Just as things can’t get any worse in the world of film financing — hedge funds pulling out, studios cutting back, everyone scrambling for film financing, bonding and tax incentives — there may be a glimmer of hope sprouting. Fred Milstein has joined the entertainment insurance powerhouse, Aon/Albert G. Ruben, to help its clients get their movies made. The former William Morris agent turned independent film executive spent the last 12 years as president of the completion bond company cineFinance. Most recently, he was involved with Terry Gilliam’s Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus working to save the film after Heath Ledger’s death in mid-production. The insurance companies wanted to pay off the claims, write off the loss, and abandon the film. But Milstein got them to change their mind, then worked to make sure Gilliam had the money to actually finish the film with Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law completing Heath’s role.
But soon cineFinance lost the backing of their insurers and quietly stopped writing new business several months ago — yet another company brought down by the worldwide economic meltdown. It had been known as a place for filmmakers. Milstein bonded movies ranging from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, Sicko, Oliver Stone’s W, Steven Soderbergh’s Che, Stephen Frears’ Cheri, Neil Jordan’s upcoming Ondine, Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil , Milos Foreman’s Goya’s Ghost, and Katherine Bigelow’s Hurt Locker, as well as Palme D’Or winner Michael Haneke’s “White Ribbon”, Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming Shorts, Jim Sheridan’s Brothers and In America, James Mangold’s 310 To Yuma.
Since 2001, Milstein has also been a key player in the emerging Asian market, bonding Wong Kar Wei’s Cannes opener My Blueberry Nights, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution and Crouching Tiger, producer Bill Kong’s productions, including the Zhang Yimou Curse of the Golden Flower, and the largest film ever made and financed in Asia, John Woo’s epic The Battle of Red Cliff.
His new role at Aon/Albert G. Ruben seems to represents a major expansion initiative for the company. Like Milstein, they believe in films, and filmmakers, and think there is opportunity (and an audience) in the current economic climate for features. He’ll be bringing his relationships with producers, directors, sales companies, and financiers to a bigger sandbox to help them access risk management, insurance, and the other services. Best of all, Milstein cares about getting movies made, as opposed to so many of these finance guys who care only about money and attending movie premiere.
Meanwhile Milstein and Gilliam may work together again. The director is trying to revive his abandoned 2000 film starring Johnny Depp, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, during which yet another lead actor couldn’t complete a movie — Jean Rochfort who at age 70 while playing Quixote became ill and couldn’t continue filming.