Ehud Bleiberg looks back on his 30-year career, telling Jeremy Kay about his AFM slate and how he is adapting to new distribution models.
Ehud Bleiberg fears complacency, even after 30 years in the business and more than 40 producer and executive producer credits under his belt, including Un Certain Regard Fipresci winner The Band’s Visit and Berlinale selection Adam Resurrected.
“You realise that in one second everything can disappear and that gives you the strength to take risks,” says the Jerusalem-born producer and sales agent. He has just spoken about his service in two wars in the Israel Defense Forces in the 1970s. “It’s only film. It’s only money.”
Bleiberg got into film after leaving Hebrew University and working in advertising and real estate. “I loved Italian cinema and one night after seeing [Paolo Taviani’s] The Night Of San Lorenzo I told a friend I was going to make films.”
He went to film school in Jerusalem, put money into Chozeh Ahavah and Himmo, King Of Jerusalem, through which he met his lifelong friend Yoram Kaniuk, the author of Adam Resurrected.
When Bleiberg met Yitzhak Ginsberg he had just tried his hand at licensing. “[Himmo] sold to 40 countries and I understood there was a global market.”
Under the Dream Entertainment banner, Bleiberg and Ginsberg made the local hit Tel Aviv Stories and moved to Los Angeles to make English-language films.
After 15 years together the partners engineered a complicated separation. Bleiberg launched his self-titled venture later that year, in 2005.
‘Everybody tells you to turn off your mobile in the theatre. I am going to have the first US film to tell you to turn it on’
Ehud Bleiberg, Bleiberg Entertainment
Since then, films have not been in short supply and so far Bleiberg cites Adam Resurrected as his crowning achievement as a producer. “I love the film. It will stay forever.”
The $10m Holocaust story bears great personal significance - the family of Bleiberg’s father suffered terrible losses at Treblinka extermination camp, while the source material was the novel by his late, great friend Kaniuk. He chased the rights for the best part of a decade, partnering with German producer Werner Wirsing and hiring Paul Schrader to direct from Noah Stollman’s screenplay. Some time later he would watch with pride as the film played Telluride, Toronto, Berlin and other festivals.
Bleiberg likes to keep things fresh. “I do a film in Israel once every two years. I do genre films, I do arthouse films and occasionally big films. I don’t want to be a slave to my operation, I want to be free to create.”
Enabling Bleiberg to create is a small team that includes Nick Donnermeyer, operations and deliveries head Melanie Kollar and sales and development executive Tahira Martemucci.
Donnermeyer runs Compound B - the genre label set up by Bleiberg in 2007 - and the acquisitions, development and marketing specialist and former office assistant has rewarded his employer’s faith.
“Now he’s running that side of the company and is heavily involved in all of our productions. I greatly value his opinion.”
Bleiberg produced The Iceman and is reuniting with Millennium Films on a remake of Hunting Elephants, the Jewish comedy smash Bleiberg produced and sold that starred Patrick Stewart and Bleiberg’s friend Sasson Gabai from The Band’s Visit. Nu Image will start sales on the remake at AFM.
Red Granite’s new Blue Box International label will be selling The Curse Of Sleeping Beauty and Bleiberg represents US rights.
He is adapting to a changing industry. “If you want to survive, you have to think out of the box. The buyers need to feed the pipeline and the pipeline today is VoD.
“The Netflix and DIRECTVs of this world changed habits - they have become broadcasters,” he says. “They’re making series, so I got the idea of how I could get into this world.”
The sales roster in Santa Monica is diverse and includes the second screen app-based thriller iLived. “Everybody’s telling you to turn off your mobile in the theatre. I am going to have the first US film to tell you to turn it on.”
Bleiberg narrows his eyes. “People can sit in front of their computer and watch anything they want - you need to compete with that. It’s not easy but you need to create opportunities.”
Bleiberg’s AFM slate
Horror anthology from Insidious producer Steven Schneider to shoot in February 2015 with five directors.
Jack Huston - the lead in MGM-Paramount’s upcoming Ben Hur - stars opposite Brit Marling in the romance. First market screening.
The Orchard has a spring 2015 US release on the story from Radar Pictures (Spring Breakers) about a Manhattan club promoter.
Action star Scott Adkins takes the lead in the cartel thriller. In pre-production.
XLrator to release the horror tale in the US. First market screening.