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ISA of the Day: Brian O’Shea of The Exchange

ISA of the Day: Brian O'Shea of The Exchange

Our International Sales Agent (ISA) of the Day coverage
resumed for this year’s Cannes Film Festival. We feature successful, upcoming,
innovative and trailblazing agents from around the world (during and after the
festival) and cover the latest trends in sales and distribution. Beyond the
numbers and deals, this segment will also share inspirational and unique
stories of how these individuals have evolved and paved their way in the
industry, and what they envision for the new waves in global cinema.  

The Exchange is an
international sales and finance company based in Los Angeles and was created by
Brian O’Shea who has nearly twenty years of experience in the film industry. The
Exchange has an impressive record, and has acquired, financed, produced and/or sold
over 140 films (with budgets spanning from five to 90 million) just over the
past two years.

Recent success includes the
June release of “Obvious
and “Supremacy”
with Danny Glover, which was picked up for U.S. Distribution following this
year’s L.A. Film Festival. The Exchange recently acquired worldwide rights to “Ithaca”,
which will be Meg Ryan’s directorial debut and is being executive produced by
Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman.  

CEO of The
Exchange Brian O’Shea talks about an evolving industry, his unexpected entry
into sales and distribution, and what inspires him to stay in it.

What is
The Exchange focused on?

I’ve been doing this for 19 years. We started this company
three years ago, and I own it myself. There are nine of us. The slate is very
eclectic, and we’re very filmmaker driven. We also focus on American films that
have domestic theatrical releases. It’s not to say anything less of direct
video films or TV movies. There’s a business there too, but it’s not what I
focus on. I focus on the film markets and festivals. That’s where I need to
have the product to be consistent with what my business model is.

To spend money to go to Cannes, I need to have films that
are complimentary to the buyers that come here. We vary in size of budgets.
We’ve worked on things as big as “2 Guns”, which was a 70 million
film, to things as small as “Obvious
which was
a micro budget film that was released on June 6th. We also like to see these
films with a domestic component, because it allows my buyers to know that they
can position their film in their territory as a theatrical movie. It’s
important, because it’s all interconnected.

What are
some recently successful films from The Exchange?

I did “The
Spectacular Now”
. It wasn’t a big budget, or a manipulative film.
It was an honest, authentic slice of life, and it worked both domestically and
internationally. We just released “Obvious
and the response to that film has been outstanding.  Those are two very strong filmmakers that have something to
say through art, and they said it authentically. Both of these films came out
of Sundance.

changes are you noticing in the film business?

The financial model is changing to support more quality
films, as opposed to simply marketing, and there’s a reason for that – it’s the
Internet. It’s this transactional, new technology that is allowing for opinions
to matter more than the physical experience of walking through a store and
seeing box art. It’s the reviews, the over arching word of mouth that comes
through the Internet, that allows a business man like myself to focus on sales
and moving quality films that matter. 

Technology is bringing about a new age of stronger, more
authentic filmmaking. The glitz and the glamour of the 80’s and 90’s, and the
over saturation of CGI during the 2000’s, have actually dulled the senses. Now,
what people are responding to is truth, and strong voices. 

You can choose your own information, and you’re not
manipulated through advertising or posters. Your phone allows you to find
anything at any time in the world from an information standpoint. If a friend
tells you, “Wow, “Obvious
is really
good”, you can Google “Obvious
and there
will be reviews, tweets and Facebook posts about it. These things can be bought
and manipulated, don’t get me wrong… but they’re focused on that review and
the consensus of whether it’s good or bad. I think it’s good, and it’s why
filmmaking is getting better.

Sundance and Cannes were both strong this year. I think the
films were good, and it’s bringing about a market need for strong voices and good
filmmaking. Selling a film that only has a famous actor doesn’t work as easily
as it did in the past.

Please talk
about your entry into the film business.

I’m from Lubbock Texas, and went to college in Worcester
Mass. I knew I wanted to be in the arts in some capacity, but I didn’t have it
in me to be in front of the camera. I knew that for various reasons that I
needed to be behind the camera. That was always on my mind in college.

I went to NY after college and worked as a page at the NBC
page program. I went on to be an extras casting director for a woman named Joy
Todd, and then I realized how hard it was to live in NY with no money, so I
followed my father’s footsteps and went to law school. I then decided to go to
Los Angeles and be an entertainment lawyer, which seemed ridiculous at the
time. I went there, passed the bar, and started working for Roger Corman. I was
in the entertainment business! I was a lawyer and making movies. It was so
exciting! I felt great, but I wasn’t really good at it, because I wasn’t very
detail oriented. I was doing things like closing deals without paper, but Roger
liked me and said, “You’re going to stop being a lawyer, and now you’re
going to do sales for me.” That was 19 Cannes Festivals ago, and I’ve
never missed one since.

What keeps
you going in the industry?

The people in the business keep me in it. It’s conversations
like this. My job is to talk about art, about a group of people, to understand
how hard it is to make a movie, and to see it come out the other side. It feels
good to be a part of the process, and to experience the end product. It’s
really difficult, but the people I work with are fantastic. They’re from many
different cultures. We share story ideas, and it’s great to spend time with
people from the international film community. Even if you don’t share the same
language, you can still connect with them when you both see one film and react
to it the same way – it’s a bonding experience.  

These festivals feel like a high school reunion. In general,
people are great, and I always love coming back to see them to see how their
lives have changed. Some people just have tremendous success. Some people start
as being an assistant, or being an executive, and then move on to start their
own company. It’s exciting to see them succeed, and it’s good for business too.
When other people succeed and make money in the independent film distribution
space, they put the money back into the system to make more films. They have a
machine that they have to feed; it’s changing because of the Internet, but
everyone is trying to feed the machine. 

For example, so many movies have been bought because of the
incredible success of the “Lord of the Rings”. I’m sure the success
of the “Hunger Games” has supported many buyers in their various
forays into different sales companies to buy movies. They made money on “Hunger
Games”, and therefore they’re reinvesting it into other companies. In
general, it just puts more money back into the system. That’s why you always
want to see your competitors do well with good movies, because then it just
comes back into the system.

talk about the landscape of distributors for those who are new to this world or
aren’t working in it.

There’s a finite list of distributors, and it’s changing
because of the collapse of video. In our business, there are
business-to-business transactions, and we talk to local distributors in various
territories about a transaction. The local distributor then looks to the
distribution to the consumer. In each territory, whether it’s France, Italy,
Germany, Spain, they all have different focuses, whether it’s TV or Theatrical.
Within each country, there are different numbers and types of buyers, because
each place is developing and contracting. For example, there are many buyers in
the USA, because there are many different opportunities for films. It can sound
overwhelming to someone who’s not in sales, but a knowledgeable sales agent can
quickly narrow it down to the right buyers for a film.

A big budget picture is only going to six to eight buyers.
If you’re looking for a smaller budget film, you cross off looking for the
studios like Warner Bros, Paramount and so forth. If it’s not a big theatrical
film, maybe it’s something for A24, Fox Searchlight, or Sony Classics that
might have a smaller theatrical release or go straight to video; then you don’t
think of any of the studios, but just their video divisions. This is when you
don’t worry about Fox Searchlight or Sony Classics, and focus more on companies
like Image. It gets complicated, because the video companies (like Radius,
Image, Magnolia, and IFC) are using theatrical platforms to profile the
pictures, primarily for video and VOD distribution. There are numerous buyers,
but you just have to know, based on the product you have, which group to focus
on. And then you never know what can happen, but you just have certain
companies that you really focus on, depending on what type of film you have. 

Learn more
about The Exchange slate here.

Collaborative and transparent, The Exchange is a leading
international sales and finance company committed to creating strong
relationships between filmmakers, film financiers and distributors through the
exchange of product, information and commerce. Created by veteran sales
executive Brian O’Shea, the company specializes in high quality, commercial
films that appeal to North American audiences and the ever-evolving global film
market. In less than two years, The Exchange has acquired, financed, produced
and/or sold over 140 films ranging in budgets from $5 million to $90 million,
including studio films from Disney, Sony, Fox, and Universal. Such films
include Universal’s 2 GUNS, starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg
(sold in collaboration with the exclusive sales agent, Foresight Unlimited);
2013 Sundance Award Winner THE SPECTACULAR NOW starring Miles Teller and
Shailene Woodley; THE LAST FIVE YEARS, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan
and directed by Richard LaGravenese; HIGHER GROUND, starring and directed
by Vera Farmiga; and YOUNG ONES, starring Nicholas Hoult, Michael Shannon,
Elle Fanning and Kodi Smit-McPhee.


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