When the dark comedy “Cake,” starring Jennifer Aniston, premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, Aniston’s performance as a woman who begins a relationship with a troubled widower (Sam Worthington) garnered awards buzz. But when the film failed to get nabbed by a distributor, the film’s production company, the newly created Cinelou Pictures, decided to take action.
Late last month came news that “Cake” will get an Oscar-qualifying run through the production company’s newly formed Cinelou Releasing. And furthermore, they want the venture to become a prestige label that will release up to four films over the next year, starting with “Cake.” The film will have a one-week qualifying run in December, followed by an expansion in January.
Cinelou Pictures financed and produced “Cake” under its $100 million financing pact with Taiwan-based Shenghua Entertainment. The company, which plans to produce films in the $7 million-$10 million budget range, has a deal with Warner Bros. Pictures to handle international distribution for six of its films over the next three years.
Canton’s got an extended Hollywood track record, initially joining Warner Bros. as Vice President of Production, rising to Senior Vice President
and President of Worldwide Theatrical Production. During his tenure at the
studio, Canton was instrumental in creating the “Batman,” “Lethal Weapon” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” franchises. Then, as chairman of Sony’s Columbia Pictures (and later Columbia Tri-Star Pictures), he oversaw hits such as “A Few Good Men,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Men in Black” and flops such as “Geronimo: An American Legend” before becoming an independent producer for films such as “300: The Rise of an Empire.”
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Meanwhile, Solomon, a producer, director, and screenwriter, has, until now, focused on the indie side, with an emphasis on genre pics such as “Getaway,” “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Bullet to the Head.”
Curious about this new production company (and its new distribution arm), Indiewire recently spoke to Canton and Solomon.
What was the inception of Cinelou?
Courtney Solomon (CS): We officially launched at Berlin last year, where we announced our financing deal with Shenghua Entertainment. We officially went into production in April. The real mandate of the company, as Mark and I saw it, was we saw a void in the marketplace for really pedigree films that really featured great scripts like “Cake,” which was a Black List script, great talent as far as filmmakers’ pedigree talent involved. That’s the mandate of the company, to get involved with projects like “Cake” and bring to the marketplace and to audiences.
Was the idea to fill a gap in that (under $10 million) budget range?
CS: Just use last year’s Oscars as an example. So many of the films nominated were done outside the studio system and then ended up with various releases and ended up at the Oscars. It doesn’t seem like the studios are making these films. So we’re hoping there’s an opportunity to make good films that otherwise would be, for lack of a better word, lingering, to a certain extent. We just saw an opportunity there. We believe there is a business here first of all, as a company and secondly, the ability to make films that audiences want to see and wouldn’t get the opportunity to see. It’s exciting. That’s where our whole thought process originated from.
Mark Canton (MC): Courtney and I come from very diverse backgrounds in our history. I’m a studio guy and Courtney is a very talented filmmaker, director, independent filmmaker and he’s made different kind of films of all budgets and I’ve made more, coming from studios, more tentpole types of movies. When we came to know each other, we realized we could really do something no one has seen since the original Miramax, which was to attract high-end talent and caliber screenplays that would both provide opportunities to make the best version of these movies for really smart prices with A-list actors and filmmakers.
The world has obviously changed in terms of the way filmmakers and actors and writers often look at their own careers. They all seem to want to include in their own process — along with some of their iconic and franchise-driven movies — they want to include the kind of movies we’ve seen in the last couple of years like “Dallas Buyers Club” and Matthew McConaughey and other examples of where talent wants to get a shot to do material that really pushes their own envelopes and allows them to exercise their abilities in a way that is sometimes against expectations.
Clearly, audiences are very accepting of A-list talent both giving them what they want – Tom Hanks is the most classic example – and then going on, from time to time, to do things that are unexpected. That’s part of what makes people want to go to the movies and not just sit home. So we’re really filling a void that was there and it was obvious to us when we started talking about what we wanted to do.
Were you always planning to create a distribution arm?
MC: Our goal was always to create a distribution entity, but it accelerated itself in terms of “Cake” for various intelligent business reasons. We’re ultimately going to look at different movies that will all be pieces of Cinelou, while our core business will be what we’re doing in our deal with Warner Bros. International and our investors.
We’re both fiercely competitive, so our idea is to not miss out on opportunities that are rational for us in terms of really good stories that can be told well. We’re keeping it inside the budget frame in the inception, but we also don’t want to miss opportunities. As you create, as we did with Jen Aniston, if you do your job right, you create real relationships. Those relationships can clearly cross over to working together more often. Same with directors. We’re super talent-friendly and I’ve made my career on that and Courtney is exceptional, so that’s what we’re doing here.
Will you distribute films apart from ones you’re producing?
MC: We’re not a bank. We’re filmmakers. We’re helping other filmmakers who sometimes can’t get their movies made, but we believe in those movies and we are sensitive. We are two people who know all ends of the movie business worldwide. We’re very sensitive to being partners. But part of that is that we are producers. We make our movies. We don’t just phone it in. So to be in business with us, you can expect us to make the movies with you. We’re not just a bank and we’re not interested in doing that. We’re going to succeed or not with our own decision-making process.
How does the Warner Bros. International pact work? Will you have a distribution partner in the U.S.?
CS: That’s a production and distribution pact, so they help with the production financing and take international territories and do international distribution and marketing. That’s for Cinelou Films and that carries over to the distribution arm, Cinelou Releasing. As far as the U.S. is concerned, we had always intended as sort of this brainchild that we have to have our own releasing arm as well for these types of movies.
The way we were envisioning on putting that together from the onset of talking about it was that we would have a distribution booker and not have an internal distribution partner, but where we could control the marketing as well as far as the U.S. releases were concerned and have our own marketing division in order to deal with that. So it’s us handling it ourselves with a team of people that we’ve assembled. That’s how we intended to do that.
That’s not to say that every one of our films will be produced that way. If the right opportunity comes along with a partner or a different studio, say Warner Bros, that wants to handle it domestically and it seems like that’s right for the film, we would consider that as well. But we wanted to be sure that from the day we’re making the films that we would be able to ensure that the films have worldwide distribution. We intended to really launch that next year, but for various reasons, we decided it was better to launch it now with “Cake.” Mark and I had various business reasons for doing it, so we did it a little earlier than intended, which is okay. We just have a little bit more work to do faster than we thought.
What’s going into production next?
CS: The next one that’s going into production is “Cook” [directed by Bruce Beresford] in a few weeks. It’s a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant script. It’s an amazing script and we’re just finishing the casting now. It’s making some bold and very exciting decisions with who is going to be in this movie and what this movie could turn out to be. It’s such a lovely script. So we’re super excited about that. We have a few more announcements about the rest of our slate for next year. But the goal is to make 3-4 movies a year. We have “Yellow Bird” [the adaptation of Kevin Power’s 2012 National Book Award finalist, which will star Benedict Cumberbatch, Tye Sheridan and Will Poulter] going into production in mid-March.
MC: We’re very excited that we’re starting out with good calling cards for what we will be building.