EXCLUSIVE: Actor Eric Bana is making his first foray into film distribution. Before the shakeup at Focus Features last week, Bana met with and got the company’s top executives James Schamus and Andrew Karpen to agree to sell him the Australian distribution rights to Closed Circuit, the John Crowley-directed paranoid thriller that stars Bana and Rebecca Hall as defense lawyers representing a terrorist charged with blowing up London’s Borough Market. The former lovers realize a conspiracy is afoot and their lives are in danger. Jim Broadbent, Julia Stiles and Ciaran Hinds also star. They plan a December 5 theatrical release.
The film opened to mixed reviews in the U.S. in August and grossed $5.7 million, with marketing that played up timely subjects like hi-tech surveillance and government leakers. Bana has teamed on the deal with Robert Connolly, who directed the Julian Assange pic Underground, and produced and was second unit director on the Bana-starrer Romulus, My Father. “We share an office and bounce idea off each other all the time, but this is the first time since Romulus we connected on something,” Bana told me. “We thought there was no reason we couldn’t look at distributing boutique releases in our backyard. Robert has navigated those waters before with his company Cinema Plus, and has been extremely involved in securing cinemas and has longstanding relationships with exhibitors here. I have logged many years on the publicity trail, and the relevant outlets know me and I know them. On paper, it’s fresh waters, but in reality it isn’t really. We can have a level of control, and to us it makes a helluva lot of sense and is something I wish I had done earlier. I have a great relationship with Focus, presented the offer in New York, and James and Andrew liked the idea.”
Bana admits he is taking a financial risk, but deems it a manageable one and won’t have to sell off one of his race cars if he falls flat as a distributor. He’s a big star in Australia, and the upstart distributor has a fully incentivized star to hustle for the film. “[Bana] is always motivated when it comes to selling a film, so it will not be too hard to get him to hustle,” Bana said. “The film has a unique opportunity to present itself here. Each market tends to view a film through its own prism. In the U.S., the topical comparison subject was the Edward Snowden case and in the UK, it was the phone-hacking scandal. Here, there is a unique opportunity for Closed Circuit to stand on its own as a film. There will be less baggage attached and the audience can just enjoy a thriller.”
Stars distributing their own films is unusual, but not unprecedented. I can recall that when Jackie Chan made his final Rush Hour sequel deal, it gave him control of some Asian territories. I recall Tom Laughlin doing similar with his Billy Jack films and I am sure there have been others but not many roll up their sleeves the way that Bana and Connolly plan to do. Bana said they will test this model before figuring out if they will do it again. “There have been cases in the past where I could have taken the initiative, and I would definitely consider doing it in the future on the right film,” he said. “We don’t see ourselves competing with major distributors in any way, but we do feel we can position films well in our own backyard.”