×

Bold Films’ Walters Talks About Forces Changing Indie Market

Producer/financier Bold Films made its mark in recent years with critical and commercial indie hits like “Whiplash,” “Drive” and “Nightcrawler.” Its co-founders — Russian-born entrepreneur, chairman and backer Michel Litvak and CEO Gary Michael Walters — hope to achieve similar results with the just-released art-house drama “Colette,” pictured above, and Neon’s recent pickup “Vox Lux” (out Dec. 7). But after some low-budget misfires and downsizing, the company is looking to take bigger gambles. Variety spoke with Walters to discuss Bold’s new direction.

How are you planning to change the company’s approach?

We’ll be looking into getting domestic distribution earlier in the process, and creating more commercial projects that are going to be attractive as wide releases. We’ll give them some edge, but I think of it as the “Mary Poppins” principle: you need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. More accessible films, maybe with more action components, in more commercial genres. These are the things that we think [theatrical] audiences are still responding to. The big, four-quadrant movies we’ll leave to the studios. There’s always got to be something intriguing and elevating about them — otherwise, the studios would be doing them. We want to keep doing pure dramas, but the marketplace for them has shifted more to television, so we’re probably going to be leaning into that [as part of our] TV strategy.

What types of films and budgets are you exploring?

Popular on Variety

Budgets that are $35 million-$40 million. We’re very keen on our Chippendales project with Dev Patel and Ben Stiller attached. That’s not as big and broad as an action movie, but it will have a lot of entertainment value with the male dancing and big disco anthems, surrounded by this amazing, dark thriller component based on a true story. And we have a great project that we’re developing with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine about Ruth Handler, the woman who created Barbie and co-founded Mattel. It’s a great women’s empowerment story, but it’s also got the global brand of Barbie, so there’s a marketing component that makes it accessible to a broader audience.

You’ll be on the Nov. 4 AFM panel called Producing Studio Films With Independent Budgets. How are you approaching your partnerships with studios?

Studios earn distribution fees, and Bold pays them. So we can’t afford to debt that 35 percent, or whatever the studios charge. That means we have to make the movies more economically, and in 35-40 days, not 50-80 days. They’re not necessarily gonna get rich, but everyone can make a good sum while making great movies.

Last year, Bold laid off almost half its staff. What led up to that decision?

We have had one owner since the inception, Michel Litvak, and he said that he wanted to tighten the overhead. It’s something that’s happened before — we pruned it down to build it back up. We’re leaning into a very aggressive slate right now, so we still have all of our strong department heads. We have less staff, and we’ve shut the London office, but I’m covering London as part of my regular duties now and enjoying it greatly.

How is this affecting your output?

In some respects, it’s easier to make two $30 million movies than six $10 million movies. There are only so many [films like] “Nightcrawler” and “Drive” out there. And there are only so many [films like] “Chippendales” and [our Dave Bautista-toplined  action comedy] “Dogtown.” There are fewer packages around, and far fewer great spec screenplays. Writers are being absorbed by TV, so it’s become more challenging to get great scripts that will attract cool directors and movie stars. That’s why development has become more important for us. And if you’re gonna home-grow it, you might as well grow where the buyer and audience demand is higher.

More Film

  • My Salinger Year

    Berlin Film Festival to Open With Sigourney Weaver, Margaret Qualley Starrer 'My Salinger Year'

    The 70th edition of the Berlinale will open with Philippe Falardeau’s anticipated “My Salinger Year,” headlined by a powerful female duo, Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley. Set in New York’s literary world in the 90’s, the coming-of-age-story is based on Joanna Rakoff’s international bestseller and follows Joanna (Qualley), who leaves graduate school to pursue her [...]

  • Bad Hair

    'Bad Hair': Film Review

    The year is 1989 and New Jack Swing is about to push black culture from the margins to the mainstream. The question for the black employees of Culture, the music TV station at the center of writer-director Justin Simien’s delightfully macabre horror-dramedy “Bad Hair,” is what image do they — and their white executive Grant [...]

  • Bad Hair

    Justin Simien's 'Bad Hair' is a Tribute to Exploited Black Women Everywhere, Director Says

    Deeply personal but indulgently campy, Justin Simien’s Sundance opener “Bad Hair” is a genre-blending horror show that the director said serves as a tribute to the struggles of black women. The mind behind  “Dear White People” staged the world premiere for the project at Park City’s Ray Theater on Thursday night, before a cast that [...]

  • Taylor Swift: Miss Americana

    'Taylor Swift: Miss Americana': Film Review

    Fly-on-the-wall portraits of pop-music stars used to be dominated by, you know, pop music. The life and personality and woe-is-me-I’m-caught-in-the-media-fishbowl spectacle of the star herself was part of the equation, yet all that stuff had a way of dancing around the edges. Now, though, it’s front and center. In “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana,” we catch [...]

  • Taylor Swift attends the premiere of

    Sundance Crowd Goes Wild as Taylor Swift Becomes Powerful Voice of Trump Resistance

    At the outset of the first screening of the documentary “Miss Americana” Thursday night at the Sundance Film Festival, it was clear at the outset that it was not necessarily Taylor Swift’s core audience filling the Eccles Theater for the premiere. The opening scene has Swift trying to write a song at the piano while [...]

  • wanda Imax China

    China Closes Thousands of Theaters in Response to Coronavirus Outbreak

    China closed swathes of cinemas on Friday in response to the outbreak of novel coronavirus, which started in the city of Wuhan and has now killed 26 people. The closures come a day after the distributors and producers of the seven major blockbusters that had expected to launch from Jan. 25 cancelled their films’ releases. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content