Exclusive Media Co-Chairs on 'Jane Got a Gun' Woes, Ron Howard's 'Rush' (Q&A)
This story first appeared in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Nigel Sinclair and Guy East both made so much money during the early 2000s that neither really needs to work. Yet this year, the duo celebrates the fifth anniversary of Exclusive Media, an independent production, financing and sales company on a winning run thanks to such hits as George Clooney's The Ides of March, End of Watch, Snitch and The Woman in Black, a low-budget Daniel Radcliffe horror movie that grossed a whopping $127 million worldwide in 2012.
Sinclair, 59, a Scotland-born entertainment attorney, first met the British East, 61, in 1988 while hustling for business at L.A.'s Bel Age Hotel (now The London). Sinclair began representing East, who ran the London-based Majestic Films, and in 1995, East persuaded Sinclair to leave behind a client list that included Mel Gibson and Ridley Scott to form production-finance company Intermedia. Riding a rush of German money into Hollywood, the men made a killing when the company went public in 2001 (each owned stock valued at $60 million) and left to form Spitfire Pictures, which morphed into Exclusive after merging with horror label Hammer Films.
The 90-employee Exclusive now finances its slate with equity, tax incentives and foreign presales. It is one of the biggest players at Cannes and this year will be shopping to buyers such high-profile projects as Johnny Depp's Whitey Bulger biopic Black Mass and Skiptrace, starring Jackie Chan. East and his wife, Ruth, live in Monaco but spend part of the year in London and L.A., where Sinclair and his wife, Patricia, devote spare time to their rock band and an animal rescue charity. Sinclair and East sat down with THR at the company's L.A. headquarters to talk about their push into studio-style movies, including Ron Howard's $40 million-plus Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth and set for a Sept. 20 release.
The Hollywood Reporter: You're backed by the Dutch private-equity firm Cryte. Where does it get its money?
Sinclair: There is money from Dutch pension funds, Dutch banks and from [Endemol co-founder] John de Mol. We are one of Cryte's bigger private investments. It's been reported that they've put $100 million into us.
East: I don't mind you saying that.
THR: Exclusive is making studio-level films in part because Hollywood shies away from certain topics. Why make a Formula One racing movie?
East: Rush isn't a Formula One movie, it's a film about the rivalry and respect between two competitors, and that's what makes it emotional.
Sinclair: You could take these same characters and set that story on a spaceship.
THR: How did Rush come about?
Sinclair: In 2010, we formed a relationship with Brian Oliver and his company, Cross Creek. We made Ides of March together, and he invested in The Woman in Black. We are co-producing Rush together and are putting up all of the financing and marketing. Cross Creek has distribution slots with Universal, so Rush is going out through Universal in the U.S.
THR: With Rush, you have waged one of the largest international marketing campaigns ever for an independent film. What has that entailed?
Sinclair: Our foreign sales company invited Ron to the American Film Market in 2011 to present the project to foreign distributors. Next, we went to the Monaco Grand Prix with Ron. We also started a social media campaign, with Ron tweeting every day. And we've just released a foreign trailer in every language. Major sponsors include Gucci, Ferrari and Ferragamo. Guy is a pioneer in this arena. He famously arranged for Dances With Wolves  to debut overseas on the same day that Orion premiered it in the U.S. It was the first independent movie to get a day-and-date release like that. Kevin Costner made an extra $50 million when the film overperformed internationally.
THR: Black Mass, your project about fugitive Whitey Bulger, will star Johnny Depp. Does your model require big stars for the international market?
Sinclair: This is another project that came to us through Brian [Oliver]. Same goes for A Walk Among the Tombstones with Liam Neeson, which is shooting and is also going through Universal domestically. Another top project is Dark Places, starring Charlize Theron. What we've tried to do is build a company that has some of the qualities of a studio. [But] we have about 12 to 15 executives who are very much in each other's pockets. We don't have any silos, and we don't have any competition. One day I saw one receptionist reading a book and another on the Internet. I thought, "This is a waste of resources," so we launched something called the Virtual Creative Lab. Anybody [at the company] who is a millennial, meaning someone born after 1991, can participate. We meet once a week and they contribute, whether it's researching or coming up with the title of a film. At the end of the year, we put a few thousand dollars into a bonus pool. Mike Ovitz did a similar thing with his assistants at CAA.
THR: Exclusive is handling Natalie Portman's Jane Got a Gun. Are you worried the project will fall apart now that Bradley Cooper has dropped out?
Sinclair: Every film has a life of its own. And in the case of Jane, you have a really powerful script, and when one director [Lynne Ramsay] dropped out, they found another great director immediately [Gavin O'Connor]. And Natalie's commitment and leadership is holding the film in place. I'm confident it will get made. As Sherry Lansing once said, the more stress there is, the better the film is creatively.
THR: Do you want to become a major player in domestic distribution?
Sinclair: We are slowly building Exclusive Releasing, which will release Parkland [with Zac Efron] and Two Mothers [with Naomi Watts and Robin Wright] in the fall.
THR: You already own a 20 percent stake in Millennium Entertainment, which is now up for sale. Will you buy the remaining share?
SINCLAIR: There is no current plan to do so.
THR: Woman in Black established Daniel Radcliffe's post-Harry Potter career. Were you surprised a bit?
East: He worked nonstop for the movie. He would go anywhere with us, making 400 appearances. He says hello to everybody. … We work very hard on development of the screenplays. And we work hard in the postproduction and marketing of the movies, and it pays off.
Sinclair: If you had seen the first cut of Woman and the last cut, you'd say it's unrecognizable.
THR: Looking back over the past five years at Exclusive, has there been a highlight?
Sinclair: When Woman in Black broke out and became a hit, we knew we had made it.
East: It validated [horror label] Hammer. We have a Hammer Theater in London, a deal at Random House, Hammer television commissions with the BBC and Channel 4 and a destination Hammer theme park that's being built right now in the U.K. at the Stratford Shopping Center, the largest mall in the world.
THR: Nigel, were Mel Gibson and your other clients upset when you went off with Guy all those years ago?
Sinclair: Yes. I had left this very successful practice to start Intermedia, and within two years we were nearly busted and I thought I was going to have to sell my house. Then a year and a half later, we went public for $1.3 billion, so I decided I was OK.
East: It's been a roller-coaster ride, I'll tell you.
THR: How long have you been going to Cannes?
Sinclair: I've been going since 1984. The only year I missed was when [it was rumored that] Muammar Gaddafi threatened to blow up the festival. My wife wouldn't let me go.
On the Slate: Everyone From Charlize to Billy Bob
Can a Song Save Your Life?
From Irish filmmaker John Carney (Once), the musical drama stars Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine and Hailee Steinfeld. It could be a fall festival title.
Exclusive’s distribution arm will release the JFK assassination drama in the fall, timed to awards season and coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the president’s death. Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti and Billy Bob Thornton lead the ensemble cast.
Charlize Theron is starring in and producing the drama, based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) about a woman forced to revisit the massacre of her family years earlier. Chloe Moretz is in talks to co-star.
The Quiet Ones
Centering on a poltergeist experiment gone wrong, the horror pic will be screened for domestic buyers this month. Expect a quick sale.