To Rio with Love? Why Woody Allen Should Make His Next Film in Brazil

on August 20, 2013

stardustmemories.pngBy Daniel Loria

Headlines have highlighted the importance of Hollywood blockbusters to appeal to international audiences. From additional scenes in Iron Man 3, to a toned-down cut of Django Unchained, and all-out script revisions in the China/U.S. co-production of Looper, films are continually looking how to market themselves for global success.

Woody Allen's budgets operate well below those of a standard Hollywood studio production. When funding began to become more complicated mid-way through last decade, Allen started to look for financing outside the U.S. and, as a result, began to export his singular brand of neurosis to overseas locales.

Match Point was the first drama to take him outside of the U.S., a film that reinvigorated the filmmaker's career after a series of poorly received comedies that spanned the late nineties to the early aughts. A slew of other foreign-shot films followed the success of Match Point, showcasing his skills as a dramatist (Cassandra's Dream), interest in character pieces (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and affinity for lighthearted comedy (Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love).

Now Brazil wants to invest in Woody Allen as well. The New York Times reports interest from Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes to bring the veteran filmmaker to the Brazilian city for a new project. The Times cites an interview in O Globo where the Rio politician admits extending an invitation to Allen, going as far as saying, "I'll pay him anything to bring him to film here." The Mayor's invitation implies a fully-funded production if Woody Allen decides to film in Brazil.

A number of recent Hollywood franchises have been set in cosmopolitan cities of the world's top emerging markets, hoping that the international dimension would come as an added appeal. Fast Five reignited the Fast & Furious franchise with its Rio de Janeiro setting, despite the fact principal photography didn't take place in Brazil. The latest entry in the everlasting Die Hard franchise sees John McClane head to Moscow for a new adventure, the confined environs of the original's Nakatomi Plaza no longer being suitable for the franchise's global scope. Globe-trotting spy films have always benefitted from featuring international locales, a convention that was revised in the horror genre with Brad Pitt's World War Z. The zombie movie took advantage of its global themes by incorporating country-specific posters of national landmarks being overrun with zombies as part of its overseas marketing strategy.

A potential Woody Allen film set in Brazil wouldn't be too alienating, at least not for local audiences. Brazilian audiences don't seem to mind Allen's brand of neurosis in a setting outside of New York's urban jungle. Only seven Woody Allen films have grossed over $1 million in Brazil. Six of those films take place outside the United States.

  • Midnight in Paris $8.2M
  • To Rome with Love $3.9M
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona $2.5M
  • Match Point $2.2M
  • Whatever Works $1.6M
  • You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger $1.5M
  • Scoop $1M

An increase of foreign investment from emerging economies in the arthouse circuit might lead to an interesting globalization of auteur fare. Established filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee have complained about the creative concessions filmmakers face when it comes to accepting funds for a new project. The situation is so restrictive that Soderbergh decided to retire from filmmaking while Spike Lee went to Kickstarter to fund his next film. 

Those concessions are still present in Hollywood's current overseas strategy, which is becoming more reliant on markets outside of North America to hedge their bets on high-budget/high-risk projects. The arthouse circuit is less accepting of interference from producers, following a more traditionally auteurist approach to making and marketing films.

An interesting example of this model occurred with this year's release of Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha. A set of Brazilian producers put up the money for Baumbach's micro-budget indie, a passion project that the director kept tightly guarded and refused to make unless he was granted total creative control. The producers let Baumbach make the film he wanted at the pace he wanted, and the result was worth the risk. Frances Ha's free-flowing character-driven story is shot in black-and-white in a visual and narrative style reminiscent of the French new wave. The film is being distributed in North America by IFC Films and has already grossed $4 million, a fantastic number for a film of that scope. Frances Ha is a perfect example of how not all foreign investment comes along with restrictive conditions.

A Woody Allen film in Rio de Janeiro would be beneficial for the Brazilian government as well. The country bills itself as one of the world's most dynamic economies and is looking forward to hosting the upcoming World Cup and Summer Olympic Games. Brazil's idyllic postcard image suffered a blow, however, when social unrest led to mass protests around this summer's Confederations Cup soccer tournament that included violent clashes between protestors and police.

For Rio de Janeiro, a city where poverty and wealth are only thinly divided by geography, headlines like the recent gang-rape of an American student in a public van, offer a contrasting view of Rio's reputation as a beachside paradise. A Woody Allen movie won't solve any social problems here or anywhere else, but would help in providing a different look into one of Brazil's most diverse and cosmopolitan cities. If Woody is willing, Brazil seems to be waiting with open arms.

There was a time when Woody Allen movies were known for their verisimilitude of New York's urban appeal. It appears, however, that his recent output works more succefully as a travelogue for tourism boards across Europe. Films like Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and To Rome with Love offer little more than postcard vistas better suited for cruise pamphlets. There is a contrived aspect to Allen's work whenever he leaves the confines of New York City's five burroughs, as if he's traveling to a new place to check out the sights and tell a story somewhere in the process.

Rio, however, might provide a new inspiration for Woody Allen. Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are contemporaries, both of them built a career out of showcasing two opposing versions of the same city. Annie Hall and Taxi Driver were filmed at around the same time in settings only twenty blocks apart. Scorsese and Allen shot those films on location, giving audiences an authentic feel of a New York that could never be replicated in a studio backlot. Rio de Janeiro offers a similar opportunity for Allen: a city where he can find his neurotic urban romance in the midst of a grittier reality. 

Follow Daniel Loria and BoxOffice on Twitter for more news and analysis on the global box office. 

Tags: Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha


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