Chartier turns up Voltage

Shingle behind "Locker" harvests fruits of Oscar win in future slate

Nicholas Chartier, you’ve just won the Oscar. What are you going to do next?

Well, he’s not going to Disneyland Paris (where he worked as a janitor when he was 18). Rather, the Voltage Pictures executive is getting back to work.

After winning the highest honor in Hollywood for backing Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” Chartier has quickly come to the realization that with success comes extra responsibilities. “It’s just more work,” he laughs. “Now there’s a lot more bad scripts coming in.”

Founded in 2005 by Chartier and producer Dean Devlin (“Independence Day”), Voltage has been involved in the financing and sales of some 70 features — primarily genre films (George Romero’s “Dead” follow-ups, kids pics and sci-fi) and a few dramatic indies (“Phoebe in Wonderland,” “The Quiet”). But Bigelow’s Oscar-winning Iraq war thriller has further expanded and validated the company’s business. According to Chartier, they now have access to more money and more talent.

“I met Sheldon Turner at one of those Oscar parties,” says Chartier, whose first post-Oscar project is the “Up in the Air” scribe’s directorial debut “By Virtue Fall.” “We just started talking, and said, ‘Let’s make a movie together.’ ”

“We’re still trying to be cautious, but there’s one project that I love that’s super-expensive” — about $75 million — “that will take months to put together,” says Chartier, who wouldn’t reveal details. If projects budgeted at $25 million-$35 million might have seemed pricey in the past, he says, “now instead of one, maybe we can do two.”

Agencies are more responsive, as well. “We’re getting more choices of directors,” he says. “And you have a little more pull with actors to read scripts.”

But Chartier and his team say a move toward the occasional prestige project isn’t anything new for Voltage.

“We still sell a lot of third-party movies and finance a lot of genre pictures, and it’s always been the mandate that we use the money on these movies to take a greater position in riskier movies,” explains Chartier, citing Robert Redford’s upcoming film “The Company You Keep,” scheduled to shoot this summer. “I still have exactly the same agenda: Try to find one movie every year that has a little more risk and higher profile.”

Nadine DeBarros, Voltage’s head of sales and acquisitions, believes the industry is now starting to acknowledge that. “Some people thought of us as more of a commercial company that was driven only by what was going to work in the foreign marketplace,” she says. “But now people recognize that we’re the kind of a company that will take a chance on a project, especially something that is director-driven.”

“The Hurt Locker” producer Greg Shapiro, who is also producing the Redford film, has every reason to agree. With “Locker,” says Shapiro, “We were faced with an unpopular subject, the Iraq war, and Kathryn (Bigelow) wanted relative unknowns, and in a foreign sales environment that is usually so dependent on the name and value of an actor, Nicholas was able to sell that film on the director.”

Film financier Myles Nestel also vouches for the company’s international sales prowess. “They have always met their numbers and they’re always very passionate.”

Recently, that passion got Chartier into hot water during the 2010 Oscar season when he emailed voters to support “Hurt Locker” — which got him banned from the ceremony. Will he be more careful with his zeal going forward? “I got the Oscar, I’m very happy,” Chartier says, with a chuckle. “Let’s just say it was a very interesting week.”

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