When “The Raid” nabbed the People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness section in Toronto earlier this year, it marked a turning point for XYZ Films. Not only did it firmly put the boutique L.A.-based production and sales outfit on the global map, but the reception for the Indonesian actioner from Welsh helmer Gareth Huw Evans also validated XYZ’s strategy: local-language pics that resonate with an international audience.
While many Hollywood-based companies may shy away from local-lingo projects, and the studios retreat to the safety of tentpoles, XYZ has cast its eyes abroad.”We don’t look at (Hollywood) as the epicenter of the universe,” says XYZ co-founder Aram Tertzakian.
He, Nate Bolotin and Nick Spicer met as grad students at UCLA and worked in various areas of the biz — Tertzakian in development for Alexander Payne and at Radar Pictures; Spicer in Mexico to produce Spanish-language pic “Love, Pain and Vice Versa” with Lemon Films; and Bolotin on film financing deals and sales at the Collective. The three poured their entrepreneurial spirits into XYZ Films 3 1/2 years ago.
The company has positioned itself as a go-to for emerging international genre talent and titles. Repping domestic sales for such pics, XYZ sold five titles at Tribeca this year — “Saint,” “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” “The Swell Season,” “The Last Rites of Joe May” and Israeli horror film “Rabies.”
Last year, XYZ extended its purview to foreign sales, and formed a partnership with Paris-based Celluloid Dreams, dubbed Celluloid Nightmares, and focused on genre films. Sarah Gabriel is the shingle’s sales director. This foreign sales division sold U.S. rights of “The Raid” to Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions shortly after Cannes and then sold all foreign rights for the pic in Toronto.
The third prong for XYZ is its production unit, which has backed Edgar Ramirez starrer “Greetings to the Devil” and “The Raid.” Already Evans is working on “Berendal,” the sequel to “The Raid,” which will come through the XYZ banner. It’s set to have a budget in the $3 million-$5 million range; the original was made for less than $1 million.
Additionally, XYZ is co-producing Richard Raaphorst’s “Frankenstein’s Army” with MPI Media and Amsterdam-based Pellicola, and is exec-producing Filipino hitman thriller “On the Job,” helmed by Erik Matti. Bolotin says the aim is to help regional producers design a local-language movie that can gain international recognition.
Another source of material came to the company along with its fourth partner, Todd Brown, who runs international specialty film website Twitchfilm.com. XYZ acquired an ownership stake in the site, which has around 40 international contributors who, in addition to writing, keep their eyes peeled for talent and potential projects in their regions.
“Todd’s a programmer at a lot of international film festivals, especially on the genre side,” Tertzakian says. “So he’s always got an ear to the ground (for) new talent.”
It was Brown who flagged Evans’ first pic, “Merantau,” which XYZ then boarded for domestic sales and subsequently sold to Magnolia. “Through these contributors, who have essentially become consultants, it’s been a good way for us to find talent, filmmakers and properties,” Bolotin says.
Remakes are also part of the business model. The shingle is planning an English-language remake of “Rabies” — though Tertzakian says an English-lingo redo of “The Raid” is something they are handling “very delicately. There’s so much about the first film that is so unique and so hard to duplicate.”
But the company is not ignoring Hollywood. XYZ brought in Kyle Franke, former creative exec at Fox, to expand the shingle’s development slate and look for projects on which they can partner with studios.
XYZ is developing supernatural thriller “Our House,” helmed by Gary Shore, with producer John Davis and Universal. It’s also shopping around “The All-Rounder,” an action thriller penned by Nissar Modi (“Outback”), and sci-fier “Phenomenum,” based on a French graphic novel adapted by Brian Miller and directed by Swedish helmer Adam Berg.
Why genre pics? “They’re the films we like best,” Tertzakian says, “(and) they’re the films that perform best internationally. Genre films are a more digestible way to get financiers onboard with new talent.”