“Elle,” “Toni Erdmann”
Although he’s managed to keep a low profile for years, Monaco-based Swiss producer Michel Merkt has become a heavyweight in the indie film world. Just this year he had eight movies playing in Cannes, including the animated “My Life as a Zucchini,” which opened Directors’ Fortnight and reps Switzerland in the Oscar foreign-language race, as well as a Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann,” Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World” (the French and German foreign-language Oscar candidates, respectively), and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s “Aquarius,” which competed in the official selection.
Merkt is now getting ready for awards season as his “Elle,” “Erdmann,” “World,” along with his “Letters From War,” have been chosen to represent France, Germany, Canada, and Portugal, respectively, in the foreign-language Oscar race. His track record also includes David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars,” Oliver Laxe’s “Mimosas,” and Walter Hill’s “(Re)Assignment.”
His recipe for success? “A good flair, guts, a bit of money, and good partners,” quips Merkt, who has wisely chosen his allies in the business: Said Ben Said, the French producer for Verhoeven and Cronenberg, as well as Nancy Grant, the Canadian producer for Dolan. He says he always looks for story-driven projects that “entertain, surprise, interest, question and perhaps even change something.”
Merkt adds that he usually boards projects at the development/pre-financing stage and invests his own money into films — about 10% to 20% of the budget — and can buy book rights, provide funds for development, put down part of the minimum guarantee for a sales agent, and enlist private investors. Being based in Monaco is a big plus: “Cannes is not very far away. … The network of wealthy people is very interesting… they’re not afraid to believe in projects and the dream-come-true appeal is definitely there.”