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The Broad Green Layoffs: Why Good Movies Aren’t Enough to Avoid The Startup Curse

The slate included Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, "The Neon Demon," and "99 Homes." And yet, they're struggling.

Broad Green

When Wall Street billionaires Gabriel Hammond, 37, and his brother, Daniel, 33, launched independent producer-distributor Broad Green Pictures two summers ago, Hollywood was skeptical about its prospects. In a time when even the Weinsteins are struggling to survive, it was a strange time to reinvent a dying economic model.

Now Broad Green is laying off around 6 percent of its staff, all of whom work in the publicity department, the company confirmed to IndieWire. Broad Green’s publicity head Adam Keen, a former Warner Bros. publicity exec, has resigned. Marketing and communications personnel are traditionally the first casualties of cutbacks in Hollywood.

Knight of Cups

“Knight of Cups”

Broad Green Pictures

The layoffs were unsurprising. Ken Kwapis’s Sundance comedy “A Walk in the Woods” starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte managed $30 million, but that couldn’t counterbalance films like Ramin Bahrani’s well-reviewed real estate thriller “99 Homes” ($1.7 million domestic) and Sarah Silverman’s depressive drama “I Smile Back” ($58K). Now, the company is shifting away from acquisitions and focusing on producing more accessible titles like “Bad Santa 2” and “Ain’t No Half Steppin’.”

Even their recent effort on behalf of Amazon Studios, Nic Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” ($1.5 million domestic) came up short on June 24, followed by modestly respectable returns for Bryan Cranston-starrer “The Infiltrator,” which went up against “Ghostbusters” last weekend, ranking in 8th place. 

The company spent ardently on awards campaigns for “99 Homes,” “I Smile Back,” and “Learning to Drive;” Silverman scored a SAG nomination. The company poured cash into their films without seeing much come back into the till. The Hammonds banked on Austin auteur Terrence Malick to up their profile, but “Knight of Cups,” was not a moneymaker. Two more Malick titles are in the pipeline, including the tentatively titled “Weightless,” which recycles some of the same ensemble cast led by Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, and a doc Malick’s been working on for the last 25 years, “Voyage of Time.”

Broad Green paid for one movie that they did not release. Jeremy Saulnier’s uber-violent “Green Room” went to A24 and it played at Cannes in Director’s Fortnight, where it was well-reviewed. The movie grossed $3.2 million domestic. Another Broad Green release, Rodrigo Garcia’s well-reviewed 2015 Sundance title “Last Days in the Desert,” had Ewan McGregor as Jesus; it played a few theaters on May 13, 2016, with no reported grosses.

The cutbacks come roughly two months after veteran producer Matt Alvarez joined Broad Green as its head of production. Alvarez is tasked with identifying new projects and overseeing the company’s slate of movies, with complete responsibility from development stage through completion. His credits include box-office success stories “Friday,” “Barbershop,” “Are We There Yet?”, and “Ride Along” franchises, as well as “Straight Outta Compton,” “All About the Benjamins,” and “First Sunday.”

Gabriel and Daniel Hammond

Gabriel and Daniel Hammond

Broad Green

In the works is Lucy Walker’s sequel to Wim Wenders and Ry Cooder’s classic Cuba music doc, “Buena Vista Social Club.” At Cannes they announced an eOne project, Ron Shelton’s “Villa Capri,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman.

Building a distribution machine burns a lot of cash before seeing returns. The deep-pocketed brothers hired seasoned professionals such as PR chief Keen, Screenvision distribution exec Travis Reid, eOne acquisitions exec Dylan Wiley, and homevideo exec Steve Nickerson — who, like media exec Gail Heaney, came from Summit. After September 2014, they jumped from 10 employees to 65 in NY and LA, and soon reached 90.

From the start, business-minded Gabriel and creative enthusiast Daniel went big, seeking to create a “full studio,” Gabriel told IndieWire in a far-ranging 2015 interview. “So it’s everything from the guys that option the books and graphic novels — the development sides, the earliest stages, the IP, production — on through marketing and distribution.”

For international, Broad Green bought a 45% stake in David Garrett’s British foreign sales company Mr. Smith. While the Hammonds wanted to run everything from VOD through DVDs through the company with consistent marketing, they did not invest in a homevideo distributor, pacting instead with Universal. “It’s a huge learning curve,” admitted Gabriel. “It’s been exhilarating to just put it all together. It’s fascinating how this business works and there’s surprisingly so much room for large-scale competition in something that would otherwise seem so crowded.”

Warning signs were always out there. The morgue of failed start-ups include Newmarket Films, Artisan, Overture Films, ThinkFilm, Trimark, Destination Films, Yari Film Group, Orion Pictures, Apparition, Palm Pictures, Vestron, Wrekin Hill Entertainment and many, many more.

Relativity went bankrupt, as Ryan Kavanaugh finally reached the limits of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Peter Schlessel folded hisFilmDistrict into Universal subsidiary Focus Features, until the studio finally figured out that blurring a high-class brand with genre movies was a mistake. Then Schlessel exited, B-fare went to a revived Gramercy label, Universal exec promoted Peter Kujawski. (The long list of companies that have gone through the Universal sluicer is depressing, from October, USA, and Good Machine to PolyGram.)

Anton Yelchin in Green Room

Longtime indie New Line Cinema was absorbed by Warner Bros., which allowed it to run autonomously for a while; it’s now a production label. Steven Spielberg’s ambitious DreamWorks is now Amblin Partners, a production company not unlike his original Amblin. Universal is releasing its live-action films, and has purchased DreamWorks Animation.

Then there are the studio subsidiaries that have come and gone: Warner Independent, New Line/HBO partnership Picturehouse, Fine Line, Paramount Classics and Vantage. And they boasted all the advantages of studio resources and output deals.

So it takes guts to join the indie distribution fray, especially as the market is challenged by big buyers like Netflix and Amazon, and as television chases down the hottest indie talent. Once-high-flying Weinstein Co., which used to know better than anyone how to play the indie game, is experiencing ongoing financial duress during these changing times, and focusing more on television. 

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Comments

Tired of Guys Who Confuse Being Rich With Being Smart (And They're Always Guys)

There are lots of reason indie distributors and indie producers fail. One of them is thinking you can make a pile in another business and waltz in and understand the movie business. The Hammonds want to be disruptors? Fine, they should disrupt a business they understand.

Masked Madman

This article fails to answer the question its headline promised it would. There is no explanation of why the good movies produced by this studio are failing to cause its success. It says only that it has produced good movies and is failing, like many other have before it. No reason is given as to why this should be the case. The headline is misleading clickbait, and should either be changed, or the article redacted to actually explain why good films aren’t enough for an independant film studio to survive.

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