The Rock makes an art film

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Good morning: In today’s edition of The Industry, we look at:

Dwayne Johnson’s wrestler, Adam Sandler comes of age, Kristen Stewart’s vision and an imaginary friend.

Let’s go!


THE ROCK DOES AN ART FILM

When Dwayne Johnson made his first on-screen film appearance, it was a bit of a joke.

He played the CGI-saturated Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns (2001). At the time, his busy wrestling schedule as a 10-time WWE world champion prevented the VFX team from capturing reference shots that would have made him look less cartoonish.

But when he returned for The Scorpion King (2002), he earned a record salary for a first-time leading man: $5.5 million.

While this ignited a career defined by massive salaries (he earned $124M between 2017-2018), he often played a facsimile of an action hero:

His first well-received role with more character depth was in the HBO series Ballers (2015-2019), which saw room for introspection (monologue clip).

When he steps in front of Benny Safdie’s (Uncut Gems) camera in the upcoming A24 film Smashing Machine, it will arguably be his first art-house film*.

Johnson will play Mark Kerr, a mixed martial arts UFC champion. Kerr’s life was detailed in a 2002 documentary of the same name, which is raw, brutal, and beautiful (trailer).

Here’s the standout quote from Karr:

“The highs from this sport are like no other highs in this world. You know? Like having twelve thousand people out there cheering for you. That’s orgasmic. That’s like high. You know? And it’s so raw because it’s just two people out there competing – competing in the most primitive form possible.”

Paired with Safdie’s unflinching portraiture, which recently transformed Adam Sandler into a nerve-grinding diamond hustler in Uncut Gems, it seems like this could be Dwayne Johnson’s moment to transform into a serious art-house actor.

Whatever we see, Johnson’s experience in the world of wrestling should prime him for this exposé, whether it’s a singular indie or a crucible that forges a more profound career path for The Rock.

For More:

*Dwayne Johnson’s previous indie was messy. In Southland Tales (2006), the sophomore feature from Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), he plays an amnesiac screenwriter, penning a script with a porn star (trailer).

Michael Bay’s $26M “low-budget” Pain and Gain is a smart movie about stupid people, although it’s hard to discern through all the action. Dwayne Johnson co-stars as an ex-convict body-builder who falls off the path to righteousness (trailer).

“Dwayne Johnson” in The Scorpion King (clip).


THE INDUSTRY NEWS

Hollywood hopes for a sweet landing with Wonka. Opening today in the US, the Timothée Chalamet helmed movie is one of three Warner Bros. films that theaters hope will bring much-needed revenue this holiday season (Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and The Color Purple are the others, opening next weekend).

Chalamet plays a young Wonka who comes into an uptight European town with his mother’s chocolate recipe and a dream. One of the best moments in the trailer shows Wonka getting fined for daydreaming.

The film grossed $43 million internationally and has a chance of reaching the same fizzy-drink highs this weekend in the US.

Netflix’s streamer domination strategy: keep it international. Netflix is the most successful streaming platform:

  • 247M subscribers
    • 47M more than Amazon
    • 70% outside the US
  • $5B
    • Free cash flow
    • Other streamers operating at a loss

From the onset, Netflix invested internationally, kicking off with the risky $25M dual language series Narcos (2015-2017). Since then, they’ve fought their way into controlling local markets where the monthly subscription revenue tends to be low. The next phase of their plan is to continue expanding into unscripted content and raise their prices globally.

End of the year executive shake-up. At 20th Television, (owned by Disney) Nissa Diederich, head of production is stepping down. For over 25 years she’s helmed Glee (2009-2015), Homeland (2011-2020), and Only Murders in the Building (2021- ). Read her departure memo here.

There’s also been a shake-up at Warner Bros. Discovery with two executives exiting. Meredith Gertler, the EVP of Global content strategy is leaving after 20 years.

JB Perrette, the CEO of Global Streaming, reflected on her career:

“[Gertler] helped carry the iconic brand through major transitional distribution moments as it expanded from linear to home video to on-demand to streaming.”

Lisa Holme, the Group SVP of Global Content Strategy is also leaving.

While no official reason has been given for the flurry of executive departures there may be some post-stroke fatigue that has led executives to not seek to renew their contracts.


THE ACTOR SPOTLIGHT

Eddie Murphy is back in Beverly Hills. He originated the character of Axel Foley in the fish-out-water cop-comedy Beverly Hills Cop (1984, trailer). The film, which grossed a monster $316M, ignited Murphy’s film career and spurned two sequels (1987, 1994).

Although Murphy’s career had stalled he resurfaced recently with:

Netflix just dropped the trailer to Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, the fourth installment.

It’s hard to glean from the trailer if Murphy can still retain his off-the-charts charisma from the original but if it’s even a modicum then the sequel could have the same sky-rocketing effect on his career.

And if you haven’t seen it, nothing could ever top the NSFW greatest scene of his career.

Keke Palmer was the brightest part of Jordan Peele’s Nope (2022). Her skeptical spunkiness ignites the narrative with an opening monologue that’s a mini cinema lesson. She joins Pete Davidson and Eddie Murphy for The Pickup. While details about the film are scarce, we’ve learned it’s a heist comedy.

Palmer is also excellent in her role in Hustlers (2019); watch how she orchestrates this seduction with her “sisters,” including Jennifer Lopez (clip). She also packs a visceral power-punch in this trailer for Alice, where she stars in the title role as an escaped slave thrust into the modern world, hell-bent on revenge. Her strong mastery of comedy and drama should serve her well across from talented scene partners Davidson and Murphy.


FESTIVALS AND RESOURCES

Kristen Stewart, who has two films at Sundance this year, and will receive The Visionary Award at the Opening Night Gala.

The Sundance CEO, Joana Vicente stated:

“Kristen’s captivating performances across a wide, diverse body of work make her a truly unique talent. With over ten Sundance films under her belt, she has always remained committed to the art of independent cinema.”

The Sundance opening night gala is January 18th in Park City, Utah. Tickets and tables are available here.

Check out her two Sundance films, Love Me and Love Lies Bleeding.

Read The Holdovers script. After a six-year break from making movies, Alexander Payne came across David Hemingson’s pilot about an all-boys prep school. Payne didn’t want to make that pilot, but he had his own ideas:

“It’s the story of lonely people at Christmas and the way their relationship evolves and the adventures they go on.”

Payne commissioned Hemingson to re-write the pilot as a 1970s comedy about a grumpy tutor (Paul Giamatti) at a New England school, bonding with a troubled student (Dominic Sessa) and the head cook during Christmas.

Read it here.


TECH SECTION

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) has some excellent underwater VFX. The company behind the work, Important Looking Pirates, has carved out a niche creating underwater sequences.

Watch the visually stunning Indiana Jones VFX breakdown video here.

It looks a whole lot safer than filming the sequences completely VFX-free as we learned recently during James Cameron’s new BTS interview about the underwater filming of The Abyss (1989), where he and his lead, Ed Helms, almost drowned.

For all the wonderfully playful sounds in Barbie, the mixer’s biggest challenge was silence. During post, the re-recording mixer Kevin O’Connell, who also worked on Oppenheimer, had to come up with a way to make America Ferrera’s powerful end monologue stand out by using silence:

“The level of quiet that we needed was below what the threshold would’ve been with the original dialogue recordings. We had to use every tool in the trade to try to bring down and suppress the normal sounds of a soundstage without affecting the tone of her dialogue.”

The final result is wonderful.


INDIE FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT

Christina Oh, the producer of Minari, is teaming with actor Steven Yeun (Beef, Minari, Nope) to form a new production company. Oh worked for six years as an assistant to the president of Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company, Dede Gardner.

She assisted on a wide array of projects:

Her first EP credit was for Okja, which Yeun co-starred in and her first full producing credit was The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019).

Yeun and Oh’s new production company is entitled Celadon Pictures. Oh’s prowess in working on high-caliber projects should accelerate this company to be a formidable player in the industry.

John Krasinski (The Office) has been directing since 2009. His debut, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which premiered at Sundance, was narratively fragmented, his follow-up The Hollars (2016), was a fairly standard family drama with some interesting casting choices.

He seems to have gotten the memo.

His third and fourth films, A Quiet Place 1 & 2 were shatteringly frightening horror sensations.

His next film IF surrounds imaginary friends. The official synopsis reads:

Follows a young girl who goes through a difficult experience and then begins to see everyone’s imaginary friends who have been left behind as their real-life friends have grown up.

Ryan Reynolds stars, and although the voice cast is stacked (Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Sam Rockwell, and Vince Vaughn all play imaginary friends) the trailer feels overly cutesy. Perhaps Krasinski is taking a break from the intensity of A Quiet Place or maybe there’s more to this family-comedy than meets the eye.

Noah Baumbach lines up a new project with George Clooney and Adam Sandler. The director recently co-wrote Barbie and while his last film, White Noise, based on Don DeLillo’s brilliant book, didn’t achieve widespread success, Marriage Story (2019) was gut-wrenching.

His new project is an untitled comedy starring Clooney and Sandler about adults coming of age. Netflix is producing and distributing.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS

The director of Run Lola Run, after a TV hiatus, returns to film. German director Tom Tykwer has created a strong resume of films from the furiously-paced, bold, fractured narrative of Run Lola Run (trailer) to the less well received:

Tykwer often meditates on new facets of technology, be that 18th-century perfume, modern-day holograms, or futuristic genetic engineering, all culminating in films that employ radically stylized narrative structures.

He just wrapped production on his latest project Das Licht (That’s Light). He describes it as a family portrait of a couple and their illegitimate son unraveling with the presence of a Syrian housekeeper:

“There are arguments, wrestling, and fighting in Das Licht, but there is also laughter, singing and dancing. The film will explore and test the spectrum of emotions and the corresponding narrative possibilities.”

Although that synopsis is paper-thin, the idea of “corresponding narrative possibilities” from Tykwer is titillating.

In making The Breaking Ice, Singapore’s Oscar entry, director Anthony Chen went through a personal filmmaking breakthrough. His previous approach had been rigid, as seen in Ilo Ilo (Cannes, 2013) and Wet Season (TIFF, 2019). In fact, when the actors showed up for filming, he hadn’t finished the script.

Inspired by Truffaut’s Jules and Jim and a pandemic-induced existential crisis, this film is set in a frosty Chinese town and explores a transient, intense relationship among three recent college graduates (trailer).

Chen explains:

“I wanted to use this feeling [of ice melting into water] to describe this relationship of three people bonding and developing this complex relationship over a very short time. But that melts very quickly as well, and what’s left is the memory.”

The film played at Cannes and will be released on Jan 14 (US). No UK release date has been set.


ON THIS DAY

1939. Gone With The Wind, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, premieres in Atlanta (Best Picture 1940, adjusted for inflation highest-grossing film of all time).


That’s all for the week. See you Monday!


Written by: Gabriel Miller. Research by Spencer Carter.

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