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The Five Most Interesting New Companies With Money at the Cannes Market, and How They Want to Spend It

Photo of Jay A. Fernandez By Jay A. Fernandez | Indiewire May 15, 2012 at 12:36PM

For Cannes, it's as predictable as topless sunbathers: Every year, new financing and production companies pop up in the months and weeks before the festival, ready to dive into the 12-day global market. But this spring, compared to the austerity measures of recent years, there is a near tsunami of new money preparing to flood the Croissette from outfits with global ambitions and indie-minded aesthetics. At the same time, players from China, India, Brazil and Russia are rushing to make global footprints in the Cannes forum.
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Dana Harris Cannes on May 12, 2012: One day before the madness begins.

For Cannes, it's as predictable as topless sunbathers: Every year, new financing and production companies pop up in the months and weeks before the festival, ready to dive into the 12-day global market. But this spring, compared to the austerity measures of recent years, there is a near tsunami of new money preparing to flood the Croissette from outfits with global ambitions and indie-minded aesthetics. At the same time, players from China, India, Brazil and Russia are rushing to make global footprints in the Cannes forum.

While American indies remain a tough sell to foreign buyers, money is available. Agents suggest that dealmaking has been on the upswing, buyers appear eager and companies that sat out the last 18-24 months of uncertainty are starting to leave the sidelines again. There's also increasing room for VOD-rights deals, though the international market is behind the U.S. in experimenting with the format.

On the eve of the 65th edition of Cannes, Indiewire asked five of the most interesting new players to define themselves for filmmakers and distributors alike.

AR Films / Aldamisa Entertainment

Main execs: Alexander Rodnyansky / Serge and Marina Bespalov, Jere Hausfater and Nadine de Barros

Why you know them: Rodnyansky ran CTC Media; Hausfater founded Essential Entertainment and was an exec at Miramax International; De Barros was a sales and acquisitions exec at Voltage Pictures

What are you looking to do in Cannes?

“Alexander is looking for material and projects that he might want to produce for AR Films. Aldamisa is selling several films and hopes to acquire others. Among the films Aldamisa is selling are ‘Machete Kills,’ ‘Frank Miller’s Sin City: Dame to Kill For,’ ‘Jayne Mansfield’s Car,’ ‘Goat Island’ and an untitled Renny Harlin thriller, all of which are produced and financed by AR Films U.S. (The Rodriguez and Harlin movies have additional producers.)”

"AR Films has a $120 million film fund with Geyer Kosinski."
How much money do you have to work with?

“Alexander has a $120 million film fund with Geyer Kosinski and, additionally, significant individual resources to finance and produce additional films. He is primarily interested in movies in the $20-30 million range.”

How many films do you plan to get involved in per year?

“Alexander is more interested in type/quality than quantity. He is looking for story-driven, filmmaker-driven projects. Could do as many as six per year if the opportunity presented itself, but only if the movies are appealing projects.”

Do you intend to focus solely on English-language pics?

“Alexander makes Russian-language movies in Russia, such as his film ‘Elena,’ which won a special jury prize in Cannes last year. He is currently producing ‘Stalingrad’ in Russia. But he is making English-language movies in America through AR Films U.S. Through A-Company, Alexander is also a financier of ‘Cloud Atlas,’ starring Tom Hanks, and ‘I, Frankenstein.’ “

What makes your company different from the dozen other new financing companies entering Cannes this year?

‘Alexander is building on a hugely successful 30-year career in Russian film and a deep set of international relationships. He also is a documentary filmmaker in his own right who is sophisticated about both the economics and the aesthetics of cinema.”

Projects moving into or in production.

Both Alexander’s AR Films U.S. and Aldamisa are partnered with Robert Rodriguez on ‘Frank Miller’s Sin City: Dame to Kill For’ and ‘Machete Kills,’ as well as the Harlin thriller, which is in post-production. The others will start shooting very soon.

Name an indie movie that you would have made.

“The King’s Speech.”

DEMAREST FILMS

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 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.”
What are you looking to do in Cannes?

“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.”

GOOD UNIVERSE

Key execs: Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane

Why you know them: Drake was motion picture group president at Lionsgate; Kahane was president of Mandate Pictures, which he and Drake co-founded in 2003.

"Our company made him recall a line from an E.E. Cummings poem that reads, ‘There’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go!’"
What does the name of the company mean, and how does it define your approach to filmmaking and film-funding?

“The name was actually recommended to us years ago by Zach Helm, our friend and collaborator on ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and ‘Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.’ Our company made him recall a line from an E.E. Cummings poem that reads, ‘There’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go!’ We take great pride in supporting filmmakers, encouraging creativity and generating new ideas.”

What are you looking to do in Cannes?

“We are launching our global sales company with our first two films, ‘Oldboy’ and ‘Last Vegas.’  Beyond licensing the rights to these films everywhere in the world, we will also be meeting with new and old international distribution partners.”

How much money do you have to work with?

“We have the infrastructure and resources to develop, package, produce and fully finance our movies.”

How many films do you plan to get involved in per year? 

“We have a full slate of active projects in development. Depending on the material and the creative process, we will potentially produce and finance approximately four to five films a year.”

Do you intend to focus solely on English-language pics?

“On the production side we will predominantly handle English-language films. From a remake perspective, and on the sales side, we look for great stories in any language.”

What makes your company different from the dozen other new financing companies entering Cannes this year?

“We have seen phenomenal success in our previous endeavors at both Lionsgate and Mandate and are thrilled to realize it again with the new company by building on our collective experiences and relationships. We already have a full development slate and a seasoned team in place with a track record of successfully building a profitable film slate based on singular, original voices with universal stories to tell like ‘Juno’ and ‘Hope Springs.’ Through our decade-long partnership we have built a substantial genre brand with Ghost House Pictures that has proven its ability to levitate big franchises like ‘The Grudge,’ as well as what Joe accomplished at Lionsgate with ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise. This is the key focus of our new entity — to produce and finance big multi-quadrant properties with true franchise potential. We are excited to be expanding our already successful business model and bring breakout original material into the global marketplace.”

Projects moving into or in production.

The remake of the South Korean film “Oldboy,” with Spike Lee directing and Josh Brolin, Lizzie Olsen and Sharlto Copley starring; the Jon Turteltaub-directed comedy “Last Vegas” at CBS Films, with Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro starring. Both films start production in the fall.

Name an indie movie that you would have made.

“Black Swan” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”

MISTER SMITH ENTERTAINMENT

Key execs: David Garrett and Ralpho Borgos

Why you know them: Garrett co-founded Summit Entertainment and ran Summit International; Borgos was also a Summit exec.

What does the name of the company mean, and how does it define your approach to filmmaking and film-funding?

“The name Mister Smith was initially inspired by Capra’s film ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ but it has so many other resonances and associations with film. I think it brings a nice combination of conservative and cool — like a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. It is a name that tells a thousand stories, but I hope it is also distinctive and memorable, and easy for people from all over the world to pronounce!”

One of the best things about the company name? "Easy for people from all over the world to pronounce."
What are you looking to do in Cannes?

“I have so many goals down in Cannes, including — not least — selling my very first new films with my nascent venture. But I am also keen to introduce my new company to the world at large and forge new alliances with producers and financiers who might be interested in coming along for the ride.”

How much money do you have to work with?

“The company is so young that this is something of a moving feast right now. But I can say that it is enough to fuel our five-year plan.”

How many films do you plan to get involved in per year?

“My plans are relatively modest in that I am looking to bring roughly 6-8 films to the market each year.”

Do you intend to focus solely on English-language pics?

“Yes, but I would never rule out something in another tongue — or a silent film, of course!”

What makes your company different from the dozen other new financing companies entering Cannes this year?

“I think that, first and foremost, each company is about the people who make up the team. You have myself and Ralpho Borgos, who between us have clocked up several decades working with the best outfits in the business — Summit and New Line. We are about providing the very best service to both our producer and distributor clients, and we intend to surround ourselves with the most professional team in the business. We are also supported by the most successful and prolific trans-Atlantic producer on the European continent — Constantin Film — and this relationship will form the backbone of a strategy that is based on forging a number of strong long-term relationships with key producers and financiers, on both sides of the pond. Having a foot on each side of the Atlantic gives one a serious advantage in a global business such as this.”

Projects moving into or in production.

“I just set up the company two weeks ago. Give me time!”

Name an indie movie that you would have made.

“Seems obvious, but I would love to have been involved in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘The King’s Speech.’ I may not have made it but I happen to think that ‘Margin Call’ was one of the best films of last year. Oh — and ‘Twilight’ of course!”

SOLAR PICTURES

Main execs: Bobby Paunescu and Jared Underwood, Kearie Peak and Christopher Taylor

Why you know them: Paunescu produced “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” which won Un Certain Regard in 2005; Underwood was a senior exec at Comerica Entertainment; Peak ran Electric Entertainment with Dean Devlin; and Taylor was head of acquisitions and business affairs at JVC’s Largo Entertainment.

What does the name of the company mean, and how does it define your approach to filmmaking and film-funding?

“The Sun in both a cosmic and global sense is inspiring and all-pervading. Our company name ‘Solar’ represents a comprehensive approach to filmmaking, which is an accurate way of describing the companies' structure and ambitions as well. We intend to make films for the worldwide, universal market. Our company is expanding into all facets of the business: producing, financing, co-productions and sales. We are creating an aligned group of companies that is a comprehensive and unified force.”

How much money do you have to work with? “As much as we need if the deal makes sense.”
What are you looking to do in Cannes?

“Cannes is the perfect festival for presenting ourselves to the industry and our potential audience with both our first slate of films, and a key strategic partnership with China. Solar's sister company Mandragora International Group co-produced Cristian Mungiu's ‘Beyond the Hills,’ which will be premiered in the main competition.”

How much money do you have to work with?

“As much as we need if the deal makes sense.”

How many films do you plan to get involved in per year?

“We will produce and/or finance up to 4 pictures a year.”

Do you intend to focus solely on English-language pics?

“Yes, English-language for a worldwide audience, keeping all the emerging territories and platforms in mind.”

What makes your company different from the dozen other new financing companies entering Cannes this year?

“Our founders and managing partners, Bobby Paunescu and Jared Underwood, are the key. Bobby is both a successful business visionary and an artist, whilst Jared is an extremely experienced entertainment banker. Together they understand that in today's market there is more than one way to put together a film and that not only allows us the freedom to do so, but encourages us, as our vision is sweeping and our ability to partner limitless. Solar has many arms and is not constrained in the ways many companies are: We have an art-house division, a strategic Chinese co-financing partner, the ability to partner with domestic and International distributors, develop internally or do straight debt-financing deals.”

Projects moving into or in production.

"The Girl Who Knew Too Much,” a co-production with China Film Group Corp. written and directed by Paunescu.

Name an indie movie that you would have made.

“Citizen Kane.”

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival, Solar Pictures, Demarest Films, Good Universe, Mister Smith Entertainment