STX President Sees ‘Staggering Opportunity’ for Indies

Saturday’s 7th Annual Produced By conference abounded with cautious optimism about financing movies outside the studio system, with several speakers asserting that Hollywood remains a major draw for investors.

“There’s a staggering opportunity for movies in the $20 to $80 million range,” said Sophie Watts, president of STX Entertainment, during the “State of Financing Films Today” panel.

STX was launched last year by film producer Robert Simonds and TPG managing partner Bill McGlashan to produce projects in that range — an area largely vacated by the studios in favor of superhero movies. It aims to release as many as 15 films annually by 2017, and has lined up projects with Matthew McConaughey (“The Free State of Jones”) and Julia Roberts (“The Secret in Their Eyes”)

It’s also lined up financial backing from venture-capital firm and co-founder TPG, Chinese private-equity firm Hony Capital and investors Gigi Pritzker and Beau Wrigley, along with film financing from China’s Huayi Brothers. Watts said that major exhibitors have given them an enthusiastic endorsement.

“The response was ‘please give us those movies,'” she said Saturday.

As for the Chinese investors, Watts asserted, “It’s been a complete joy to work with them.”

Financing veteran Hal Sadoff, who recently took over as CEO at Silver Pictures, noted that the company had made the thriller “The Nice Guys” with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe completely independently. Warner Bros. will release “Guys” on May 20.

The panel also grappled with the profound changes in distribution and how younger consumers acquire entertainment.

“Why not have a one-night VOD release of the next ‘Batman’ or ‘Iron Man’ for $49 before the theatrical release?” Sadoff suggested.

Voltage Entertainment president Jonathan Deckter took a more measured outlook, noting that few films generate huge returns.

“For every ‘Paranormal Activity,’ there’s 20 of them that don’t work,” he noted. “If you want to get your film distributed around the world, you’ve got to knock it out of the park in every way.”

The Producers Guild of America produced the event. PGA co-president Gary Lucchesi moderated the panel.

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