Executive Suite: First Look Media Exec Talks Making Movies That Matter and "Holding the Powerful Accountable"

Dustin Cohen
Michael Bloom

Michael Bloom tells THR about the ideal film budget and how the company differs from Participant and Vice.

When DreamWorks inexplicably dropped out of co-financing Spotlight in 2014, the future looked precarious for the film about a team of Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the city’s Catholic Church pedophilia scandal.

But the challenging material was exactly what First Look Media was seeking for its foray into film financing, and the company agreed to put up half of the drama’s budget. The Tom McCarthy-helmed film, which made a stop at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, went on to win the best picture Oscar in February.

The 3-year-old, New York-based First Look, launched by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, now looks to build on that momentum and has lined up a number of new films, including a Morgan Spurlock-produced doc on the right-wing patriot movement. This Toronto, First Look has the hot hacktivist thriller We Do Not Forget being introduced to buyers by CAA (the film stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zachary Quinto).

Thanks to the deep pockets of Omidyar, who has made a $250 million investment in First Look, Bloom has the funds to expand the company’s slate. The 48-year-old married father of two, who oversees a staff of 85 at the company’s hipster Flatiron District offices (it also has outposts in Washington and San Francisco), talked to The Hollywood Reporter about what type of film is in the First Look wheelhouse, the ideal budget and how the company differs from Participant.

What’s the First Look business model?

First, we’re a studio where we make content, and it’s across film, TV and digital. And then we have a consumer business where we have brands that reach audiences like The Intercept and Field of Vision, which is Laura Poitras’ label, shooting documentary-type stuff. We have an entertainment-focused brand that will be launched this year. We hired Anna Holmes, the founder of Jezebel, as the editorial director. We also have a nonprofit division inside The Intercept and Field of Vision, where we make grants to worthy folks and will fund the legal defense of [journalists and documentarians]. The nonprofit is really about holding the powerful accountable and having this real independent focus on that.

Budget-wise, where is the company’s focus?

That’s a good question. We haven’t broken it down in that way. Obviously, we have budgets and we have desires, but we’re also opportunistic when projects arise. And one of the cool things about the company is we’ve got some flexibility there. Over these first two years, we didn’t go into it saying we’re going to do X percent film, Y percent TV and Z percent digital. It’s a little more about what are the smartest ways to build the different lines of business that we’re in and how.

Where do you see your own focus in your day-to-day schedule?

The editor-in-chief of The Intercept, Betsy Reed, is incredible. She has done a great job with that brand — she’s got it spinning like a top. I don’t have to spend a ton of time on The Intercept day-to-day. But I am working with them to develop and adapt ideas for film and TV that originate there.

What kinds of films are in your wheelhouse?

We want them to have a strong voice and a specific point of view. A lot of folks assume we’re only doing cause films or mission-driven stuff. But it may or may not have anything to do with mission or cause. It’s got to be, at its core, a story that we think says something about the world we live in, but more importantly, it’s got to be entertaining first and foremost or it won’t matter. It’s entertainment with something on its mind, and that’s an important distinction. To give you a sense, Ex Machina [would have been right for First Look] or Sicario. Even Whiplash we would’ve done.

Do you have a budget range?

Yeah, for us, the sweet spot is probably somewhere between $5 million and $30 million. And we would fund anywhere from half of the budget to all, depending on the size of the budget. And the way we think about film in our portfolio is we would like to do seven to 10 over the next three years. We’re starting to see a lot more projects in our wheelhouse, so we may be more opportunistic at times.

How do you differentiate yourself from a company like Participant or Vice?

Participant, they are obviously dear friends, and we love the stuff they do. We are probably slightly less cause-based. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but they, at least in the past, have tended to view movies oftentimes through the lens of the causes they care about.

With Vice, those guys are also dear friends of mine. When I was at Viacom, we did a joint venture with Vice when they were a much younger company. On the news side, they’re doing stuff that is edgy and cool, and they have their own voice. We are not in the news cycle per se. We’re doing a lot more longform stuff, commentary analysis. They’re very large, and they’re doing a lot of different things, whereas we have a slightly different focus and a different approach.

Would you buy a finished film or mostly come in as a partner or originate the film yourself?

Never say never, but we’re much more interested in either ground-up development or coming in as a partner and financing at a later stage.

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