“I Care a Lot,” a twisty thriller about a scam artist who preys on senior citizens, has been the most watched movie on Netflix since it debuted on the service on February 19. In the old days success was measured in box office grosses, but in the new Hollywood it’s gauged in terms of streams. And by that rubric, “I Care a Lot” has achieved breakout status.
The film, which snagged Rosamund Pike a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as the amoral hustler who triggers an avalanche of betrayal, cons, and bloodletting when she ensnares the mother of a gangster in one of her schemes, also caps a surprisingly busy pandemic run for Black Bear Pictures. The company developed, financed, and produced the movie, one of nearly a half dozen pictures it has offered up to audiences who have spent the last year largely stuck inside thanks to COVID.
In addition to “I Care a Lot,” Black Bear has backed “The Rental,” a horror movie that IFC released on-demand and in drive-ins last summer, as well as the sci-fi romance “Little Fish” (another IFC release) and the dramedy “Our Friend,” which Gravitas Ventures and Universal partnered on. The latter two films employed a hybrid on-demand and theatrical model as a concession to the fact that many cinemas are closed. In addition, Black Bear backed “I Carry You With Me,” a Spanish-language drama that Sony Pictures Classics will debut in May when hopefully the worst of coronavirus is behind us.
“It’s strange to be so busy when COVID is going on,” says Teddy Schwarzman, the company’s founder. “But we’re seeing people are hungry to consume content.”
Black Bear has been around since 2011, but it first made waves with 2014’s “The Imitation Game,” a drama about mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing that scored an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and grossed more than $233 million at the box office. That success was heady, but it also meant that Black Bear had to educate the industry about the kind of projects it was interested in supporting.
“We don’t have to make a bunch of other World War II movies just because we did the ‘Imitation Game,'” Schwarzman said. “We try to make things that stand out within their genre as being original and powerful and having integrity and intent mixed with an ability to have some commercial appeal.”
To that end, the company tries to make between two to four films annually. Budgets can range between $5 million to $50 million on the high end, though most productions fall in the $15 million to $30 million space. The company has expanded into television, with the likes of “Angels & Demons,” a limited series about a true crime saga from “Crazy Heart” writer-director Scott Cooper, in the works. Black Bear also owns Canadian distributor Elevation, which has released this year’s Oscar contenders “Minari,” “The Father,” and “Ammonite.” Schwarzman says Black Bear would like to move into documentaries, unscripted television content and podcasts in the future.
Black Bear hasn’t slowed down when it comes to releasing movies during COVID-19, but the pandemic has upended its production plans. After several delays, the company is about to start shooting “Memory,” a Martin Campbell thriller with Liam Neeson. The film was originally supposed to shoot in the Dominican Republic, but the pandemic scrambled those plans, as did an effort to shoot it in Mexico and the U.K. Now it will be produced in Eastern Europe.
“Shooting during COVID requires a different level of diligence than the traditional approach of going around to find the best locations and tax credits,” says Schwarzman. It also means going into production without insurance for pandemics, which has been nearly impossible to obtain post-outbreak.
“We’re willing to assume that risk for the right project and if we have a plan to do things safely,” says Schwarzman.
For now, Black Bear can bask in the breakout success of “I Care a Lot,” a low-budget indie that has seen its profile enhanced by debuting on the largest streaming service in the business. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to solid reviews and lots of interest from potential distributors.
“There were multiple offers on the film, both from streamers and traditional studios, but we wanted to make sure it got in front of the most people in the least amount of time possible,” says Schwarzman.