Red Granite Pictures' Riza Aziz and Joey McFarland on Scorsese's 'Wolf of Wall Street' (Q&A)
Red Granite launched in Cannes last year with one of the hottest parties in years, not to mention news that Leonardo DiCaprio is starring in the financing, production and sales company’s $100 million Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s next film.
Red Granite was formed by Riza Aziz — the 35-year-old son of Malaysian Prime Minster Tun Abdul Razak and among the new generation of film financiers flocking to Hollywood — and Joey McFarland, 40. The duo also made headlines when stealing veteran sales agents Danny Dimbort and Christian Mercuri and production executive Joe Gatta from Nu Image/Millennium. In one of the few interviews they’ve given, Aziz and McFarland, both with a background in finance, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how they’ve spent the last year, their plans for the company and their determination to stay on budget with Wolf.
The Hollywood Reporter: Red Granite went quiet after its debut in Cannes. What has the company been doing the past 12 months?
Joey McFarland: Riza decided to form Red Granite in late 2010. In 2011, we focused on building our infrastructure and our upcoming slate. We are now prepping Wolf of Wall Street and it starts shooting in August in New York. Our first movie was a much smaller film, Friends With Kids. And we recently announced we want to make The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag with Alex Proyas.
Riza Aziz: We couldn’t move on Wolf until Marty was done with Hugo. We bided our time and we waited for him. I think it was time well spent, versus rushing things.
THR: Are you selling Wolf to foreign distributors at Cannes? Or are you trying to see if a studio will buy rights to the world?
McFarland: No, that won’t happen. We are going to sell foreign territories, but not yet. Domestically, we’re talking to Paramount, whom Marty has had a long relationship with. Warner Bros. has expressed a lot of interest as well. It’s a good problem to have.
THR: Hugo went substantially over budget. How will you make sure that doesn’t happen with Wolf?
McFarland: There’s no comparison between the two projects. We’re not over the finish line yet, but I like to think we’re blessed with having Marty in his own back yard and in his comfort zone. I am very confident that Marty is ready to make a statement to the film community that he is not an out-of-control filmmaker. We support his creative vision 100 percent and he understands our economics. We’ve talked candidly about this with him and don’t see any red flags.
THR: How did the project come about?
McFarland: Riza and Leo were friends, and we knew we wanted to work with him. Wolf is his favorite project, but he was never able to get it going, so we tackled the bear.
THR: Is Wolf, about a young New York stockbroker swept up in a large securities fraud case and based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiography, a heavy drama?
Aziz: No, and our recent decision to cast Jonah Hill was a good way of countering that notion. It’s a trippy, out-of-control story.
THR: Do you have any plans for how big you want your operation to be?
Aziz: We’d like to make three to five films a year, with one tentpole and two or three films with more modest budgets in the $20 million to $40 million range.
THR: How much money are you backed by?
McFarland: We do not talk about that.
Aziz: I will say that I have money invested in the company. It shows that I have skin in the game and am committed from a financial point of view. We also have a group of investors, mainly from the Middle East and Asia.
THR: What does your father think of your new venture?
Aziz: I have leeway, but he likes to know that the projects we do have pedigree.
THR: How did you convince Danny, Christian and Joe to leave Millennium?
McFarland: They were ready for a change. Riza had a small party with a lot of notables and we were talking about different ideas and it evolved into something much bigger. Danny and Christian run foreign sales, and Joe is president of production.
THR: What is Red Granite selling in Cannes this year?
McFarland: Out of the Furnace, a film we are co-financing with Relativity that Leo’s Appian Way is producing. We want to do more business with Leo. The movie stars Christian Bale, Zoe Saldana, Casey Affleck and Forest Whitaker. We also are selling A Case of You, starring Justin Long.
THR: Riza, you come from a political dynasty. How did you get from Malaysia to Hollywood?
Aziz: My background is in finance and I was in London for close to 10 years. I took a sabbatical from all the chaos that was happening in 2008 and decided to travel the world. I came to the U.S. and was offered the opportunity to get involved in a lot of different things business-wise, and one of them was to be involved in a film with some friends. From that one project, more kept coming in, so we decided to have a company. We began building the team and I brought Joey in at an early stage.
THR: How did you two meet?
McFarland: My father is the prime minister of Kentucky. No, we met through friends. I have a finance background, and I’ve been in and out of the film industry in L.A. and New York for a long time.
THR: How did you come up with the name Red Granite?
Aziz: In Malaysia, granite symbolizes solidarity and dependability. You add red — which is the Asian color of prosperity — to the whole equation and you got a winner. It also sounds pretty catchy.