When Charlize Theron phoned Aaron L. Gilbert earlier this year, she was understandably distraught. Just two weeks before shooting was to begin, Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures was pulling out of Bombshell, the Fox News/Roger Ailes movie she’s producing and starring in alongside Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie. Would Gilbert’s Canadian company Bron Media Corp., which had helped Theron’s 2019 pic Tully get made, take over as lead producer and backer? Within four or five days, Theron got her wish. Bombshell (opening Dec. 20 via Lionsgate) is among a number of upcoming titles signaling Bron’s growing profile as a go-to financing and production company.
Gilbert and his wife, Brenda, founded Bron in 2010 and have since partnered with Jason Cloth’s Toronto-based Creative Wealth Media, which is backed by Canadian pension plans, mutual funds and private investment groups. Together, they’ve poured more than $600 million into 50 films since 2014, including Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, Denzel Washington’s Fences — and Joker. The latter, which has taken in a stunning $548.3 million worldwide as of Oct. 13, is a defining moment for Gilbert, and is part of a $100 million, six-picture slate financing deal with Warner Bros. Bron also has a new $100 million slate deal with MGM; the second release is The Addams Family, which opened to a strong $30.3 million over the Oct. 11-13 weekend (the first was Child’s Play). Bron also is making films with Brad Weston’s Makeready and Universal Queen & Slim, Nov. 27), Sony (Tom Hanks’ Greyhound, set for May 2020) and Lionsgate (Doug Liman’s dystopian thriller Chaos Walking starring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley). Bron is also starting to back production outfits like Media Res (Apple TV’s The Morning Show) and Little Lamb (HBO’s Euphoria).
Gilbert, 47, was raised in London, Ontario, and went to nearby McMaster University but dropped out and moved to Los Angeles, where he entered the music licensing business. His career took a new course when a friend called and said he was in a jam and needed help finishing a movie. Bron, which is repped by Endeavor, now ranks about 210 with operations in L.A., New York, Toronto and Vancouver, where Gilbert and his wife keep their permanent residence and raise their kids (18, 15 and 10). He sat with THR in his Beverly Hills office to talk about Bron’s ambitions and to reveal that he has a stake in another big studio tentpole — Reitman’s Ghostbusters sequel.
How many films a year is an ideal number for Bron?
Probably four or five that we are producing. And then we’re involved financially in anywhere from eight to 10, or eight to 12, depending on what’s happening. On top of that, we are growing our TV business and, in a perfect world, I’d love to have five to eight TV series going a year.
Did you say yes right away to taking over Bombshell, despite a rival Showtime Roger Ailes series (The Loudest Voice)?
Yes. It was rough putting it all together, I’m not going to lie. But when Charlize Theron phones, that’s a call you take.
It’s something you have to think about and talk about it, but I don’t think we got too worried. Hopefully when you look at Bron’s history, you’ll see a lot of the movies we’ve been involved in create a conversation.
Bron financed and produced Birth of a Nation, which was engulfed in controversy because of Parker. Would you work with him again?
Yes. I heard he was making a movie [American Skin]. He reached out and let me know what was going on. I’m hopeful that that film gets out to the world.
Bron’s stake in Joker was 25 percent. Is that standard practice?
It varies. I would say it can be as low as 15 percent and as much as 50 percent, depending on the movie.
What is the biggest movie you’ve invested in?
Probably Chaos Walking at Lionsgate.
Will Chaos Walking ever open? There were reports earlier this year that it was unreleasable.
It’s completing the postproduction process and will be dated for sometime next year, I believe.
Would you ever put $50 million into a movie?
It would have to be something pretty spectacular. Joker 2, maybe. I’m just joking. We have never put in that much, but it can be as high as $30 million to $40 million.
The indie box office is struggling in the age of streaming. How has that changed your thinking?
I’m not afraid for the business. It’s a different time. Bron needs to be disciplined. Whereas in the past I would have greenlit and financed a movie for $10 million to $15 million without a distributor, I won’t do that anymore. It’s a dangerous place to play.
Have you met with the Apple film team?
Yes. I’m not going to say which project. Yet on the TV side, our partner Media Res has, I think, three shows with Apple, including The Morning Show. We are also a partner in Little Lamb, which has Euphoria on HBO.
Bron is exploring buying soundstages and production facilities. Why?
There is so much content being made around the world, and the streamers have really locked up a lot of space for long periods of time. As an example, I shot a movie in New Orleans last year, and I had to ship a star trailer from L.A. It cost thousands of dollars to do that, which is ridiculous, because I couldn’t find one locally. And when shooting a movie in Albuquerque, we couldn’t find some of the rigging gear so we had to ship it in. Bron Ventures, which we launched earlier this year, wants to get involved with companies that are servicing those demands.
You have a stake in next summer’s Ghostbusters sequel. Is there still an appetite for this series after the last pic struggled?
Jason and his dad, Ivan, reached out to me and I said of course. This is an iconic franchise.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.