Indie reinvents business model

While Hollywood majors cling to their tentpoles, indies have seized an opportunity to reinvent their business model.

Four-year-old Exclusive Media has been emblematic of that trend. With access to an equity fund from Dutch-based Cyrte Investments, Exclusive has been staying largely under Hollywood’s radar, but the company’s become one of the key destinations for moderately priced projects: Ron Howard’s Formula 1 drama “Rush,” adult-skewing political drama “Ides of March,” the PG-13 chiller “The Woman in Black” and the upcoming “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” all with Cross Creek Pictures; David Ayer’s “End of Watch” with Emmett/Furla; thriller “Snitch” with Participant; John Carney’s comedy “Can a Song Save Your Life?” and the Cameron Diaz action-laffer “Agent: Century 21.”

On Sept. 6, the company announced it was launching Exclusive Releasing, a U.S. distribution and acquistions arm. Exclusive Releasing plans to theatrically distribute three or four wide and platform releases per year. The new company also plans to acquire films for accelerated-window and VOD release along with developing and acquiring “alternative content,” such as concert films and music documentaries.

At this point, Exclusive is on track to produce four to six films annually in the $5 million to $60 million budget range. “My role model is Bob Shaye and the way he grew New Line so smartly in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” says Nigel Sinclair, the company’s co-chair and CEO.

Exclusive’s “End of Watch” had its world premiere Sept. 8 at the Toronto Film Festival, and will be released by Open Road Sept. 21. Sinclair contends that “Watch” — starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena — has been a singular experience for him.

“I’ve made about 60 films, and this is one of the very best,” he says. “You’re always having to hit a balance between return on investment and art. I think we’ve succeeded on ‘End of Watch.’?”

Cyrte began its foray into features in 2007 by buying Hammer Film Prods. and Spitfire in 2008, combining the two companies into Exclusive Media Group, and forming an international sales arm. Exclusive then bought distributor Newmarket in late 2009, and has been steadily expanding since then with production, sales and distribution.

The company has seen respectable returns from “Ides” ($75 million worldwide) and “The Woman in Black” via the revived Hammer Films brand. The Daniel Radcliffe vehicle took in $54 million domestically and more than $75 million internationally — and stayed true to the “no gore” Hammer brand of old-fashioned scare.

Spreading risk among trusted partners is also key, and with this in mind, Exclusive has signed two milestone deals in the past four months. During Cannes, Exclusive and Cross Creek Pictures launched a three-year deal to co-finance, co-produce and co-develop at least two features per year with budgets of up to $65 million. First project from the new partnership is the long-in-development thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” starring Liam Neeson and directed by Scott Frank.

On Aug. 28, Scott Steindorff’s Scott Pictures and Exclusive launched a joint-venture international sales company, with Exclusive Media handling the international sales and servicing for all Scott Pictures features, starting with Natalie Portman actioner “Jane Got a Gun.”

Sinclair clearly sees growth as best way to survive. “At Cannes, we had eight films (produced by Exclusive) this year compared with two in 2010,” he says. “We’ve clearly become a content creator.”

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