Yale Productions Partners on Why AFM Matters and the Fate of James Franco's 'The Pretenders'
Indie execs Jordan Yale Levine and Jordan Beckerman also discuss their conservative approach to film financing.
As a teen, Jordan Yale Levine opted to skip college and moved to Los Angeles as a teen to find entry into Hollywood. Family friend Ted Liebowitz, an executive producer on the 2006 film The Illusionist, made key introductions, and Levine began his film career. “I was able to build up good credits for myself and sustain a living,” the Long Island native recalls. “But most importantly, I learned about financial models that we still use today.” After spending seven years in Los Angeles, he returned to New York in 2011 for the film Petunia and became fast friends with members of the New York State Film Commission. Now, Levine, 33, and Yale Productions partner Jordan Beckerman (a 36-year-old former entertainment lawyer) are making three to four films a year in the $2 million to $10 million range, all shot in New York. They will be selling worldwide rights to several at AFM, including Crypto, starring Kurt Russell, and the Suki Waterhouse-Josh Hutcherson thriller Burn, as well as international rights to the Ron Perlman vehicle The Escape of Prisoner 614. The bicoastal pair (Levine is based in New York, Beckerman in San Francisco) caught up with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss why AFM remains vital, as well as the fate of their James Franco-helmed film The Pretenders in light of sexual misconduct allegations against the actor-director.
How would you characterize the state of Indie film financing?
JORDAN YALE LEVINE I started out when I was 19 and I was raising money in $5,000 increments, no kidding. I had 20, 30 exec producers on these movies. Nowadays, it’s different, mainly because of our experience and track record, and we have a built-in stable of investors at this point. If you approach a film and a project conservatively in the way we do, there are investors in New York and L.A. that will invest. There are investors that are like, “This might not hit. We are doing it for the art.” We don’t have those people.
JORDAN BECKERMAN In some ways it is getting tougher because there’s a lot more competition. The industry as a whole doesn’t have the best reputation because there are people that will take bigger risks on things that don’t necessarily make sense financially.
What’s the single best way to remain fiscally conservative?
BECKERMAN Having talent is a big part of any film package, but waiting to find out what the numbers look like before setting the budget is the best way to make sure that you are being conservative. I think there are a lot of people who look at a script and say, “This script is going to cost $7 million.” But the attachments, the genre, the market only dictate that the film should be made for $4 million. With us, either we figure out a way to make that movie for $4 million or we just won’t make that movie.
How important a market is AFM compared to Berlin and Cannes?
LEVINE Super important. AFM and Cannes seem to be the biggest ones for us. Berlin, there’s a market there, of course, too. Toronto, there’s business that goes on, not as much. Look, every buyer all around the world is looking at our promos or our movies at AFM.
You have the Franco-directed The Pretenders. Do you anticipate any issues finding distribution because of his #MeToo issues?
LEVINE I don’t talk to James every day, but HBO went forward with his show The Deuce [after allegations surfaced], which is a good sign. I think the film on its own is a very cool film. James is not the star. The stars are really Shameik Moore and Jane Levy and Jack Kilmer. So, it’s hard to answer that question. We saw James recently and he was shooting The Deuce, and I know his company’s working on something else right now as well. Our company is not taking the lead on that one. I would say that 90 percent of the movies that we produce we take charge [on]. This one is really more with [Franco’s producing partner] Vince Jolivette and their company.
What’s your most profitable movie?
LEVINE [The Franco-produced] King Cobra has done exceptionally well. Our Netflix deal on that was almost the entire budget of the film. IFC picked it up domestically and sold rights, and then The Exchange sold rights in the foreign market including Netflix, which was basically a worldwide deal except for the U.S.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Oct. 31 daily issue at the American Film Market.