Behind the money

A look at the most prolific film investors to hit Hollywood

One is a volunteer Los Angeles County sheriff who has collared petty crooks and suspected murderers. Two are trust fund babies. One made his fortune in the garment biz. Another is a shy Silicon Valley entrepreneur who became a billionaire at 36.

They’re also among the most prolific film investors to hit Hollywood. And they’ve made some astute choices, financing pics including “Brokeback Mountain,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “United 93” and Oscar-winner “Crash.”

Unlike fellow pic financier Mark Cuban, whose maverick exploits are well documented, the five people we’re focusing on here would rather keep their personal stories in the background. But bland they are not.

“At least they have personalities and aren’t just studio drones,” one producer says. “The bad news is that you have to deal with very particular individuals.”

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
Recent credits: “United 93,” “Infamous,” “Copying Beethoven”

Road to Hollywood: Kimmel, chair of the Jones Apparel Group and co-owner of the Miami Heat, first began investing in films more than 20 years ago, writing checks for “9½ Weeks” and the ill-fated “The Clan of the Cave Bear.” It was only in the last several years that he got more serious and launched SKE. Kimmel, from Philadelphia, shows up to work in a Rolls-Royce, and has a reputation among producers for actually standing by what he says.
Did you know? One of Kimmel’s first jobs was working for clothiers Norman and Max Raab. One day, Max Raab announced he had bought the film rights to “A Clockwork Orange” and left the shmata biz for the movie biz. Right then, Kimmel’s interest in film was ignited. He and Max Raab have stayed friends, with Kimmel exec producing Raab’s 2001 docu “Strut!” about Philly’s Mummers Parade, an annual chance for regular guys to dress in elaborate costumes.
Extracurricular: Kimmel is an active philanthropist, with the new home of the Philadelphia Orchestra bearing his name, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

River Road Prods.
Recent credits: “Brokeback Mountain,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,” “Into the Wild”

Road to Hollywood: Pohlad comes from another Midwest dynasty, this one based in Minneapolis. He launched River Road Prods. in his hometown in 1987, with an eye to being a director. Being so far from Hollywood, River Road mainly churned out commercials and docus. Several years ago, Pohlad decided to focus on movies and made the big push West, opening an L.A. office. With CAA’s aid, he cut a financing deal with Focus Features and helped finance “Brokeback Mountain.” His gameplan is to work on a few select titles, versus a larger slate of projects.
Did you know? Pohlad is the son of Carl Pohlad, a self-made billionaire whose father was a railroad breakman and grew up in abject poverty. The family’s empire includes the Minnesota Twins, Marquette Financial Cos. and, of course, River Road. Pohlad senior has let his three sons stake out their own piece, with Bill Pohlad choosing entertainment. His brother Robert is CEO of PepsiAmericas, in which the family has a large equity stake.
Extracurricular: His 1½-year-old son.

Odd Lot Entertainment
Recent credits: “Green Street Hooligans,” “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting & Fishing”

Road to Hollywood: Pritzker is the daughter of Chicago’s Jay Pritzker, founder of the Hyatt Hotels empire. Like Kimmel, she’s been financing films for years. She got more heavily into production when founding Odd Lot with Deborah Del Prete in 2001. Producers say she’s smart, and passionate. She’s also a longtime stage producer.
Did you know? Maintaining a full-time residence in the Windy City, Pritzker gets high marks for being decidedly un-Hollywood. Her Zenlike attitude could have something to do with the fact that she’s spent a ton of time in Tibet since her first visit there in 1980s. She’s not a Buddhist, and says her interest springs more from a cultural and political perspective.
Extracurricular: Trekking in the Himalayas.

Participant Prods.
Recent credits: “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Syriana,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “North Country”

Road to Hollywood: Skoll, an unassuming Canadian, met eBay founder Pierre Omidyar in 1996. Omidyar hired him almost immediately to serve as the startup’s first prexy — and first full-time employee. He retired in 1998 from his post, but remains one of the company’s largest shareholders. In addition to his philanthropic efforts, Skoll decided to focus on films with a social message. His involvement in high-profile message movies such as George Clooney’s Edward R. Murrow/Sen. Joe McCarthy drama and Al Gore’s global warming docu put his financing and production company in the spotlight.
Did you know? His first job? Pumping gas. Today, he’s among Canada’s richest citizens. In Hollywood, he’s known as the town’s nicest guy.
Extracurricular: Amateur hypnotist

Yari Film Group
Recent credits: “Crash,” “The Illusionist,” “Prime”

Road to Hollywood: Yari, who studied cinematography in college, made his money in real estate before getting into the film biz. These days he’s probably the town’s most controversial indie producer. Earlier this year, he entered into a very public feud with former employee Cathy Schulman over producing credits for “Crash,” which his company financed and produced. Yari even took on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Producers Guild of America when they rejected his credit. Producers around town do give him credit for fighting the issue, but he’s often accused of being slow to pay his vendors. Then again, he’s also prolific, producing or exec producing more than 35 films since 2003.
Did you know? In his spare time, Yari is a volunteer Los Angeles County sheriff, assigned to the Lennox station in southwest Los Angeles, where things can get pretty rough. Until only recently, he was a sheriff’s captain. He says it provides a good release. It’s also part of the reason why he wanted to make “Crash.”
Extracurricular:Yari has been flying since he was 17, and owns an eight-seater plane and a helicopter, which he keeps in Santa Monica. He been known to land his helicopter at a friend’s ranch outside of Santa Barbara or in the Santa Monica Mountains for a picnic.

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