When Brian O’Shea founded the worldwide film sales and finance company The Exchange in 2011, streaming was still in its infancy, release windows were numerous and robust and DVD pre-sales could still provide a big chunk of a movie’s budget. In the ensuing decade, the landscape has undergone a rapid series of dramatic shifts, but the L.A.-based company has survived and prospered, acquiring, financing and selling more than 200 films, with budgets ranging from $5 million to $90 million, including Universal’s “2 Guns,” starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg; Sundance Award-winners “The Spectacular Now” and “Obvious Child,” and doc “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street.”
“We’ve had success in keeping all options open and maintaining relationships and building new relationships along the way,” says Nat McCormick, exec VP of worldwide distribution for The Exchange. “Always having our ear to the ground, we know how to best navigate things, and, believe me, a month from now something is going to change.”
The biggest change for The Exchange itself is Next Prods., a standalone joint venture with finance firm Orogen Entertainment launched in February that plans to develop and produce 15 movies over the next three years. It’s set to begin production on its first film, director Amy Rice’s political thriller “The Independent,” starring Jodie Turner-Smith and Brian Cox, in November.
“I think what makes us attractive to a lot of filmmakers is that we respect and appreciate freedom of expression and we see commerciality in not putting somebody in a box,” says CEO O’Shea. “All limitations are based on the script and on the actors. Make your film, express yourself, and if we execute it well, it’s really good business.”
O’Shea and Nat McCormick are international film sales vets who worked together at Odd Lot Intl. and Affinity Intl. But when Affinity partnered with Sierra Pictures in 2011 to form Sierra Affinity, the duo found themselves unemployed.
Brushing themselves off, O’Shea and McCormick went off to the Berlin Intl. Film Festival to sell their cinematic wares. While the Sierra Affinity team entertained buyers in the Presidential Suite of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel they had occupied 12 months earlier, O’Shea and McCormick were down in the bar with an iPad trying to interest people in the micro-budget romantic comedy “Slightly Single in L.A.,” starring Lacey Chabert.
“It was humbling, but, at the same time, it was kind of fun,” recalls O’Shea.
After the fest, the pair went their separate ways. O’Shea founded The Exchange, bringing on Giovanna Trischitta as COO, while McCormick did a brief stint at IM Global before rejoining O’Shea in August 2012.
Over the years, their corner of the industry has faced an evolving array of challenges, including piracy and competition from video games to the current proliferation of local-language content, spurred on by a massive global spending initiative by Netflix. But the sweet spot for The Exchange has remained essentially the same.
“We want to export something that’s interesting with Hollywood stars that the international audiences want to see,” McCormick says. “They love to see action, and if it’s going to be a romantic comedy, that can really work well, too, if it’s kind of broad and physical and has the right type of stars.”
The Exchange has no outside investors, and its policy is to reinvest profits in the company, whether that means buying its own building in the heart of the Hollywood Media District in 2018, or optioning properties to produce, aided by a line of credit from the Bank of California.
“We were extremely conservative at the beginning because we were self-financed,” says Trischitta, “and we’re now becoming a little more aggressive with our finances to get out there and really look for product and make investments to expand the company.”
For the time being, most of their production efforts will likely be funneled through Next, which is headed by Caddy Vanasirikul.
Now that The Exchange is focusing more on the production side, there’s a chance that awards are in the future. “It would give an extra bump to the value of our company or our own personal egos,” says O’Shea. “But, most importantly, getting nominations is good business. It would be validation of our philosophy that creativity makes big business.”
The Exchange hits AFM with a full slate, including:
Across the River and Into the Trees
Adapted from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, the drama stars Liev Schreiber, a U.S. Army colonel grappling with a terminal illness who visits his old haunts in post-WWII Venice and meets a young woman (Matilda De Angelis) who gives him hope for the future. Paula Ortiz directs from a script by Peter Flannery.
A young journalist (Jodie Turner-Smith) joins forces with her idol (Brian Cox) to investigate a possible conspiracy that could alter the outcome of a contentious presidential election in this thriller directed by Amy Rice from a Black List script by Evan Parter. Kathy Bates and John Cena co-star.
A drama exploring how government immigration policies affect people along the U.S.-Mexico border, starring Zoe Saldana and co-written and directed by her husband Marco Perego Saldana. The film also stars Garrett Hedlund, Tom Waits, Chris Coy and Sophia Hammons.
A romantic comedy about a woman named Sheila (Kaley Cuoco), who discovers a time machine in a Manhattan nail salon and uses it to travel back in time to relive the best date of her life with Gary (Pete Davidson) over and over again to see if she can somehow fix their problems. Alex Lehmann (“Paddleton”) directs from a script by Noga Pnueli.
Trace Lysette (“Hustlers”) plays a young woman who returns to her home in the Midwest to care for her dying mother (Patricia Clarkson) in this drama from Italian co-writer/director Andrea Pallaoro (“Hannah”). Emily Browning (“American Gods”) and Oscar-nominee Adriana Barraza (“Babel”) co-star.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
Director Marilyn Agrelo’s doc about the origins of the iconic PBS children’s series “Sesame Street” featuring interviews with many of the creative visionaries behind the show. Film debuted at Sundance to acclaim.