Arrival landed strong, raking in $24 million when it opened and has remained remarkably robust into its 3rd week with a current total of $62 million. The film is currently rated at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and is one of the favorite films of the year here at Awards Daily.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Shawn Levy, Dan Levine and Dan Cohen, the minds behind 21 Laps Entertainment, Arrival and the Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things.
The morning we spoke it had just been announced that Sean Astin would join the cast of Stranger Things for season two. Astin of course was featured in the ’80s cult classic The Goonies. “It’s going to be a trip.” Levy said of Season 2 and Astin’s character will add further to the ’80s nostalgia we feel when we watch the show.
No one expected the show to be as big as it has become when the show was released on Netflix in July. Levy credits the show’s success to one thing, “Word of mouth. Word of mouth made the show the phenomenon it became. Everyone was talking about it and telling everyone to watch it.”
The team is always on the hunt for outstanding talent, and that’s exactly what they found with the Duffer Brothers. Their work stood out and their narrative instinct was readily apparent. Prior to Stranger Things, they had “only ever worked on horror.” Levy says. It was Cohen who first put the script for Stranger Things on Levy’s desk. After reading it and meeting with the Duffer Brothers, 21 Laps Entertainment was eager to jump on board. “I loved it. I read it and I called them in. I was on board and said that I’m going to put it on my back.”
Rather than approach the major studios, 21 Laps chose to go to Netflix. Netflix was the first and only company where Stranger Things was pitched. “I went in with the Duffer Brothers.” Levy tells me. “We went to Netflix, they bought it the next day.” The streaming service was fast to snap up the sci-fi series for 8 episodes, and work on the 9 followup episodes for season 2 has already begun. What do they love about working with Netflix? Levy likes that they, along with the Duffer Brothers, are given creative freedom, and that their core creative team of Levy, Levine, Cohen, the Duffer Brothers and just a few Netflix executives are the only hands guiding their unified vision.
Hot on the heels of the success of Stranger Things came the release of another 21 Laps project, Arrival, which has opened to widespread acclaim.
In the same groove as their desire to work with young talent like the Duffer Brothers, they first came across the script by newcomer Eric Heisserer and knew immediately that they wanted to get behind Arrival. They spent some time with Heisserer as to help shape the cerebral Ted Chiang short story into rich cinematic form. The producers stress that, “Eric went through many drafts before we approached anyone” but once they had the script at a place where they were satisfied, Levine met with Denis Villeneuve. The director loved it immediately.
Arrival a beautiful and thought-provoking tale of mankind’s first contact with an alien life form and the struggle to find a nexus for communication. It’s far from the big action invasion film that you might expect if you only base your assumptions on the stunning posters. Levy says they first became aware of Ted Chiang’s source material, The Story of Your Life, five years ago and the brief short story made an impact. The concept of aliens arriving on earth with a language and syntax that was virtually impenetrable to most humans appealed to Levy, as did the premise of a linguist who finds the key to communicating on a purely intuitive emotional level. The underlying theme of choosing to pursue a path in life with unconditional fervor even when we know that path leads to heartache resonated deeply with Levy. It also struck a unique chord with others on the 21 Lap team because, “on the surface it’s an alien film, but what made it stand out was that Arrival, like Stranger things, is a story that is anchored in its characters.”
Levine adds that what he likes most about the film was that it isn’t about, “alien craft landing and there are explosions and alien invasions. Instead, what we have here in Arrival is that aliens arrive, and we attempt to find out what they actually want, and that really was interesting to me.”
Once they got to work on the film, surprisingly one of the biggest challenges that arose were the bio-hazard suits worn by the human envoys who visit the spacecraft. “We had a full team around the cast ready to take Amy and Jeremy out of those suits after twenty minutes because they can get hot and sweaty quite quickly,” Levine says.
If you’ve seen the trailer or the film itself, you’ll know the aliens break free of typical sci-fi depictions, and the same goes for the ship. Levy gives full credit to Villeneuve for designing, “creatures that were were so unique, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”
Next up for 21 Laps, the team plans to move away from sci-fi and return to comedy with Why Him opening on December 23. The film stars Bryan Cranston as an overbearing father who visits his daughter in college. His worst nightmare becomes cringing reality when his daughter introduces her dad to her obnoxious billionaire boyfriend, played by James Franco. “It’s going to be hilarious,” Levy promises us.
With that promise, it was time to wrap up, but here’s a forecast of more exciting work we can expect from the team at 21 Laps.
Arrival is on general release and Stranger Things can be streamed on Netflix.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Released on July 15th. Eight 1-hour episodes.
November 11th release. Sci-fi thriller.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners), starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker.
Why Him? (Fox)
Dec. 25th release.
Written and directed by John Hamburg.
Bryan Cranston stars in this comedy alongside James Franco, Keegan-Michael Key and Zoey Deutch.
Table 19 (Fox Searchlight)
January 20, 2017 release.
Anna Kendrick in a wedding comedy with a supporting cast that includes Stephen Merchant, Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, Wyatt Russell, June Squib.
Fist Fight (New Line) – Feb. 17, 2017 release.
Ice Cube & Charlie Day in an R-rated comedy. Feature debut of Always Sunny director Richie Keen. Also stars Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell & Dean Norris.
Imaginary Mary – ABC comedy with Jenna Elfman premiering next season. Shawn Levy directed and exec produced the pilot and will Exec produce the series as well.
Night at the Museum (Chinese Remake) – Currently in development at the Chinese film studio Alibaba.
Last Man Standing – Shawn Executive Produces this Tim Allen-led sitcom currently in its sixth season.
Kodachrome (Motion Picture Capital) – From Jonathan Tropper’s script with Mark Raso set to direct. Will star Ed Harris, Lizzie Olsen & Jason Sudeikis.
The Undergraduate (Fox) – Original idea of WHIPLASH filmmaker’s Damien Chazelle that he wrote to direct.
Kin (No Trace Camping) – Feature debut from filmmakers Jonathan & Josh Baker, based on their short film of the same name.
The Darkest Minds (Fox) – Best selling YA trilogy adapted by Wayward Pines creator Chad Hodge. Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Sovereign (Sierra/Affinity) – Sci-fi thriller with BAFTA-award winning filmmaker Marc Munden (Utopia) directing.
Mr. Men and Little Miss (Fox Animation) – Animated feature film based on the beloved children’s book series owned by Sanrio.
Sesame Street (Warner Bros.) – 21 Laps holds the rights to the feature adaptation.
Untitled biopic about legendary concert promoter Bill Graham (Fox)