×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Money men mint magic

A number of indie financiers may bask in Oscar's glow this year

Oscar loves independents. Not a single wholly studio-backed project captured a top prize at last year’s Academy Awards. Big winners “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Aviator” and “Ray” all were co-financed from sources outside of the studio system. Sure, filmmakers can thank Universal or Warner Bros. for providing the infrastructure to complete and distribute their films, but it’s guys like Tom Rosenberg, Graham King and Philip Anschutz who made their movies a reality.

If the 78th Academy Awards don’t shut out the studios once again, independently financed pics will at least give the big boys a run for their money. Major contenders like “Brokeback Mountain,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Capote” and “Crash” all were made with the significant help of non-studio coin.

While Hollywood blockbusters may dominate the box office year-round, at Oscar time, according to Jean Prewitt, exec director of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, “They have lower than a 50% share of the actual awards.” As franchise pictures and comedies fill out the studio’s full-funded slates, argues Prewitt, the majors have few resources left to offer to prestige pictures.

“If you are sitting at the top of a studio,” agrees Mark Gill, prexy of Warner Independent Pictures, “you’ve got your tentpoles that you want to wholly finance, you’ve got romantic comedy and horror films, and then all of the character-based dramas are riskier. If you’re thinking about where to put your money, you think, ‘I’d like to share the risk on those.’ ”

Even at WIP, Gill notes the proliferation of co-financing arrangements. “Whether it’s foreign sales, tax deals, equity or all three put together, that’s just where the business is going for films that are risky,” he says, “and that’s what independent films are by definition.”

Michael Ohoven, CEO of Infinity Media, who produced “Capote” with Infinity partner William Vince and Caroline Baron, says he’s seeing more negative pickups from the studios, of which “Capote” is one example. “The studios don’t want the production risk on those types of movies,” he says.

“The reality is that most expensive independent movies often get financed through multiple sources,” explains David Linde, co-prexy of Focus Features, which is touting “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Constant Gardener” and “Pride & Prejudice” for awards attention.

“There are different reasons for this,” he says. “In our case, it’s often to leverage risk somewhat while maintaining worldwide distribution rights and upside; or in the case of ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ it’s about building a relationship with someone who you’re going to work with on multiple movies.”

For “Brokeback Mountain,” Focus partnered with River Road Prods.’ Bill Pohlad. “Bill’s investment was largely made against international rights and we have an equitable split between the domestic and foreign allocations,” explains Linde.

Pohlad is one of a handful of new financier-producers getting involved with the studios and their subsidiaries in a more integral way, making pics that are as much about quality as getting a return on their investment.

“It’s not about doing a film just because it’s a good deal,” says Pohlad. “I want to do something different and groundbreaking.”

Along with Pohlad, other Oscar contender enablers include Participant Prods.’ Jeff Skoll (“Syriana,” “North Country”), 2929 Entertainment’s Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner (“Good Night, and Good Luck”), Endgame’s Jim Stern (“Proof”) and Stratus Film Co.’s Bob Yari (“Crash”).

“Any time you’re doing a film that’s outside of the box, it’s a more complicated investment decision,” says Stern. “And as the studios have a more tentpole philosophy today, that allows for people like myself or Jeff Skoll or Bob Yari to participate in films, and I think that can be a very good business, and good for cultural dialogue.”

And like Stern, Participant prexy Ricky Strauss notes, “Talented filmmakers are drawn to these kinds of movies, and it’s always a good idea to be in business with really talented filmmakers.”

The studios are starting to take the hint. Warner Bros., for example, is a majority investor in “Syriana” and “North Country,” though it received sizable help from Participant. “We like to consider ourselves facilitators for these socially relevant movies,” says Strauss. “We make it easier for those decisions to be made on films that are considered risky.”

Other studio pics in the Oscar race — “Walk the Line,” “Munich” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” (a Sony co-prod with Spyglass and DreamWorks) — indicate Hollywood coffers aren’t completely empty for quality dramatic fare. As Strauss says, “Diversity is key. Hollywood has always had many different types of films in a given year. And in a world where the appetite for audiences is getting more defined, it’s important to find stories that are original, compelling, fresh and well-told.”

More Scene

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. “I’ve seen more smiley symbolism lately, and I’ve [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content