âIt was a terrible time to start,â Samuels admits. âEveryone was in a preserve-and- protect mode and wanted to get out of their obligations. The silver lining is that we wound up revisiting all aspects of our (business) plans.â
We started to operate in different ways that made better sense for the new world order,â he says. âWe were focused on having a diversified slate of films â a mixture of commercial wide-release films like ‘Sanctum' and specialty films such as ‘The Kingâs Speech.'â
In the five years since FilmNation debuted, the movie business has undergone deep changes, with Hollywood majors focusing more on tentpoles, opening up screen doors to the indie sector, which has seen a steady growth in sales-financing-producing shingles. Those outfits have also seen a greater ability to nab stars and material â once the domain of the studios â and to finance, make and sell serious worldwide hits such as "The Hunger Games," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Taken" and, of course, the "Twilight" films. FilmNation has also changed over the past five years, and can now board a project as a producer, financier, sales agent, international distributor or marketer and at any stage, including development.
FilmNation is celebrating its five-year anniversary with three films in Cannesâ official selection: Alexander Payneâs Nebraska in competition, Sofia Coppolaâs "The Bling Ring" opening Un Certain Regard and J.C. Chandorâs "All Is Lost" screening out of competition. At Cannes last year, FilmNation had two competition players, John Hillcoatâs Prohibition-era drama "Lawless" and Jeff Nicholsâ "Mud," which marked the companyâs first foray into production. Last year it came onboard Terrence Malickâs "To the Wonder," which world-premiered in competition at Venice, and Rian Johnsonâs "Looper," which opened Toronto. True to its philosophy of mixing commercial and specialty items, FilmNation also scored in 2012 with global hit "Magic Mike."
Notably, both "Looper" and "Magic Mike" went into production without U.S. theatrical distribution deals â a choice that reflects the willingness of FilmNation to strongly back projects in which it believes.
âGlen recognized how special "Looper," was early on,â recalls Endgame Entertainment topper James Stern. âThey have a very clear understanding of the foreign value of a film. On "Looper," it was good to hear how much Glen thought the ending worked from a commercial standpoint. And he was very supportive of the notion of shooting in China.â
Basner notes that FilmNation is set apart by its choices. âWe very carefully select the films that we believe in, just like we did with "Bling Ring" and Lawless. We donât look at it as risky or being flexible. Itâs just conviction. And thatâs a feeling that translates to producers and filmmakers.â
Basner believes that approach helped in coming onboard "To the Wonder."
âWe had tried to get on to "Tree of Life" and failed miserably,â he says. âTerry had really felt like he needed the freedom so we came up with the idea that he should be one of the financiers and we were able to pre-sell the world. The trade off was that it had to be made at a lesser budget.â
Malick is now working with FilmNation on "Knight of Cups" with Christian Bale.
CAAâs Rick Hess introduced Basner and Samuels in 2007. Basner had worked at Good Machine and the Weinstein Co. and Samuels had produced and financed "Michael Clayton" and "In the Valley of Elah." The two clicked and FilmNation was born as a foreign sales company with five employees.
âNo one had seen a downside to this business in 2007, right before the recession,â Samuels says. âItâs been a very slow build, very conservatively to build a deep customer base.â
Besides Samuels, shopping mall developers Dominic and Anthoni Visconsi of Visconsi Cos. invested all the initial working capital required and remain partners. Modi Wiczyk and Asif Satchuâs Media Rights Capital and James Sternâs Endgame Entertainment were the first significant companies to select FilmNation as their international partner.
âModi and Asif have also been tremendous sounding boards for me as I go through the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur,â Basner recalls. âIn fact, when I told them what I was doing, they Fed-Exâd me a life vest.â
The company showed up in Cannes for the first time in 2009 with only one film for sale: 3D action-adventure "Sanctum," produced by James Cameron.
âIt was very instructive to be selling it with the economic collapse going on,â Basner says. âBut we really believed in the picture and Cameron really took a leap with us.â