Everyone says the film business is a cyclical one, but no one knows that as well as these four international sales survivors. We asked Myriad Pictures’ Kirk D’Amico, Arclight Films’ Gary Hamilton, Fortissimo Films’ Wouter Barendrecht and Becker Films Intl.’s Reiko Bradley to share their takes on what makes a successful company and how they’ve managed to stay in the game. Together, they have nearly a century of experience and enough war stories for the History Channel.
D’Amico launched Myriad Pictures in 1993, but pushed his label aside when he got full-time sales gigs at Samuel Goldwyn and, later, Village Roadshow. When VR moved to Warner Bros. Pictures in 1998, D’Amico devoted himself to growing his Myriad banner.
Since then, he and Myriad have survived Germany’s Neuer Markt (“that’s a very long story”) and too many films where he found himself squeezed out despite — or even because of — their success.
“I feel like I have the scars to prove it,” he says while packing up materials for his 12th visit to the Cannes film market. Myriad will be showing footage from new films such as Cate Blanchett starrer “Little Fish.”
Says D’Amico, “In this business, it really is the golden rule. Whoever has the gold, rules. When you’re only the sales company, you get beaten up a lot. We’ve had to take worse deals just to get the film made. That’s just not a great business plan. We want to fight back a little bit.”
D’Amico is in the process of arming Myriad with the golden clout of TAG Entertainment, which produces family product like “Supercross: The Movie.” D’Amico will continue to operate Myriad as an autonomous company that sells TAG and Myriad titles. He’s also hoping to launch a genre label. “This will give us the working capital to grow a little bit,” D’Amico says. But not too much: “I have seen first-hand the pitfalls of having too large an overhead.”
Hamilton has a quarter-century in film sales, half of which he spent at Beyond Films. Along the way, he garnered a track record that includes Baz Luhrmann’s feature bow, “Strictly Ballroom”; early pics of Heath Ledger, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.
It’s an impressive history, but it’s not one Hamilton would care to repeat. Small movies represent too much of a risk in today’s marketplace.
Very few of the 12 titles that Hamilton reps each year could be considered specialty fare. If they are, they’re along the lines of “The Merchant of Venice,” directed by Michael Radford and starring Al Pacino. “That’s the kind of entry level that we’d like to do,” Hamilton says. “Bigger-budget movies put us in a strong place.”
After leaving Beyond in 2002, Hamilton launched Arclight Films. He still maintains a 10-person office in Sydney, but it’s less about keeping a finger on the Aussie pulse and more about keeping in sync with Asia’s time zones and hot genre product.
Among the titles Arclight reps are “Material Girls,” which stars Hilary and Haylie Duff, and $60-million Nicolas Cage pic “Lord of War.” Genre division Darclight’s slate includes thrillers like “Wolf Creek” and dark Hong Kong policer “SPL.”
Fortissimo Films is known for its eclectic catalog of titles, but co-chair Barendrecht says a very conservative business practice underpins the shingle’s organic growth over 15 years.
In 1997, the Amsterdam-based shingle established an office in Hong Kong because, Barendrecht says, “we were excited about Asian cinema.” The decision reaped swift rewards, and Fortissimo rode the crest of the territory’s pic explosion.
Meanwhile, Fortissimo continued to sell films by director Clara Law after she relocated from Hong Kong to Australia. Her move coincided with a decision by Oz funding bodies to allow foreign companies to rep Aussie films, they now make up a good proportion of Fortissimo’s slate.
Barendrecht is grateful for the booming DVD market, but says, “It is more difficult for fragile arthouse films than it was five years ago, not because of audiences but because broadcasters are not buying like they used to.”
Fortissimo, however, has girded itself with a sound relationship with the Bank of Scotland, which allows for greater financial flexibility and its slate reflects that. “We do bigger films than before because the market has changed, budgets are going up. And we have access to filmmakers, such as Jim Jarmusch, that we didn’t have access to in the past.”
When ex-MDP Worldwide vet Bradley relocated to Sydney with her Australian husband and established Becker Films Intl. with the Becker Group, she fully expected to conquer Oz, and quickly.
Two years later, while prepping BFI’s Cannes debut, Bradley acknowledges her naivete. “I found just working within (the Oz) market is not feasible. We’re just now reaping the rewards of our extended labor.”
Her original strategy was revised and she began pursuing a mix of titles from various territories. BFI will screen “Three Dollars,” “Feed” and “Rag Tale” at the Cannes market, along with five other international titles.
“These days we all have to help finance, structure and find money. I’m in a different country but the same situation. It doesn’t matter if you’re in London, New York, Sydney or wherever,” Bradley says.
But she does see an upside to the current climate. “Because it is much more complex to structure financing and to get a movie in your hands, you have to involve many parties, so I don’t see how you could get away with being disreputable,” she says. “Before it didn’t matter, because everyone was making money.”