“Best Sellers,” a Berlinale Special Gala screener and debut feature from Lina Roessler, has scored deals from major territories, which were announced by film’s sales outfit Foresight Unlimited at the European Film Market.
Universal Pictures Content Group has acquired major markets including the U.K., Germany, France and Latin America, among others. Other territories sold include Australia (Rialto), CIS (Top Film), Greece (Tanweer), Iceland (Myndform), Israel (Red Cape), the Middle East (Salim Ramia), Portugal (Lusomundo) and Turkey (Mars CGV).
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Films stars Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza, Scott Speedman, Ellen Wong and Cary Elwes. Anthony Grieco wrote the screenplay, which won a 2015 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting award. “Best Sellers” revolves around an ambitious young editor (Plaza) who goes on a wild book tour with a curmudgeonly has-been author (Caine), who just wants to live out his days in peace with a bottle of scotch and his cat.
Foresight Unlimited, a Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment company, is handling international sales at the EFM; CAA Media Finance and Elevated Films are handling the domestic sale.
“Best Sellers” is a Canada-U.K. co-production, produced by Jonathan Vanger for Wishing Tree Prods. and Pierre Even for Item 7 in Canada, Arielle Elwes, Cassian Elwes and Wayne Marc Godfrey in the U.K., and executive produced by Jere Hausfater and Mark Damon. The film was funded by Petr Jákl and Martin Barab’s RU Robot (who also served as executive producers), National Bank of Canada and Telefilm Canada.
Roessler, who has many acting credits in TV and film on her resumé, studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and film production at York University. She’s a 2018 Berlinale Talent alum and talked to Variety about the film.
Why were you attracted to this story?
The script was beautifully written by Anthony Grieco, and I immediately could see what it looked like visually. That’s exceptionally satisfying, but even more importantly, I felt I knew these characters. I understood them, and could feel empathy for them both. It would only be a pleasure to help breathe life into their story.
You are also an accomplished actress, why did you want to go into directing?
I’ve been lucky to work as an actress, but I’ve also always loved writing. A few years ago, I wrote a collection of 50 short stories and sent them to a Montreal publishing house. They loved the stories, and asked me to write 50 more in order to publish the volume as a collection of 100. I was thrilled, but daunted. In an act of pure procrastination, I turned one of the stories into a short screenplay and through a series of bizarre coincidences, ended up shooting that film while I was in L.A. for pilot season. When that little film won a prize at its first festival in Rhode Island, I decided to do it again with another short story of mine.
I received funding for that one, made it, and again won some awards. Still, I felt like a bit of a fraud, and at that point I figured I should actually learn a thing or two about directing. I did a masters in film production and out of that program received academic funding for a third short film, which was also successful on the festival circuit. It sounds a bit haphazard, as I never said “I’m going to go into directing now,” but the way things naturally unfolded coupled with my years as an actor and writer has helped propel me forward. There’s still so much to learn about this craft. Luckily, I’m just getting started.
How did you decide to make you feature directing debut with this story? How did you get the script?
In 2017, I had three short films under my belt and I was invited to be part of TIFF’s Talent Lab. Each participant had to create a two-minute self-portrait film in order to introduce ourselves to our mentors. One of the mentors was producer Cassian Elwes, and for whatever reason, he was really taken by my rendition. It was sort of a whimsical piece, full of color and a bit of wry humor. Afterwards he asked to see my short films and soon after the lab was done, he sent me “Best Sellers,” which his daughter and producing partner Arielle had optioned. Cass asked me to read the script and tell him my thoughts, which he would share with Arielle. I complied, and shortly after that, he invited me to New York City for a meeting and asked me to put together a look book for the film based on my notes.
I can’t really explain how bizarre this was for me. Not to mention I’d never made a look book before and had only done equivalents with pulling images and creating little packages for my short films. I literally made a little book, which made sense at least in so far as the film was all about the literary world.
In any case, I jetted down to New York and at our meeting, handed over the book only to listen to Cassian and Arielle begin to discuss casting. This sounds absurd now, but I couldn’t actually conceive of the idea that I would be involved in any way, and I asked Cassian directly how he wanted me to help. He said: “Why do you think I flew you down here? I want you to direct this picture!” If I said anything, it must have been along the lines of “Huh!?” I have never fully appreciated the word “gobsmacked” until that moment. The rest is history, and it has been a beautiful, wild ride.
What influence did you have on casting? It’s a great cast.
I’m incredibly lucky to have them. Michael was always a dream choice, but we weren’t sure if he would be interested. Cassian first met Michael when he was 10 years old, and then recently worked with him on a picture called “Medieval” so asked him to read the script. Michael immediately loved it and wanted to sign on. This was obviously fantastic news, and once we had him on board we were able to reach out to Aubrey. Cassian had recently seen her host the Independent Spirit Awards, and we all knew she’d be perfect as Lucy.
What was it like to work with a legend like Michael Caine? Did he have lots of fun anecdotes?
It was brilliant! To spend a day with Michael is pure joy. He’s funny, he’s kind, he has so many stories, so much charm, and so much talent. He also loves restaurants and socializing, so we managed to have a lot of fun while shooting. Michael told me many jokes, including one that he told the Queen upon their first meeting. I’ve repeated it many, many, many times, and probably will continue to do so to the great annoyance of my friends and family. Beyond the fun stuff, I learned so much from Michael. The gift of working with him was invaluable.
Was it hard to secure financing?
The financing came together through different avenues for our film. A few summers ago, when Cassian was working with Michael on “Medieval” and pitched him the project as I’d mentioned, Michael was immediately interested in coming onboard. “Medieval” director Petr Jákl and his partner Marty Barab were also interested in a financial aspect with their company RU Robot. Our Canadian producers, Jonathan Vanger and Pierre Even, then brought Telefilm into the project, since Telefilm is so supportive of Canadian directors on their debut feature! Those investments along with the Canadian provincial and federal tax credits is how we got our movie made.
Did you shoot during the pandemic, and what changes or precautions were put in place for safety?
We were very lucky in that our final days of shooting were in New York City at the end of February. We managed to get it in the can right before the proverbial “x” hit the fan. Post-production was extremely complicated, with many shut downs, cancellations, and a process that crossed multiple cities and countries. We did ADR with Michael in London over zoom with me in studio in Montreal, then we did Aubrey and the rest of the cast in L.A. while I was in Toronto and in coordination with the studio in Montreal. Luckily, I got to spend time physically in the room with my editor Arthur Tarnowski, but then that was replaced by face time and zoom. So. Much. Zoom! I still haven’t met my brilliant composer (Paul Leonard-Morgan) in person!
What’s next for you?
I’m busy developing my next feature, happily with the same team behind “Best Sellers.” It’s an incredibly different kind of project, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.