Apple steps into the movie business

  • >> Nicole Sperling, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-09-29 01:06:02 BdST

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, discusses Apple TV Plus and its programming at an annual product launch event in Cupertino, Calif, Sep 10, 2019. Apple, offering much less programming than streaming rivals, will court subscribers by emphasising its quality. The New York Times

Apple is going to the movies.

The company, which is set to unveil its Apple Plus TV streaming service on Nov 1, will enter the film business this fall with theatrical releases of three movies it acquired this year, Apple said Friday.

The effort will expand in 2020, when Apple plans to start producing its own films, some of which are being made in conjunction with the independent movie studio A24, the producer behind “Moonlight” and “Lady Bird,” two people with knowledge of the company’s plans said. Apple and A24 agreed last year to make movies together.

The first movie that Apple has lined up for theatrical release is “Elephant Queen,” a documentary centred on a 50-year-old elephant. It will open in theatres in “select cities” on Oct. 18, the company said, before appearing on Apple TV Plus on the streaming platform’s start date. The film, which the Toronto International Film Festival screened this month, is narrated by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The next offering will be “Hala,” a coming-of-age drama about a Muslim teenager played by Geraldine Viswanathan, who had a role in the 2018 comedy “Blockers.” It will make its debut in what the company described as “select theaters” on Nov 22 and go onto the streaming service in December. Apple acquired “Hala” after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in February.

Apple will give its widest theatrical release to “The Banker,” a civil-rights drama set in the 1950s starring Samuel L Jackson and Anthony Mackie. The company acquired worldwide distribution rights for the film in July and will put it in theatres on Dec 6. While wider than the others, the release will still involve only a limited number of theatres.

“The Banker” will be made available on Apple TV Plus in January, Apple said.

Apple declined to comment on its plans for going into movie production. The company also did not specify which theatres, or theatre chains, if any, would screen the three movies it acquired this year.

Ted Mundorff, the chief executive of Landmark Theaters, the largest independent cinema chain in the country, with 265 screens, questioned Apple’s strategy of putting films in theatres with awards season underway.

“I’m very skeptical,” he said. “If the film isn’t the right type to attract Academy and critical attention, it shouldn’t be in the marketplace at this time. If it isn’t strong enough for the fourth quarter, it will disappear quickly — if it can find the right theatres, which it probably will not.

“That’s the danger of going up against all the marketing horsepower the other studios are using to get into the Academy conversation,” Mundorff added.

In partnership with A24, Apple is also looking for a 2020 theatrical release of Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks,” a film that reunites the director with Bill Murray, the star of her 2003 comedic drama, “Lost in Translation,” according to the people familiar with Apple’s plans, who were not authorised to speak on the record.

In the movie, Murray portrays the estranged father of a woman played by Rashida Jones. “On the Rocks” would be the first co-production between Apple and A24 to hit the marketplace.

Matt Dentler, who managed independent film partnerships for iTunes, is charged with overseeing Apple’s push into feature-film development and acquisition. He reports to Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, the co-heads of Apple’s video programming. Dentler started his career as an intern at the SXSW Film Festival before becoming its head in 2003.

Apple also recently hired Greg Foster, a former head of entertainment at Imax, as a consultant. Foster spent 18 years transforming Imax from a large-format exhibitor popular at museums and other cultural institutions into a partner to Hollywood studios that helped jump-start big-budget theatrical releases and encouraged filmmakers like Christopher Nolan to film with Imax cameras.

c.2019 The New York Times Company