Int'l industryites start banner in Spain


CANNES -- A group of international film industry insiders have banded together to set up a production company and are calling Spain their new home, said Chris Samwells, president of the new venture Extraordinary Assets.

Extraordinary Assets, backed by an offshore private equity film fund capping at €110 million ($148 million), is comprised of a handful of longtime friends, hailing from different service, technical and production sectors around the world.

Extraordinary also revealed an ambitious first slate of four films, with an additional five titles in development.

In addition to Samwells, the group includes digital cinematography and visual effects veteran Mike Connor, whose MotionFX offers production services and postproduction facilities in London and Sweden. MotionFX is one of Europe's leading Viper Digital specialists.

Also founding Extraordinary is Steve Melendez, head of Bill Melendez Prods., producer of animated TV programs "It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown" and Emmy-winning "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Public relations and music industry guru Julius Just rounds out the foursome, which is backed additionally by Scandinavian private investors.

"We are a group of professionals, each having more than 25 years of experience in film. We've worked our way up through the business to become quite successful filmmakers," said Samwells, whose accomplishments include producing commercials, documentaries and setting up European co-productions. "We are angry old men. We're angry at seeing a beautiful industry destroyed by a repeat mode that is so uncreative."

Drawn by the lower production costs in Spain, the varied locations and year-round good weather, the group is setting up camp in Girona, located in Spain's northeastern Catalan region.

"In Spain, there is a lot of real estate, which you can choose, it's not expensive," Connor said. "It's so varied. You have coastline and mountains and castles. And also the cost of living hasn't gone up as much as it has in other European countries."

But the key attraction undoubtedly is the experienced technicians in Spain.

Pointing out that Spanish crew took home the three Oscars that Spanish-Mexican co-production "Pan's Labyrinth" snagged of the six for which it was nominated, Samwells praised Spain's film services and technicians.

"There is such a pool of talent in Spain. Everyone we need is there. All we bring is the equipment and our certain expertise," he said. "In every single instance when we've worked in Spain, we've never had any problems with the crew."

First on Extraordinary's slate is Samwells' €14 million feature film directorial debut, "International Brigade," set to start shooting this summer. The film, which is based on a true story about a callow Englishman who volunteers to fight for the Republican cause against the fascist armies of Franco in the Spanish Civil War, stars Franco Nero, Alex Gilmour and Moike Moller.

Next up is the animated €7 million "Charlie's Dream," now looking for a Spanish partner and to start production in October. The story centers on a small girl in an outing to the zoo, who frees the animals after talking with a chimpanzee named Charlie. The film includes actor Peter Ustinov's last performance as the chimp's voice.

The €1.2 million feature documentary "Rise Up" is in postproduction. Shot over three years, it charts the trials and tribulations of the underground music scene in Jamaica.

"Early One Morning," is based on the true story of two Bugatti race drivers in the 1930s and weaves together racing, war, espionage, love and betrayal. The film has an Oscar-winning director attached and is in talks with an A-list American actor to play the lead.

Extraordinary has also signed a three-picture, nonexclusive production alliance with Canadian writer-director Harold Von Kursk's Valahalla Films, as well as a five-year contract with film music composer Michael Errington to oversee and write music in all Extraordinary Assets productions. Errington's award-winning "The Art of Passion," was recently released on DVD from Liberation Entertainment in the U.S. and Canada.