At the Cannes Film Festival, the lawn of the Grand Hotel is where the sausage gets made. This is where producers, financiers, consultants -- and whose who only wish they were -- drink hundreds of wildly overpriced bottles of water, cups of cappuccino and glasses of rose' as they discuss deals, projects and pitches all day and all night, jet lag and hangovers be damned. What they don't do is see movies. Under duress, they will; for example, if they've produced something that's screening in the festival. (As one producer said to me today, "It kind of gets in the way.")
It's also a great place for non-announcement announcements like the launch of Cassian Elwes and Rob Barnum's e2b Capital. By their own admission, it's not exactly a new company; e2b basically represents what they've been doing since they began working together back in 2009, some six months after Elwes left his life as an agent at William Morris Independent. That was when they financed and produced J.C. Chandor's "Margin Call," a hit that is now considered one of the first and best arguments for day-and-date VOD/theatrical releasing.
Nor is e2b particularly revolutionary, since its purpose is the raison d'être for much of Cannes: Producing and finding money for indie movies. However, they have built a strong track record that speaks well to their taste, including David Lowery's "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" (Critics' Week) and Chandor's "All is Lost" (out of competition), as well as Dee Rees' upcoming "B.O.L.O." Elwes also produced Lee Daniels' "The Butler" and "Dallas Buyers Club," which recently sold to Focus Features.
Call it equity, gap financing or strategic partnerships, Elwes has been in this game for a very long time; he started staying at the Hotel Du Cap as a kid with his stepfather, producer Elliott Kastner. Barnum is newer, although he was an executive with Benaroya Pictures and Annapurna Pictures, and ran a tiny distribution company, Anywhere Road. Now Elwes and Barnum are doing the same thing as so many of those parked on the Grand Hotel's inflatable sofas: Finding other people's money.
However, Elwes acknowledges that a lot has changed, even since he was at William Morris. For one thing, banks are largely out of the game. This has created a new willingness to find creative solutions -- such as taking on 38 credited producers for "The Butler," which The Weinstein Co. will release in August. "Credits are cheap," says Elwes.
Of course, they always have been -- but there is also a new kind of "what the hell" informing the film business as it struggles to figure out how to attract audiences in a world of collapsing screens, collapsing windows and social media fallout.
While no one would be foolish enough to claim they had the answers, Elwes seems comfortable in the chaos. He's an inveterate and unfiltered Tweeter; his account made international news last summer when he used it to document his experience talking down a disturbed JetBlue seatmate.
Elwes has always been fond of publicity, but as an agent that kind of transparency would have been unimaginable. For many producers and financiers it would still be unseemly, or at least risky; Hollywood loves nothing more than to exploit vulnerabilities. In his current incarnation, which presumes that the market is chaotic and in which he promises in his e2b press release to find "solutions in impossible situations," it looks like smart marketing.