Magazine article Variety

Art, Commerce & Staying Alive

Magazine article Variety

Art, Commerce & Staying Alive

Article excerpt

FilmNation launched during the worst global recession since the 1930s, but thanks to a flexible business plan and indie insider smarts, its celebrating five years of growth

Five years ago, Glen Basner and Steven Samuels took a leap of faith and started sales company FilmNation as the world's economy went into a nosedive. If "It was a terrible time to start," Samuels admits. "Everyone was in a preserve-andprotect mode and wanted to get out of their obligations. The silver lining is that we wound up revisiting all aspects of our (business) plans." 1 Basner agrees, emphasizing that FilmNation needed to be flexible to get past the past - mainly by backing a few less-than-obvious projects rather than the panic approach of going for volume.

We started to operate in different ways that made better sense for the new world order," he says. "We were focused on having a diversified slate of films - a mixture of commercial wide-release films like Sanctum and specialty films such as The King's Speech?

In the five years since FilmNation debuted, the movie business has undergone deep changes, with Hollywood majors focusing more on tentpoles, opening up screen doors to the indie sector, which has seen a steady growth in sales-financing-producing shingles. Those outfits have also seen a greater ability to nab stars and material - once the domain of the studios - and to finance, make and sell serious worldwide hits such as The Hunger Games, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Taken and, of course, the Twilight films. FilmNation has also changed over the past five years, and can now board a project as a producer, financier, sales agent, international distributor or marketer and at any stage, including development.

FilmNation is celebrating its fiveyear anniversary with three films in Cannes' official selection: Alexander Payne's Nebraska in competition, Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring opening Un Certain Regard and J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost screening out of competition. At Cannes last year, FilmNation had two competition players, John Hillcoat's Lawless and Jeff Nichols' Mud, which marked the company's first foray into production. Last year it came onboard Terrence Malick's To the Wonder, which world-premiered in competition at Venice, and Rian Johnson's Looper, which opened Toronto. True to its philosophy of mixing commercial and specialty pics, the shingle also scored in 2012 with global hit Magic Mike.

Notably, both Looper and Magic Mike went into production without U.S. theatrical distribution deals - a choice that reflects the willingness of FilmNation to strongly back projects in which it believes.

"Glen recognized how special Looper, was early on," recalls Endgame Entertainment topper James Stern. "They have a very clear understanding of the foreign value of a film. On Looper, it was good to hear how much Glen thought the ending worked from a commercial standpoint. And he was very supportive of the notion of shooting in China."

Basner notes that FilmNation is set apart by its choices. "We very carefully select the films that we believe in, just like we did with Bling Ring and Lawless. We don't look at it as risky or being flexible. It's just conviction. And that's a feeling that translates to producers and filmmakers."

Basner believes that approach helped the company in coming onboard To the Wonder. "We had tried to get onto Tree of Life and failed miserably," he says. "Terry had really felt like he needed the freedom, so we came up with the idea that he should be one of the financiers, and we were able to preseli the world. The trade off was that it had to be made at a lesser budget."

Malick is now working with FilmNation on Knight of Cups with Christian Bale.

CAA's Rick Hess introduced Basner and Samuels in 2007. Basner had worked at Good Machine and the Weinstein Co., and Samuels had produced and financed Michael Clayton and In the Valley ofElah. The two clicked, and FilmNation was born as a foreign sales company with five employees. …

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