As co-head of William Morris Independent, Rena Ronson sees plenty of indie film projects come across her desk. She, her partner Cassian Elwes and their team work on an average of 20 films a year, seeking solutions for filmmakers, from financing through distribution. But at a time when the indie biz is in trouble, Ronson’s been involved in a number of seemingly under-the-radar pics that ended up making a splash in the festival and awards realms.
On the fest circuit — where U.S. deals have been thin on the ground lately — she repped some of the less-obvious slam-dunk sales titles. Last summer Ronson made a U.S. theatrical deal for British TV doc “Young @ Heart” with Fox Searchlight. And, in sharp contrast to competitors, WMI’s Sundance 2008 slate comprised just a handful of smaller titles — but among them were “Frozen River,” which went on to win Sundance’s top prize, and “Ballast,” which grabbed the directing and cinematography trophies. Both films got deals out of the festival.
“When you spot films like ‘Ballast’ or ‘Frozen River,’ you know they’re not typical commercial films that are going to incite bidding wars,” Ronson says. “But they’re such remarkable films, you want to help the filmmakers.”
Also this year, she saw a film she worked on from the financing stage, Sarah Polley’s “Away From Her,” reap rewards. “It was like a little engine that made it to the big tracks,” she says. “This was an under-$4 million film that went neck-and-neck with bigger films at the Academy Awards.”
And WMI recently set up Incentive Filmed Entertainment, a $100 million financing company that aims to fund up to 50 movies over the next five years. The projects will tap U.S. tax breaks, but Ronson says they’ll also be budgeted in line with their worth overseas. “You have to be diligent and know what the value of the film is,” says Ronson, a 12-year vet of the foreign sales biz. “It’s the smart way to make independent films.”
Three things in life I can’t do without: “My daughter’s love, getting out of L.A. at least five times a year, and the electronics that keep me connected to all things important.”
What I’m reading now: “‘The Glass Castle’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables’ (to my daughter).”
Most important issues facing Americans in this election year: “Our economy is a wreck, too many international conflicts, and we must take care of our planet.”