It’s time to commit Fifth Season to memory. The production and distribution company working across film, scripted TV and nonfiction spent five years building a brand as Endeavor Content. After the WGA victory over talent agency packaging fees and ownership, however, Endeavor Content was stripped of its sales department and sold a majority stake to CJ ENM (the producer of “Parasite”).
Despite Hollywood’s ever-shifting business landscape, the team at Fifth Season is emerging from its corporate transition with its DNA intact – as a creator of premium, provocative indie films – and scaling its ambitions up to mid-budget features made for theatrical and streaming TV.
In 2022, the company’s film unit made 10 projects with an approximate production spend of $152 million (their highest to date). They’ve got buzzy, female-led titles on deck for the first half of 2023, including Emma Roberts’ and Diane Keaton’s “Maybe I Do,” the Focus Features sequel “Book Club 2,” and the anticipated “80 for Brady” at Paramount (which unites legends like Sally Field, Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin). They also count overall deals with producers and writers including Brad Weston’s Makeready, Bruna Papandrea’s Made Up Stories, Lynette Howell Taylor’s 51 Entertainment, and Oscar Issac and Elvira Lind’s Mad Gene.
Alexis Garcia, executive vice president of film development and production, sat down with Variety to discuss the company’s in-person return to its stomping grounds at Sundance, increasing the size of its individual projects, and life after its WME alignment.
How has the transition gone, since Endeavor had to divest 80% of the company and you renamed as Fifth Season?
Alexis Garcia: In terms of new ownership and [the WME divestment], it’s still early. We’re establishing independence and identity. The sale and the name change is kind of falling on deaf ears, there are still people who don’t get it. It’s been a relief to get to this part, and the work has to speak for itself. If you looked at what we were doing before, WME was not the dominate partner. We had advocates at all the agencies. Like any new company that starts financing and producing, we’ve had tons of repeat business with artist themselves. And with managers, agents, and lawyers. That’s what speaks to our identity more than a name or our ownership.
It’s interesting that in such a transformative moment for the movie business, you still have to have a story about who you are to be a successful company in this ecosystem.
It makes life easier for the buyers. They want to know what to send us, how we fit in. A lot of companies are good at that, basing an identity on doing only certain kinds of things — like Blumhouse or Skydance. That’s great, it’s just harder for some to understand. I’d love to make more horror, that’s something we’ve been light on, but it’s hard to compete with a company like Blumhouse in that category. But there are other ways into this. I’d also love to make sequels to pre-existing franchises, and we have a few of our own now.
Have the other agencies really embraced you? Before the WGA code of conduct, it may have felt like crossing battle lines getting WME competitors involved in your projects.
I think the “battle” part is a misconception, but we crossed that line a long time ago. It was very hard when we first started investing and producing ourselves, but that was five years ago. It was harder, especially during the WGA issue, to get things done with WME reps compared to others. They were having to fight the perception that they were giving us sweetheart deals. We probably overpaid for projects with WME because of that, which we were happy to do. But it’s the representative who bears the burden to prove that they chose Endeavor Content [note: now Fifth Season!] because it was the best deal on the table. We had to win a lot of projects from WME.
How are you mapping out the increase of your production budgets and investments?
Starting with the bigger movies, we’re looking to make those with distribution partners. The biggest film we’ve had is “Ambulance” with Universal, which was a monster to tackle but we did it. It came out during a difficult time, but what no one questioned was that it looked like a much bigger movie than what it was made for. Michael Bay deserves a lot of that credit, he comes with so many resources. If he did that directly with the studio, though, they wouldn’t have made it for anywhere near that price point [“Ambulance” had a reported $40 million budget]. But hopefully it’s proof of what kind of movies we can make for the studios.
On the next tier, we have a sequel to “Book Club,” “80 for Brady” with Paramount, we had “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” at Amazon. We’ve also previously done passive financing with Warner Bros., “In the Heights” and “Just Mercy,” and I’d like to make something at that level. We have the ability to scale up based on demand, especially in terms of building up our own infrastructure to meet those projects. We have the development pipeline. In the indie space, those are all sub-$20 million and, some of them, sub-$12 million projects. Given our roots in the festival space, we’re comfortable with creative risks like first-time, filmmakers and limited cast. But, it has gotten harder for everyone to make those.
Because of COVID?
Covid, inflation, and demand. Finding crews and cast for lower budget movies got really hard over the past few years, especially looking at the streaming television demand.
Its been tough for artistic movies, auteur-made adult dramas. It’s not something I’m encouraged by, but there are other encouraging factors outside of the obvious tentpoles. There are beacons of hope. “Dog” is one, that was as indie as it gets in how it was put together and the expectations and it was a breakout. Also, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” people will say that is an anomaly and not replicable, but it’s something that only happens because it comes out of this sphere. Then you’ve got two smaller horror movies, “Barbarian” and “Smile.” Those are left-of-center movies both made with the expectation they would go streaming. One is now a franchise, and both had very successful returns.
We’re all going back to Sundance in-person, and the renamed Fifth Season will have a sort of debut there. You’re bringing “Eileen” with Anne Hathaway, which looks like one of the biggest sales titles.
Sundance is the perfect place to premiere that movie. It’s in the snow, it’s got a wicked humor to it that will be enjoyable for audiences that will hopefully translate to distributors. We look at this movie as having similar auspices as our film “The Lost Daughter.” It’s such a feminist, auteur, wickedly fun movie.