Independent Entertainment, the finance, sales and production company behind films including “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and the upcoming “My Policeman,” which is set to have its world premiere at TIFF, celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year.
Since its founding by CEO Luc Roeg in 2007, the film landscape has undergone unimaginable change, from the ascendance of streaming platforms to the global pandemic followed by a cost of living crisis that has brought cinemas to their knees.
Despite the challenges, Independent Entertainment has gone from strength to strength, adapting to market changes while remaining true to what Roeg describes as its “creative core.”
“Every decision is made around the creative basis and how the team or individuals are responding to it,” Roeg tells Variety of the company’s strategy. “I think we are very much a production-led business in the sense that whenever we get involved, even in third party projects, we are helping producers and filmmakers build their projects from the ground up, which is what we do for our own projects.”
Independent run a curated slate, consisting of about six films per year. “Ideally for every market that we attend, we would like to have one or two completed films, one or two films where we have some footage to show, one or two new announcements,” says Sarah Lebutsch, managing director for international sales. “But sometimes things don’t move as fast as you would hope or something happens and the project that you wanted to announce at Berlin say has to shift to Cannes. So there’s a lot of movement.”
Included in that number is approximately one production a year, although Roeg says they are slowly looking to ramp that up. “Our own productions are the heart and soul of the business,” he says. “The short term ambition of the company is to increase the output of the business on the production side. Definitely.”
But, he is keen to clarify, “we’re no less passionate about the filmmakers we’re working with on the international end. And there’s so much synergy between the two, whether you’re looking for finance, whether we’re helping them approach cast, in all of those things, we do them on our own productions.”
As evidence of the company’s ambitions, Independent recently launched an L.A. outpost, hiring former Voltage Pictures executive Marc Hofstatter as head of acquisitions. He will also oversee the L.A. office. “With the industry being so global we felt it was important to have a presence on the ground in Hollywood,” Roeg explains. “Marc works across acquisitions and production and is an integral member of the team.”
“We are a small team, but we want to have enough time to focus on each of the films that we’re repping and our own productions, obviously, that’s very important to us,” says Independent COO Cora Palfrey. “So that’s why we just don’t have a huge slate because we want to give [each project] as much time and energy as we need to.”
This weekend the team’s focus is “My Policeman,” which will premiere today (Sept. 11). The film, directed by Michael Grandage, stars Harry Styles as a gay policeman in the 1950s, when homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Based on the novel of the same name by Bethan Roberts, it tells the story of Tom and his wife Marion (played by Emma Corrin), whose lives are upended by museum curator Patrick (David Dawson).
The script came from Greg Berlanti’s Berlanti-Schechter Films via WME and Palfrey says the Independent team just fell in love. “It was the most beautiful script,” she explains. “So we just said, ‘Okay, we just absolutely want to be part of this.’”
“My Policeman” is only Styles’ fourth feature film appearance, but there was no hesitation in casting the musician turned actor. “He was in ‘Dunkirk,’ and he had already accepted the role in ‘Don’t Worry Darling,” says Palfrey. “He was really passionate about it from day one.”
“He really responded to the material,” adds Roeg. “And that is obviously something that’s really important as well. And he met with Michael and Michael got a really good sense from him.”
Although Amazon snapped up global rights to “My Policeman,” the film is set to get both a theatrical release (on Oct. 21 in the U.K. and U.S.) as well as a streaming release in November. For Independent, who champion cinema, it represents the best of both worlds. “We’re delighted with that,” says Palfrey.
How much has the streaming landscape shifted the company’s strategy? “I think the key thing is for us as a production company is we don’t create content specifically for a streamer,” says Palfrey. “We create content we want to make, and then it will land wherever it lands. If it lands at a streamer, great, if it doesn’t fine.”
Roeg and Lebutsch concur, citing the rapid change of the market, which makes it “very hard to know what the streamers want at any one time,” says Roeg, especially given the gestation of a project can be three years.
“We want to have a tailor-made approach for each project, I think that’s also really important for us, the market is changing so rapidly, the potential partners are changing rapidly,” says Lebutsch. “So we really want to have the ability to sit down and really think through what the best sales and marketing and festival strategy for each film is.”
Sometimes that can mean selling global rights to a streamer or taking a more piecemeal approach with theatrical distributors. But when it comes to the future of cinema, Roeg is bullish: “Here to stay,” he says without hesitation. “I think you have to [be bullish about it] because that’s what we’re here for, that’s what we’re here to do. And it puts a pressure on us just to come up with even better stories, discover new talent, which Independent has a great reputation for… As an experience, it’s still very different going to see a film to putting your TV on and watching a movie on a streaming channel.”
Despite that, Independent is quietly developing a television slate, which is still in early stages. Although part of the pivot to longform is obviously financial, which Roeg readly admits, he says it’s compounded by the fact “there’s no real definition now between film and television in the way there was once upon a time. You can merge the two.”
“It is exciting, because it gives us more opportunity to tell a story,” he says. “It’s also challenging because when it’s so fluid it’s not obvious [which medium it should take].”
Still, Roeg’s passion for cinema is Independent’s lifeblood. Although Independent primarily works on scripted projects, it does occasionally pick up unscripted features including an upcoming Lewis Capaldi documentary, which follows the musician while he makes his second album. When asked what makes a documentary project right for Independent, Roeg indicates there’s no one element other than it has “theatrical presence.” “And that can become quite a limiting ceiling, because there’s a lot of great content out there that can work across many different platforms,” he says. “But for our own criteria as a business it’s theatrical. And so then you need to have either that filmmaker or you need to have that really big IP that backs it up.”
Lebutsch also describes the company’s approach as “talent-led” but emphasizes that doesn’t always have to mean experience, citing Duncan Jones’ directorial feature debut “Moon” and Nia DaCosta’s “Little Woods” – both Independent projects – as examples. “Throughout the history of the company [there] have always been a lot of first and second-time filmmakers,” she says.
It’s a sentiment Roeg echoes. “We’ve worked with some really exceptional new talent and it’s still a mantra of the business. And I think that hopefully, that’ll become the lifeblood of the cinema in years to come.”