Exclusive rolls out trio of indie ventures

Horror label Hammer Films joins stable

Hammer Films, which produced more than 300 horror films in its heyday, is coming back from the dead, thanks to the deep pockets of European investors.

The home of dozens of Dracula and Frankenstein movies is once again turning to vampires to stake its claim on the indie biz.

The shingle’s first title out of the gate is “Let Me In,” a remake of the Swedish vampire hit “Let the Right One In.”

Headed by longtime international distribution vets Nigel Sinclair, Guy East and Chris Ball, Hammer’s parent company Exclusive Media Group is aiming to carve out slices of the independent film world by combining the venerable horror label, niche distrib Newmarket and docu specialist Spitfire Pictures. It’s also launched Exclusive Films, for projects in every genre.

With access to an equity fund of more $100 million in backing from Dutch-based Cyrte Investments, Exclusive has been staying largely under Hollywood’s radar, but the trifecta is revving up as a destination for mid-budget projects.

“Let Me In” was produced by Hammer and will be released Oct. 1 in the U.S. by Overture. This time around, the vampire’s a young girl, played by Chloe Moretz, who created serious buzz thanks to a memorable debut as the foul-mouthed heroine of “Kick-Ass.”

Hammer Films recently wrapped production on “The Resident,” starring Hilary Swank as a doctor who moves into a Brooklyn loft and discovers her landlord is a stalker.

“We won’t make gore,” declares Hammer prexy Simon Oakes. “I like to call it enlightened horror.”

Hammer’s beginning to build a pipeline, focusing on genre projects in the $8 million to $20 million range. In February, it announced it had optioned feature film rights to Susan Hill’s horror novel “The Woman in Black” and assigned Jane Goldman, who wrote “Kick-Ass,” to adapt the tale of a young lawyer ordered to travel to a remote village and sort out a recently deceased client’s papers.

The holding company’s also launched production shingle Exclusive Films, which is in post on Peter Weir’s “The Way Back,” starring Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris and Colin Farrell in a true story of soldiers’ escape from a Siberian gulag in 1942. That label’s aiming at projects in the $10 million to $45 million range, with its key focus above all on storytelling.

“I think we are in something similar to the early days of Miramax and films like ‘My Left Foot,'” says Sinclair, the former Spitfire topper who is CEO of Exclusive.

Sinclair believes that it’s key for Exclusive to have a successful domestic distribution operation.

Thus, the acquisition of Newmarket, best known for releasing “The Passion of the Christ.” Newmarket also released pics including “Memento,” “Whale Rider,” “Monster,” and plans to ramp up acquisitions, most recently picking up drama “Hesher” at Sundance. It also has Spanish hit “Agora” set for domestic release on May 28.

Finally, Spitfire’s been transformed into a documentary specialist that’s completed “Last Play at Shea,” which debuted at Tribeca, and is working on a George Harrison doc.

Frank Botman, who co-founded Cyrte and serves as its president, told Variety he’s pleased with how the venture’s been working out so far — particularly given how swiftly the feature biz is changing.

“From our vantage point at Cyrte, the filmed entertainment sector appears to be embarking on a series of seismic shifts that will fundamentally change the relationships between money, content and distribution over the next two or three years,” he says.

Cyrte began its foray into features in 2007 by buying Hammer Film Prods., which saw its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s with such sturdy characters as Count Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and Quatermass franchise. Hammer hadn’t done any production since the mid-1980s.

Hammer entered into first-look deal with Spitfire in 2007 and Cyrte bought Spitfire in 2008, combining the two companies into Exclusive Media Group, and forming an international sales arm. Exclusive Media Group then bought Newmarket in late 2009.

East, who also came from Spitfire, is head of Exclusive Distribution while Ball heads Newmarket.

“When Cyrte first considered taking a position in the filmed entertainment area — as opposed to television, where we are very active already — we focused upon finding and helping build a strong management team, and to build an organization around that,” Botman says.

Exclusive’s got a library of more than 550 film titles, and is branching out in other directions, launching Exclusive Labs as a home for shorts and forming a publishing partnership with Dark Horse Comics.

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