Goldberg’s favorite football team since he was a kid has been West Ham United, and — in a cosmic alignment befitting the popular Apple TV Plus series — the club’s owner, David Sullivan, happens to be a stakeholder in Signature.
In Goldberg’s early career as a DVD salesman, he managed to convince a corporate client that buying an executive box at West Ham would come in handy when entertaining customers. In 2010, when Sullivan bought the team, the new owner asked for feedback from corporate members on ways to improve the club, which super-fan Goldberg readily provided in an off-the-cuff email.
The pair developed an unlikely friendship — “I was the envy of all my family and friends,” says Goldberg — and eventually their business paths crossed when Goldberg went to buy a movie that Sullivan, something of a cinephile himself, had invested in. “A few years later, he made me an offer to buy into [Signature],” says Goldberg. “And the rest is history.”
Founded in 2011, Signature Entertainment has built up a sizeable distribution footprint in the U.K., with more than 1,000 movies now in its catalogue. Recent and upcoming releases include the revenge thriller “Bull,” Sam Neill comedy-drama “Rams” and the eagerly anticipated biopic of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, “Midas Man.” As of March 31, 2020 (the most recent filing available), the company reported net assets of £7.24 million ($9.8 million), inclusive of £5.34 million owed by debtors.
Goldberg relocated to Los Angeles in 2018 to lead the company’s production division, Signature Films, which is now becoming a key pillar in the business with titles such as “She Is Love,” “The Hatton Garden Job,” starring Matthew Goode, and “The Courier,” with Gary Oldman and Olga Kurylenko. Meanwhile, an international sales arm was formed in 2020, and like any savvy distributor, a streaming play is also in the works. (As licensing cycles on key IP run their course, the new platform will become more of a priority, Variety understands.)
Despite steady growth, however, the company has had its share of disruption. In 2018, Goldberg sold the distribution side of the business, Signature Entertainment, to bond completion outfit Film Finances Inc. in a $5 million deal. But less than a year later, private equity firm 777 Partners acquired Film Finances, and the new owners’ priorities shifted entirely.
In 2021, Goldberg managed to buy Signature Entertainment back almost single-handedly in a bid to unite the distribution side — which had grown “quite dramatically” during the pandemic thanks to the home entertainment boom — with the evolving production business.
“By the time the conversation came along with 777, the production side of the business was really starting to move in the direction that I’d hoped it would,” says Goldberg. “It meant I could look to bring everything under one roof.”
The deal wasn’t acrimonious, says the executive, and 777 and Signature politely parted ways. Meanwhile, Sullivan — who exited along with other stakeholders when the business was first sold to Film Finances — is back in the fold as an investor.
“David was someone I had a very close relationship with, and he has seen the growth of the company,” says Goldberg. “He was also aware of what I was doing on the production side. He said, ‘What do you need from an investor to grow the whole business?’ and I told him what I needed, and we did a deal.”
An accelerating production arm allows Signature to be “the masters of our own destiny,” says Goldberg. By spring, the company will have a headcount of more than 40 people, including an incoming head of U.K. production and more staff in the U.S.
Signature Films will in 2022 produce at least six movies out of the U.K. and around four pics in the U.S. Family inheritance comedy “The Estate,” starring Toni Collette and Anna Faris — a project Goldberg has been developing since 2018 — is getting ready to shoot in New Orleans later this month.
Realistic about market dynamics, the business is targeting high-end commercial fare that spans packages costing tens of millions with A-list talent, through to high-concept pics that aren’t necessarily cast-driven. Goldberg cites as examples the Cornwall-shot shark thriller “Into the Deep,” introduced to buyers at the American Film Market in November, along with the gritty Rise of the Footsoldier franchise.
The latter, a niche series of British gangster movies, isn’t exactly a critical darling, but has a rabid fanbase, with each title doing gangbusters for Signature in home entertainment and streaming.
“The days of trying to package a film just to get a name in it for a certain period of time [aren’t working],” says Goldberg.
“The production suffers from the fact that you’re taking money away from the screen. That’s not really a business we’re interested in,” he continues. “It’s something we’re very aware of because we’ve been the recipients of acquiring movies like this over the last decade, where you have a major movie star on the front cover but he’s in the movie for 10 minutes and he’s shot his days out in two days.”
With an international sales division up and running, Goldberg is now planning ahead for the Cannes Film Festival in May, where the company will have its first real office. Not every Signature-produced title will be sold by the sales arm, and the company is still working regularly with other sales agents on the acquisitions front.
“We’d never compare ourselves to a studio, but at the same time, it is a studio mentality,” says Goldberg. “We have such a great view of the landscape of distribution — we really see the data as to what people are watching and what our clients want to buy from us — and that gives us real insight into the types of things we want to make.”