10 Producers to Watch 2012: XYZ Films

When XYZ Films set up shop in mid-2008, the economy was in free fall and traditional sources of independent film financing were scarce. So instead of fighting for crumbs in Hollywood, the producers looked overseas, working with local filmmakers to make genre movies on their home turf and rooting out undiscovered cinematic gems to rep for North American sales.

“It allows us to team up with local producers, access soft money we wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” says Nate Bolotin, partner with Nick Spicer, Aram Tertzakian and Todd Brown at XYZ.

The strategy paid off when XYZ hooked up with Jakarta-based writer-director Gareth Evans to produce the ultra-violent Indonesian action-thriller “The Raid: Redemption.” Budgeted at $1 million, the film has grossed more than $14 million worldwide.

Spicer, Bolotin and Tertzakian met as students in UCLA’s MFA Producers program in the mid-2000s.

“I had a party for the new class at my apartment and Nate asked me for a good hairstylist and a good dry cleaner,” says Spicer, who graduated a year before the others, in 2006. “I knew right then that I’d found a business partner.”

The company’s first big move was to cut a one-year exclusive deal with Time Inc. to develop articles from its archives as feature films. No projects came to fruition, but “that’s how people got to know us and we started conversations with executives and talent all over the industry,” Spicer says.

But what really put the shingle into the game was its film news website Twitchfilm.com, run by editor-in-chief Brown, which has 40 contributors around the world who effectively double as talent scouts for the company’s production and sales arms.

“The talents they’re indentifying could be the next generation of great filmmakers and the stories that pop up could be the next great international film or a possible remake,” Tertzakian says.

The scenario has already played out with Evans, who first came to XYZ’s attention when he asked Brown to look at his 2009 film “Merantau.” XYZ is now working on a sequel to “The Raid,” with North American rights presold to Sony. It’s also wrapped production on “Frankenstein’s Army,” directed by Dutch filmmaker Richard Raaphorst, and “The Rambler,” directed by Calvin Lee Reeder and starring Dermot Mulroney.

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