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Ashok Amritraj Built ‘99 Homes’ in Tough Climate

Even with Andrew Garfield attached to star and a ripped-from-the-headlines plot, a challenging film like “99 Homes” barely made it to the screen.

It took prolific producer Ashok Amritraj and his Hyde Park Entertainment and Image Nation Abu Dhabi under their long standing joint venture’s to fully finance the drama about the U.S. foreclosure crisis, which cost less than $10 million.

99 Homes,” which premiered at Venice and played at Telluride and Toronto, will screen at AFM this week, after selling U.S. rights to new distributor Broad Green Pictures for $3 million in September. The film, co-written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”), tells the story of a single dad (Garfield) evicted from his Florida home by an unscrupulous real estate agent (Michael Shannon).

Amritraj describes a difficult atmosphere now in the film business, where the studios are unlikely to bankroll small dramas. “I think it’s up to us to get these movies made,” Amritraj says. “I don’t think these are what you would call pre-sale titles. This is a movie all about execution.”

The foreign market no longer provides a safety net for indies either. “It’s a tough range,” Amritraj says. “In the old days, Germany paid $1 million for your movie. If you missed, you got $750,000. Today if you miss, you get $100,000 or $200,000. The ones that miss, you really get slaughtered.”

Amritraj concedes that he could have pre-sold “99 Homes” to a few regions. “I didn’t want to,” he says, noting that he would have gotten smaller offers if he wanted the money upfront.
“There is a greater risk, but there’s a greater reward. It’s really about how much faith you have in the project.”

When Amritraj first read the script for “99 Homes,” he was struck by the timeliness of the story. “It was something that you don’t think is a 2008 or a 2010 problem,” Amritraj says. “It’s a very current-day problem.” He then met with Bahrani and was impressed by the director’s vision for the story.

The veteran producer with a cumulative box office of more than $1 billion (from such films as “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” “Machete,” “Premonition” and “Bringing Down the House”) entered the film business in the 1980s following a career as a professional tennis player. “The first five years, everybody wanted to play tennis with me,” he says. “Nobody wanted to make a movie with me. I thought I would go mad.”

Amritraj acknowledges even more changes ahead in distribution. “I think over the next five years, the market is going to evolve so much,” he says. “It’s going to be theatrical and it’s going to be one or two other windows. God knows what those windows are going to be.”

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