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Interview With Producers Ken Kao and Josh Rosenbaum of Waypoint Entertainment for CUCKOO (2024) @ SXSW

Interview With Producers Ken Kao and Josh Rosenbaum of Waypoint Entertainment for CUCKOO (2024) @ SXSW

Ken Kao is CEO and Producer of Waypoint Entertainment and Josh Rosenbaum serves as Head Executive and Executive Producer for Waypoint, which is a full-service film production and financing company best known for Yorgos Lanthimos’ Academy Award-winning THE FAVOURITE (2018). They have also been behind such films as MID-90s, SONG TO SONG (2017), KNIGHT OF CUPS (2015), THE NICE GUYS (2016), and more.

Josh and Ken's latest film, CUCKOO starring Hunter Schafer and Dan Stevens, co-produced with NEON, held its US premiere during the 2024 SXSW festival. The film first played Berlin and received rave reviews.

Their upcoming ventures include the Duke Johnson film THE ACTOR, with fellow producers Ryan Gosling and Charlie Kaufman, as well as Aneil Karia’s modern adaptation of HAMLET starring Riz Ahmed.

 

In an interview with Ken and Josh before their premiere, here is what they had to say:

Can you tell us about your film CUCKOO premiering here at the festival?

JOSH: CUCKOO, directed by amazing auteur filmmaker Tilman Singer, stars Hunter Schafer and Dan Stevens. It's a multi genre wild ride shot on 35 mm. It played in Berlin a couple of weeks ago. I'm excited to put it in front of American audiences who I think are really going to respond to it.

 

How did the project come to you and when did you decide to work on it?

KEN: As you could imagine, when you're in the industry you get submitted a lot of things. That's also part of our job to be on the lookout for new original talent. Tilman's first film on our radar was LUZ (2028). It was a film made for a very low six figures that basically amounted to a student film. Josh identified this film and to Josh's credit he raised his hand for it. So here we are now. Tilman chose us, which we are grateful for. Coming from Hollywood, we're very proud to be here.

 

How did your working relationship together get started?

KEN: I co-founded Waypoint Entertainment in 2010. At the time I was represented by WME where Joshua was. Josh started working there in 2012. He happened to be an assistant to one of the agents on my team, so I was talking to him every day. In 2015 when I made the decision to scale up the company and commit to making more films, I obviously needed people power and Josh raised his hand. He's good at raising his hand.

 

Can you tell us what audiences can expect to see with CUCKOO without having to reveal too much?

JOSH: Honestly, I'm most excited about people going into this blindly but I think the only prerequisite I would suggest is to go have fun with it because it is a fun film. You'll laugh, maybe you'll cry. You'll probably get jump scares here and there. We're always looking for films that are tonally complex and layered, films that are combining different genres. When we first read it, I don't think I had seen a script like this that combined more genres into one. It's part psychological thriller, part detective story, then the ending is like an action shootout a la The Matrix then there's a scene that's like it’s right out of Jurassic Park. It's really out there. There's a little bit of everything for everyone.

 

How were the reactions from the audience in Berlin?

JOSH: Great. It played very well there, although the German sense of humor is unique. We played in this massive new venue in Berlin with 1800 people where they do rock concerts, so it wasn't very intimate. But the things they were laughing at were not the things I think the American audience will be laughing at tonight, so I'm very excited.

 

Once the film is out, what you guys will be working on next?

KEN: We have three films in post-production right now. One of them is a super avant-garde take on HAMLET with Riz Ahmed. We have another film starring Taron Egerton which just wrapped called SHE RIDES SHOTGUN. We have one called THE ACTOR we're producing with Charlie Kaufman and Ryan Gosling directed by Duke Johnson who directed ANOMALISA (2015); this is his second feature film. We have PROJECT HAIL MARY with Lord and Miller that's getting ready to shoot in London with Ryan Gosling starring, and just a whole slew of development projects we're working diligently on for the last 3-4 years, or longer actually, all in various stages of casting and financing.

 

Looking into the future, will you both continue working together as a production team?

JOSH: Forever and always. I've been working with Ken since 2015 and I can't imagine myself anywhere else.

 

It's so hard to get independent movies off the ground these days. Is having name talent the key ingredient to getting a film financed?

KEN: I'm a little mixed on this subject, because on one hand I feel that studios and buyers are asking us to make films on as miniscule a budget as possible and it's hard to get household name talent on that amount of money, so we're seeing other movies emerging. I mean look at the Oscars this year. There were a bunch of movies that weren't necessarily big budget films nor had household A list star names, yet they performed well at the box office and got critically regarded. Of course, if you can get A list talent that's great, everyone wants one. I'll tell you what's not happening anymore, which used to be the case, is that getting an A list name no longer guarantees you the money to make a larger budget film. I think we're in a very unusual place.

 

Would you say that some of the key ingredients to getting indie films made these days are having had previous movies that have performed well, a good track record, solid relationships and even some awards?

JOSH: It is definitely tough right now to get indie films made, but we're trying to align ourselves with distributors like A24 who we've worked with a number of times before and Neon right now. We've very much enjoyed our experience with them on CUCKOO. These films no longer being made that are above $5M but are not $200M Marvel films have been underserved. So, we're trying to work with these companies to find the ways we can bring these films back and be bold.

KEN: I would say that the industry is very relationship driven.

 

Is CUCKOO the first film you've had premiere at SXSW?

KEN: I've had one other film that Terrence Malick directed, SONG TO SONG. We premiered it here in 2017. There was the movie by Terry Malick, A HIDDEN LIFE in 2019 that had a big studio sale. You talk about the movie star stuff; you never know because that film had no Hollywood stars and performed well. But the other movies Terry made previous to that were totally laden with movie stars, yet they didn't always register with audiences, studios and buyers, so you never know.

 

What do you think about SXSW as a major domestic film festival?

JOSH: This year's slate has been very impressive. It has really gone up, dare I say rudely in afterthought, in terms of a domestic festival where big deals are happening and where people are launching their films, especially after having EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE here in 2022, and that success story. It got us so excited to launch CUCKOO here, as opposed to Sundance because our film is also a wild and weird film but commercial in its own respect. Austin is an amazing town and it's not freezing cold and there are hotels for everyone to stay at. I’m excited.

 

How can people see the film after the premiere tonight?

JOSH: Neon is releasing it live in early May and it's going to be everywhere.

 

Can you share an anecdote with us from the making of the film? Something that made this film an extreme and memorable production.

KEN: Let me start because mine is more arm’s length and Josh can finish it. He was making this film overseas and we were totally upside down, so it was hard to connect. I would call this guy and he would be miserable, but he's really got some good war stories. Literally when I say war stories, you might remember the Ukraine thing that popped up right around that time. Tell her about what happened right before you started shooting.

JOSH: This must've been two weeks before we started shooting. This project had already survived going through Covid and we had waited a year for Hunter's schedule to clear. We were set to begin shooting in Western Germany around Dusseldorf and Cologne, and we had to shoot within that state called NRW. We found out that most of our locations had just been apprehended by the German government to house Ukrainian refugees. We had a very specific look for what we needed to film and there were no other locations left. So, we had to just build it with the last contractor available who could basically charge whatever he wanted because we had no other options. It was hellacious. But I also credit Neon for helping to fight and solve that problem. With every independent film, you want to put every dollar on screen. It was tough, but this project has had every kind of gut punch possible to be here and everyone is still good friends. We all love each other so we couldn't be more excited to finally have people see this movie. It's got some blood splattered in there.

 

Producing is a problem-solving business, isn't it?

JOSH: Yes, absolutely.

 

 

ABOUT KEN KAO:

Ken Kao co-founded Waypoint Entertainment in 2010, a full service production company that provides creative and financial services to their projects. Kao has garnered producing credits on over a dozen feature films including Yorgos Lanthimos’ Academy Award-winning THE FAVOURITE (2018); Scott Cooper’s HOSTILES (2017); Destin Daniel Cretton’s THE GLASS CASTLE (2017); Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE (2016); Terrence Malick’s SONG TO SONG (2017) and KNIGHT OF CUPS (2015); Woody Harrelson’s directorial debut LOST IN LONDON (2017); and Shane Black’s THE NICE GUYS starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. 

Kao is a producer on the upcoming feature PROJECT HAIL MARY directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, starring Ryan Gosling, as well as Aneil Karia’s modern adaptation of HAMLET starring Riz Ahmed. Kao is also a producer on Waypoint’s latest feature CUCKOO, written and directed by Tilman Singer, which stars Hunter Schafer, Dan Stevens and Jessica Henwick, and will be world premiering at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival with NEON.

Kao is also a co-founder and partner at Parallel, a celebrity talent partnership studio & strategic investor based in Los Angeles, California. 

Interview With Producers Ken Kao and Josh Rosenbaum of Waypoint Entertainment for CUCKOO (2024) @ SXSW Producer Ken Kao

 

ABOUT JOSH ROSENBAUM:

Josh Rosenbaum serves as the head executive and producer for Ken Kao’s production and finance company, Waypoint Entertainment. 

Rosenbaum served as an executive producer on Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE FAVOURITE, which won seven BAFTA Awards, eight European Film Awards, one Golden Globe Award, two Critics Choice Awards, and one Academy Award. He co-produced HOSTILES (2017); Netflix’s TAU (2018); Jonah Hill’s directorial debut with A24, MID90s (2018); and Martin Zandvliet’s THE OUTSIDER (2018) starring Jared Leto for Netflix. Rosenbaum has worked on several other projects with Waypoint, including Lionsgate’s THE GLASS CASTLE (2017) and A24's WOODSHOCK (2017); and he served as an associate producer on Woody Harrelson’s directorial debut LOST IN LONDON (2017). Rosenbaum is an EP on NEON’s upcoming Duke Johnson film, THE ACTOR, with fellow producers Ryan Gosling and Charlie Kaufman as well as Aneil Karia’s modern adaptation of HAMLET starring Riz Ahmed. He is also a producer on Waypoint’s latest feature CUCKOO, written and directed by Tilman Singer, which stars Hunter Schafer, Dan Stevens and Jessica Henwick, and will be world premiering at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival with NEON.

Prior to joining Kao in June 2015, Rosenbaum worked as an agent trainee at William Morris Endeavor (WME) in the film finance and distribution group. Rosenbaum graduated from the University of Southern California where he received a B.A. in Business Administration and a minor in Music Industry.

Interview With Producers Ken Kao and Josh Rosenbaum of Waypoint Entertainment for CUCKOO (2024) @ SXSW Producer Josh Rosenbaum

 

Interview by Vanessa K. McMahon

 

 

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