EXCLUSIVE: After working together selectively on the indie film hits Half Nelson, Blue Valentine and the recently wrapped The Place Beyond The Pines while separately making 20 films over the past seven years, producers Lynette Howell and Jamie Patricof have partnered in a new company. They’ve launched Electric City Entertainment, and say they have raised several million dollars in money to option and develop material. They aim to continue finding emerging independent filmmakers, like Half Nelson‘s Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, and Blue Valentine‘s Derek Cianfrance, who helmed The Place Beyond the Pines. But they also want to work on larger-scale independent films in the $10 million-$30 million range, and have the chance to grow with those filmmakers as they take on more ambitious fare.
Strong producers have reasserted themselves in the changed indie film landscape. Several years ago, the market became flooded with bloated-budget films from a deep pool of hedge fund money and studio-backed art house distributors, and anybody could do it. Indies crashed along with the economy, and the indie game has re-emerged as a more disciplined game. Producers with strong filmmaker and funding relationships are thriving. Howell and Patricof felt they could do that better working together on all their projects. Crystal Powell and Katie McNeill will be production VPs, and Mark Tuohy director of development.
“Jamie and I started the same time bringing financing to the films, engaging creatively from our relationships with filmmakers down to budgeting the films,” Howell told me. “We made 20 films separately, three together. We realized we had worked out our own models but that we share the exact same philosophy. And when we partnered, it worked well.”
They decided to formalize the relationship after producing The Place Beyond The Pines, their follow-up with Blue Valentine helmer Cianfrance that stars Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne and Ray Liotta. At a $15 million budget, the film dwarfs the $4 million Cianfrance spent on Blue Valentine, but Howell and Patricof see a niche for films studios aren’t making, with pedigreed filmmakers and strong casts, and a shot at crossover business.
“We want to focus on movies like Pines, filmmaker-driven star vehicles that are genre but bigger,” Patricof said. “Make that film at a studio and it would have cost $30 million, but we made it for half that. Filmmakers want room to create, but they want structure as well. We have found that when it comes to talent like Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams or Eva Mendes, they don’t do this for the payday, they really want a movie that works, and one that gets seen by people. We see this as an opportunity to create a home for filmmakers.”
The first projects under the new banner consist of films and a TV pilot they developed separately but are bringing together under Electric City:
— Hate Mail, the next film by Fleck and Boden, about the impact that hate mail takes on the lives of the recipients in Manhattan.
— Big Eyes, on which they have partnered to produce with Tim Burton a fact-based drama that will be directed by Ed Wood scribes Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. The film’s about Margaret Keane, a San Francisco artist responsible for the wildly popular mass merchandised paintings of big-eyed children in the 1950s, only to have her husband claim authorship.
— Coward, an elevated genre film about a master heist planner being scripted by Ed Brubaker from his graphic novel, with David Slade directing.
— Muscle, an HBO series being scripted by Cianfrance.
Howell, who started in theater in Britain with such shows as The Full Monty and Big River before forming Silverwood Films in 2005, continues to be a Sundance Lab Advisor. Both she and Patricof, who started in TV before forming Hunting Lane Films, will continue mentoring new filmmakers for Sundance and IFP, and said the Sundance Festival will continue to be a focus for the new company.
“You’ve be hard-pressed to find great indie filmmakers over the last two decades whose first films weren’t at Sundance,” Howell said.