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CANNES '08 BIZ DAILY | Film Department's Gill and Sacker Chat At AmPav, Arthouse Deals With Fortissi

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire May 21, 2008 at 1:47AM

Continuing coverage of the Marche du Film in Cannes, indieWIRE reports on the latest deals and news from the Croisette. The Film Department's Mark Gill and Neil Sacker sat down with Mike Goodridge at the American Pavilion to update on the nearly one-year-old company's progress, Arthouse Films signs an exclusive deal with Fortissimo, both First Look Studios and Magnolia Pictures sign with Jaman.com, and more.
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Continuing coverage of the Marche du Film in Cannes, indieWIRE reports on the latest deals and news from the Croisette. The Film Department's Mark Gill and Neil Sacker sat down with Mike Goodridge at the American Pavilion to update on the nearly one-year-old company's progress, Arthouse Films signs an exclusive deal with Fortissimo, both First Look Studios and Magnolia Pictures sign with Jaman.com, and more.

"Film Department" Opens Up Shop At Cannes

In June, 2007, Mark Gill and Neil Sacker announced the formation of The Film Department, an independent film finance, production and sales company. The company gained significant press due to the fact that they raised $200 million in initial capital, planning to fully finance their films and license them to domestic and international distributor. Nearly a year later, Gill and Sacker are bringing the first products of this announcement to Cannes: Bart Freundlich's Catherine Zeta-Jones rom-com, "The Rebound," and Frank Darabont's return to prison movies, "Law Abiding Citizens." Both sat down with Screen International's U.S. editor Mike Goodridge at the American Pavilion to update on the Department's progress, and discuss in detail the road to their unique business strategy.

Both Gill and Sacker bring incredible backgrounds in independent film, with Sacker a Miramax and Yari Film Group vet, and Gill also with Miramax experience, and a stint overseeing Warner Independent Pictures (WIP) that involved some "communication issues" with Warner Brothers production president Jeff Rabinov.

"There are companies - Universal, Fox, even Disney with Miramax, that understand [having a speciality division]," Gill reflected on his time at the now-defunct WIP. "Warner wasn't ever going to be one of them." But this suggestion is calm compared to reflections on both Gill and Sacker's time at Miramax. "You had blood all over you everyday," Gill laughed. "And this was on a good day." Sacker recalled his first deal at the company, which involved going to ICM to grab the rights to a film away from another company, then executing and negotiating their own deal immediately. "If you didn't do it, you didn't come back," Sacker said. "And this was very common."

But they both admitted their time at Miramax was influential in the tools they brought to The Film Department. "It was also a place where you would make a good movie, not just a marketable one," said Gill. "And its remarkable how many people came out of Miramax and did well. It taught you how to think about film as an art form. It was a great boot camp. But you don't want to live in boot camp forever."

The proposed plan with The Film Department was 6 films a year for $10-35 million. And they figured raising $200 million would get this plan in motion. It took 11 months to raise the money, and their business plan collapsed twice in the process. But once the money was raised, it wasn't that easy getting confident collaborators. "It takes a while before people believed we had money because there's so much lying in Hollywood," said Gill. But with 20 projects in development now, people eventually believed them.

Gill and Sacker both admit - citing WIP - that in the short time since The Film Department began, thing shave changed. "When we first started their company," Sacker said. "I was astonished about how much money was in the market." Today, that's not as much the case. But what distinguishes them from other companies is that they have more development funding than any independent, which can certainly be helpful in tough times.

They've also taken to other tactics that go against the grain. "Say no a lot," said Sacker. "But say no nicely. And be humble about having a lot of money." That last idea took some convincing on Gill's part, who recalled the conversation between him and Sacker. "Why wouldn't it work," Sacker had asked about the "humble" approach. "Because nobody's ever tried it before."

Gill figured the chances of a company like The Film Department succeeding are about 5%. "19 out of 20 of these don't work," he said. But even if there is troubled beginnings, a silver lining won't be hard to find. "Its just great to be working for people who don't want to kill you or eat you," said Gill. [Peter Knegt]


Arthouse Signs Exclusive Deal With Fortissimo

Arthouse Films announced at Cannes Wednesday that it has negotiated an exclusive first look deal with Fortissimo Films, with Fortissimo to represent, sell and distribute projects from Arthouse Films, Curiously Bright Entertainment and LM Media GmbH. Initial titles include Esther B. Robinson's "A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory" and Morgan Neville's "The Cool School: The Story of the Ferus Art Gallery."

"We are excited to work with Fortissimo Films on our first group of new films," said David Koh, Lilly Bright and Stanley Buchthal in a joint statement. "They were our first choice to team up with. They have great taste and business acumen. It's a great home and partner for all the producers and filmmakers we are working with as we try to build out a worldwide distributor network for our filmmakers and producers and as well help our artists manage their rights, work, and intellectual property in this ever changing digital age. Fortissimo Films have great taste and do business with all the international buyers we admire and respect for the right balance of art and business."

The deal is similar to output deals Arthouse recently made with Madman Entertainment for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, Mongrel Media for Canada and Revolver Entertainment in the UK & Ireland. [Peter Knegt]


Jaman.com Inks Deals With First Look, Magnolia

Jaman.com, the leading online source for independent and international entertainment, announced two separate distribution deals with First Look Studios and Magnolia Pictures. Both companies' titles will be available online for rent or purchase via Jaman.com. "Magnolia recognizes the burgeoning growth of film viewers online," said Randy Wells of Magnolia in a statement. "Jaman has built a solid library of films and we are proud to be a part of their growth." First Look's Manager of New Media, Vince Muscarella, agreed. "First Look is in a unique position in the film world and we think it's a good fit to collaborate with Jaman, another company with a mission to distribiute quality movies to a growing base of fans of independent film," he said. [Peter Knegt]


Bavaria Deals a Dozen

Bavaria Film International has announced several deals made during Cannes including international distribution rights outside of Germany, Switzerland and Austria for German film "Robert Zimmermann Tangles Up in Love." The Critic's Week title "Moscow, Belgium" has been sold to several distribution companies, including Senator Filmverleih for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The second Bavarian title in the Critic's Week "The Stranger in Me" has experienced first sales to Poland and Brazil. Other titles sold by Bavaria are as "Cherry Blossoms - Hanami," "Restless," "Let the Right One In," "Rabbit Without Ears," "Lissi and the Wild Emperor," "Shadows," "La Rabia," "Black Ice," and "Stalingrad." [Jenny Sung]


Fort Lauderdale and BigStar.TV Collaborate

The Fort Lauderdale Film Festival (FLIFF) and BigStar.TV have announced that they will be teaming up to develop a new concept that will offer a broad range of opportunities for independent filmmakers to showcase their work. "BigStar.TV and FLIFF have officially joined forces to develop a unique online film competition, film screenings, and an innovative new plan that will streamline festival film trafficking, programming, decrease costs of shipping prints, discourage film piracy, and make festival films accessible to more viewers," explained FLIFF President Gregory von Hausch in a statement. The initiative will launch during this year's 23 FLIFF from October 17-November 9, 2008. [Jenny Sung]

Get the latest from the 2008 Cannes Film Festival in indieWIRE's special section.