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The origin story of Belgian film group uMedia sounds more Silicon than San Fernando Valley. Back in 2004, Adrian Politowski, together with partners Nadia Khamlichi and Jeremy Burdek, set up offices in the basement rooms of a house in Brussels owned by the grandmother of one of their friends. “It was very much like an IT startup,” Politowski recalls, “the three of us in 130-square-foot rooms, talking about film?finance.”
The original idea was to set up a fund to tap Belgium’s newly established tax shelter for visiting productions. That is still at the core of uMedia’s business — the company raises close to $80 million a year in tax-shelter funds for co-productions. But uMedia is now a fully fledged production outfit with credits including Oscar-winner The Artist and the upcoming Nicole Kidman starrer Grace of Monaco. With offices in Brussels, Paris, London and, most recently, L.A., it’s a distribution company, releasing around 15 films in the Benelux region every year. It’s also a VFX company headquartered in Brussels and London that does effects for both in-house and third-party productions such as DreamWorks’ upcoming Wikileaks film The Fifth Estate. And, starting last year, uMedia has become an international sales and financing company with operations run by former Lionsgate International president Peter Rogers and a Cannes slate that includes Takashi Miike’s Palme d’Or contender Shield of Straw and Paul Andrew Williams’ Close Enough starring Tom Hiddleston and Hayley Atwell.
The married father of a young son, Politowski, 34, spoke to THR from his home in Brussels about the advantages of being a one-stop film shop, teaming up with Celluloid Dreams for Cannes and uMedia’s Hollywood?ambitions.
The Hollywood Reporter: uMedia is one of the very few companies, outside of the major studios, that does everything in-house, from film financing and production to sales, distribution and even special effects. Why this one-stop shop model?
Adrien Politowski: It‘s a good question and there are really two answers: We thought it would be fun to do and we thought it made a lot of business sense to do so. On the business side, each of our divisions needs to stand on its own feet but as a group, having all these entities makes us much stronger. If we get a project, our fund division can bring in financing from the Belgian tax shelter, our international sales company can do pre-sales, we can come onboard as a co-producer and even bring on VFX and financing for that. It makes us extremely flexible, and in this market, this kind of flexibility is a huge advantage.
THR: How important is the Belgian tax shelter to your business model now?
Politowski: It is still an important element — a lot of the films we co-produce use the tax shelter — but more and more we are becoming independent of it. Our distribution acquisitions are independent, as is our international sales company. Even on the VFX side we do work on projects, like The Fifth Estate, that have nothing to do with the tax shelter.
THR: Is Grace of Monaco a game-changer for your company? It’s arguably the most high-profile project you have been involved with.
Politowski: In terms of the international perception, definitely, because with Nicole Kidman and the story the project has gotten a lot of attention. But what really put us on the map was The Artist and while, from the outside, Grace of Monaco can be seen as a game-changer, we’ve done a lot of films in the past in the same budget range [$15 million to $30 million], such as Erased with Aaron Eckhart or The Numbers Station with John Cusack. Grace of Monaco, though, is exactly the kind of production we want to be involved in. We are co-producers, we arranged the shooting in Belgium, we are co-financing and we are doing the VFX.
THR: You’ve just set up offices in L.A. How does having a Hollywood base fit into your future plans for?uMedia?
Politowski: We are a European company and on the tax-shelter side we do a lot of French and English co-productions, but in-house we are primarily looking to develop English-language productions for a U.S. audience. A lot of projects we have in the pipeline are U.S.-based and a lot of the films we have lined up for international sales are U.S. projects. So not having a base in L.A. just doesn’t make sense. We need a presence there to be in regular contact with the talent, with the agencies, with the producers, the studios and the mini-majors.
THR: What’s in the production pipeline at uMedia?
Politowski: We’re doing Universal War One, which is a [French] sci-fi comic-book adaptation. The comic from Denis Bajram, which Marvel published in the U.S., is very much a passion project. The budget is north of $50 million. It’s a project we are going to need A-list directors and writers to make work. We have another comic book adaptation, Black Ops, which is a Spy Games meets Bourne project, very fast-paced, budgeted at $30 million to $35 million with the CIA as a backdrop. We have also acquired the remake rights to a French romantic comedy, Priceless, and are hoping to sign a writer and director in the coming months.
THR: uMedia has grown, and changed, dramatically over the past few years. What’s your biggest challenge going forward?
Politowski: For Cannes, our primary objective is to make sure the industry knows where we are at. We are a very different company than we were a year or three years ago. Today we have operations in London and France, so we can board a project as a U.K. or French co-producer. We can act as an executive producer for financing, we can do international pre-sales. On a strong project, we can come onboard and get it fully financed. On our development side, we’re focused on doing very commercial films in the $15 million to $50 million range targeted at an American audience. As a co-producer or executive producer our range is much wider. We do between 30 to 40 films a year budgeted from $5 million to $40 million of all types and?genres.
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