Key execs: Michael Lambert, Sam Englebardt and William D. Johnson
Why you know them: Lambert founded the investment/management firm Lambert Media Group, which has invested in Rave Cinemas and Village Roadshow Pictures; Englebardt was managing director at LMG; and Johnson is a private investor who came on in November to launch Demarest.
What does the name of the company mean, and how does it define your approach to filmmaking and film-funding?
“Demarest is a family name that’s been in William Johnson’s family for several generations. It’s a French Huguenot name that actually has nothing to do with our approach to filmmaking — or to film at all. The literal translation is “from the swamp.” So we decided to go with the name, and then once we started talking about it, we said, it sort of is like our goal, which is to pull thought-provoking and entertaining films from the morass of the independent film world. We look at a lot of stuff that kind of belongs in the swamp, and hopefully we find the good stuff and make something beautiful out of it.”
“We have a couple of projects we’ve been involved with that are selling at Cannes, ‘Byzantium’ being the most obvious one. They did a little soft pedal at Berlin, but really this is our first full market. The sales companies are who we’re primarily in business with. We’ll meet with certain producers, but for the most part we’re looking to move as fast as we can away from a one-film-at-a-time type of model and build extended multi-project, multi-year relationships with the relatively small number of foreign sales companies and/or distributors out there that we want to be in business with — that have demonstrated to us and to others over the years a track record of hitting their sales predictions and successfully marketing the films they release. We want to create a more scaled business model where we’re long-term partners with a handful of companies that we really enjoy working with and trust.”
How much money do you have to work with?
“We’re not putting a number on it. But the reality is, we’re far better capitalized than I think we could even put to work in the independent film space. My concern is making sure that we find great projects and great companies to create the long-term business relationships that we want. It’s not figuring out how to get the money to fund it. We’re, at the moment, financing entirely off our balance sheet.”
How many films do you plan to get involved in per year?
“As many as possible. You can only be really actively involved in the production of so many films a year, unless you want to build a very big infrastructure. So we want to do three or four projects that we’re very actively involved with, and then as many more passive financing deals as we can. We’re looking to build a scaled business as a film financier but also nurture our creative tastes and passion, as well. We’ll always have projects like ‘Byzantium’ that we produce and are actively involved with, and we’ll have projects like ‘Penthouse North’ that are more passive, background [investments] that maybe we don’t tell anybody that we’re involved in helping finance them, as more senior loans or those sorts of things.”
Do you intend to focus solely on English-language pics?
“We have so far. Mostly because we tend to be looking at projects that are foreign-sales driven financing structures. That said, we’ve looked at a few local-language films and a few businesses that are focused on more of a slate approach to local-language production and financing. We haven’t pulled the trigger. But there’s a very exciting business, I think, around those types of projects. Again, we’re looking to get into business with companies that want financing and producing partners, so a local-language business for us would be more about getting involved with a local distributor than it would be to do a one-off local-language film.”
What makes your company different from the dozen other new financing companies entering Cannes this year?
“Besides the fact that we’re very capitalized, we’re more producer-friendly, more creatively friendly, we’re willing to take a little more risk, we can move a little faster than the other specialty lenders and production-financing businesses out there. So on the margin I’m finding that that is helping to get projects that otherwise might be challenging to get into production done, or to help producers who are struggling with having to go to five different places to get their movie made. We’re trying to provide a one-stop solution for them. Again, it’s on the margin. It’s not that we’re a wildly different business. But we’re a company that can certainly write equity checks, which I think separates us from the other lenders out there. We are definitely trying to be in the canon of savvy film financiers, but we’re guys who love film and are in this business largely because we want to make great films. Michael Lambert and I, we’re guys that have been involved in investing in and buying different businesses in the media and entertainment industry for a while. We view this as a great time to get involved in non-studio films. That’s a big reason why we’ve jumped in as heavily as we have.”
Projects moving into or in production.
The Neil Jordan-directed "Byzantium," starring Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton; the Andrew Lau-directed “Revenge of the Green Dragons”; the David M. Rosenthal-directed "A Single Shot," with Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo and Jeffrey Wright; and the Joseph Ruben-directed psychological thriller "Penthouse North," starring Michelle Monaghan and Michael Keaton.
Name an indie movie that you would have made.
“ ‘Drive’ is a film we talk about a lot, as being a sort of elevated genre film that is worthy of a wide release and hits a pretty big audience and at the same time is considered a smart piece of filmmaking led by a visionary director, with a foreign-sales-driven financing plan but where they were able to take some calculated risk against domestic and put a good marketing campaign around it.”