Black Bicycle Entertainment Chief on Accidentally Spotlighting Female Filmmakers and Audiences
Upstart indie producer Erika Olde, of the Jessica Chastain starrer 'Woman Walks Ahead,' on why profitability requires patience and the impact of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
As a young child in Canada, producer and financier Erika Olde recalls watching movies with her father, the late discount brokerage whiz Ernest Olde.
"It really was one of the only times that I would get to spend with him,” she says of the billionaire who died when she was 10. "He would watch really epic, manly movies like Braveheart and The Last of the Mohicans, and I had only ever seen my father express a lot of emotion when he was watching movies. That was always something that stayed with me."
It was a longing for that lost connection that sparked Olde's idea to launch Black Bicycle Entertainment in 2014.
Yet there’s nothing manly about the independent film company’s slate. Black Bicycle’s first four films — the Reese Witherspoon starrer Home Again, the Jessica Chastain feature Woman Walks Ahead, Whitney Cummings’ The Female Brain and the upcoming November Criminals, starring Ansel Elgort and Chloe Grace Moretz (Dec. 8) — have a decidedly feminine feel. It was not intentional, she says, but Black Bicycle offers a welcome tonic at the male-centric multiplex.
Olde, 26, invited The Hollywood Reporter to her West Hollywood offices, across the street from Soho House, where she oversees a staff of five, to discuss her company’s sweet spot, first-time directors and how she hopes the Harvey Weinstein scandal will serve as a “deterrent” in the sometimes-sketchy indie film scene.
Three of your first four films were directed by women, including Hallie Meyers-Shyer and Susanna White. Do you have a particular mandate to hire women, and if so, why?
We did not, and we don’t now. We really are just picking the best person for the job. When you have movies that really resonate with a female audience and tend to have female protagonists for the most part, it usually tends to make sense that you have a woman behind it. But it’s not a requirement by any means.
What’s the Black Bicycle business model?
We’re a company that makes movies for a female audience, though we did not set out to do that. I didn’t really have any particular direction when I started. You see a lot of companies try to be a little bit vague in terms of what it is they’re looking for, because everyone wants to be agile to a certain degree. I really just picked projects that I liked and gravitated toward and felt I could connect to, and we ended up with a very heavy trend of female-driven films that had a lot of female filmmakers. It wasn’t like we set out to change any sort of stigma in the business or make filmmakers feel like we were just targeting them to meet a quota or something. We just picked the projects that meant the most and picked the filmmakers who were the best for the job.
Which directors or actresses are you dying to work with?
Lesli Linka Glatter, Patricia Arquette — she’s badass — Ava DuVernay and Patty Jenkins.
Is there a budget range or a typical budget of a Black Bicycle film?
We do movies all over. We have made movies between the $1 million and $20 million space up until now.
Where does Black Bicycle’s money come from?
It’s mine. We don’t have other investors apart from myself.
Has the business been profitable?
For most companies, it takes years to just break even, let alone turn a profit. And in entertainment, it usually takes you between five to seven years to be profitable, truly profitable. We have been operational since 2014. Home Again really held at the box office, so we have definitely been lucky. Luckier than some, I would venture. We have made way more progress than I thought we would. ... The short answer is no, we’re not profitable. The longer answer is I’m impressed by how much we are not in the hole. (Laughs.)
In light of the Weinstein scandal, do you see indie film as being particularly vulnerable to these types of abuses?
First of all, I have to commend every woman that has stood up and said something, because that gives me great hope that people just won’t be scared anymore to talk about what they should talk about. In the indie space, we are not governed the same way a studio would be. I do think the structure allows more people with that lack of sincerity and good intention to come in. But that also breeds stronger people in the sense that we tend to have a little bit more finely tuned noses for that kind of thing. I am hoping that this will be a huge deterrent for anyone who comes in thinking that they can just be a part of this to take advantage of attractive people.