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Venice: Flexible Biz Model Amps Up Voltage

Company logs sales on low-budget ‘Zero Theorem,’ unspooling in Venice competition

Rolling out buoyant pre-sales on Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem,” which world premieres in competition at Venice Monday, Nicolas Chartier’s Voltage Pictures, one of Hollywood’s most active independent film financing-production-sales houses, is pursuing a two-track production and sales strategy in sync with major market change.

Few companies in Hollywood are as prolific or seemingly eclectic as Voltage. “I have different tastes. It’s fun to work with different stories, budgets, filmmakers,” Chartier told Variety before the Venice fest kicked off.

“We do things that make sense. The business model is changing. DVD is crashing. Movies have to become either very small or very big. Everything in the middle is getting in trouble.”

One example, in the lower budgetary spectrum, could be “Zero Theorem.” Voltage first brought “Theorem” on to the market at 2009’s Berlin European Film Market. Since then, Voltage has pre-sold to distributors the world over. Le Pacte will release the pic in France, Imagem has closed Latin America. Italy’s Moviemax was the first distributor to buy “Theorem,” one reason why it’s screening at Venice, Chartier said.

Herbert Kloiber’s Tele Munchen closed as early as Berlin 2009. In other deals, Gutek Film will distribute “Theorem” in Poland, Acme in the Baltic States, Ascot Elite in Switzerland, Forum in Bulgaria and Israel, Tanweer in India and Golden Scene in Hong Kong.

Further pre-sales include Greece (Dinaton), Iceland (Myndform), Czech Republic (Hollywood Czech), Ex-Yugoslavia (Pandora), China (HGC), Indonesia (PT Amero), the Middle East (Gulf Films), Singapore (PT Parkit) and Thailand (IPA).

The caliber of many of these distributors bodes well for a project that Gilliam returned to after his latest attempt to stitch financing together for “Don Quixote” fell apart after Cannes 2012.

Yet, despite a slew of sales, and a cast led by Christoph Waltz, France’s Melanie Thierry (“Babylon A.D.”), Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, Ben Winshaw and Lukas Hedges, “Theorem” was made for a contained price. France’s CNC film board put “Zero Theorem’s” budget at €10.34 million (around $13.5 million), modest by Gilliam’s standards and even higher-end French standards.

It might help of course that much of “Theorem” action unspools in the single location of a burnt-out chapel. Various characters — Waltz character’s boss, a mysterious girl, a child – enter and leave. Production also took just one year, quick by Gilliam’s standards.

In large contrast, the upcoming “Testament,” from helmer-scribe Eric Bress (“The Butterfly Effect”), lies at the high end of Voltage’s budget standards. It is set at a Texas boarding school where the students have to confront an apocalypse.

“The idea is to do something like ‘Chronicle’ meets ‘Independence Day,’ a big fun disaster movie about the 10 plagues of Egypt” in the modern day, Chartier said.

“Testament” is casting, most of the money was raised this summer. “We’re developing a few bigger movies. Then after, we’d like to keep on working with directors like Terry Gilliam, Kathryn Bigelow, find good director-driven movies.”

For Chartier, “The fun thing is to do things for a price that get a big release because they’re good. That’s what we aim to achieve with ‘Don Jon,’ ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ ‘The Zero Theorem’ — movies that can hopefully make it back because they have a market.”

But buyers, he recognized, are now more cautious. “People want more elements and information before making a decision.”

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