Tarak Ben Ammar maximizes opportunity to build quality brands
1970Back from Washington’s Georgetown U., where he studied international economics, Tarak Ben Ammar decides to serve his country not as a diplomat and lawyer, his father’s professions, but by attracting big shoots to Tunisia. 1974 Having served as a driver and assistant manager on Italian shoots, such as Roberto Rossellini’s “The Messiah,” Ben Ammar sets up production-and-services company Carthago Films. 1975 Produces his first film with Carthago, Claude Chabrol’s “Les Magiciens.” It flops. 1975-81 Out of Tunisia, where he opens huge studios at Monastir, Ammar line-produces multiple films including Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” and Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth.” 1976 George Lucas shoots scenes of “Star Wars” in Tunisia, exploiting its lunar landscapes. 1980 Steven Spielberg lenses part of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in Tunisia, for which Ben Ammar receives an associate producer credit. “The arrival of Lucas and Spielberg in Tunisia positioned me,” Ben Ammar says. “People knew what Tunisia was about.” 1982 Hits paydirt producing two French films: Jean Yanne’s mega-production “Quarter to Two Before Jesus Christ” and Philippe Clair’s “Plus beau que moi, tu meurs.” 1983 Uses profits from “Quarter” and “Plus beau” to produce Zeffirelli’s “La Traviata.” “That gave me credit and stature — I wasn’t just a servicing company out of Tunisia,” Ben Ammar recalls. 1983 Meets Silvio Berlusconi on Tunisia’s Hammamet beach. 1984 With Dino de Laurentiis and MGM, produces Roman Polanski’s “Pirates” after Universal pulls out of the pic. Pic sinks nearly without trace in U.S., makes some B.O. ripples in Europe. 1984 Awarded the French Legion d’Honneur by Francois Mitterand. 1985-87 Ben Ammar’s Monastir and El Kantaoui studios close. Relocates to Paris. 1990 With Silvio Berlusconi, founds Quinta Communications, initially a TV series and telepic production house. Ben Ammar also develops a boutique investment bank and consultancy biz. 1994 Wins $16 million in damages for Universal’s breach of contract on “Pirates.” 1995 Leo Kirch takes minority stake in Quinta. 1996 Joins Mediaset’s executive board. 1996-97 Becomes Michael Jackson’s manager on Jackson’s HIStory World Tour. 2000 Joins Kirch Group and Mediaset to launch pan-European distrib company Emotion, which co-finances Robert Redford’s “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and Barry Levinson’s “Bandits” with Bruce Willis. 2001 Takes 25% stake in Italy’s Lux Vide. Ben Ammar and Lux start building Empire Studios in Tunisia. 2002 Quinta enters French post-production sector, buying majority stake in French group Datacine. 2003 Ben Ammar helps persuade Vivendi to sell Telepiu to News Corp., paving the way for Rupert Murdoch’s launch of Sky Italia. 2002 Produces and finances Brian de Palma’s “Femme Fatale,” which screens out of competition at Cannes. 2002 With Italy’s Lux Vide, opens the Empire Studios in Hammamet, which include a re-creation of ancient Rome. 2003 Quinta buys Gallic digital tech specialist Duran Duboi and purchases France’s Les Audis de Joinville and Boulogne, two sound post-production facilities. 2003 Ben Ammar teams with TFI to pay ?35 million ($47.2 million) for Italy’s Europa TV and $54.2 million for Prima TV when Murdoch’s pay TV operator Telepiu is forced by EU competish authorities to sell those channels in order to create Sky Italia. 2004 Rolling off the purchase, Ben Ammar and TF1 launch Sportitalia and Sportitalia 24 in Italy. 2004 Releases “The Passion of the Christ” in France. Defends “Passion” on talkshows and in articles: “The film is not about violence but about suffering, the universal tragedy of intolerance.” Signs strategic partnership with Technicolor owner Thomson Group, which takes 17.5% stake in Quinta Industries, Quinta’s Gallic post-production and facilities biz. 2005 Already a board member, Ben Ammar buys minority stake in the Weinstein Co. for $15 million. 2007 Buys 43% in France’s 100-year-old Eclair Group, Gaul’s biggest post-production house and lab. Also in 2007, opens the LTC-Gammarth labs and post-production facility in Tunisia, targeting both the French market and African and Middle-East productions. Buys Eagle Pics., a top Italo distrib specializing in Hollywood genre pics. Company is valued at €85 million ($114.6 million). 2008 Reveals the blueprint for a pan-European distribution network building on his ownership of France’s Quinta, and Italy’s Eagle. 2009 Officially launches Nessma TV with Mediaset and the Karoui Group, a leading North African advertising agency. 2010 Quinta’s Independent Film Division makes market debut at Cannes.