Johnson, Kosove find success with 'Blind Side,' 'Eli'

It was a true life basketball story that lured Alcon Entertainment’s Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove into the film business, but it’s a football true story that’s cementing their place in Hollywood.

When “The Blind Side” ended up with two Oscar noms, it pushed the low-key producers just a bit closer to the spotlight — although they’d like to stay as far as possible out of Hollywood’s glare.

Kosove, 40, and Johnson, 42, who started out working together while they were a would-be law student and a stockbroker, respectively, take a buttoned-down, methodical approach to moviemaking that has meant few headlines but a gradually more influential production shingle.

“We’ve really tried to fly under the radar for a long time,” muses Johnson. “We’re still going to focus on the downside. We’re not going become cowboys.”

Alcon was founded 13 years ago after Johnson and Kosove, who had met at Princeton, persuaded Fex Ex topper Fred Smith to bankroll the company. Their first attempt to get in the business, with the true story of a basketball player/gangster, was never made. But the partnership took off when the duo wowed Smith with a 220-page business plan with these basic strategies — fund production on its own; retain the rights to properties; keep costs under control; and use a rent-a-studio system to release films.

“Broderick, Fred and I own this,” Kosove notes. “So our equity is very much aligned with our performance.”

Alcon continues to stay relentlessly with the strategy of mid-budget commercial titles such as “Insomnia,” “P.S. I Love You” and the “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” pics.

Their biggest performer by far has been “Blind Side,” a $35 million project’s that’s now at $240 million domestically with another $30 million likely. The year has started off promisingly with another solid performer in futuristic tale “The Book of Eli.”

“Eli” represented Alcon’s biggest bet. It took over financing and production of the Denzel Washington vehicle after obtaining $550 million in financing in May 2008 along with a five-year output deal with Warner Bros.

With $38 million in foreign presales and $11 million in rebates from New Mexico, Alcon’s exposure on “Eli” was about $35 million.

“We’ve stuck to our game plan and principles,” Kosove notes. “If you’re an indie and watch your pennies, you can survive until you get a hit. We won’t change — this is how we’ve been doing it.”

For example, the duo was asked recently if they wanted embossed lettering on “The Blind Side” DVD, which would have cost another $300,000. They said no, though they did agree to spend an additional $50,000 for special lettering on the Blu-ray edition.

They passed on bidding in the bankruptcy court auction on rights to “The Terminator” franchise — “too much damage to the brand,” Kosove says.

They’re considering expansion back into television, an area in which they sold a total of seven pilots without any pickups. They’re pondering a move into management, noting that young actors such as Frankie Muniz (“My Dog Skip”) and Hayden Panettiere (“Racing Stripes”) got major breaks in Alcon pics.

And they’re looking at buying libraries, since they can represent a decent basis for remakes and sequels.

“The Blind Side” keeps bringing in the big bucks. Even though football movies normally have zero traction outside the United States, Alcon is about to open “The Blind Side” in four foreign markets — Australia and Mexico this month and the U.K. and Germany in March.

But for now, there are no plans to expand the staff of 20. “We are not going to get fancier and we’re not buying second homes,” Kosove says.

Alcon has wrapped on the urban comedy “Lottery Ticket,” starring Bow Wow and Ice Cube with an Aug. 27 release through Warners. Its next greenlight will almost certainly go to romancer “Something Borrowed” with Luke Greenfield directing; Hilary Swank is a producer; Ginnifer Goodwin is in talks to star as a Manhattan attorney who becomes involved with her best friend’s fiance following her 30th birthday.

Beyond that, Alcon is placing high priority on finding a new director for “Prisoners,” a well-regarded kidnap thriller by Aaron Guzikowski. Alcon had planned to shoot in the spring before Antoine Fuqua left the project to direct “Consent to Kill” at CBS Films.

Johnson and Kosove are also working on “Marvin the Martian” with director Alex Zamm putting together a 90 to 120 second test. Warner Bros. has the right to co-finance the project, which will combined CG and live action.

“We think it could reintroduce the whole Looney Toons brand,” Johnson notes.

The shingle is out to directors on “Late Bloomer,” a comedy about a man who undergoes puberty in three weeks; and has high hopes of “Dophins Tale,” based on the story of a captive dolphin who received an artificial fin.

For 2011, Alcon is trying to develop a feature version of the 70s Saturday morning toon “Hong Kong Phooey,” and is working on a World War II drama called “Brothers in Arms,” the story of the all-black 761st tank battalion. The company also has in development the thriller “Nagasaki Deadline” with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Prods., and the fantasy-adventure “Alosha.”

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