Q&A: Gary M. Walters
EmptyHaving majored in statistics and spent time on Wall Street, Bold Films co-president Gary M. Walters is well equipped to deal with the vagaries of the high-end independent movie sales, production and financing world. With movies such as "Bobby" and "Slingshot" on his Bold Films' resume, Walters presides over the indie's production and sales activities as well as myriad other roles. He talks to The Hollywood Reporter's U.K. bureau chief Stuart Kemp about how tough it is for the indies in the current economic climate, the importance of good script development and why audience research is important.
The Hollywood Reporter: How is this year's AFM playing out in light of the global economic meltdown?
Gary M. Walters: It's tough. It's choppy waters, but if you have the right material and a big enough scope, you'll be OK. It's similar to the financial markets -- there's a flight to quality.
THR: There is an enormous amount of product here. How does Bold Films go about ensuring its movies are noticed?
Walters: We have a great marketing team which is very important from the moment the first image of a Bold Films' project appears. It must indicate studio quality. We really think like a studio and we have a very significant development war chest which we are using to go after top caliber director-driven material.
THR: How much importance is there to having topline talent attached when looking to finance indie films?
Walters: I feel the international market is growing increasingly sophisticated and in each phase of this evolution the bar gets higher. Previously, a star might have been enough, then genre and now it's as sophisticated an analysis as the U.S. studios are employing to decide on the movies to make.
THR: How hard is it to get hold of good scripts?
Walters: It's a lot of work. We have three full-time development execs who we pulled out of the studios. We have tried to forge a blend between the scope and audience strategy of a studio movie and combined it with the speed, efficiency and freshness of the indie world. For us, we are not as active in buying packages. We do a lot more homegrown projects. We put a lot of value and sweat equity into the script development phase. That's the riskiest place to invest, but for us that is what separates the men from boys.
THR: Do you think there are as many buyers here at the AFM this year than previously?
Walters: The key buyers are here but I understand that the number the companies are sending, for example from Asia, are down. I think there is belt tightening across the board.
THR: Are rising budget costs a real concern at the moment?
Walters: The fat days are over and there is more prudence even at the studios. Indies will always be able to operate more efficiently (than their studio counterparts) because they don't have such big overheads and infrastructure. Everyone understands the need to be pragmatic now.
THR: Does your background in statistics and on Wall Street equip you to survive in the cut throat indie film world?
Walters: My specialty was trend analysis, so you have to know where you've come from and where you are to know where you're headed. In challenging times, the key thing is to stick to your plan and have the courage of your convictions.
THR: Why did you give up being a legal eagle to become a movie producer?
Walters: Being a film producer engages all my different talents. So the law and the numbers game were aspects, but I also have a strong sales and good talent background. (Producing) gives me an opportunity to flex all my muscles and engage in my passion pursuit of making movies.
THR: You exec produced "Bobby." How was that experience?
Walters: Just once in a while something takes on a life of its own. It started out as a movie and became a movement. The notion that you can't give up no matter how many hurdles are in your way, and you just have to carry on is a strong theme for today. The entire community is on fire (over Barack Obama's win) and wildly enthused by the prospect of a new era of America in the world. That is like what might have been at the beginning of "Bobby."
THR: If you could pick one film you've been involved in that still gives you a kick, which one would it be and why?
Walters: "Bobby" was just a class by itself. It was exhilarating and very fun. To walk around on set and have so much talent just popping out of their trailers was so much fun. It was also great to see some emerge as fantastic talent. Shia LaBeouf is a great example.
THR: If you had to sum up the indie film world in one sentence, what would it be?
Walters: I think the indie film ethos has permeated the industry and is causing a new era of sophistication in filmed entertainment.