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Optimum founder bows new shingle

Will Clarke launches Altitude Film Entertainment

Will Clarke, founder and former CEO of Optimum Releasing, is launching production, financing and international sales outfit Altitude Film Entertainment.

The move comes less than two years after the topper exited the U.K. indie distrib, which is now part of Studiocanal.

Clarke, who will serve as chairman and joint-CEO, has recruited former PolyGram and Exclusive Media exec Andy Mayson as joint CEO and Pathe Intl. sales head Mike Runagall as m.d. of Altitude Film Sales, to help steer the vertically integrated company.

Clarke, who has long wanted to build a production company (his credits include “This Is England,” “Attack the Block” and upcoming James McAvoy starrer “Filth”), said that production will be “the beating heart” of the three-pronged company.

“We realized in terms of production you need support and leverage in the market and the only way we could think of that is to create a vertically integrated infrastructure that includes an international sales entity and finance to give us extra leverage,” Clarke told Variety.

The company, which Clarke describes as “director-driven,” aims to produce or co-produce two-three pics per year and sell eight to 10, all with budgets below $40 million.

All Altitude-produced projects will funnel through its sales arm.

Kick-starting the venture, Altitude has already forged a joint production company (yet to be named) with “Eden Lake” and “The Woman in Black” helmer James Watkins that will produce, co-produce, finance and co-develop projects with the helmer-scribe.

First up is “The Loch,” a dark twist on the Loch Ness monster myth, which Watkins is co-writing with first-time helmer Simon Duric.

Altitude is also developing and co-producing projects with rising U.K. and international talent including a feature version of John Niven’s dark comedy “Kill Your Friends,” directed by Owen Harris (“Holy Flying Circus”) and co-produced with Gregor Cameron. Niven pens the script. Pic is budgeted under £5 million ($8 million).

And Altitude aims to partner with rising talents: It is working with helmer Ben Craig and scribe Matt Charman (“A Night at the Dogs”) on action adventure “Mythica.”

Additionally, Altitude is structuring a film fund, with seed money from Clarke, which will fund a mix of equity, rights acquisitions and international minimum guarantees.

“We are looking to raise external money,” said Mayson, who is largely steering the finance structure of the biz. “We’ve got really good banking relationships and we’ve got access to pockets of individual investors for quite a few other projects lined up.”

Company will finance up to 20% of a pic’s budget, but “for certain budget levels, we would risk more than that,” Clarke said.

Runagall adds that the goal is not about making one-off pics, but rather forging longterm relationships with filmmakers.

“We are not going to be dictated to by the market nor are we going to make films in isolation,” he said. “My role is to try and inform that by having very close contact with distributors all over the world and monitoring what is happening in the market.”

And while there are a slew of sales and financing outfits launching, Clarke says, “the difference for us is the fact that we are creating content.”

“About 40% of the movies that we’re going to produce will be self-originated from material that we create either with filmmakers or we bring to particular filmmaking talent. It’s not just about picking up a piece of product to fuel international sales.”

Altitude will be at the Cannes Film Festival next week but will not launch official sales until the Toronto fest and the AFM in the fall.

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