There will be many eyes on Protagonist Pictures as the company launches its first sales office at Cannes. Its three backers are well known - Ingenious, Film4 and Vertigo Films - and the industry is curious to see if their joint foray into sales will be a hit.
Protagonist CEO Ben Roberts, former VP worldwide acquisitions at Universal Pictures, says the three unlikely backers make good partners. 'These are three increasingly strong UK partners putting films through us,' he says. 'They work from one end of the spectrum to the other, from (the Ingenious-backed) Flyboys to (Film4 indie drama) Hallam Foe.'
'Vertigo is so energetic and found a central market; Film4 brings a pedigree and an international reputation and Ingenious brings that solidity in terms of finance and business,' he says. Despite differing reputations, he notes: 'They wouldn't have got past the business plan if they didn't have a common sensibility.'
The companies do not have exclusive sales deals with Protagonist, nor is Protagonist only selling films from its three backers - its first outside project very notably comes from BBC Films, Armando Iannucci's political comedy In The Loop. But the steady flow of potential projects from the partners will be a boon. 'I've got protection because we have content partners, there's a little less pressure. It's a tough biz if you're just out there looking for projects,' Roberts says.
The initial slate includes Tom Shankland's horror The Day and Nicolas Winding Refn's prisoner drama Bronson (both Vertigo); Vito Rocco's MySpace project Faintheart, a romantic comedy backed by Film4 and Vertigo; and Alexis dos Santos' story of modern love in London, Unmade Beds (Film4). All four are in post.
Another hot title is Rupert Wyatt's The Trail, in pre-production to shoot this summer. The follow-up to Wyatt's Sundance hit The Escapist will be a New Mexico-set thriller for Vertigo and Picture Farm.
Protagonist was unveiled in January 2008 and Roberts attended Berlin, but Cannes is the first real market. 'We needed to have the basic team in place so we can give producers some confidence we can operate competently,' he says.
To that end, on May 1 Protagonist welcomed new head of sales Charlotte Van Weede, who previously worked at HanWay and prior to that, at Summit and Intermedia. Channel 4's Nada Cirjanic is handling sales of the Film4 library through Protagonist.
Van Weede says: 'We want to position ourselves as a sales agent who will deliver fresh, contemporary films with a strong respect for the film-maker and the audience. The diversity of the Protagonist slate will enable us to interact with a wide range of buyers, which is particularly relevant to a company in its infancy.'