Int’l players to flash cash

Croisette attracts return of the big spender

After a series of body blows to the international film financing biz, a clutch of new money players are spilling onto the Croisette.

Their gameplans call for something appealing: They’re actually putting up their own coin.

Among them:

  • Steve Samuels, who fully funded “Michael Clayton,” “Running With Scissors” and Demi Moore-starrer “Half Light,” has launched Samuels Media Capital, with plans to wholly finance three or four films each year with budgets at $40 million.

  • Emilio Diez Barroso, great grandson of late Televisa founder Emilio “el Tigre” Azcarraga, has launched Nala Films, which aims to finance three to four English-language pics a year in the $6 million to $12 million range.

  • Bauer Martinez Distribution announced plans to release 12 films a year, five of which are targeted to go on 1,500 screens.

And some of these guys are not shy.

Said BMD chairman-CEO Philippe Martinez, “Our intention is to become No. 1 in the U.S. market.”

BMD’s backing comes from Alan Latham, chairman of U.K-based Templar Film Investment Fund, which will provide funding of $100 million per year for the next three years.

Samuels’ financial resources may be just as vast: He’s the founder of Boston-based real estate development firm Samuels & Associates. His goal is to buy a library, a foreign sales company and build a development slate.

For now, however, he has just two employees: Jim Holt, who heads operations, and Milan Popelka, who oversees creative.

“If I feel like there’s value in a project, I’ll take the risk,” he says.

Samuels financed “Half Light” before Lakeshore Entertainment came on as international sales agent; the pic makes its market bow today.

Most recently, Samuels agreed to finance “Michael Clayton,” before George Clooney and Summit came on the project, and made the actor an equal partner in the film’s upside.

Meanwhile, Diez Barroso is also taking a relatively conservative tack by shooting most pics in Mexico, where Nala has raised significant coin from private investors and has fostered relationships with local state authorities.

Nala will tap local state subsidies and film funds run by Mexican film institute, Imcine.

Company is in pre- production on three pics that it aims to shoot this year. The films will not necessarily be Latino-themed.

The Harvard-educated Diez Barroso ran Hispanic marketing company Accesa before becoming CEO at Voy Pictures as well as president and co-founder of its holding company. Voy development head Darlene Caamano joined him at Nala, where she holds the title of president.

Finally, BMD is nothing if not equally ambitious.

International sales vet Martinez says his new company plans to acquire seven pics during Cannes for domestic release. Two weeks ago, the company installed a 25-person distribution staff in new offices on Sunset Boulevard.

They’ll get their first workout this weekend with “Modigliani” starring Andy Garcia. That pic opens today on nine screens in Los Angeles before expanding into the top 10 U.S. markets.

BMD also will release “The Groomsmen,” written, directed by and starring Edward Burns opposite John Leguizamo and Brittany Murphy; comedy “Irish Jam” starring Eddie Griffin, to be released in November; and “Land of the Blind” starring Ralph Fiennes and Donald Sutherland, to be released early next year.

Bauer Martinez financed all pics.

“We can finance 100% of all 12 films,” Martinez says. He says BMD can back five movies each year with budgets between $20 million and $40 million and seven more budgeted between $4 million-$10 million.

Attorney Martin Barab is president of BMD, with Jonathan Weisgal as head of development. Mansour Mostaedi, formerly with First Look, has been named CFO.

However, Martinez does have a colorful past: In 1994, as head of Ulysse Entertainment, he was served with a restraining order when two producers alleged that Martinez made death threats against them and threatened to destroy the master print of one of their films. (Daily Variety, Feb. 25, 1994)

He founded sales and financing shingle Bauer Martinez Studios in 1999, which continues to be based in Largo, Fla. With the launch of BMD, the Florida outfit has been renamed Bauer Martinez Intl.

Martinez says that division employs about 12 people; another 20 employees are in their London-based offices, Lucky 7 Prods.

Fifty employees is a lot of overhead for a new company, but Martinez believes it will lead his company to become bigger than Lions Gate.

“I realize I’m being arrogant,” he says. “For the next three years we have enough working capital to do our plan. We are very aware that it’s going to be difficult to buy some big movies.”

Lions Gate Films, which earned revenue of $700 million last year, had no comment.