Protagonist Pictures, the international sales, finance and production company behind films such as “The Souvenir” Parts I and II and “St Maud,” has announced a significant restructure with an eye to focusing on executive producing, Variety can reveal.
While Protagonist, which is in Venice with “Official Competition,” will continue to feed their traditional pre-sales model, their pivot to executive producing is intended to open up financing streams. The company will look to board films at an embryonic stage — sometimes even before the director — to arrange financing and allow enhanced creative opportunities in each project’s development and production.
“The restructure is very much in response to the ever-shifting landscape of the independent film business and how we have forged some new strategic initiatives in order to address that,” Protagonist CEO Dave Bishop tells Variety. “So that we can very much be the best partner to the filmmakers that we work with.”
In light of the structural changes, Protagonist has announced a host of promotions and new hires. While Bishop, who has been CEO since 2017, remains in the role, head of sales George Hamilton has been upped to chief commercial officer, commercial director James Pugh becomes chief operating officer and Anne-Lise Fernandez moves from director of operations to head of operations and post-production, in anticipation of the expanding role the company will take in post-production. (Head of acquisitions Luane Gauer is staying in her role.)
“The restructure is about redefining what we have done previously, but making it clearer, more concise, and having the right people in the right places to be able to enact that and be the best partner,” says Bishop. “So when a filmmaking team comes to us and they want to get their film going, regardless of what stage it’s at, we can sit down with the appropriate people and figure that out, and help them move forwards.”
As part of that, Janina Vilsmaier has been promoted from director of sales to head of sales, Emma Kinnersley from financial controller to finance director, Mounia Wissinger from director of marketing to head of marketing, distribution and publicity and Alexandra da Silva from sales assistant to sales coordinator.
In addition, Protagonist has hired Jonathan Walik as a sales executive, Isabel Ivars as library and festivals manager and Alexis Hamaide as marketing manager.
“Internally, the structure reflects that each of these strands can support each other, and something might move into something else,” says Hamilton. “So you could have a project that might just be a true classical pre-sales model or a completed film, maybe debut, which you’re then launching at a festival. But equally, depending, [a film could] need that push for us to exec produce it to make sure that the finance works, if it grew or it changed [since inception.]”
With the pandemic acting as a catalyst for an already changing industry, with streamers increasingly dominating the landscape while theatrical distribution languishes, Protagonist is looking at ways in which to adapt its business model, with executive producing being a key component. “Because the industry is evolving so fast, and because each project is so specific, we cannot think any more about only one strategy to market,” explains Gauer.
“There will be some [films] which will just be that classical model of pre-sales, which we will continue to do as we have with success,” says Hamilton. “And then there’s our executive producer titles where we come on, you know, without necessarily even a market launch and our work is in building to ensure both that the strategic development of the project works on a creative level, but also on a financial, on a business level. So it can be the best possible version for the filmmakers involved too.”
Another area of promise is developing its own projects in-house. Bishop reveals that Protagonist is already well into the process, with a nine-film development slate. “It’s something we’ve been working on for some time,” says Bishop. “It’s in quite an exciting place. Watch this space.”
Protagonist are also looking to expand their global alliances, as evidenced by their recent partnership with Augenschein Filmproduktion. “The Dive” is one of the first projects the companies will tackle together. “It’s a symbiotic relationship, because we’re representing films from them, but equally, we share stuff with them for potential production and vice versa,” says Hamilton. He adds that Protagonist also have eyes on partnerships “beyond Europe.”
Despite the tumultuous past 18 months, Protagonist is going from strength to strength. They recently moved offices and have doubled their head count over the last decade, from 10 employees to 20.
“We’ve learned a tremendous amount from [the consequences of the pandemic],” says Bishop. “It’s a consequence of those learnings that has brought us to this point where we’ve restructured the team. It’s very much about looking forwards […] as to how we can be the very best partner to the filmmakers that we work with and really support them through that whole process.”