Pantelion Films and Lionsgate will stay the course and release Hours — starring the late Paul Walker — as planned on Dec. 13 in 15 select U.S. cities. The Hurricane Katrina drama will also debut simultaneously on VOD.
Executives from both companies, along with Hours producer Peter Safran, met Sunday to discuss the best course to take following the tragic death of Walker in a car crash Saturday afternoon north of Los Angeles. The 40-year-old actor was on Thanksgiving hiatus from shooting Fast & Furious 7 in Atlanta.
The team ultimately decided to stick to the Dec. 13 release date. “After lots of back and forth, this is our decision. It’s Paul’s tour de force. He’s in every frame of the movie,” Pantelion CEO Paul Presburger told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview Sunday afternoon. Walker produced the independent film with Safran, who also worked together on Vehicle 19.
A passion project for Walker, Hours takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Walker and Genesis Rodriguez play soon-to-be parents who rush to a New Orleans hospital after she goes into early labor. The birth goes tragically wrong, and Walker’s character finds himself cut off from the world with his ill newborn daughter when the storm hits and the hospital is evacuated.
“Paul would have very much wanted us to move forward. He was incredibly proud of this project. We did a press junket two weeks ago, and I remember sitting with him and how excited he was for people to see this movie. He really looked to this movie to show people that he is an actor,” Safran said during the THR interview. “He was looking for something to showcase his acting skills, which he so rarely had the chance to do. He hit it out of the park.”
The move comes as Universal is figuring out how to move forward with Fast & Furious 7. The franchise installment, unlike Hours, is still in production, so Universal will need to decide whether to address the tragedy in the film’s narrative and when to resume production. Fast 7 is set for release July 11, 2014, but may miss that date if extensive work has to be done in the wake of Walker’s death.
The subject matter of Hours struck a deep chord with Walker, who founded the charity Reach Out Worldwide in 2010 in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. Just before his death, Walker and his charity co-hosted an event in Santa Clarita, Calif., for victims of the recent typhoon in the Philippines.
“Hours embodies a message that was so important to him, which is that you have to do everything you can to keep friends and family safe,” Safran said.
Presburger and Safran said there are discussions underway as to how best to honor Walker’s memory. That could potentially include donating certain proceeds of the film to Walker’s charity, but they cautioned any decision to do so would have to be vetted with Walker’s team.
Pantelion, a joint venture between Lionsgate and Televisa, specializes in Latino entertainment and earlier this year engineered a historic coup with the box office success of Instructions Not Included. The comedy transformed into the top Spanish-language film of all time in the U.S. with $44.3 million in ticket sales and broke records in Mexico after grossing more than $46 million.
Hours is not a Spanish-language film, but Pantelion was drawn to the project because of Walker’s huge Hispanic fan base (thanks to the Fast & Furious franchise) and Rodriguez, the daughter of a Venezuelan actor and singer Jose Luis Rodriguez. Born in Miami, Rodriguez has acted both in the U.S. and Mexico.
Pantelion acquired U.S. and Canadian rights to Hours after seeing the movie’s premiere at the SXSW Film Festival, where Walker and Rodriguez were both in attendance. Safran’s company produced Hours in association with Palmstar Media and the Hirsh Group. UTA represented domestic rights to the movie.