Roland Emmerich's 'Moonfall' Secures Chinese Funding, Set to Bow in 2021

Roland Emmerich H 2013
AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau

Roland Emmerich H 2013

AGC Studios on Wednesday presented a teaser for the new sci-fi epic as part of its AFM buyers' presentation, which also included trailers to the company's upcoming features 'Breaking News in Yuba County' starring Allison Janney and Neil Burger's sci-fi thriller 'Voyagers.'

Roland Emmerich's $150 million sci-fi epic Moonfall has secured the final piece of its financing from China and is set to go into production next year for a 2021 release.

AGC Studios, which is financing the film and handling worldwide sales along with CAA Media Finance, presented the first teaser trailer to the movie, in which the moon is knocked off course and sent on a collision course towards Earth, to international buyers at the ongoing American Film Market.

Moonfall was the presales hit of Cannes this year, where it quickly sold out for most of the world. China, a key anchor in the film's financing model, proved a tougher territory to land. Further complicating matters: the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing.

But the Chinese are now on board, AGC Studios' boss Stuart Ford told The Hollywood Reporter, and Moonfall, the biggest project to come out of the independent industry in years, is ready for launch. Ford declined to name the film's Chinese backer but said the pic is on track to be delivered by 2021.

Ford's presentation on Wednesday of AGC's upcoming slate of features, documentaries and TV series was arguably the hottest ticket at this year's AFM. Buyers from around the world, from studios to indies and from theatrical to streamers, packed the main theater of the ArcLight Cinema in Santa Monica. Demand was such that AGC had to book a second hourlong session to accommodate the overspill.

Since Ford launched AGC just 18 months ago, the group has made a lot of noise on the indie scene, producing, co-producing, financing or distributing 12 feature films and boarding nearly 80 films and TV projects at various stages of development. As the company's biggest title to date — Roland Emmerich's World War II epic Midway — rolls out across much of the world this weekend, Ford unveiled AGC's lineup and his vision for an indie industry that combines both the traditional and the disruptive.

The presentation included trailers of Tate Taylor's dark comedy Breaking News in Yuba County, starring Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Juliette Lewis and Awkwafina; Neil Burger's sci-fi thriller Voyagers, a Lord-of-the-Flies-in-space tale featuring Colin Farrell, Tye Sheridan and Lily-Rose Depp; and The Secrets We Keep, a period revenge thriller starring Noomi Rapace as a Holocaust survivor living in New York after World War II and Joel Kinnaman as a man she believes to be her former tormentor.

The company also screened footage from its documentary lineup, including Oliver Stone's JFK: Destiny Betrayed, CNN Films' political biopic John Lewis Makes Good Trouble and Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer. And from its TV division it screened a trailer of the hotly anticipated reimagining of War of the Worlds, starring Elizabeth McGovern and Gabriel Byrne, which AGC is co-producing with France's CanalPlus.

Before the presentation, Ford addressed the elephant in the room: the widespread fear among indie distributors who are being sidelined by the big production and sales outfits, many of whom prefer to sell their biggest and most commercial titles directly to a major studio or a major streamer.

"We don't see platforms like AFM as a staging post, as a thinly veiled excuse to auction movies off to the studios," Ford said. "We don't see this as a Plan B alternative to selling to streamers. We believe we can do business with everybody."

The increasing dominance of studio tentpoles and the online explosion of streaming services has undermined the traditional financial model for independent cinema. The thousands of international executives at AFM this year are scrambling to find alternative models that will allow them to survive, and prosper, in the new world order.

"The independent sector is getting more and more ghettoized and squeezed by the digital streaming ecosystem and the studio tentpole ecosystem," Ford told THR. "Everybody needs to embrace change in the way we do deals, in the way we finance, produce and distribute movies."

The exec was quick to dismiss comparisons between AGC's presentation and a now-notorious event staged by the would-be indie giant Global Road at the European Film Market last year. Global Road execs Donald Tang and Rob Friedman announced plans to spend $1 billion on film production over the next three years — but just over half a year later, the company had collapsed.

"This is nothing like that," said Ford. “This isn't a chest-beating exercise, this isn't a roadshow. Is is really more of a call to arms for the people in the room to keep thinking about how to monetize this premium content and to keep the independent sector vibrant."