and Bruce Dern, which we shot last summer, and we’ll be selling that. It’s a very special story about a boy with Down Syndrome who runs away to become a wrestler, a sort of modern day Tom Saywer/Huck Finn adventure, and Zachary Gottsagen, who actually inspired the whole story, plays the boy. And Shia plays this sort of small-time crook who ends up becoming his coach, and it’s a really wonderful film and exactly the sort of project that inspired us to get into the business. We’re hoping to do world premieres for “Arctic” and “The Peanut Butter Falcon” at Sundance. And we also just started screening “Billionaire Boys Club” starring Taron Egerton, Emma Roberts, Kevin Spacey and Ansel Elgort, so we’re fielding offers for that too.

What do you think of the current U.S. distribution scene?

I think it’s looking pretty good these days. Amazon and Netflix have really changed it up, and it’s a kind of moving landscape. It’ll be really interesting to see what it looks like in 10 years, looking back, and see what they’ve actually accomplished. I’m pretty optimistic about the future. Some people aren’t, but I think it’s quite healthy.

Where do you see the future going for Armory?

I’m not really sure where we’ll be in five, 10 years, but we’re very busy and have an incredibly diverse slate, although it’s not really by design. Tim and I just want to keep making quality films that we really love and want to work on.

Fair to say you’re both fanboys first and foremost?

Absolutely. The thing about this business is, you want to enjoy the projects you take on, as you’re married to them for two years. They’re all labors of love, and when you make a film like “Mudbound,” which ends in such an uplifting way, it makes it all worthwhile.


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