Jason Cloth on Taking Risks, Securing the 'Joker' With Warner Bros.
The Creative Wealth Media Founder also discusses why it's a "perilous" time for the indie film business and how The Weeknd helped him become part of the entertainment business.
Jason Cloth has quietly become one of the biggest players in independent film. His partnership with Aaron L. and Brenda Gilbert of Bron Studios has delivered more than 70 features over the last five years, including Oscar winner Fences and Clint Eastwood’s The Mule — which has grossed more than $175 million worldwide.
Cloth, 52, is the moneyman, sourcing capital from Canadian pension plans, mutual funds and private investment groups to provide debt financing for Bron produced films. Via the newly launched Bron Ventures, the group has also put seed money into indie film groups Animal Kingdom — whose Jim Jarmusch film The Dead Don’t Die opens the 2019 Cannes Film Festival — and Picturestart, a new production venture launched by ex-Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-president Erik Feig. Last year, Creative Wealth and Bron took a step up, inking a $100 million co-financing deal with Warner Bros. for a slate of movies, including the Rebel Wilson rom-com Isn’t It Romantic? and the upcoming DC spinoff Joker.
Speaking to THR from his office in Toronto — "far outside of the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles" — Cloth talked about the challenges of indie film distribution, how rapper The Weeknd got him started in the entertainment business and why it’s important to spend "an inordinant amount of time" thinking about risk.
You’re a banker by trade. How did you get into the entertainment business?
You know The Weeknd, the singer? Well, he’s from Toronto, my hometown. When he was just starting out, his management team — Wassim "Sal" Slaiby, singer Belly and Manny Dion — they came to me to borrow money to launch this new artist that they swore was going to be the hottest artist in the world. I’ll be honest: I almost laughed him out of my office. But they had a zest to them and a business and work ethic like I hadn’t seen before. So we lent them a little bit of money. And lo and behold, it was The Weeknd. I only did that one deal in music — which is a little sketchy in terms of financial planning and management — but the lawyer who helped broker the deal put me into a film deal, which is how I met Aaron Gilbert at Bron Studios. And we went on a tear.
What’s the main source of risk now in the indie film business?
It’s the underlying business risk: Will that project be embraced by the viewing public? Aaron and I and the management team discuss this all the time, because although we love doing that very high-quality auteur type of project, we have to mix it with stuff that the viewing public wants.
Why do you think the independent distribution model is so difficult right now?
If you look at the distribution and theatrical landscape, there are roughly 50,000 films made each year. Of those, 800 to 900 see theatrical distribution. Of those, probably 300 will make money, maybe less. On the independent side, if you’re not creating something that looks, feels and smells like a studio film, you’ll get your film made. But the guys putting up the money, the chances of them seeing their money are, at best, 50-50. It’s a highly perilous model.
How did your recent deal with Warner Bros. come about?
Our agents at WME came to us and said, "Hey, would you like to get involved with the new Joker movie?" And we’re like, "Seriously? A DC property? There’s no way they could need our money." Of course, agents being agents, they sort of left out the key component to this, which was: Everybody wants the Joker. What do you have to offer? When this opportunity came up, Aaron and I were able to say to Warner Bros.: We’ve got this Taylor Sheridan-Angelina Jolie film [Those Who Wish Me Dead]. That’s the quality that a studio is looking for. That’s what they wanted. When we had stuff like that to trade alongside money, that got us in the door with the Joker. And then we had to put up real money, which for them was nine figures.
What piece of advice would you give someone who is looking to get into film financing?
Spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out what your risks are. Don’t pay too much attention to people telling you that your film is going to make $100 million at the box office. Spend time trying to figure out how everyone’s going to try and screw you and how to protect yourself.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 14 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival.