Patrick Ewald and Shaked Berenson tell Jeremy Kay about the nimble manoeuvres of Epic Pictures, and how the company builds a diverse slate on the back of undead beavers and giant spiders.
Patrick Ewald and Shaked Berenson collaborated closely when they were at Crystal Sky and launched the Renegade genre label in 2004. They enjoyed the experience and wanted to work together again, eventually corralling investors to establish Epic Pictures in 2007.
Fast forward seven years to a mid-April Saturday night. A packed Tribeca Film Festival crowd is whooping in delight as the end credits roll on Zombeavers, which Epic introduced to buyers at Berlin’s European Film Market in February.
The raucous response would seem to signal a strong endorsement of the path steered by Ewald and Berenson. Steady sales at market after market and a burgeoning production and financing profile have allowed the partners to expand their sphere of influence.
They recently closed a credit facility for an undisclosed sum that provides what Ewald calls a “quick-reaction fund”, allowing Epic to take a variety of financing positions on projects.
“We want to come in quickly with filmmakers we respect so we don’t have to spend so much time and energy running around the world finding random films,” says Ewald. “The goal is to become a mini-studio that can rely on our film-makers to create content.”
‘The goal is to become a mini-studio that can rely on our film-makers to create content’
They have not been idle. In recent years Epic has struck a joint financing multi-picture deal with Malaysia-based KRU Studios that has yielded three films and lined up a fourth.
“We did world sales on Deadline and The Malay Chronicles and served as executive producer on and did sales on Vikingdom,” notes Ewald. The Viking fantasy tale aired on Syfy in late April after launching on 25 screens in the US through Epic Releasing, a distribution venture with its own marketing and sales team that sells directly to retailers and reaches Walmart, Redbox and iTunes.
“It’s a fairly sizeable investment on our side,” says Ewald, who notes that the roster includes war film The Patrol, family title A Tiger’s Tale and Big Ass Spider, which recently averaged 1.3m viewers on Syfy.
“People know us for genre films but forget one of our biggest franchises is Space Dogs,” says Berenson. “We’re going to be launching footage of the sequel in Cannes.”
The ambition to expand horizons is something that crops up frequently in the partners’ conversation. They want to make good films regardless of genre.
To this end they launched sales in Berlin on the family drama Louder Than Words. Furthermore, Berenson is forging strong ties with his native Israel, keen to play a part in nurturing a generation of emerging talent.
“We’re establishing ourselves and taking more risks like on this monster film we’re doing in Israel. We’re also investing in some passion projects.”
As far as Epic is concerned, good films can still mean broadly appealing genre titles. They will reprise their role as sales agent on the popular V/H/S franchise and head for the Croisette with V/H/S Viral, produced by Brad Miska and Gary Binkow.
“We just closed a slate deal with a producer in the US and closed a co-financing, co-producing deal on a French-Canadian/New Zealand film called Turbo Kid [directed by the RKSS film collective],” adds Ewald.
Epic will also produce, finance and sell Viking: Rise Of The Warrior, which involves Finnish executive producer Tero Kaukomaa of Iron Sky fame.
“From a business perspective as producers and financiers, we have been focusing on forging relationships with film-makers and producer partners in a multi-picture way so we can focus on building slates, not just in North America but looking towards Asia and eastern Europe and Russia,” says Ewald.
“In Russia we have a partnership with producer Vadim Sotskov and his company KinoAtis based on a franchise [Space Dogs]. We’re finishing the second film and we’re also finishing a two-season TV series.
“We’ve been optioning books and European movies for remakes. People are talking about elevated genre and it’s great that we have done films like Big Ass Spider and Zombeavers.
“But our long-term strategy,” continues Ewald, “is to make great movies. If it’s a thriller, great; a drama, great. We want to make films that can reach a global audience; films we’d be proud to take our mothers to see.”