From party hearty to 'agent of change'

Wild Bunch transforming into int'l player

A company once best known for throwing the rowdiest parties on the festival circuit is having a coming-out party of its own this year.

In just a few short years, international sales shingle Wild Bunch has transformed itself into an emerging international co-production/distribution/sales powerhouse — this year financing and selling two Oscar hopefuls: Fox Searchlight's "The Wrestler" and IFC's Steven Soderbergh epic "Che."

"Wild Bunch is an agent of change. We are the Barack Obama of the movie industry," Wild Bunch CEO Vincent Grimond quipped during a recent interview.

The past couple of years have been critical for the company, which became a ubiquitous film market entity soon after its 2002 launch, repping a series of prize-winning films that included Venice Golden Lion winner "The Magdalene Sisters" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The transformation from simple sales agent began in earnest in 2004, when Wild Bunch got into the distribution game via its acquisition of Wild Side Films and Wild Side Video. It also bought a majority share of distributor Pan Europeenne Edition and increased its bankroll via Iris Capital.

When Virtual Studios came aboard as a shareholder in 2005, the two companies launched a 50-50 co-production and acquisitions fund worth €120 million.

Wild Bunch's status as a financier took another major step forward in September 2007 when it launched a €110 million film-finance venture with U.S. investment fund Continental Entertainment Capital, an affiliate of Citi. A stake in Italian distributor BIM Distribuzione and a joint-distribution venture in Germany with Senator quickly followed.

Despite its fast-track growth and rumors that its affiliation with U.S. bank Citigroup might be on shaky ground in the wake of the global financial crisis, Wild Bunch has shown no sign of slowing — just the opposite, in fact.

This year, Wild Bunch set up shop in Benelux, financed Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" and signed on as principal investor in new VOD/SVOD service Filmo TV.

It all leads to an obvious question: Is the company stretching itself too thin?

"The question is, do we have the money to make the movies we want to make? Yes, we do," Grimond said. "For the next five years, we have what we need to make the films we want to make. Of course, the crisis will have a big impact on us. Today, it's criminal not to be prudent."

Wild Bunch COO Brahim Chioua agrees. "It's clear that the Wild Bunch we created in 2002 isn't the same group today. The market has changed a lot since 2003. There was much more mo-ney around than there is today."

Even in the current financial climate, Wild Bunch is looking to expand. "We should be in the U.K. and Spain already," COO Brahim Chioua said. "We have to stop reacting; it's time to act."

So far, they're doing just that.

Wild Bunch financed the Spanish-language epic "Che" and sold the title across the globe after it screened at Cannes. Following sales of "Che" to IFC, "Wrestler" to Fox Searchlight and Fabrice Du Welz's "Vinyan" to Sony, Wild Bunch headed to AFM in Santa Monica with Jan Kounen's "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky," action-packed comic-book adaptation "Largo Winch" and "Move On! Storming the Gate," a documentary about MoveOn.org. (partialdiff)
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