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Like many independent films, Oscar best-picture winner Spotlight took years to become a reality — eight, to be exact.
On Wednesday, Participant Media executive vp Jonathan King offered an often-riveting chronology of the movie’s long journey to the big screen while speaking on the second day of Winston Baker’s two-day Entertainment Finance Forum at the Loews Hollywood Hotel.
Participant — which recently made a major investment in DreamWorks to form Amblin Partners — was the first financier to board Spotlight. (King has an executive producing credit.)
“We started talking to distributors and briefly partnered with DreamWorks, which would have been a very easy financing model because of their output deal with Disney, but they ultimately realized Disney was probably not the right distributor for it,” he said.
“Disney is an extremely successful company at releasing big, giant hits,” said King. “But it’s not in a big studio’s business plan to make these kind of movies. Their business plan is to make Deadpool and Jurassic World. I get that, but there is still a vibrant market for these films.”
King participated in Wednesday’s panel, “Making Studio Movies With Independent Money,” alongside two other veteran indie film executives: Sierra/Affinity CEO Nick Meyer and Thunder Road Pictures’ Basil Iwanyk, who spent years making films for Warner Bros. before striking out on his own.
The Hollywood Reporter is Winston Baker’s media partner on EFF, the first in a series of film finance events that will be held in cities across the globe over the next year. THR senior film writer Tatiana Siegel moderated Wednesday’s discussion.
Meyer, whose foreign sales and financing company is overseeing the release of Spotlight overseas, doesn’t believe the major studios are entirely abandoning prestige titles. “They are sometimes looking to distribute and market these movies. I just think sometimes they don’t want to make [finance] them,” he said. “It’s cyclical.”
Iwanyk took a different position. “I found that Warners, while every once in awhile does an Argo or The Town, wanted more Clash of the Titans. They didn’t give a hoot about the other movies. Going independent was about being able to be more nimble. In some ways, I look at all our movies as studio movies done with independent money,” said the Sicario and John Wick producer.
Most recently, Iwanyk produced the $140 million Gods of Egypt, the first big-budget miss of 2016 after opening to a paltry $14.1 million last weekend. There were a number of financiers on the Lionsgate title, which was sold off to independent distributors overseas.
“The movie gods decided to look away when this movie was being released,” Iwaynk continued. “A lot of foreign distributors spent a good amount of money. They invested in this movie and we let them down. You have this desire to make them feel good about their investment.”
The three executives also discussed the struggle to cast an indie film at a time when many actors are caught up making huge studio tentpoles.
Iwanyk pointed to all the actors who are now committed to superhero movies — between Marvel and the D.C. universe — not to mention Star Wars. “You put a list of actors together for your project and three-quarters of them go out the window,” he said. “These massive studio franchises pay actors a lot of money. It’s hard to compete financially and compete in terms of scheduling.”
Meyer believes “the movie is the star now” and that his biggest frustration is a lack of compelling content. “Great material,” he said, “attracts great capital.”
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