H’w’d-style agency buffs stars

AIN helps Malkovich, Dafoe flourish

LONDON — It’s a year since Charles Finch led his merry band out of the William Morris Agency’s swanky Mayfair offices and toward an uncertain future.

Finch and colleagues Luc Roeg, Vanessa Pereira and Sophie Simpson were intent on creating a management and production company in the Hollywood style, but based in Europe.

Now Artists Independent Network has at least five movies and two TV series set to shoot this year, and it’s finalizing plans to launch its own sales and distribution arm.

Meanwhile, the careers of clients such as John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Monica Bellucci, Jamie Bell and Gillian Anderson certainly don’t seem to have suffered from the decision to put their faith in Finch’s team.

In return, AIN recently made 10% of its stock available to its clients. “It’s a reflection of their loyalty to us at a time when some people didn’t believe we would get off the ground,” Finch says.

Those who took up the offer include Malkovich and Dafoe, as well as Kristen Scott-Thomas, Julia Ormond, Harvey Keitel and Gerard Depardieu, who all sit on the artists’ board.

The enthusiasm of Finch and his partners is clearly infectious. This is a company that believes in having fun as well as working hard, which has earned Finch the nickname “Champagne Charlie” from Keitel. But behind that enthusiasm lies a real drive for success.

Management fees were enough to ensure AIN a marginally profitable first year.

“Not enough for a Ferrari, but enough for a Vespa,” jokes Finch, whose office is littered with luxury car brochures. With production starting to roll this year, he may soon be able to trade up.

On the production side, the company has first-look deals with USA Studios and StudioCanal, which help cover the cost of its funky digs, spread over several floors of a narrow Covent Garden townhouse.

Finch and Roeg spearhead the production efforts, but all of the dozen staff work simultaneously across production and management. Amanda Bross joined the team of managers last year, bringing supermodels Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer with her, and former casting agent Abi Harris is the latest addition to the team.

Most of AIN’s clients were inherited from William Morris when it closed its London talent division a year ago. A few, such as Depardieu and Scott-Thomas, are fresh signings. But the emphasis is on quality, not quantity. The roster includes 41 actors and 24 directors.

“Our approach is only to manage people who really want our sort of management,” Finch says. “There’s a lot of interaction, and it’s only right for some people.”

AIN’s philosophy is designed for Euro actors who want to be international stars, and for established American stars who want to stretch themselves beyond the studio system.

In their WMA days, Finch and Perreira steered Dafoe toward “Shadow of a Vampire,” a Euro pic which got him an Oscar nomination, and they encouraged Anderson into Brit pic “House of Mirth,” for which she, too, has been widely lauded.

Perreira has spent years championing Italian siren Bellucci, who is now poised for her Hollywood breakthrough with a starring role in the two “Matrix” sequels.

There’s a symbiotic relationship with the Hollywood agencies.

“Michael Gruber at CAA got Stuart Townsend the lead in ‘Queen of the Damned’ at Warner, which we could never have done, but CAA would never have had Stuart as client without us,” Finch explains.

The company’s plan is to take on two or three unknowns every year to groom for international stardom — Brit model-turned-actress Liberty Ross is the latest.

AIN’s inhouse development slate is largely, but not exclusively, focused around its own clients. Its first two pics, however, will be projects brought in from outside:

  • “Mike Bassett: England Manager,” which starts shooting March 12, is a $5 million mockumentary about the coach of the England soccer team, to be directed by AIN client Steve Barron. Pic is financed by Hallmark, Entertainment Film Distributors and the U.K. Film Council’s Premiere Fund. Popular Brit character actor Ricky Tomlinson will star.

  • “Spider,” directed by David Cronenberg and starring Ralph Fiennes, is a $20 million psycho-thriller backed by Media Capital Partners. AIN helped broker the financing for producer Catherine Bailey, although no clients are involved. Shooting starts in July, with Miranda Richardson also in talks to co-star.

    Three inhouse projects are in the final stages of negotiation to shoot later this year:

  • “The Last Face,” to be directed by Erin Dignam (“Loved”), is a love story set among AIDS workers in Somalia, to shoot in October. Oscar nominee Javier Bardem is in talks to star. Producer is Paige Simpson (“Leaving Las Vegas”), and Spain’s Lolafilms will co-finance.

  • “The Letters,” to be directed by client Mike Radford, is a $7 million family drama set in Ireland before WWII. It is casting for a July start, with equity from Irish funds and British private investors.

  • “Who Goes There?” will be the next film for Bell (“Billy Elliot”). Directed by client Ben Ross (“The Young Poisoners Handbook”), it’s set in WWII Britain and based on the true story of a German U-boat that landed its crew in a Welsh village.

Toward the end of the year, AIN also expects to shoot two low-budget horror movies, with USA Films taking domestic rights. Bernard Rose is attached to write and direct “Don’t Go Down to the Woods,” a remake of a French pic.

Further down the road, AIN is reviving “Nostromo,” one of the legendary lost projects of the Euro film industry. This Christopher Hampton adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel was being developed by David Lean when he died in 1991. AIN has hooked up with its French producer Serge Silberman, and brought Hugh Hudson on board to direct.

On the TV front, the company has two greenlit projects. James Dearden will direct “To Have and to Hold,” a four-hour miniseries for USA Networks . And in the U.K., Channel 4 has ordered a 10-part doc about the world of modeling.

Next on the corporate agenda is the acquisition of its own TV and film sales shingle, for which AIN is currently raising the equity financing.

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