Relativity Specialty Division Ramps Up With Race Drama 'Burden' (Exclusive)

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Robbie Brenner

Relativity Squared's mandate is to acquire and produce lower-budget, story-driven films with a unique point of view.

Relativity has picked up Burden, a racial drama from newcomer Andrew Heckler, and will use it to launch Relativity Squared, aka R2, its new specialty division.

Run by Robbie Brenner, Relativity president of production and producer of the award-winning Matthew McConaughey drama Dallas Buyers Club, the division's mandate is to acquire and produce lower-budget, story-driven films with a unique point of view.

Two other projects already in development at Relativity — The Secret Scripture, being directed by Jim Sheridan, and The Tribes of Palos Verdes, being directed by D.J. Caruso — are being transferred to the new division as well.

Relativity executive vp acquisitions Matt Brodlie, a specialty-acquisitions vet, will run the division and report to Brenner. Executive Kevin McKeon will also work in the division. The trio will also continue on in their current roles at Relativity proper.

"The point of the label is to make movies that need more specialty care, movies that need more of a platform release," said Brenner, explaining that most of the company's movies open wide but this will focus on building an audience in a slower and more controlled way.

But another raison d'etre is to discover new filmmaking talent a la Dallas Buyers Club or Sundance sensation Whiplash.

Besides, with Focus Features changing its goals to include genre fare and some other specialty divisions going by the wayside, the company saw a void in the indie field it could fill. It has been working on the label since last fall but it has only now coalesced.

"It's a great way to get involved with a new filmmaker or filmmakers who want to make films they are passionate about and have something important to say," said Brenner. "Food for the soul can be profitable."

One example of that philosophy is Burden, written by Heckler, a onetime actor who is now moving into directing. Inspired by a magazine article about a Ku Klux Klan establishment, the man went south and infiltrated the Klan. Burden was borne from the experience, although it's not autobiographical.

Burden centers on an orphan raised by the Ku Klux Klan who attempts to break away when the girl he falls in love with urges him to leave the Klan for a better life together. When the Klan seeks the man out for vengeance, a black congregation led by a benevolent reverend takes the man, his girlfriend and her son in, protecting them and accepting them into their community.

"Now is the time for this movie, and I feel very strongly about [Heckler]," Brenner said.

Palos Verdes is in preproduction with Jennifer Garner and Maika Monroe (Tye Sheridan is not longer involved). Caruso (I Am Number Four) is directing the film, which is set in the affluent beach community of Palos Verdes, Calif. The story, based on Joy Nicholson's 1998 debut novel, centers on two teenagers who move to the beach town from Michigan with their parents.

Scripture is also in preproduction. The drama adapts the novel by Sebastian Barry and tells of a woman who, after her reputation is smeared by the half-brother of her love, is sent to a mental hospital, where she keeps a hidden diary containing the truth of her ordeal.

Rooney Mara, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana, Jack Reynor and Theo James are starring.

Jan. 29, 11:00 a.m. Headline updated to clarify the description of the movie Burden.