Menz brothers plan Atlas expansion

Three execs hired as firm looks to invest in bigger productions

CANNES -- Five months after buying back Atlas International from EVA Finance, Marche du Film veterans Philipp and Stefan Menz return to the Croisette flush with private-equity money and grand ambitions to transform their family-owned operation.

Atlas has brought on three new execs to help manage expansion, hiring Glenn Kendrick Ackermann, formerly of Capitol Films, for international sales duties; ex-EVA executive Michel Vandewalle as head of development; and Christian Solomon, formerly of Helkon, to run Atlas' new Los Angeles office.

Atlas plans to invest directly in larger-scale productions, budgeted at $10 million-$25 million, with a goal of co-financing three to four projects a year. Playing to its strengths, the company is focusing on mainstream genre productions like the in-development "Black Knight" -- a motorcycle actioner described as a cross between "The Fast and the Furious" and "Fight Club" -- which is budgeted at about $20 million and will begin shooting next year in Germany.

"We want to do fewer projects but bigger ones, more top-line titles," Philipp Menz said, adding that Atlas will look to handle world sales on any project in which it becomes involved.

Atlas also is plowing into TV production, bankrolling the upcoming series "12" with Mediamax and the Mark Gordon Co., producers of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Criminal Minds." Canadian director Roger Spottiswoode ("Tomorrow Never Dies") has signed on to helm the pilot of the 12-part series, which is budgeted at $5 million an episode. Atlas will put up half the equity. Shooting is expected to start this year.

But Atlas hasn't forgotten its roots in the German industry.

"We want to remain a reliable partner for mainstream cinema coming out of Germany," said Philipp Menz, pointing to Atlas' recent sales pick-up for Cannes: the mountain-climbing drama "Nanga Parbat," from director Josef Vilsmaier.