Cannes: Content Film President Jamie Carmichael on Selling Scientology Doc 'Going Clear' (Q&A)

Jamie Carmichael - H 2015

Jamie Carmichael - H 2015

The Los Angeles-based sales agent discusses how the church won't be able to stop 'Going Clear' and the best way to get moviegoers' attention in the age of Marvel.

The soft-spoken Jamie Carmichael has become an expert at selling controversial fare to international buyers — including Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which has caused waves with its damning portrayal of Scientology and high-ranking members such as Tom Cruise.

The British-born foreign sales agent is president of L.A.-based Content Film, whose parent company, Content Media, has a 50 percent stake in Gibney’s production company, Jigsaw Productions. Carmichael, who lives in Pacific Palisades, Calif., with his wife and two sons, has succeeded in selling Going Clear to buyers around the globe. He also handled Gibney’s Catholic Church exposé Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God internationally.

The 49-year-old, who is in Cannes with a slate of films including a Maria Callas biopic starring Noomi Rapace, the doc Steve McQueen, The Man & Le Mans and The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, produced by and starring Jessica Biel with a score composed by her husband, Justin Timberlake, sat down with THR to discuss how the church won’t be able to stop Going Clear from being seen, the challenges of selling films in Cannes, and how he once went on a global trek that included a tour of a weapons factory in Pakistan.

The Church of Scientology is very powerful. Did you hear from them after you started selling Going Clear to foreign buyers at the Berlin Film Festival in February?
No, and hopefully it won’t start now. I’m of the belief we have the right to confront people in a journalistic kind of way, which Alex certainly does. We also sold his last film, Mea Maxima Culpa, which had some not very nice things about the history of the Catholic Church.

Are there places where it did not sell?
It is selling everywhere.

Was Going Clear cut in any particular markets?
No. I don’t think we should self-censor. I think if journalists and artists want to tell stories and want to confront issues, they should be allowed to do so, and I think it’s our role to support that.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing sales agents at Cannes this year, or in general?
We know that the European economy, whether it’s difficulties in Spain, difficulties in Italy, has been challenging the last few years, and years past for other countries have been challenging. And we know that technology is changing incredibly quickly. I think the greatest challenge is having the right material that’s interesting and strong, that can compete with the myriad platforms trying to grab everyone’s attention. I look at my sons and what is being sold to them, whether it’s movies, television or video games. In order to get a consumer’s attention, you’ve got to be either Marvel and have an amazing product, or have the power of a studio to spend and distribute a movie really, really well, or have things that somehow stand out and rise above the competition.

How did you get your start in the film business?
I actually worked for an advertising agency in London for two or three years, but then the company I went to work for went bust. I got a severance payment and bought a round-the-world ticket and spent two years traveling. I flew straight to Cairo and then went to Egypt, Jordan, Syria, then to Iran and Pakistan. I went to Peshawar, and went into gun factories. I was 23, lost a lot of weight and grew a silly beard. It informed my worldview. I came back to London and walked around Soho for about a month, putting CVs in every door I could find, and I had three responses — one of which was a very nice lady called Maggie Pope, a sales agent. My first market was MIPCOM in 1991, where I sold Dances With Wolves.