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Saban Films Turns 5: How the Indie Studio Grew While Rivals Faltered

Siberia Keanu Reeves
Courtesy of IM Global

Saban Films doesn’t make the most noise. It doesn’t have the splashiest premieres or parties. But the indie film label just quietly did what many of its early rival failed to pull off. It celebrated its fifth anniversary at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

“We stuck to our plan,” Saban Films founder Bill Bromiley told Variety. “Sometimes it was tough seeing our competitors pick up a big movie or pay a lot of money on an awards race. They had all the hype and we were the guys who were sort of in the background.”

Flying a little under the radar served Bromiley and his team well. Saban Films launched in 2014, the same year that Broad Green, an indie label backed by Wall Street multi-millionaire Gabriel Hammond, opened for business. It found itself in competition for films with the likes of Relativity Media, the Orchard, the Weinstein Company, and Clarius. What do all of those companies have in common? Unlike Saban, they’ve been sold off, gone bankrupt, or ceased to exist. With that kind of high mortality rate, a fifth anniversary, a relatively modest accomplishment in some sectors, is indeed something to celebrate.

Many of those companies bet heavily on awards season contenders. Saban Films has forged a different path, backing more genre-driven efforts. Its roster of movies includes thrillers such as “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” with Hilary Duff and “Siberia” with Keanu Reeves; action fare such as “I am Wrath” with John Travolta; and dramas such as “The Homesman,” a Tommy Lee Jones movie that Saban picked up when it launched in 2014.

“We’re risk adverse,” said Bromiley. “We like things that have a strong genre element and are cast driven. We see a lot of terrific strong movies that we pass on, because we can’t figure out a way to get an audience to see them.”

Bromiley, formerly the chief acquisitions officer of RLJ Entertainment, formed the company with backing from media investor Haim Saban’s Saban Capital Group. Almost every Saban movie gets some form of theatrical release. However, the company also backs a robust video-on-demand and home entertainment rollout, often having its movies open on those platforms while they’re still on screens. Not every movie works, Bromiley admits. For instance, he calls last year’s “Lizzie,” a well-reviewed drama about alleged murderer Lizzie Borden that sputtered at the box office despite a star turn from Kristen Stewart, a “nobel failure.”

Aside from those missteps, the business is growing. In 2014, Saban released just over a half dozen movies. This year, it plans to release nearly 30 films. Bromiley didn’t share detailed financial information, but he did say that Saban has operated in the black since its inception. Revenue will grow 20% in 2019 and profitability hit a new record in the first quarter, he added.

At Cannes, Saban was an active buyer, forging deals for the likes of “I See You” with Helen Hunt and “Bottom of the 9th” starring Joe Manganiello and Sofía Vergara. But the film company isn’t just acquiring movies. It’s also boarding projects at the script stage. Most of these films have budgets in the $5 million to $15 million range. Some of these projects include Kevin Smith’s “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” and Rob Zombie’s “3 From Hell.”

“We want to dig in even deeper,” said Bromiley. “We want to join projects as early as possible.”