Berlin: FilmNation SVP Says Michael Keaton's McDonald's Movie "Will Appeal to Everyone" (Q&A)

Sales agent Tara Erer discusses Keaton's next project, selling 'Imitation Game' in the Middle East and working in a male-dominated industry.

In only six years, FilmNation has become the go-to home for specialty projects commanding both awards attention and international box-office success, including Oscar best picture winner The King’s Speech and current best picture nominee The Imitation Game. Tara Erer, 29, plays a key role in convincing international distributors to buy FilmNation titles as senior vp sales.

At Berlin this year, FilmNation is launching in-house title The Founder, a biopic of McDonald’s mogul Ray Kroc starring Michael Keaton, and Endgame Entertainment and Conde Nast Entertainment’s Army of One, the upcoming Larry Charles comedy starring Nicolas Cage as the real-life Colorado construction worker who tried to hunt down Osama bin Laden.

The international sales, production and financing company’s slate also includes Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, which has its premiere here Feb. 8 in competition, while the company will show foreign buyers the first footage of Truth, starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as Rather’s disgraced producer Mary Mapes.

 

 

Based in New York, the Turkish Erer has a unique perspective on the international film sector thanks to her upbringing in Istanbul (her parents own a chain of boutiques there). Erer met FilmNation founder and CEO Glen Basner when they both worked for Harvey Weinstein and has been at FilmNation from the outset. She’s known she’s wanted to work in the movie business since she was 13, when an English teacher told her she should write screenplays. Erer sat down with THR to discuss taking on McDonald’s, what works well internationally and why she loves working for Basner.

Will The Founder be a tough sell overseas?
We don’t see it as a story of just McDonald’s, but along the lines of The Social Network. It’s a story about one man’s journey of achieving success at a time when you had to take big risks. He sees into the future and, in order to make it big, he had to break some rules. And everybody knows McDonald’s. It will appeal to everyone. We were rushing to close Michael’s deal, which we’ve done. We are hoping to start shooting at the end of May. It would be presumptuous to talk about The Founder’s awards chances, but it will be ready for 2016.

THR has reported that McDonald’s won’t try to block the biopic, even though it doesn’t paint the most flattering picture of Ray Kroc.
Several buyers have already told me that helps. No one wants a legal battle.

 

 

Are you worried that Army of One will be sensitive politically in the wake of The Interview?
No. It’s not about bin Laden. It’s about this unbelievable guy, Gary Faulkner. There is something so charming and naive about him. He’s a fascinating character. And Nic Cage is going back to his comedic roots, a la Raising Arizona and Moonstruck. I’ve already been having a blast selling it.
I understand there isn’t a complete script, but what’s known as a “scriptment.” Is that correct?
They will do a lot of writing during the shoot.

What are some of your favorite war stories?
There was a big territory that didn’t want The King’s Speech; they wanted another one of our films. I can’t say which one. But I insisted they buy King’s Speech, and it became the most successful film of all time in that territory for that distributor.

Being from Istanbul must give you insight into the region. What is working well in the Middle East in terms of English-language films?
They love action movies. But The Imitation Game is doing insane business in many countries, including Oman, Lebanon and Kuwait. It’s No. 2 or No. 3 on their lineup. It is very tough for foreign films to beat local product, so that is an amazing result.

 

 

Are you surprised?
No, because The King’s Speech did well there … although there was some resistance at first to The Imitation Game. This one had a tougher subject matter on paper.

Is that because Alan Turing, the real-life character played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was gay? Did the film have to be cut for Middle Eastern audiences?
No, because there wasn’t anything except that he was gay.

FilmNation was selling Chris Rock’s Top Five internationally before Paramount scooped up worldwide rights to the comedy. The movie has underperformed domestically. How do you think it will do overseas?
There are certain territories where it will work, mainly English-language markets. It will probably have more value on TV and home video.

Do black films still have a tough time overseas?
Top Five is a very specific kind of comedy, period. Overall, I think we’re seeing change. The Butler did crazy business overseas [$60 million]. And 12 Years a Slave made far more overseas than it did domestically [$131 million versus $56.7 million]. It will be interesting to see what Selma does.  

Men dominate the foreign sales business. Is it tough being a female in that environment?
If you prove you have control and you understand their business, no. The moment you get their respect, it’s easy.

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