Marc Goldberg set up Signature in his flat in north London in 2011, selling DVDs to supermarket chain Tesco. He is now the Beverly Hills-based CEO of an expanding producer-distributor, overseeing a production slate that includes 12 films now shooting around the world, and a UK-Ireland theatrical distribution arm that scored a number one release with 2020’s Honest Thief starring Liam Neeson.
With 30 staff in the UK, plus six in the US, Signature is expanding its staff across both the Signature Entertainment distribution division, and Signature Films production side. Recent UK-based hires include Ben Jacques as head of UK production and Ella Field, as head of international sales. Key figures alongside Goldberg are COO Jon Bourdillon, who runs the UK business including sales to TV and SVoD; and US-based head of production and development Sarah Gabriel.
The company’s original stakeholders, led by CEO Goldberg, re-acquired Signature Entertainment in November 2021, after the company had been bought by US completion guarantee firm Film Finances Inc. in 2018.
Welsh businessman David Sullivan was a partner in Signature Entertainment prior to the sale and is among the returning investors; he is also co-chairman of West Ham United Football Club.
Goldberg oversees the entire Signature operation from the US, focusing on production. Previous productions include thrillers The Courier with Gary Oldman and Bull starring Neil Maskell; several films are now in post including Toni Collette and Anna Faris comedy The Estate, UK thriller Into The Deep and Jamie Adams’ She Is Love with Haley Bennett and Sam Riley. An untitled sequel to James Nunn’s 2021 One Shot is also in the works.
The pandemic years have disrupted the schedule, but Goldberg’s aim is to make “three or four” trips a year to the UK, spending “five or six” weeks here in total – with longer stays if there is a film in production in the territory.
Seven of the Signature team attended Cannes last month, for the company’s first in-person market since the pandemic: three buyers, three salespeople, plus Goldberg himself. New pickups for Signature Entertainment include Greenpeace true story thriller The Climb with Cara Delevingne; Mel Gibson-Josh Duhamel heist feature Bandit; and 1940s shark film Fear Below.
The Dominican Republic shoot of Signature Films’ most recent production, John Barr’s thriller Dangerous Waters, was hit by the untimely death of lead actor Ray Liotta, aged 67, on May 26.
“We finished shooting last week and are still in the motions of planning ahead,” said Goldberg.“We were deeply saddened to learn of Ray’s tragic passing, our deepest condolences are with his family and fiancée Jacy.”
Goldberg talks to Screen about juggling an eclectic production slate, being able to now finance that slate and how launching an AVoD service could be the next move.
Signature has about 12 films in different stages of production now around the world. Tell me about your production strategy
The initial model was to see how we can get involved in production on films that we know will work in the UK [with films like The Courier and Bull]. Then from those films we saw what the model is to produce and finance movies. I left London in 2017 with my family because the distribution business was doing really well. I have a really good team here who I felt could manage the day-to-day.
It was challenging to start with, a huge learning curve. You come from a place where Signature was rising as a distributor; whereas you go [to LA] and say you want to start making movies, and everyone says ‘Well, who are you?’
Together with Sarah Gabriel, we hustled [in LA] to find the projects that we felt could work. You could argue we were courageously, stupidly, bravely, aggressively going out and buying options, or paying people to write scripts on ideas. When you’ve got a fully motoring distribution company, it’s releasing every week. On the production side, you’re waiting – for the script, for the development to be done, to get a cast, to get to the point where you’re ready to try and unleash it into the world.
What are the bigger challenges of having so many in production at the same time?
You don’t expect them all to happen at once. You don’t truly expect them all to happen. A director will attach himself to 10 different projects, in the hope that one may happen. But with producing, if you can do it nimbly enough, you can have two or three different films on the go at any one point. With Sarah, and Ben [Jacques], and Brianna [Lee Johnson, head of US physical production], and they have assistants who work for them – we’re well covered in terms of people who can go on set and see a movie through to delivery. I don’t feel that we’re doing too much. As long as we feel the quality’s going to be there, then we shouldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Has buying the distribution company back meant putting more money into production?
The plan [prior to the rebuy] was to grow the production side of the business but then this opportunity came. To really be the masters of our own destiny we had to find ways to fully finance our films. I was lucky enough that David Sullivan was encouraged and enthusiastic about becoming the financing element of the company again.
What is David’s stake? Does he have any creative involvement, beyond his investment?
It’s a minority stake. He has very little involvement, he respects that he doesn’t have expertise in the film business. I have worked with many financiers who have a very strong opinion on a film. That’s not to say they’re wrong, but as distribution executives and marketeers we feel we have a really valid argument as to what is going to work. David has full respect for that; he likes the idea of us making and owning our own IP – that helps build the company and the library.
How would you describe Signature as a company?
We have an independent spirit. We’re bound by our own internal decisions. We can do things nimbly. I can say yes or no to actors, acquisitions, or different movies we’re going to develop. It’s Signature 3.0. We started it, 2.0 was when we sold it, and now this. We’re invested heavily in the next few years. We’ve sold and bought the company back, we’ve made some movies, some with huge movie stars, in five years – I’d have never said that would have happened five years ago. Don’t have a five-year plan; no-one can forecast what’s going to be in business.
Signature started in the DVD business, with key partners including Tesco and HMV. Who are your key partners now?
The streamers and our TV partners. The DVD business is pretty much vanished now; it’s amazing to think that when we started it was 99% of our business, and now it’s single-digit percentage, on a good day. Everyone out there who’s successful has the same customers. Whether we’re acquiring the right film or making the right film, we have to believe that it will find the right home within one of the platforms.
Is a Signature streaming platform in the works?
We recently launched a test channel through Samsung called Popflix. It was purely us trialling to see how it works with films within our licence period that allows us to do that. But it’s not on the horizon as something that has huge growth potential. I don’t see it ever becoming subscription. I think AVoD [advertising-based video on demand] is a really interesting space.
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