Russian-Kazakh multi-hyphenate Timur Bekmambetov has teamed up with MarVista Entertainment, Endeavor Content and Pulsar Content on a slate of feature films in his pioneering Screenlife format that will be presented to buyers at the TIFF market.
Bekmambetov told Variety during the Toronto Film Festival, that the rapid growth, critical recognition and box-office success of Screenlife films – which take place almost entirely on smartphones and computer screens – prove the format is “more than just a gimmick.”
“It is the first time the presence of Screenlife movies at a major film market is so prominent,” he said. “Just a few years ago, film festivals and industry events used to have only one or two [Screenlife] pictures in the program or in the sales slate, but now it’s already multiple studios and distributors producing and promoting dozens of movies set on a computer or a smartphone screen.”
Two of the six titles Bekmambetov and his partners are repping in Toronto have already found success on the festival circuit: “R#J” (pictured), a modern retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was awarded at SXSW; and “#BLUE_WHALE,” from debutante Russian director Anna Zaytseva, a horror film about online suicide games that arrives fresh off its premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival.
Among the four new projects being presented, Variety can exclusively reveal the first details about “Roxy,” the first Screenlife comedy, which stars internet sensation Logan Paul and Sam Lerner, best known for his roles in ABC’s hit comedy series “The Goldbergs” and Blumhouse’s “Truth or Dare,” as well as Australian star Alycia Debnam-Carey (“Fear the Walking Dead”).
Currently in post-production, “Resurrected” is a high-concept thriller, starring Dave Davis (“The Vigil”), that’s set in a dystopian future in which the Catholic Church has learned to raise the dead. Directed by fast-rising Russian director Egor Baranov, whose credits include the Russian B.O. hit trilogy “Gogol” and Netflix’s “Sparta” series, “Resurrected” is a joint production of Bekmambetov’s Bazelevs, Logical Pictures and Pulsar Content.
“#FBF” is a new YA drama starring Ashley Judd and Cree Cichino that follows a teenager who accidentally takes her mom’s laptop on a visit to see her father in New Jersey and discovers a world of shopping sprees, snooping and sabotage. The film is co-produced by Bazelevs, MarVista Entertainment and Particular Crowd.
Also being presented in Toronto is the horror film “Unfollowed.”
Bekmambetov has described Screenlife films as a response to the ubiquitous presence of digital technology in our everyday lives and an attempt to find dramatic tension in the time we spend on our screens. The first Screenlife release, “Unfriended,” was picked up by Universal and grossed $65 million worldwide in 2015. It was followed by “Searching,” starring Debra Messing and John Cho, which was acquired by Sony Pictures and grossed in $75 million. Bekmambetov was a producer on both films.
In 2019 Bekmambetov launched the production company Interface Films with Igor Tsay, who served as an executive producer on “Searching.” “R#J” was the first major project to come out of the partnership.
“We see how Screenlife films never fail to gain traction with the audiences, whether this be classic narratives getting a modern retelling on the screens of our devices, such as ‘R#J’ or ‘Roxy,’ or completely new stories echoing our digital existence,” Tsay said. “We are excited to team up with major film distributors to pave the way to new digital filmmaking.”
“Roxy,” “Unfollowed” and “R#J” are part of a three-picture slate being sold by Endeavor Content and Interface Films. “Resurrected” is represented by Pulsar Content. “#FBF” sales are handled by MarVista and Endeavor. “#BLUE_WHALE” is represented by Mirsand.
Other upcoming Screenlife titles include Sony Pictures’ next installment of the “Searching” franchise, starring Storm Reid (“Euphoria”), and Universal’s untitled Screenlife sci-fi thriller, starring Eva Longoria and Ice Cube. Both films are produced by Bekmambetov.