Braving startup waters

In the Persian bazaar world of low-budget distribution/sales film companies, it’s easy to offer your wares at any number of foreign film markets. What’s not so simple is finding takers.

Noble House Entertainment, founded in August, is one of those start-ups looking to defy the odds and actually survive in the extremely competitive and often cutthroat atmosphere of low-budget distribution. The two-person company is typical of the hard-edged firms with hungry, hustling executives who jet from Cannes to Toronto to Mifed film fests, horse trading with overseas and domestic buyers.

The pressing question facing its two key employees — chief operating officer George Marinos and president Lynn Mooney — is will they be around next year at this time.

Quality matters

Marinos by no means says it’s easy, but he has a simple rule to live by in a universe practically defined by double dealing: “One of the most important things you do is stand by what you say you’ll do and deliver quality product.”

Mooney offers a grittier summation: “We don’t want to crash and burn overnight.”

As hundreds of companies crowd into Santa Monica for this year’s American Film Market, Noble House will be firmly planted in a booth. In just six months, the company has already put together two feature projects and acquired the rights to a third.

The company has “Paper Trail,” starring Michael Madsen and Chris Penn, in production under Damien Lee’s direction. Pic is budgeted at around $3 million.

Lee has another project with Noble House called “Currents,” which is casting. Albert Ruddy of Ruddy Morgan will produce for Noble House.

The firm also has screen rights to Aldous Huxley’s novel “Grey Imminence.” No screenwriter is set yet for the story about the 30-year war.

It is additionally in negotiation with a major producer for a bigger-budget comedy, but both execs are hesitant to talk about it.

As is typical with indie sales distributors, Noble House will go into AFM with a handful of creative marketing one-sheets that are created solely out of a concept.

For the “Currents” one-sheet, it simply says the title along with the phrase “From the producer of ‘The Godfather’ ” set against a background of rushing rapids in a sunset. Not a frame of footage has been shot, but Marinos and Mooney know that the key to selling these films is marketing. For “Paper Trail,” they pasted two pictures of Madsen and Penn on a pile of newspaper clippings and added the logline: “After 10 years there are still no leads, no fingerprints, no clues. Nothing but a…paper trail.”

Marinos says those one-sheets and the prospect of a star are often enough to secure a sale in foreign markets. “Those are the two things selling your film,” says Marinos. “That and the actors who are in it.”

Whereas studios live by largesse, the inhabitants of the distribution/sales world are constantly looking to cut costs. Marinos and Mooney nearly get into debate over the average cost of a trailer ($6,000 to $12,000) or the marketing art work on a pic ($7,000 to $15,000).

The Bottom Line

“Cut everything away. When it comes to simple foreign distribution, you need to cover overhead and costs and that’s it,” Marinos says.

But he also understands the need not to lowball your film into obscurity by making it on the cheap. “You don’t want to save dollars and kill your campaign,” he says.

In starting the firm, Marinos and Mooney were slightly luckier than some indie sales distribbers. Noble House Communications, a publicly traded media conglomerate in Canada, approached Marinos about starting up a feature film sales and distribution division. So overhead for the firm is covered and both employees are under salary.

Marinos had been in the international sales division of MGM/UA. He then went on to Cinequanon Pictures Intl. as chief financial officer.

Mooney was formerly a public relations exec with the Lippin Group. She then segued into international film distribution and production with Transatlantic Entertainment, ultimately landing at Dream Entertainment as a VP of sales and acquisitions.

But, even with Noble House’s backing, they still had to approach banks and sweet-talk them into financing their endeavors. Last year, Marinos, Mooney and director Lee paid a visit to Imperial bank and presented a package for “Paper Trail.”

“We were very fortunate,” Mooney says. “It was our first project. We didn’t have a track record. They checked us out. Can these guys do what they say they’re going to do?”

Janice Zeitinger, Imperial Bank’s VP of entertainment industries group, says Marinos and Mooney generated trust.

“These are people we’ve known in their various former lives before they joined to form this company,” she says. “Part of it is the players. Part is that the structure of the deal was something we could get our arms around.”

“They have respect and integrity within the industry. That’s very important. This is what Imperial Bank does.”

Imperial funded “Paper Trail” based on three pre-sales that Marinos and Mooney had set up. Now, the bank hopes to be a key source of funding for future pics.

“They have a lot of potential,” Zeitinger says. “Right now we’re looking at them for single-picture financing, hoping they’ll grow into a company that we can then offer a corporate line to.”

Noble House ultimately wants to handle roughly 10 pics per year. Marinos hopes to set up four as acquisitions and another six as pre-sales that they can sell in Europe, Asia and Australia.

In the near future, they’re planning on selling “Paper Trail” all over Europe and Asia at AFM. To cover the budget of $3 million, Noble House expects to earn between $3.5 million and $4.7 million in foreign sales.

They’ll also be constantly on the prowl for new material, whether it be scripts or pitches or completed films.

“George and I aren’t producers, but we’re involved in selecting the script, the cast, the budget,” Mooney says.

Marinos chimes in: “For us, the titles aren’t important. We need the film.”

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Scene News from Variety