Headof fast-growing 18 month-oldfinancing & sales company Voltage Pictures Nicolas Chartier talks to Jeremy Kay about the newgeneration of film financiers and international distributors.
Aveteran of such companies as Arclight Films and Myriad Pictures, VoltagePictures co-head Nicolas Chartier (pictured) is the kind of go-to guy in theinternational sales business who can help get a project off the ground. With adeep understanding of international tax breaks and co-productions, andwide-ranging connections in the banking and producing communities, Chartier'sknow-how can be essential to producers in an age when approximately 70% of afilm's revenue can come from international ticket sales.
WhenChartier started out in the business, things were different.
Buyerswould pre-buy rights based on little more than a poster. Now the situation haschanged: the studios are vertically integrated media companies, and buyers aresophisticated and read scripts, study budgets, and ask want to know as much inadvance as possible about the elements.
'Youconstantly reinvent the wheel,' Chartier says. 'You spend your daymaking calls and sending emails, trying to put movies together. Before, we usedto just distribute and sell films. Now, we're coming in earlier and earlier onprojects. We're becoming more and more packagers. We find a script, a producer.We help choose the actors, try to find a financing structure, tax credits,co-productions, work with banks, find soft money, bank the contracts, pre-sellforeign rights to get financing and put the budget together. The fun part isevery time, it's a different prototype. The horrible part is every time, it's adifferent prototype. You always have to keep on top of every detail.'
Chartiergot his first taste of Hollywood after quitting his job as a janitor aged 18and traveling on a shoestring to Cannes, where he sold two screenplays. 'Imoved to Los Angeles and kept writing for six years. I was going to the filmfestivals and markets and joined Myriad Pictures. At that time, it was athree-person company. When I left, we had 54. It was the time of the Neuer Markt,and there was lots of money floating around to finance films. We did movieswith the Olsen twins, Al Pacino (People I Know), Van Wilder Party Liaison, Antonio Banderas (Imagining Argentina), Liam Neeson (Kinsey), and Jennifer Aniston (The Good Girl).'
Chartiergot his big break when, as president of Vortex Pictures, he handledinternational territory sales on My Big Fat Greek Wedding. 'We made over $130m at the foreign box office with a$4m film,' he says.
'Itbecame the biggest independent movie of all time. I spoke at conferences as faras India about the film. It changed my life; it was great and that film becamemy business card.' Vortex also released Sonny, Nicolas Cage's directorialdebut.
Afterthe success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding,Chartier joined Arclight Films in 2003. After the implosion of the German taxfunds, the money was soon coming from the UK and their sales and leaseback taxstructures. It was during this time that he sold and arranged financing forsuch titles as Lord Of War starringCage, The Merchant Of Venice withPacino, and the upcoming awards season contender Infamous, which stars Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrowand Sigourney Weaver.
Hisother credits at Arclight included Head In The Clouds with Charlize Theron andPenelope Cruz, Different Loyalty withSharon Stone, and New Police Storystarring Jackie Chan. 'I acquired three movies while I was at Arclight andI'm so proud of each of them'. The first one was The Matador with Pierce Brosnan, and the second one was Crash. 'I read the script, loved it and immediately sent itto a Japanese buyer, telling him it would win an Academy Award. The buyerbought it the following week, and Crashended up with three Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 2006. The thirdtitle was The Librarian starring NoahWyle, which brought Chartier into contact with his future partner and VoltagePictures co-founder, Dean Devlin.
In2005 Chartier left Arclight to set up Voltage with Devlin, whose producing andwriting credits included Independence Day, Godzilla, Stargate, and The Patriot.Wasting no time, Chartier set about building Voltage. In less than 18 monthsthe company has acquired, financed and distributed more than 35 films,including the upcoming first world war drama Flyboys, which is being released by MGM this autumn; the Hector Lavoebiopic El Cantante starring JenniferLopez and Marc Anthony, which is set to receive its world premiere at theToronto International Film Festival; SCI-FI Channel's big-budget miniseries TheTriangle, which was produced by Devlin andHollywood A-list director Bryan Singer; and The Mutant Chronicles, which stars Thomas Jane and is produced by Ed Pressman (WallStreet, American Psycho, Conan).
Chartiersays he appreciates the popcorn, big-budget action films. 'Working withDean has been fantastic. We have three TV series starting this fall that we'refinancing for international, two $60m films, and we're doing six smaller onesfor the SCI-FI Channel. The company is growing so fast, we already have overeight people working for us and need more. We want to be one of the top fiveindependent foreign sales and independent financiers by the end of nextyear.'
Chartierand Devlin are working on a financing structure to secure a multi-milliondollar production credit line to finance in-house productions, while Voltagecontinues to acquire projects from third parties. The business plan forChartier and Voltage is simple: work with very good producers such as Devlinand Pressman, acquire smaller films for video and television to pay theoverheads, develop the library, and finance and package mid-budget featureswith prestigious actors, such as El Cantante. 'We go to festivals, sell the films, get goodreviews and get more films from great producers,' Chartier says, all thewhile independently financing big titles like Isobar and Ghosting, two sci-fiprojects written by Devlin and Roland Emmerich.
'That'swhere the money is - the big sci-fi titles. You can compete against thestudios with those. And people around the world love to watch them.'Chartier, who started as a writer, still has passion for this business.'Unfortunately, I don't have the time to write anymore. But financing anddistributing movies is great. You read a fantastic script and you say 'I'mgoing to make it!' Six months later, the film is shooting. If we work with goodpeople, we can make 10-20 movies a year and have a great time doing it. Andhopefully, we'll entertain and touch audiences around the world.' After somany years of selling, financing and distributing films for other people's companies,Chartier is back at running his own company and growing it as fast as he can.