With Universal opening “Lone Survivor”on Christmas in two U.S. theaters, several financiers behind the Afghanistan war tale find themselves amazed that they were able to raise the funds last year at Cannes.
“We knew that getting presales from the Europeans that this was not going to be easy,” recalls Stephan Martirosyan, CFO of Envision Entertainment and a partner in Foresight Unlimited. “It’s just not the kind of story that the Europeans care a lot about.”
Mark Damon, who handles Envision’s foreign sales through his Foresight Unlimited banner, agrees that selling the story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was more than a bit unnerving — even with Mark Wahlberg on board to star and Peter Berg attached to direct.
“At first glance, it seemed like a jingoist film that would probably not win any Oscars, but Peter did a great job at Cannes and then made a great film — much more than we were expecting,” Damon said. “We didn’t want to make a political film.”
The film recounts the failed 2005 attempt to capture a Taliban leader and is based on Luttrell’s book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.”
A year after the film was shot, the execs remain astonished over Berg’s attention to detail — which included having Luttrell move into Berg’s home for a month, meeting with families of the deceased and living for a month with Navy SEALs in Iraq — and then shooting the film while in rugged New Mexico mountains.
“Peter was not interested in shooting this film in easier locations,” notes Envision CEO Remington Chase.
Foresight managed to sell the film into 40 markets and Envision provided the coin for about 80% of financing for the project, which carries a price tag estimated in the $40 million to $50 million range. “Lone Survivor” will begin rolling out next month in France, the U.K. and Spain and expanding in the U.S. on Jan. 10.
For Matirosyan, “Lone Survivor” has a particular resonance because he worked in the former Soviet Union during the time of its decade-long war in Afghanistan. He and Chase formed Envision in 2010 and saw success in financing and producing “2 Guns,” the Wahlberg-Denzel Washington actioner that grossed $130 million worldwide this year.
Envision and Foresight are also financing and producing Rob Reiner’s comedy “And So It Goes,” starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, along with a pair of upcoming projects: the Justin Timberlake starrer “Spinning Gold,” a biopic about record exec Neil Bogart with Spike Lee directing, and the Africa-set action project “The Englishman” with John Moore directing.
“Lone Survivor” lists Berg, Wahlberg and Envision’s Vitaly Grigoriants as producers along with Sarah Aubrey, Randall Emmett, Norton Herrick, Barry Spikings, Akiva Goldsman and Stephen Levinson. Besides Chase, Damon and Martirosyan, there are 10 other exec producers: George Furla, Simon Fawcett, Braden Aftergood, Louis G. Friedman, Adi Shankar, Spencer Silna, Brandt Andersen, Jeff Rice, Lauren Selig and Jason Shuman.