Bill Block has grown up … and grown into a new role.
Once known as an attention-seeking, gun-collecting, hotshot InterTalent and ICM agent and onetime head of Artisan Entertainment, Block is now co-chief of QED Intl., the 2-year-old financing, sales and production company backed by $10 million in private equity whose riskiest play to date is the complete financing of Oliver Stone’s $30 million “W.”
The George W. Bush biopic and pseudo-satire launches on 2,100 screens Oct. 17 — two weeks ahead of the presidential election. It’s going out via Lionsgate, backed by another $25 million from print-and-ad fund Omnilab.
The politically charged pic was unable to land a studio or a specialty distrib — not even Paramount, which released Stone’s last picture, “World Trade Center.”
But Block believed “W” was too big an opportunity to pass up. “It was relevant and the right moment to get this movie out before the election,” he says.
While he still has a lean and hungry look and can talk as glibly as any Hollywood player, Block has morphed into a fiftyish family man in charge of his own destiny. Now that Summit and Mandate have moved into bigger arenas, QED occupies the same space as Myriad, Essential, Voltage and Lakeshore. (QED shares Beverly Hills offices with Block’s former ICM colleague Ken Kamins’ Key Creatives.)
Block approached producer Moritz Borman and Stone as they were shopping for backing. QED financed “W” with its own equity plus key presales in France, Germany, the U.K. and Australia, all lined up before the start of production.
Lionsgate came in last as production was under way in Louisiana. The distrib (which has taken on other divisive pics such as Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and Bill Maher’s “Religulous”) was confident enough in the film’s commerciality that it did not showcase the pic at any fall film fests. “It’s not arthouse,” Block says. “The festivals wanted it. We tested it and it came back with high awareness.”
As Block suspected it might, the attention of the media has helped boost the hot-button movie, with coverage ranging from full-court treatment in the Los Angeles Times to the cover of Entertainment Weekly months in advance of the pic’s release. The arrest of “W” stars Josh Brolin and Jeffrey Wright after they resisted leaving a Shreveport bar at the request of local police unexpectedly turned out to be a boon, attracting an avalanche of global coverage.
Block very much needs “W” to succeed, as QED’s first few releases have been strictly low-profile.
“The Hunting Party,” starring Richard Gere, was a casualty of the Weinsteins’ transition from Miramax to their new company. And Neil Burger’s “The Lucky Ones,” starring Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams and released by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, was dead on arrival in its Sept. 28 bow, another victim of audience disinterest in Iraq War movies.
Next up for QED: the Peter Jackson-produced alien thriller “District 9,” which is set for August 2009 release by Sony.
The lessons learned so far at Artisan and QED, Block says: “Don’t make anything under $10 million, and go for commercial movies with a wide release.”
Anxiously scanning “W’s” tracking numbers, Block says: “The big spend starts now.”