Exclusive Media has made an impressive mark on the industry with such diverse titles as The Woman In Black and End Of Watch. Jeremy Kay talks to the company’s leaders about its evolving business.
In the five short years since Exclusive Media launched, the successes are mounting up.
Co-chairmen Nigel Sinclair and Guy East cheerfully point out personal creative highlights yet both acknowledge these are merely in service to the overarching belief in excellence and a focus on development and marketing.
The Los Angeles-based financing, production and sales venture is the hub of a collegial corporate dynasty that encompasses a revitalised Hammer genre division and Spitfire Pictures documentary unit. Each has already stamped its mark on the landscape.
When Hammer’s The Woman In Black became a box-office behemoth in 2012 it reinforced the company’s credentials as a major player, grossing more than $133m worldwide and $33.6m (£21.3m) in the UK, where it ranks as the biggest-ever release of a UK horror film.
Earlier in 2012, Spitfire Pictures’ Undefeated, released through The Weinstein Company, had won the best documentary Oscar, while by the end of the year critics were going ga-ga over End Of Watch. Sinclair produced the hip Los Angeles police thriller with John Lesher, David Ayer and Matt Jackson and regards it as the best film he has worked on.
Meanwhile Rush, the upcoming Universal release that Exclusive Media co-financed with Cross Creek Pictures, elicits great pride from East - this from the man whose executive producer credits include Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines and who founded Majestic Films International, the company behind Dances With Wolves and Driving Miss Daisy.
“Culturally what we have done is create a viable business where we work and work on our films until they are as good as can be,” says Sinclair, sitting in his Beverly Hills office next to East, who is visiting from Monaco.
“The last four films we have made [that have been released] were The Ides Of March, The Woman In Black, End Of Watch and Snitch. Each cost between $12m and $20m and did more than $40m at the US box office, so they were all what we would call box-office successes.”
“We spend more money than our competitors on development and marketing these films,” adds East. “[Great marketing] helps our movies become more successful and gives our distribution partners more tools. Social marketing is becoming bigger and bigger, and more important to us.”
The pair first met in 1988 during the days of Majestic Films International when Sinclair was an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. They set up the hugely successful Intermedia Films in 1996 and launched production label Spitfire Pictures in 2003.
Sinclair and East joined the board of Hammer Films in May 2007 and eventually folded both Hammer and Spitfire into Exclusive Media, which they launched in 2008. The enterprise is backed by Dutch strategic investment group Cyrte Investments, which had been approached by East’s friend Simon Oakes, the former head of content at Liberty Global subsidiary Chellomedia who now serves as CEO and president of Hammer and Exclusive Media vice-chairman.
A high hit rate
Exclusive Media, buoyed by what Sinclair estimates to be around $100m in investment, has not rested on its laurels. Since 2008 the company has established a top-notch production division under Tobin Armbrust and a world-class international sales and distribution arm run by Alex Walton.
They have acquired Newmarket Films and bought the Icon library to cultivate an almost 900-title strong catalogue. They have invested a 20% stake in Millennium Entertainment and launched Exclusive Releasing.
The London-based Hammer label, meanwhile, is looking reinvigorated under the stewardship of Oakes and Exclusive Media COO Mark Schipper, a former Chellomedia associate with whom he led the acquisition and recapitalisation of Hammer in 2007. Oakes, Schipper, Sinclair and East comprise the Exclusive Media executive board.
“There were very few brands, certainly in film, which were self-defining,” says Oakes of the days before the Hammer acquisition. “You understand what ‘Disney’ means and when someone says ‘Hammer’ there’s an expectation and that’s a good thing. The challenge is to pull that into the ‘now’.”
“Whether it’s The Woman In Black or just the Hammer brand in general, the thing we liked was that they had in-built brand awareness,” says Schipper.
“In the case of The Woman In Black, this meant not just in the UK but also around the globe. In Mexico, for instance, the film grossed $12m. We’re always looking for product that has a deeper heritage.”
Hammer commissioned The Woman In Black author Susan Hill to write a follow-up, The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death, which president of sales and distribution Walton and his team sold on the Croisette. The novelisation is due out in December through Hammer’s publishing deal with Random House.
Other projects include a Quatermass reboot, a fledgling theatre partnership with West End impresario Sonia Friedman and the Hammer House of Horror attraction targeted for central London.
Returning to the mothership, Walton’s group headed to Cannes with the Keanu Reeves-Reese Witherspoon sci-fi Passengers and Skiptrace starring Jackie Chan and rising Chinese star Fan Bingbing. The division aims to bring 12 titles to market each year, which may include some of the six to eight properties targeted each year by Armbrust’s unit, as well as product from producers such as Scott Steindorff and Mickey Liddell.
President of worldwide production and acquisitions Armbrust is preparing to shoot the Johnny Depp crime saga Black Mass in late summer (which Exclusive Media and Cross Creek are co-financing) and is in post on the low budget Hammer title The Quiet Ones - the first project Hammer 2.0 acquired - as well as Rush, the $60m Formula 1 drama, directed by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl as motor sport icons James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
“Rush for us was a threshold,” says Armbrust. “We knew how to make pictures in the small to mid-budget arena, so this was something we had to get our heads around. Luckily we had a good partner in Cross Creek.”
The ongoing co-production deal with Brian Oliver’s outfit has encompassed The Woman In Black, The Ides Of March, A Walk Among The Tombstones and Black Mass and provides access to North American distribution through Universal. Exclusive Media has also established relationships with Imagine Entertainment and Josh Lesher’s Le Grisbi Productions.
“Attention to detail is important,” says Walton. “Whether it’s End Of Watch, A Walk Among The Tombstones or Rush, we all respond in certain ways to certain movies. We listen to each other. On The Quiet Ones everyone was involved in making a film we’re proud of. The same on Rush, where we co-ordinated a 15-territory studio-style trailer. It’s important we have the time and infrastructure to do that and hopefully our distributors will reap the rewards.”
Sinclair and East are passionate about the “fight for ideas” and believe marketing is an area where the best independent companies can excel.
“I would say we have the best marketing team in the independent space led by Guy East, Lisa Perkins and Robert Burke,” says Sinclair. “If you are making content, the barriers between content and the customer are breaking down, so building a social media and web capacity is the precursor to accessing your customer directly.”
With that said, it will be interesting to see how the nascent Exclusive Releasing evolves as a North American distributor. Last year the company hired the widely respected Matt Brodlie to head acquisitions and has lined up in-house JFK drama Parkland and Sundance buy Two Mothers. Sinclair is keeping mum on the vision. “We are trying to figure out when would be a good time to make this work.”
One gets the impression they’ll come up with something.
In profile: Rush
“Rush illustrates everything we do in one movie,” says Exclusive Media co-chairman Guy East.
“It is very high quality. Ron Howard directing his first independent film from a Peter Morgan script. The story of two very different men, both of whom want to be Formula 1 world champion and through that competitive nature earn each other’s respect.
“We co-financed the movie with Cross Creek Pictures and through that deal we have distribution at Universal, so we can secure a very wide release. We then looked at foreign markets. We went to the AFM in 2011 and Ron agreed to spend an entire afternoon doing presentations. We did our pre-sales there. We put together a very complicated UK-Germany-France co-production and we had our production team on set the whole time.
“We shot in the UK and Germany in May 2012 and our marketing team arranged more than 50 set visits. We started a social-media campaign and Ron tweeted every day from the shoot. We linked into 12 international sponsors, led by Gucci, Ferragamo, Tag Heuer and Fiat. Our marketing team has got a massive campaign under way now.
“We have just released [April 8] the international trailer. On April 11 we released the domestic trailer. They got enormous online coverage. Throughout the summer we have a massive screening campaign around the world and we will launch the world premiere in the UK on September 2. We release in the UK on September 13 and the US on September 20 and almost day-and-date everywhere with the US and UK.”
Production partners on Rush are Exclusive Media and Cross Creek Pictures, in association with Imagine Entertainment, Working Title Films and Revolution Films.