Top-shelf thesps have been swimming in indie waters for years now, often citing the opportunity for meatier or pigeonhole-breaking roles.
And the last year has seen a slew of bankable stars offering their time and clout to help little films get made. Keanu Reeves (“Thumbsucker”), Sandra Bullock (“Crash”), Bruce Willis (“Lucky Number Slevin”), Meryl Streep (“A Prairie Home Companion”) and Nicole Kidman (“Fur”) are just the tip of the talent iceberg. As recognizable actors are still the primary driver for overseas sales, the indies can thank Hollywood’s A-list for giving a helping hand.
Jeremy Barber & Richard Klubeck
UTA’s indie department heads repped the biggest sale at Sundance this year, helping client John Singleton bag a landmark deal worth $16 million that placed “Hustle & Flow” at Par Classics plus two more pics at the studio. Duo also sold Sundance titles “Thumbsucker” and “Junebug” to Sony Classics and, in Cannes, helped “Factotum” find a home at Picturehouse. Among pics packaged/financed this year are Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales,” Jesse Peretz’s “Fast Track” and Toronto-bound “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” directed by Michel Gondry.
POV: “We’re not just an independent group waiting for the agency’s clients to come to us with their indie project. Our role is the same as any lit or talent agent; we’re very integrated,” says Klubeck, whose own clients include Miranda July.
Wouter Barendrecht & Michael Werner
Known for tapping Asian talents (like Tsui Hark), the niche international sales gurus have expanded their reach. With a new London office run by sales exec Nicole Mackey, the Fortissimo team has made its English-language intentions clear. They’re working on Patrick Stettner’s “The Night Listener,” starring Robin Williams; Sigourney Weaver starrer “Snow Cake”; and a slew of Aussie pics including Cannes title “Jewboy” and “Candy.”
POV: “We bring a non-mainstream, unique set of values to the process of considering and selecting films.,” says Barendrecht. “All the while, having great fun doing what we do.”
Michael Barker & Tom Bernard
Arguably the most consistent specialty players in the land, the New York-based duo are approaching their 15th anniversary at Sony Pictures Classic and show no signs of slowing down. They prevailed at Cannes acquiring French faves “Hidden,” “Merry Christmas” and Palme d’Or winner “The Child,” and cemented their relationship with bankable Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar. Widely respected and fiercely competitive, they’ve shown wide-release chops and ancillary smarts with recent titles “Kung Fu Hustle” and “House of Flying Daggers,” while continuing to handle delicate fare like “2046” and “June-
POV: “Our business is thinking beyond opening weekend,” says Barker.
Tarak Ben Ammar
Paris-based producer and financier Ben Ammar’s never far from the action, but he’s been busier than ever this year. He forged a deal with Dino de Laurentiis to co-finance a slate of three big-budget films. He pacted with Luc Besson for his film company, Quinta, to share facilities at Besson’s planned studio complex outside Paris. And last but not least, he has teamed up with the newly independent Bob and Harvey Weinstein, as a shareholder and board member in their new company.
POV: “I’m always looking out for opportunities and when they come along I believe in seizing them. Then you have to work to make the pieces fit together.”
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Whale Rider,” “Monster,” “Passion of the Christ” — it’s no wonder Time Warner tapped indie wonderboy Berney to run its new specialty division, Picturehouse Films. With the marketing muscle of New Line and the creative risk-taking of HBO Films at his disposal, Berney is ready to roll this fall, with a trio of releases (“The Thing About My Folks,” “A Cock and Bull Story” and “Ushpizin”), two new productions (Nicole Kidman starrer “Fur” and Sergei Bodrov’s “Mogol”), and a mandate to pursue product aggressively at Toronto 2005.
POV: “I’m excited to be able to implement more movies, while still maintaining the handcrafted style that I’m used to and known for.”
Sue Bodine & Andrew Hurwitz
The Gotham-based attorneys rep one of hottest indie client lists around. This year they added to their ranks to keep up with all the deals, which include work on Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” Bennett Miller’s “Capote,” Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” and Terence Malick’s “The New World.” Among the past year’s sales highlights was “Transamerica” to the Weinstein Co.
POV: “The maturing of the business and its integration into the global studio structure has, unfortunately, raised the barriers to entry for newcomers,” says Bodine about recent changes in the indie biz. “But it has also allowed for more sophistication, and higher visibility for indie filmmaking.”
After the great screener-ban court case of late 2003, the Independent Feature Project’s exec director has become a focal point for Gotham-based indie empowerment. Within the last year, Byrd moved the IFP’s annual awards, into the thick of kudos season; helped convene an alliance of New York-area producers, the Producers Group; and continues to reinvent the annual IFP Market to make it more relevant. This month, she’s pioneering Independent Film Week to boost niche theater biz.
POV: “It’s about collaboration. We’re open and we’re willing to change and we’re not resistant to change,” she says. “Change is scary. I’m scared of it, too, but I’ve seen what lethargy can do.”
CAA’s indie department
Team CAA has financed and packaged an unprecedented level of big indie projects this year with companies such as Participant, River Road and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. They’ve also made a big push into China by inviting Hong Kong producer Peter Loehr into the CAA fold and working on Chinese coproduction “The Painted Veil.” At Toronto, CAA has its fingerprints on at least 20 pics, as a domestic sales rep or with client packages including Endgame/Miramax’s “Proof,” IFC’s “American Gun” and River Road/Focus’ “Brokeback Mountain.”
POV: “We’ve built these relationships with a lot of these equity companies and financiers and we’re supporting them in a fiduciary way,” says CAA team member Rick Hess. “These companies are thriving, vibrant and healthy; they were new a couple of years ago and we’re now seeing the results of their investments.”
Simon Channing Williams & Gail Egan
What could be more different than Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated 1950s abortion drama “Vera Drake,” Fernando Mereilles’ political thriller “The Constant Gardener,” and “Brothers of the Head,” a mock-doc about Siamese twins in a punk band? Channing Williams and Egan produced all three in a single year, each one a nightmare to finance.
POV: Says Egan, “Simon laughs when I say this, but if a film’s financeable once, it’s financeable twice. If it’s a film the market wants, it will get made. The trick is choosing those films.”
The thesp not only starred in Paul Haggis’ racially charged indie “Crash,” but helped produce the arthouse pics as well. His penchant for political material paid off with his Oscar-nominated role in “Hotel Rwanda,” which was lensed on a break in the “Crash” shoot. Cheadle recently formed production company Lekato, and plans a number of projects including “The Fritz Pollard Story,” “Marching Powder,” “The Round” and “Tishomingo Blues.”
POV: “The ‘indie game’ is the one that, for me, has the most juice as far as great, real, personal stories go. People aren’t there because they’re getting paid a lot of money. You’re there to get behind the artist.”
“Kung Fu Hustle,” Stephen Chow’s hyperkinetic comedy-actioner, premiered to monstrous buzz at Toronto last year. His distribution partners managed to keep prints away from the pirates until December for a triumphant $20 million release in China. That success was mirrored internationally, its global gross inches short of $100 million (currently $97.7 million). Having crossed over, Chow is under contract at Sony and gearing up to shoot “Hustle 2” in Shanghai in November.
POV: “I used to cry when I watched Chaplin’s films. From him I learned about the role of the underdog. That kind of thing moved me. I found it also works for audiences.”
A distant descendent of Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian, the Isle of Man Film topper has turned the established U.K. filmmaking order on its head by attracting a succession of high-profile indies, such as “Stormbreaker” and “The Libertine,” to shoot on the tiny outcrop in the Irish Sea. He takes North American rights on the movies that shoot there, and he’s making a profit on the investment.
POV: “If you want to make an independent film in Britain these days, you’d better come and talk to the Isle of Man, because we’re about the last man standing,” he says.
Mark Cuban & Todd Wagner
With their vertically integrated 2929 Entertainment umbrella company (HDNet, HDNet Films, Magnolia, Landmark) and its controversial same-day HDNet/theatrical release strategy, Cuban and Wagner have become the new mavericks of the indie world. “Bubble,” the first film in a six-picture pact with Steven Soderbergh, will debut at Venice.
POV: “Because of our size and independent ownership, we can pick the movies we love and not have to worry about hitting Wall Street expectations,” says Cuban. “I think that really sets us apart from the crowd.”
Yves Darondeau, Christophe Lioud and Emmanuel Priou
Partners in the aptly named Gallic production company Bonne Pioche (Lucky Hand) struck gold with “The March of the Penguins,” its first feature. Confounding expectations, nature docu, helmed by first-timer Luc Jacquet, is confidently waddling its way to grossing some $100 million-$120 million worldwide — not bad for a movie that cost $3.7 million to make.
POV: “We waited until a project came along that really grabbed us and we knew this was the one,” says Darondeau, revealing that the company almost went bankrupt trying to get pic made. “What’s happened is like a fairy tale.”
Deborah Del Prete & Gigi Pritzker
The Odd Lot partners are adding distribution to their array of activities, which includes running the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles and producing legit plays and films. Odd Lot Releasing will become a pipeline for some of Odd Lot’s own productions as well as third-party acquisitions. First pic out is Odd Lot’s “Green Street Hooligans” on Sept. 9. Plan is to build up to about a dozen releases per year. Distribution vets Mark Borde and Michael Doban and marketing maven Paula Silver serve as consultants and could become more permanent later.
POV: “We’re aiming at a more focused market, but not an arthouse,” says Del Prete. “We’re looking for the middle level, where we feel there’s a hole in the market.”
Danny Dimbort & Avi Lerner
Toppers of the onetime B-movie stalwart Nu Image/Millennium recently pushed their sales and production outfit into more high-profile fare. Among titles in the works are Bruce Willis vehicle “16 Blocks” and Nicolas Cage starrer “Wicker Man.” “Edison,” with Morgan Freeman, will close the Toronto fest. They’ve sold “The Tenants,” starring Snoop Dogg, to Screen Gems, and Brian De Palma’s “Black Dahlia” (which shot at their Bulgaria studios) to Universal.
POV: “We make decisions on the spot most of the time,” says Dimbort. “We can not spend time or money on something that won’t eventually become a movie.”
Since buying Senator Intl. and renaming it Mandate Pictures, longtime foreign sales guru Drake has experienced a flurry of activity. The company has nearly doubled in staff, and produced horror hits “The Grudge” and “Boogeyman” in partnership with Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures. It formed other strategic alliances (with companies like Gold Crest), and continues to push an impressive slate of upcoming films, lead by Oscar nominee Marc Forster’s latest, “Stranger Than Fiction.”
POV: “On the business side, it’s about transparency and clarity, and on the creative side, it’s about creating a place where ideas are protected.”
One of the world’s most respected producers and chairman of Constantin Film, Eichinger scored an Oscar nom this year for “Downfall” and saw a couple of long-gestating projects get off the ground. He is producing Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” due in theaters summer 2006. And, albeit more on the studio side of things, Eichinger finally saw “Fantastic Four” make it to the bigscreen (he acquired the rights to the Marvel heroes in 1986).
POV: “You have to be determined, but you shouldn’t spend 20 years on every film,” he says. “Having the will to reach your goal without losing your footing is vital.”
The boffo success of summer docu sleeper “March of the Penguins” proved that a Warner Bros. indie label makes sense and deserves its place on the studio lot — at least in Warner Independent Pictures prexy Gill’s estimation. The film’s success had everything to do with the way it was re-shaped for U.S. auds, something Gill learned at Miramax. WIP also will have produced seven films by year’s end.
POV: Gill says his current success “beats being the town’s whipping boy. More than anything else, I’m trying to do something that’s moving and original and distinctive.
Samuel Goldwyn Jr. & Meyer Gottlieb; Howard Cohen & Eric D’Arbeloff
Goldwyn CEO Goldwyn Jr. and prexy Gottlieb count their joint marketing/distrib setup with Roadside Attractions, modeled on the European system, as one of their best moves. In the past year, the lean operation hauled in more than $11 million from “What the #$*! Do We (K)now?” and $2.6 million from Israeli pic “Walk on Water.” Roadside’s April release of “Ladies in Lavender,” a film that the shingle’s co-prexy Cohen (along with D’Arbeloff) says nobody wanted, yielded $6.2 million. Goldwyn Films is gearing up the fall bow of “The Squid and the Whale.”
POV: Says Goldwyn, “I believe the most important thing is to be able to survive. If you’re right only 51% of the time, you are a genius and I haven’t reached that stage.”
TV vet turned filmmaker fought for years to get his scripts “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash” made. He’d all but relegated them to a drawer for his grandchildren to find, but then the two projects suddenly gelled and reaped big rewards. Clint Eastwood-helmed “Million Dollar Baby” got Haggis an Oscar nom; and “Crash,” which Haggis directed, was the biggest pick-up at last year’s Toronto fest and went on to gross more than $50 million at the U.S. box office. He’s currently writing “In the Field of Elah,” based on a short story about men returning from Iraq.
POV: “I like being scared,” says Haggis of choosing to work on challenging projects. “If I’m really comfortable with what I’m doing next, I’m not happy.”
Recently reupped for another five years as director of the Berlinale, Kosslick is widely lauded for breathing fresh life into the fest since taking the reins in 2001. He’s made the sprawling event more accessible to locals and introduced the Talent Campus, a confab for up-and-coming filmmakers that’s being emulated around the world.
POV: “There is more and more trust in German cinema and greater interest in its subject matter. The Berlinale is part of a mosaic, it’s a marketing platform for German film, and filmmakers can make maximum use of it.”
David Linde & James Schamus
They might be the newer kids on the specialty division block, but former Good Machine execs Schamus and Linde have shown their three-year-old Focus is as mature and steady as their oldest rivals. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Motorcycle Diaries” made waves last year, Bill Murray vehicle “Broken Flowers” is blooming, and fall kudo hopefuls “The Constant Gardener” and “Brokeback Mountain” are the talk of the town. With genre division Rogue Pictures revving up and its international sales arm expanding, the Gotham duo’s focus is crystal clear.
POV: “We live and breathe on our understanding and exploitation of the international marketplace,” says Schamus.
Straddling indie and studio projects, the former L.A. Times film journalist and 20th Century Fox exec made a splash producing Alexander Payne’s “Sideways.” Repeat accolades could follow with Fox 2000 Oscar bait “The Family Stone.” In between bigger projects (“The Illusionist,” “Quiet Type”), London is fostering the work of other new talents, such as Michael Cahill’s “The King of California,” John Cameron Mitchell’s “Oskur Fishman” and an adaptation by Chris Terrio (“Heights”) of “Random Family.”
POV: “As the studio formulas hit road blocks and their assumptions go out the window, there’s now a tremendous amount of opportunity to make movies that don’t fit the mold.”
Louisiana Governor’s Office of Film and Television Development
Despite a frenzied uptake in state-based production incentives, Louisiana’s credit program — which in 2006 will rebate a combined 35% on production and labor spending — remains unmatched in the U.S. But while the state already has lured $400 million this year, the recent damage from Hurricane Katrina could slow the influx.
POV: “It is only through the strong collaboration of communities, private-sector individuals and the public sector that this industry will continue to be successful,” says the Office’s director Alex Schott.
Hamish McAlpine & M.J. Pekos
Under the guidance of CEO Pekos and owner McAlpine, Tartan USA is off to a great start in its first year. It has scored with a fierce slate of Asia Extreme fare such as Chan-wook Park’s “Oldboy” and recently released “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” along with sexually provocative titles like “Mysterious Skin” and “Nine Songs,” over which McAlpine famously fought Michael Winterbottom, begging the helmer not to cut the pic for the censors.
POV: “Tartan films are brain food: They’re intended to make you think, give you something to argue about over dinner afterwards,” says McAlpine. “They’re cultural hand grenades.”
Thanks to horror hits “Saw” and “Open Water,” and third-party product like Oscar nominee “Hotel Rwanda,” Lions Gate Intl. prexy Meyer has seen overseas B.O. on his pics surpass $100 million in 2004, more than doubling the prior year. Upcoming pics include “Saw II” and Dean Devlin’s $60 million World War I actioner “Flyboys.”
POV: “When everyone said the overseas market was terrible, it was the period when we were growing our company,” Meyer says, “and we still feel we’re in a position to do so.”
Tom Ortenberg, Peter Block & Jason Constantine
With a string of hits ranging from horror titles (“Saw”) to serious-minded dramas (“Crash”), Lions Gate’s acquisitions dynamos Block and Constantine, and Lions Gate Films Releasing topper Ortenberg have proved they have an eye for titles. Next up: Nicolas Cage gun-runner pic “Lord of War.”
POV: “We pride ourselves on being versatile — we’re equally adept with an R-rated horror movie or a limited-release foreign-language arthouse picture,” says Ortenberg.
Panahi’s film sales company Celluloid Dreams is fast turning into a one-stop shop for fest programmers. This year, the Paris-based exec scored a double whammy at Cannes with the Dardenne brothers’ Golden Palm winner “L’Enfant” and Miranda July’s Camera d’Or winner “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” In a tougher sales environment, Panahi has held on to financial control of her company while expanding with an office in Toronto and theatrical distrib ventures in Europe.
POV: “Everyone wants yesterday’s success but this business is a constant starting block. To be successful you have to go with your own convictions.”
Cashed-up from handling “The Lord of the Rings” franchise in Oz, Roadshow Distribution topper Joel Pearlman has spent his money wisely. He snapped up “Million Dollar Baby” based on the script when pic was struggling for finance. It rode its best picture Oscar win to gross $6.4 million in Oz. “Bride and Prejudice” outperformed expectations, taking $3 million, almost half the U.S. result . “Racing Stripes” was another pickup that beat the odds with $6.6 million.
POV: “If there’s a film we like, we’ll buy it,” Pearlman told Variety in May. “Our bread and butter is much more geared toward commercial material. That said, we release films on any number of screens.”
Writer, thesp, producer of Lions Gate’s sleeper “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” Pic, based on Tyler’s hit play, hauled in more than $50 million this year. Tyler’s story is rags-to-riches journey — he lived in his car while mounting his early plays — now he’s prepping a “Diary” follow-up at Lions Gate, “Madea’s Family Reunion,” and has a third pic project about a 1940s jazz singer and the holocaust in the works.
POV: “You hear the horror stories about the studios, but Lions Gate was an absolute dream,” Perry says. “The film couldn’t have been what it was without them, because of their independent spirit and their understanding of working with artists.”
Under DEJ prexy Reimer, Blockbuster’s production arm has made some prescient moves. DEJ invested in the development of indie hit “Crash,” which is headed to DVD retailers this week. DEJ also co-produced Sundance standout “The Matador,” starring Pierce Brosnan, in theaters this fall, and has Ray Liotta thriller “Slow Burn” at Toronto. It co-financed Nick Nolte starrer “Peaceful Warrior” with Sobini Films.
POV: “I think our association with ‘Crash’ has made DEJ visible in a way that hadn’t been visible before. It’s raised our profile and enabled us to feel comfortable approaching movies with higher aspirations.”
Peter Rice, Stephen Gilula & Nancy Utley
The heads of Fox Searchlight came out swinging in 2005 with “Sideways,” which scooped up awards left and right and grossed over $50 million. They also generated respectable B.O. for “Kinsey” and “Millions,” two of the top limited releases of the past 12 months. The troika had some bumps in the road, with the derailment of “Eucalyptus,” but the still has yet to unspool potential Oscar contender “Bee Season” and the first installment of Fox’s Russian trilogy “Night Watch.”
POV: “Our mandate is to make riskier, more challenging, filmmaker-driven films that couldn’t support studio-level budgets,” says Gilula.
With his very own Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby,” Lakeshore Entertainment chairman-CEO had a banner year. Not only did “Baby” turn into one of the year’s most kudo’d films, it clicked overseas. Lakeshore has big pics ready to open theatrically (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “Aeon Flux”) as well as in (“Blood and Chocolate,” “The Covenant”).
POV: “We’ve had long-established relationships with international distributors, and they almost always make money on our films, so in terms of future films, we’ll get the benefit of the doubt.”
Jeff Sackman & Mark Urman
With moneyman Sackman overseeing the bigger picture and publicity guru Urman scrutinizing every detail, ThinkFilm has proved one of the most successful microdistribs on the scene. They financed, distributed and sold rights abroad to “Murderball”; pocketed their first Oscar (for “Born Into Brothels”); and released surprise nonfiction hit “The Aristocrats.” A video pact with Lions Gate promises to power the company’s projects into a wider array of outlets and pump ancillary revenues.
POV: ” ‘The Aristocrats’ is the perfect case of doing what we do, a truly indie film going out unrated,” says Urman.
Before being anointed head of ICM’s int’l and indie department, former financier and banker Sadoff exec produced multi-Oscar nommed “Hotel Rwanda” and also pieced together the coin on Wes Craven-produced “The Breed.” In his first months at ICM, he’s set up one of the biggest indie projects sans a domestic distrib, $60 million Tony Bill pic “Flyboys.”
POV: “The major studios, with their focus on tentpole films, have reduced the number of projects that they are able to produce and fully finance each year,” he says. “It’s created a tremendous opportunity for the independent producer to set up films outside of the studio system.”
Jeff Sagansky & Kerry McCluggage
The former PAX chief and Paramount TV Group chair, respectively, snapped up Ardustry Home Entertainment, a DVD premiere specialist, in April and will steer it into theatrical distribution. The plan is for 50% of Ardustry’s 12-15 quarterly film releases to open on the bigscreen before hitting vid stores. Up next, Mia Kirshner starrer “Now & Forever.”
POV: “People are looking for alternatives to major studio fare,” McCluggage says. “We think there is a lot of opportunity at the lower end of the market. These are films made for $5 million and under, but I think there is some exciting stuff being done here.”
Like Steven Soderbergh and Alfonso Cuaron, the Brazilian helmer showed he’s adept at balancing studio assignments with personal, arty pics when he followed up his critical darling “The Motorcycle Diaries” with the Buena Vista horror pic “Dark Water.” Next up: directing “On the Road” for producer Francis Ford Coppola and Focus.
POV: “Tolstoy used to say that the more you talk about your community, the more universal you can get,” says Salles. “I love that we Latin filmmakers have been able to reach so many people with our stories.”
The chief content officer for online homevid service Netflix has started to snag some exclusive pics for his subscribers. They include Tim Robbins’ “Embedded” and Oscar-winning doc “Born Into Brothels.” Both were available on the online renter months before they hit store shelves. Sarandos can also be credited for giving retail life to 100 otherwise dead indie projects over the past two years.
POV: “It’s a labor of love. Accessing indie films has been frustrating to me as a viewer. These are very passionate filmmakers who spend their life creating art and there is no place to display it.”
Jonathan Sehring & John Vanco
After four years of delays, IFC Entertainment topper Sehring finally opened the IFC Center in Gotham’s West Village and hired longtime indie distrib Vanco to run it. Their first pic, “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” played to packed houses, and they recently scored with John Pierson’s Fiji doc “Reel Paradise.”
POV: “We envision the center as a bricks-and-mortar home for the IFC brand, a gathering place not just to view movies but also to work on movies from start to finish,” says Sehring.
A major fixture in the Asian film scene for over 20 years, Shi’s star is still rising. This year she propelled the complex shoot of husband Tsui Hark’s “Seven Swords” through harsh shooting conditions and secured the pic Venice’s opening slot. A dogged lobbyist who likes to give back to the industry she has profited from, Shi has seen one of her pet projects Hong Kong’s Guarantee Fund revised and revived. Four mornings a week, Shi also hosts Hong Kong’s most popular radio talkshow “On a Clear Day.”
POV: “The number of (Hong Kong) productions is the lowest ever, which could spell the slow death of the industry,” she says. “At the same time, our films are enjoying never-before popularity around the world and in the emerging market of China. The opening up of China offers us sorely needed resources — human, natural and financial.”
John Singleton & Stephanie Allain
The duo wrote their way into the indie film storybook when they personally financed Craig Brewer’s “Hustle & Flow,” then scored a multipicture deal worth $15 million with Paramount at Sundance. While “Hustle” didn’t go as far at the box office as Par hoped, Singleton-helmed “Four Brothers” did solid biz this summer. Next up for Allain: “Something New” for Focus and Brewer’s “Black Snake Moan.”
POV: “I look for young talent,” says Allain. “It’s the beginner’s mind that attracts me. Anything is possible the first time.”
The Ebay pioneer and philanthropist is back in the film biz with a socially committed vengeance. After only 15 months in operation, his shingle, Participant Prods., which finances films with a conscience and mounts social-action campaigns on each film, has backed titles including “Murderball” and upcoming releases such as George Clooney’s Murrow-McCarthy showdown “Good Night and Good Luck,” Section 8’s geopolitical thriller “Syriana,” Niki Caro’s labor drama “North Country,” IFC Films’ “American Gun” and Richard Linklater’s “Fast Food Nation.”
POV: “Ever since I was a kid, it struck me that a lot of the problems of the world derive from ignorance,” says Skoll. “If people knew this kind of stuff was happening and that it could ultimately affect their lives, then they might try to stop it.”
British producer Thomas regards launching his own sales company, HanWay Films, seven years ago as one of his smartest moves in more than 30 years of bold indie adventures. The arrival of Tim Haslam as HanWay CEO two years ago has taken the outfit to the next level, with Thomas’ own productions (such as Terry Gilliam’s “Tideland” and Richard Linklater’s “Fast Food Nation”) the cornerstone of a wider slate including Woody Allen’s “Match Point” and Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts.”
POV: “Making films the way I do keeps me interested in literature, photography, design, technology, gambling and travel and also a little bit of business,” says Thomas.
Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler & Katie Roumel
The Killer Films partners have had an especially busy 10th year in business, wrapping “Mrs. Harris,” “The Notorious Bettie Page” (both unspooling at Toronto) and Truman Capote movie “Have You Heard?” while prepping Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There.” They’re also being feted this month with a retrospective at MoMA.
POV: “The real secret to our success is that we found a formula and we’ve stuck to it: We make movies that we’re passionate about,” says Vachon.
Theo van Gogh
The Dutch helmer, and relative of the famed painter, was an incorrigible controversialist. His brash behavior didn’t make him universally popular with his peers or critics, some of whom regarded him as a racist. But when he was murdered Nov. 2 by Mohammed Bouyeri, enraged by van Gogh’s provocative short “Submission, Part I” about Islam’s treatment of women, the filmmaker became an indie martyr and symbol for freedom of filmmaking expression.
POV: Says Dutch producer Ate de Jong: “One thing I admired him for was his ability to make film after film. He was a real independent and he put his money where his mouth was.”
Overseeing the steady rise of sales and financing shingle Summit Entertainment, the CEO will be developing more inhouse projects after the worldwide success of Summit pic “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” He’ll also continue to balance a diverse slate, from the auteur-driven (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Babel,” Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume”) to the more commercial (Adam Sandler-produced “Nana’s Boy,” Disney’s “Music High”).
POV: “I know when I like something and I know when I don’t like something. Horror movies have never been my cup of tea.”
Bob & Harvey Weinstein
Dislodged from Disney, the larger-than-life Gotham moguls are truly back in the indie biz. After 11 Oscar nominations for “The Aviator,” $74 million for “Sin City” and stirring up nearly as much media speculation as the second coming of Christ, the Weinsteins will return Oct. 1 with a new mini-major, and strategic alliances with Cablevision’s IFC Films and Palisades Media Group. Their slate includes indie discoveries, genre fare and new films from Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, John Madden and Anthony Minghella. It’s just like old times.
POV: “I think we will be able to build a giant media company of our own,” Harvey Weinstein told Variety earlier this year.
A former filmmaker turned real-estate mogul, Yari recently returned to the pic biz as a financier and producer. His investments paid big dividends this year with his sleeper hit “Crash,” and Sundance pics “Thumbsucker” and “The Matador.” Now one of indiewood’s most prolific suppliers, Yari Film Group has a hand in a collection of upcoming high-profile titles including Edward Norton starrer “The Illusionist,” George Hickenlooper’s “Factory Girl” and Warner Independent’s “The Painted Veil.”
POV: “The great appeal of indie film to me is that it allows for a balance of commerce and art,” says Yari. “And I can try to make some socially significant films along the way.”
(Writers: Susanne Ault, Michaela Boland, Adam Dawtrey, Patrick Frater, Alison James, Anthony Kaufman, Nicole LaPorte, Pamela McClintock, Ed Meza, Emiliano de Pablos, Matthew Ross, Sharon Swart)