Voltage juices up international strategy

Chartier's company brings slew of pics to Berlin

Voltage Pictures is firing on all cylinders, with two films premiering in Sundance, one more bowing in Berlin, 11 movies in post-production and another two that started shooting in January.

Founder and CEO Nicolas Chartier put his house on the line to bankroll “The Hurt Locker,” and while he admits it’s been easier since winning an Oscar to get more of his movies greenlit, he has a penchant for pouring money into his own films. “I have $15 million of my money in two movies right now, so I’m sleeping pretty badly until that money is collected,” he says.

His stress will certainly have been eased by Relativity’s $4 million acquisition of U.S. rights to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acclaimed directorial debut “Don Jon’s Addiction” at Sundance, though Fredrik Bond’s flashy action thriller “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” got a more mixed reception in Park City.

Both pics make their international bow in Berlin’s Panorama sidebar, along with the world preem of “Maladies,” starring James Franco.

Voltage produced the first two films and is selling the third as part of its strategy of mixing its own projects with a foreign sales slate from other producers.

Chartier, who’s worked many years in the trenches of foreign sales, is a sharp businessman, but he’s also a movie fan whose choices are driven by his own tastes and passions, and who’s prepared to back that up with his own cash. “We try to sell what the market wants, and I try to produce the movies that I think the market should want,” he explains.

His slate is a balance of straight-to-video fare starring the likes of Dolph Lundgren and Steven Seagal, such as “Force of Execution,” which started shooting this month, and theatrical movies across a wide range of genres, often with bold and challenging themes, such as Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep,” the Rachel Weisz thriller “The Whistleblower” and the upcoming AIDS story “Dallas Buyers Club” starring Matthew McConaughey. Also shooting is a project he’s keeping under wraps, which he describes only as “an action movie starring Megan Fox.”

“I like the issue movies of the ’70s, films by Alan Pakula and Sydney Pollack, but fewer are being made now, so I have to make them,” Chartier explains. “I want to produce the movies by all those film legends who are incredibly talented but aren’t working so much, since the studios are doing all these stupid f/x movies.”

“The Company You Keep,” which premiered at Venice and Toronto, has already grossed a very healthy $5 million in Italy, ahead of its U.S. release in April. He also backed William Friedkin’s provocative “Killer Joe,” and says his only recent disappointment is that awards voters overlooked McConaughey in that film, and Weisz in “The Whistleblower.”

He’s got high hopes this year for Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi “Zero Theorem,” starring Christoph Waltz and Tilda Swinton, which shot in Romania last fall.

“The fun thing about producing is that you get to work with people you love,” he says. He next hopes to make a movie with Michael Mann, “because I want to see his next film,” he says.

While Chartier says Voltage is producing films because there aren’t enough movies being made by third parties that he likes, it’s “also a better business model, because you have a bigger upside when the movie works,” he says. The downside, of course, is the amount of his own money at risk.

Because the presales market is tougher than it used to be, he says, the company winds up putting a lot of equity in different movies, he says. But, he’s quick to note, it’s money that comes from “Hurt Locker,” and he’s re-investing it.

“I want to work with directors who are going to make movies that are thought-provoking and disturbing, and will stay in film history,” he says. “If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on special effects, you’d better have a story that’s so different, people think they should go and see it in the cinema instead of waiting to watch it at home.”