Producer Cassian Elwes Urges Filmmakers to Trade ‘Rubbish’ Comic-Book Movies for Indies

Cassian Elwes
Angela Weiss/WireImage

Sounding like a crusader for independent film, producer Cassian Elwes pleaded with his colleagues at the Independent Film and Television Alliance Production Conference to step beyond comic-book franchise fare.

“Independent films are saving the souls of young filmgoers,” he declared Friday at his keynote address.

“I want to challenge the system and I dare you to do the same,” Elwes said at the end of his 20-minute talk.

Elwes, the CEO of Elevated Film Sales, gave the address after a year in which he was involved in the financing of eight titles, including “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “All Is Lost” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” And he pointed to the commercial successes of such titles as “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “American Hustle,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Nebraska” as a strong indication that audiences want more than comic-book titles.

“As studios make less movies and more rubbish, we are sitting pretty,” he said.

Studios don’t want to make a movie for $10 million and see it fail, Elwes said, adding,  “They’re looking to make films that generate $100 million, $200 million profit.”

As a result, star salaries have dwindled for most films, he said. And major stars such as Robert Redford, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johannson take roles in the comic-book and franchise films for the big paycheck.

“Actors will realize that these film are not their best work and they’re interested in doing great work,” he said. “When the late Marlon Brando turned to Sean Penn and compliments him on his work, that means a lot.”

Elwes is bringing two films to Cannes for possible U.S. distribution — Eli Roth’s thriller “Knock Knock,” starring Keanu Reeves, and Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert,” starring Nicole Kidman.

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  1. johntshea says:

    Comic books endanger the souls of young film-goers? Fundamentalists have been telling us that for years!

  2. Rena Moretti says:

    Certainly nice and very true for him to say.

    however, I fail to see how it applies to most real indies (ie. people who are part of theHollywood self-appointed elite and their families) as the studios will not do their original scripts and the quasi-studios (which is what Mr. Elwes is) also will not look at their projects.

  3. Bette says:

    I think studios should make better movies, period! Not every indie is a great movie and not every blockbuster is stupid and vise versa. What really should happen though is – casting indie actors in big blog busters more often. Most A List actors have next to nothing acting chops. Iron Man was a big success financially and critically because they cast great actors in it and the director was working primarily in independent movies. I for one am tired of the same faces in movies. Depp, Pitt, DiCaprio, Clooney, Affleck, none on them are interesting on screen.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Another “tidbit” to keep in mind: Reported box-office numbers bear no relationship to real box-office numbers. If the studios were doing so well making those hideously bad movies, they wouldn’t be making fewer and fewer.

      The problem is they’d rather lose 100 million on a tentpole, than work hard to make five on an indie.

      As long as every studio release has a 70 million Dollar marketing budget, indies releases will be untenable. The studios have killed what used to be a vital part of their business (the one with huge margins when successful).

      • Rena Moretti says:

        To therealeverton: again, don’t be fooled by those box-office “estimates”. They do not represent the real business those movies make.

        You are right in general that a film that can generate hugely anticipated sequels can be gold, most of the so-called “tentpoles” only elicit yawns.

      • therealeverton says:

        They do both, they make big budget films , mid films and low budget. The quality varies in all, and always has.

        The current business reality is far more than you say here as you miss the salient point.

        The reason why it is often easier to lose millions on a big film (at the Box office) than make a small amount on a lower budget film is this.
        That low budget “indie” type film is almost definitely a one off film. So even if it wins awards the revenue stream doesn’t go too far past the first year and ticket / DVD sales.

        The big film will all but definitely have a structure that allows for at least 2 more films. These films will, assuming you get hem right, go on t make much more money. See Batman Begins – Dark Knight; Thor or Captain America jumping 40% + 60%+. NOT to mention all of those films lead to 100s of millions at LEAST in licensing etc.

  4. Elwes needs to do more BASIC research. So when he mentions Marlon Brando as a major figure to get praise from does he not remember that Brando was in Superman? American Hustle has Amy Adams (Man of Steel), Bradley Cooper (Guardians of the Galaxy), Christian Bale (Batman), Jeremy Renner (The Avengers), and Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: Days of Future Past). So when he says these movies are rubbish he is literally insulting the main cast of one of the biggest movies last year that HE was involved in. He is clearly an idiot. There has always been a place for blockbusters and indies. I love them both. If you are a true lover of film you don’t just dismiss an entire genre as rubbish. That kind of mindset is that of a spoiled child.

    • therealeverton says:

      Well said. You may his producing credit wrong, but your statement remains 100% valid. These actors enjoy making all kinds of films, watching al kinds of films and better yet can live a great life AND make films that maybe “nobody” will go and see, because of tall the exposure and cash they get from doing big films too. And in American Hustle’s case some very good “popcorn” films.

    • Stryker says:

      Elwes was not involved in American Hustle. Perhaps before you suggest he so some basic research you might do some yourself?

  5. Tracy says:

    I hope this guy knows that a bunch of indie movies are crap too. People should be allowed to see what they want. Also, I don’t know what he is talking about there are only comic book movies. Um, there’s like only 2-3 a year lol.

  6. therealeverton says:

    *Sigh* nothing so annoying as people who don’t accept and concede that there is room for ALL kinds. Why can’t you make your “Merchant Ivory” films AND Thor 3? Anthony Hopkins doesn’t think it’s one or the other. RDJ has been making flops and little seen gems for years, but he should feel bad now because since Iron Man he can open films, make them hits and getaa big pay#? Why can’t he do ALL kinds of film; ooh wait he can.

    We know all kinds of people like all kinds of films and this elitist nonsense that one, big films are all rubbish, entertainment as the key focus is somehow worthless, and that you have a bunch of people loving Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas, Seven Samurai, The Searchers (All these Westerns are crap eh?) Casablanca and Shawshank; and none of them also like Captain America: TWS, The Dark Knight, Raiders of The Lost Ark etc. is just embarrassing and utter garbage.

    I like a wide range of films and even the films I don’t like are loved by some and I have no right to call for their favourite genres / sty;es to be gone because II’m some selfish, self centred elitist snob.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      I think Mr. Elwes was talking about recent studio “tentpoles”, not great films like Raiders or Casablanca.

      I agree with him: Most studio tenpoles of the last 15 years are unwatchable garbage. You can tell by watching 15 seconds of the trailers.

      The only reason we never talk about it (and thanks to Mr. Elwes to make us talk now) is that box-office figures are jacked up and the studios keep up the illusion they’re doing great business with crappy films.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        therealeverton: I agree with you on the senseless dichotomy. There is really no meaningful difference: a good movie is a good movie.

        The studios’ problem today is they assume all their films are great and try and when a bad movie fails, they say it’s because of its genre, or the star or anything except the quality fo the film itself.

      • therealeverton says:

        You’ve misread me there. I used Casablanca in a set of films and Raiders in a totally different set. Also there are plenty of studio “Popcorn” films a made now that are in the same class as popcorn film “Raiders”. Not only that, but my point was he,, and people with narrow minded attitudes like he expresses here, have this whole “Frasier” notion that you can only like one thing or the other. That you can’t love The Searcher, Seven Samurai and Amelie and also love Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Raiders, and so on. You certainly can and ALL types of films should be made to cater to ALL kinds of people (within the law etc of course.)

  7. Joan Curtin says:

    I find it interesting that the three major stars this article has noted, have a long history of doing blockbuster franchise films as well as critically acclaimed independent projects. Astute stars, including Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner (also part of the Marvel franchise) recognize that audiences connect in different ways to films, and that younger audiences who may know them from the big franchises will also go to see them in independent movies.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Most of those people really aren’t “stars”, at least not in what it used to mean. Most won’t draw people to the theater like a John Wayne, a Robert Mitchum or a Lee Marvin used to do. Then again, those true stars were able to work on consistently decent movies. Today, you just feel embarrassed to see Redford run after a big fee doing a crappy movie when he used to star in masterpieces. It’s sad for one of the most interesting actors of his time.

      And don’t get me started on the non-entity that is Scarlett Johannson, she has yet to qualify for being an actress at all.

    • therealeverton says:

      Indeed…

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