At the helm of a one-stop shop with an anchor in several ports
To fathom the transcontinental strategies of Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment, one just needs to follow the money.“I think it’s pretty interesting what he’s built around the world too, in India, Abu Dhabi, Singapore,” says Graham Taylor, who heads William Morris Endeavor Global. “He’s one of the few guys that has an Eastern and Western point of view. I think he cares as much what a teenager in Singapore thinks as a teenager in Detroit.” With an array of partnerships as targeted as the Kerala-based Toonz Animation India outfit, with which Hyde Park co-produces animated features, and as broad as the $250 million deal with Abu Dhabi-based Imagenation, Hyde Park has positioned itself as a well-funded company operating in both Asia and the Mideast, while also making movies in North America and Europe. The stories that might become Hyde Park movies could emanate as easily from either side of the globe, and the finished product may or may not even play in Hyde Park’s American base. Amritraj’s deals have fundamentally redefined Hyde Park as the first U.S.-based indie that functions as a worldwide company involved in financing, production, sales and distribution. “He represents the right blend of East and West,” says actor-producer Anil Kapoor (“Slumdog Millionaire”). “While retaining his Indian culture and values, he maintains the highest international standards of business in all his ventures.” Being the first from his country to establish real bonafides with Hollywood’s power players, it was Amritraj’s aim “to put people and companies and countries together,” he explains. “India wasn’t so hot a few years ago,” he says, “but now that it is, I’m uniquely placed because I come from there to put the two worlds together.” Hyde Park was built with that in mind — an idea reinforced by the company’s logo of London Bridge spanning the River Thames. While the plan of multi-national, cross-cultural movies financed in a bilateral and international structure was the long-term notion, it first manifested in movies like “Street Fighter” (which tapped into a massive and worldwide vidgame fanboy base, and included an East-West storyline) and writer-director Hisako Matsui’s upcoming U.S.-Japanese biopic “Leonie,” about the mother of artist-architect Isamo Noguchi. The year 2008 proved to be pivotal for the company, when Hyde Park pacted with Singapore’s Media Development Authority for a $55-73 million fund — its first major move into Asia. Later that same year, an ambitious $250 million deal was signed with Imagenation, the $1 billion film production division of Abu Dhabi Media Co. Hyde Park has subsequently opened offices in Singapore, India and in Abu Dhabi’s lavish Twofour54 media complex and hub. The capper is the joint entity Hyde Park/Imagenation/Singapore, designed to fund three to four cross-cultural, English-language movies per year over the next five years. The Hyde Park/Imagenation venture is unique in Asia, says Amritraj. “We will be looking for crossover projects,” he says, “but these may not always be American-Asian films meant for those markets. We will also be making films that would play primarily in Asia and Europe. Our model is different from the standard Hollywood model.” Hyde Park’s key partnership will be with Imagenation and MDA, with plans ahead for Indian and Chinese projects through joint or specific deals; this will mark Hyde Park’s long-desired goal to partner up with China-based producers. Back home in Hollywood, Hyde Park’s first-look deal with Fox has expired, leaving the company open to partner with any studio on a film-by-film basis. This is by design. “If I’m financing my own pictures and overhead,” Amritraj notes, “why do I need an obligation without a guarantee of distribution? We’re very flexible with studios so we can be co-financers, or we can arrange a basic P&A deal, or take a movie out with one of them simply through distribution.”
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