Brian O’Shea has led the Exchange to strong growth. Launched in 2011, the self-funded finance-sales company has sold and/or financed such notable films as the award-winning documentary “Gleason,” “Chocolate City,” “A Street Cat Named Bob,” “The Spectacular Now” and “Dear White People.” O’Shea recently talked to Variety about the company,
You’re currently working on “A Girl From Mogadishu” from writer-director Mary McGuckian, which tells the story of Somali social activist Ifrah Ahmed and her fight against the horrors of female genital mutilation. It couldn’t be more timely.
Absolutely, and we’ve always been drawn to and driven by unique powerful stories like this, which are a core part of breakout independent filmmaking. Nothing is more truthful than a real life story, and the activist, who’s in the film, is just so inspiring. So we felt this was so relevant in so many ways — women’s rights, globalization, the oppression of minorities, the abuse of power. But we didn’t realize just how relevant all these issues were going to be. And we also felt it had a lot of commercial potential too, because it’s told in a very simple, authentic and beautiful way. We’re in production now and looking for a fall 2018 release.
The company is doing very well. Talk about the diversification of The Exchange business model and its growth.
Diversification is the real key for us, and our core business is sales. We’re completely self-owned and self-financed, and there are very few other self-owned, independent distribution, sales and production companies out there. We’re cash-positive, we employ 12 people, and we have 200 titles in our library, and we reinvest profits back into the company. So I think it’s a very strong model.
And now the company is also moving into production.
Yes, and hiring producer Tom McNulty, who we worked with on “The Spectacular Now,” was our first step into production. One of the first films we’re producing is “Septillion to One,” a sort of rom-com for STX which we’ll introduce at AFM, and we’ll have A-list stars attached, which we can’t announce yet. It’s a really great script — it was on the Black List, and Mark Romanek’s on board to direct, and he’s very choosy about projects, so we’re really happy we got him. That’ll be like the kick-off to our production slate, so it’s very exciting.
What does McNulty bring to the mix?
So much experience. He started off with Sid Ganis, then worked for Adam Sandler at Happy Madison, and then he was head of production at Global Produce, where he did “The Spectacular Now” with Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, and Brie Larson, which was directed by James Ponsold, and he also worked on “Night at the Museum” for Shawn Levy’s company, 21 Laps Entertainment, and he’s a really great addition to the company. And then on top of all that, we’re about to announce a new joint venture, where we’ll be partnering with an investment group out of New York, so we’re also starting an investment vehicle which is another big step forward for us. So it’s all about staying diversified and flexible and not being pigeonholed. We’re willing to take library titles and sell them aggressively, and we want to do TV projects as well, so we have big plans for the future and a lot going on.
What do you see as the dangers to this business model?
Running ourselves too thin and losing focus. As long as we stay focused on our core of sales and financing and the idea of diversification we’ll be in a good position. We want to do the big films and the small ones, urban films and films written and directed by women, Latin films, dance films. We don’t shy away from anything.