Michael Benaroya, Benaroya Pictures
Michael Benaroya is just 32-years-old but he says part of the success of his Benaroya Pictures is based on an “old-fashioned” value system. “If we shake hands, we’re doing a deal.” Benaroya produced two movies that debuted in Cannes last year, The Paperboy and Lawless, and this year had Kill Your Darlings in Sundance. He says a hallmark of the projects his company boards is that they are cast driven. Upcoming, he’s exec producing Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Toxic Avenger reboot; and producing Guy Pearce and Kristen Wiig in Hateship, Loveship and Felony with Joel Edgerton and Jai Courtney. Toxic Avenger along with the Clive Owen-starrer King Of The Castle and Stephen King adaptation Cell, are being sold here in Cannes by Benaroya’s new sales arm, IFT. That venture is a partnership with Miscellaneous Entertainment to sell the theatrical feature productions from their own banners as well as third-party titles. They’re starting with a $15M fund. Although he’s had “great and not great experiences” with sales companies, not being in control of an outside agency’s priorities is an issue. This is the first market for IFT and Benaroya says he’s in town to “see what the pulse is of what’s working.” He’s also here looking to make some deals. “At every market, sales companies take out projects that sell less than expected and then come back (to LA) and say, ‘Let’s go out to equity.’” For Benaroya, that’s an opportunity. “I usually get my hooks into something before it goes back to LA.”
Jason Blum, Blumhouse Productions
Blumhouse founder Jason Blum broke the mold with 2007’s micro-budget smash Paranormal Activity which went on to gross over $108M domestically and close to $200M global. When Paramount acquired the film and released it the studio way, Blum sparked to the hybrid system. “That’s a process I connect to and love: make a movie on your own and have a studio release it.” He’s since gone on to a first-look deal with Universal which is releasing Blumhouse’s The Purge from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes on June 7 (Paramount releases the Paranormal sequels). Blum’s focus remains on movies made for under $5M that go out on over 2,000 screens to compete in the studio marketplace. ”I don’t chase things that don’t fall into our model and so far it works pretty well. I think it’s successful because we adhere to it.” The focus is firmly on genre like Insidious and Sinister because it fits best with the model and because it’s “what we are all truly passionate about. While we might find a good story in a different area that we think could work, it would be an exception.” Blum says micro-budgets empower filmmakers. “You get a lot more freedom with a $3M budget than a $200M budget.” He tells directors, “I can’t promise you a hit, but I can promise you will live or die on your own work.” Blum is also branching out with a new sales venture, Blumhouse International, to handle foreign on the company’s films. The division has a worldwide distribution and servicing deal with IM Global and the two are introducing the new outfit to buyers here in Cannes. Blumhouse’s upcoming releases include Insidious Chapter 2 via FilmDistrict, Paranormal Activity 5 via Paramount and Jessabelle via Lionsgate. Also in development are The Town That Dreaded Sundown with Ryan Murphy producing for MGM and the Duplass brothers’ Peach Fuzz. Blum is also a producer on the just announced feature version of Sundance Prize-winning short Whiplash.
Randall Emmett & George Furla, Emmett/Furla Films
Randall Emmett has made over 70 movies, but it’s the films of the last three years or so that reflect what he and partner George Furla have strived for. “George and I always wanted to make a certain caliber of film and as you work in the business, it takes time for agencies to trust you with filmmakers and talent.” The pair have their hands in films that include the upcoming 2 Guns with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington; Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor; Baltasar Kormakur’s Everest and, notably, Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Emmett/Furla has raised “a few hundred million” in equity in the past few years which Emmett credits as one of the company’s strong suits. The funds are revolving and have no restrictions which allows them to make “much bigger films” and provides “the freedom to do stuff we couldn’t do before.” Universal is distributing Lone Survivor and 2 Guns and Emmett says they “really enjoy having a studio partner. You get high quality producers attached to the projects which has elevated” the films. He says that when he and Furla were making smaller movies they were “day-to-day” producers – on set and on location. But “when you move to the higher budget world of filmmaking you have to know what you do well… We’re definitely producers. We secure financing, pick a project to work with, assist in casting and locking budget. But we like to allow the filmmakers to do what they want to do.” The biggest challenge for Emmett remains finding a great script and “to have a great filmmaker and talent… And then you have to get really lucky with the right release date, then bet it all on the roulette wheel.” During this Cannes, Emmett says one of his major focuses is Scorsese who is coming to town to talk up Silence. And he just wants to be along for the ride. “I’m beyond excited, it’s a milestone for sure. We’re beside ourselves.”
Lisa Wilson & Myles Nestel, The Solution Entertainment Group
Heading into Cannes last year, one of the big stories was the proliferation of new sales companies that had just arrived on the scene and whether or not they would all stand the test of time. Lisa Wilson and Myles Nestel’s production, financing and sales group The Solution was one of the new outfits, and it’s expanding. Earlier this month they partnered with Siren Studios, with whom they already share genre sales label Synchronicity, to launch a $50M fund to finance the development and production of the partners’ slate. Wilson, a former GK Films exec, says of last year, “While we were a new company, we weren’t new people.” One can’t underestimate the client relationship, she contends. “It’s astonishing that in today’s cut-throat world there are still people that will support you. It’s because they’re looking at you as a bet and based on previous history.” Wilson says this second Cannes for The Solution puts it right where it wants to be. The first film to be fully financed and produced under the new fund is Lynn Shelton’s Laggies with Keira Knightley in talks to star with Chloe Moretz and Sam Rockwell. Its June 2 start date meant The Solution had to commit before being able to make any sales ahead of Cannes, but because of the new fund, “We were able to write the check.” Also co-financed by the fund is John Travolta heist thriller The Forger which starts shooting in August. Other films that The Solution is producing include November Man with Pierce Brosnan which starts on May 20. Wilson tells me the company is also eyeing a couple of larger action pictures. It’s also selling the Brosnan-starrer How To Make Love Like An Englishman, thriller Felony and Grand Piano with Elijah Wood.
Christopher Woodrow, Worldview Entertainment
Worldview Entertainment is a relatively young outfit that has evolved considerably in the last two and a half years. Chairman and CEO Christopher Woodrow says 2011’s Killer Joe was something of a milestone which ended up making money for the company. On its first slate of films, “We convinced investors we had the know-how” and have been able to bring in more money doing about six to eight films a year, which could grow to 10. Worldview recently did a different kind of deal by grabbing U.S. rights to the Arnaud Desplechin-directed drama Jimmy P, which stars Benicio Del Toro and makes its debut in Competition at Cannes. “We’re always opportunistic,” Woodrow tells me. “We’ve done equity and mezzanine (financing) and this was just another opportunistic investment. Benicio is amazing.” The company is expected to sell rights on to a U.S. distributor. It also has the James Gray-directed The Immigrant in Competition and the Guillaume Canet-directed Blood Ties in an official screening here. Woodrow says, “For us, things are amazing. We might be living in a bubble but we have a lot going on.” And building relationships is part of that. “We’re getting access to the best projects” and “haven’t been in a competitive situation this year.” Upcoming films include the Emma Stone-starrer Birdman; Anne Hathaway in Song One; and David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn with Al Pacino. As for ambitions, Woodrow says more money in the market also means there are “a lot of financiers contacting us wanting to partner,” but “we’re still a new growing company and want to feel our way around.” Worldview will “always be interested” in Oscar caliber pictures, but would also be keen on having a segment that’s focused on doing studio co-financing. Birdman is going through Fox Searchlight and Child 44 is with Lionsgate. In the year ahead, the company will evolve further but Woodrow cautions, “I don’t see us doing Superman. In five years, maybe things will be different.”