Cannes 2012: Exclusive Media's Alex Walton on His Transcontinental Career Path (Q&A)

Alex Walton H 2012

The president of international sales and distribution talks to THR about his sales strategy, Ron Howard’s upcoming epic "Rush" and living the American dream.

The British-born Alex Walton, only 36, is certainly on the younger side for the power he wields as president of international sales and distribution for Exclusive Media, handling both Exclusive titles and third-party films.

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Widely well-regarded, he came armed to Cannes with a number of prominent projects, including Exclusive’s newly announced Liam Neeson starrer A Walk Among Tombstones and thriller Still of Night, starring Michelle Monaghan and directed by Jonathan Mostow. Walton, who grew up in the smart London district of Wimbledon, was named to the top post at Exclusive after working under Nick Meyer at Paramount Vantage.

Walton moved from London to Los Angeles for the job at Vantage, relocating his wife, Rachael, and 1-year-old daughter, Ava. She’s 5 now, and has a 3-year-old brother Franklin. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on the eve of Cannes, Walton opened up about his sales style, how he got into the film business and living the American dream.

The Hollywood Reporter: Why did you decide to pursue a career in international sales?

Alex Walton: My dad — who is a lawyer — is a great lover of film, so I grew up watching movies. I studied art at Newcastle University in Northern England, where I took classes in film history and theory, so that only heightened my interest. When I left Newcastle and went back to London I thought that to learn any business you have to learn how to sell it. A friend of my dad’s was an entertainment lawyer and told me to read THR, Screen and Variety and gave me the names of five sales companies in London. I wrote and badgered them and got a call from Julia Palau at J & M International. Bizarrely, it was the Wimbledon connection that got me in. She grew up in Wimbledon too and wanted to see what a young kid from there was like these days. I got the job there and was given lots of opportunities.

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THR: What were some of the first movies you worked on?

Walton: We had a huge library of films, from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to Cassavetes’ library to Major League. And then the first films I sold included Forever Mine and The Guilty. My territories included Eastern Europe and some smaller Western European Countries.

THR: From J & M, you went to Myriad and then to IN-Motion Pictures when it broke away from Myriad. The next stop was HanWay, where you were vice president of sales. Why did you decide to leave London and move to Los Angeles?

Walton: I got approached about coming to Paramount Vantage and working with Nick Meyer, so I brought my family over just as Vantage was launching in 2007. I was at Vantage for three years, and it was a pivotal experience in terms of coming to America and being part of a film studio where everything was happening in once place. It was fascinating. But there came a point when we weren’t making very many movies and everything started to compress very quickly. I left in 2010 and joined Exclusive.

THR: What is your style when selling? How do you approach it?

Walton: I would hope that my reputation is built upon not misleading people and being honest. I’ve set it up where I try to understand the company, their goals and what they like to release. Hopefully, I try to project an exciting profile of what I have that I think will suit them and their needs. There are certain films that aren’t for certain buyers. I’m not going to be drumming down a period drama to someone who only releases action films. I hope that I am fairly specific and honest about the material we have and give them a dream scenario. It gets easier when the source material is your film, because you are involved all the way through.

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THR: Ides of March falls into that category, since it was an Exclusive Media production. The movie ended up grossing $35 million overseas, nearly as much as the North American total of $41 million. Still, was it a tough sell initially to foreign buyers?

Walton: It took real positioning. The part of it that wasn’t a challenge was selling a film directed by and starring George Clooney. It had a very clear pedigree, although Ryan Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood weren’t that well known then. But it could be seen as an American procedural political story. I felt it could pan out as a smart thriller with a political soundtrack so pushed it as a thriller. The film was embraced, although by some more than others.

THR: What other films have been challenging?

Walton: Rush, which we virtually sold out off in Berlin, wasn’t straightforward at all. Again, it has a fantastic director — Ron Howard — but we faced obstacles in that it could be seen as a Formula One sports story. That’s not the film we’re making, and it’s way bigger than that. We are virtually sold out. Rush is one of the six to eight films that we finance every year.

THR: Was moving from London to Los Angeles difficult for you and your family?

Walton: I travel a lot, so that breaks it up, but my family is very happy here. I always say that I have a British daughter and an American son. My daughter speaks with a perfect British accent at home, but my son has an American accent. My wife was a very successful makeup artist in London who gave her career up to follow the American dream.

THR: What do you think of the American dream?

Walton: Yes, I’m living the dream. I have a desk that goes up and down, and I spend much of my time at the office.

Read more from THR's Cannes Daily No. 4 here (PDF).