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Steve Golin on Movie Projects: ‘It’s Got to Be Something That I Feel Passionate About’

Anonymous Content founder tells Variety how he selects the films and series he produces

Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival will pay tribute this year to U.S. development, production and management company Anonymous Content, founded in 1999 by Steve Golin. The company’s portfolio includes hit films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Babel,” as well as successful TV shows like HBO’s crime drama series “True Detective.” Variety talked to Golin in anticipation of the tribute, which will include screenings of the films “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Winter’s Bone,” as well as the complete first season of “True Detective.”

How do you think Anonymous Content has progressed since you founded it in 1999?
We’ve been having a lot of fun. We have a really nice group of people here. We’re interested in doing movies that interest us, that are generally about something and have a message. We’re on a pretty good roll. We’re doing a bunch of movies that we’re excited about. We’re doing a lot of television. Things are going really well for us right now.

How do you choose which projects the company will pursue?
I think this company’s made up of a lot of different people with a lot of different tastes, and I don’t pretend to have the secret formula to the sauce of what taste works. So because the company’s become so big there’s a real variety of tastes, and people have a lot of freedom within the company to do what they want to do. I think that the overriding theme is to try to do stuff that’s about something that has a level of quality and that has high aspirations.

The stuff that I individually work on is stuff that I’m passionate about. Oftentimes you get on these movies and it’s two, three, four, five or more years’ commitment of your time, so it’s got to be something that I feel passionate about.

But there are people in the company that are developing material that I’m not directly involved in, only indirectly, and I know that my taste is not the only taste out there. There are certain movies that don’t necessarily appeal to me as much as others, and people have a lot of freedom to do what they want to do.

How did the expansion into TV, commercials and music videos come about?
It’s just in the DNA of the company. I used to run Propaganda Films, which I started in 1986 with my ex-partner Sigurjon Sighvatsson, which was a very similar model in terms of doing TV commercials, music videos, motion pictures. Even then we did some television and talent management. Now the talent management division is a substantial division. We have 22 talent managers and probably 400 clients, so it’s just in the DNA of the company. It didn’t develop into that. It was always that.

Now with the proliferation and the excellence of one-hour drama in the television space, we’re really focused on that, because dramatic films are much harder to do than they used to be, so in terms of drama, we’re trying to concentrate more on television than motion pictures in that space.

Anonymous Content has strived to cultivate artistic freedom, while still maintaining the commercial viability of each project. How have you helped strike that balance?
We don’t finance many motion pictures straight up, so usually we’re working for a fee. We try to balance it. We don’t want anyone to lose money, and we certainly want to make money. So it’s just a balancing act and a lot of it is about doing the project for the right budget. A big part of it is something might make sense at $10 million or $12 million and not at $25 million, so it’s really about getting the right budget for the right project. That makes business sense and I think we’re good at that.

That’s not easy, especially when you’re not sure how projects will perform.
Well, sadly, no one knows how anything’s going to perform for sure. Otherwise this would be a better business. But you try to take calculated risks. You try to be familiar with what the marketplace is, and what makes sense economically and be prudent financially. We certainly try to do that.

How would you like to see the company progress going forward? Is there any area in particular that you’d like to see grow?
We’re doing quite a few motion pictures, so we want to have successful motion pictures and continue in that area. On the talent management side, we’re ever expanding. On the television side, we want to have a number of successful TV shows on at all times. I think we’re headed in that direction.

The talent management thing feeds the TV and the motion picture thing and vice versa. It’s a virtuous cycle of material and activity going back and forth in a really good way.

Can you pinpoint a key lesson that you’ve learned about the business since starting Anonymous Content?
I think one of the things I’ve learned is to try to kind of moderate your temperament — not to get too depressed with the failures, and not to get too carried away with the successes. You’re going to have your successes and failures, and to try to realize that it’s all about doing what you believe in and hard work, and when a movie’s not a success you kind of just have to dust yourself off, get up and go again, because there’s no logic to it. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie or bad TV show. We all set out to do great work. Sometimes it comes out better than others and you live and learn. You live to die another day, and learn from your mistakes. Sometimes you learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes.

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