The fast-growing production, financing and distribution company has rebranded its multiple operations under one name and is ramping up its production slate. Michael Rosser reports
Belgian film group Umedia has come a long way since 2004, when Adrian Politowski, Nadia Khamlichi and Jeremy Burdek first set up offices in a house in Brussels owned by their friend’s grandmother.
“We started in a room of 12 square metres, with little prior professional experience,” recalls Politowski.
Having left London, where he was looking to establish himself as a producer, the young entrepreneur worked with his two partners to set up a fund structured around Belgium’s newly created tax shelter for foreign productions. They raised $1.4m in their first year.
Nearly 10 years and 200 films later, the company now raises around $80m a year in tax shelter funds for co-productions but has evolved into a production company serving as one of the producers involved with Oscar winner The Artist and the upcoming Grace Of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman.
The firm launched a distribution company for Benelux in 2010 and releases around 15 films a year in the region; a VFX operation with offices in Brussels and London that recently worked on DreamWorks’ WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate; and an international sales outfit in London, headed by former Lakeshore International president Peter Rogers.
This year, a Los Angeles office was opened to focus on production and financing while a new Paris office has been established to handle international sales, VFX and producing.
“We are at a turning point,” says Politowski ahead of a packed schedule at the American Film Market (AFM). “We have just rebranded under one name so that Umedia is seen as a group rather than separate entities and reflects our ability to see a film through from A to Z.”
The other major shift for Umedia is a move towards highly commercial features aimed at the US and international market.
“We are well established in Europe but The Artist and Grace Of Monaco have helped give us a stronger presence, especially in the US,” says Politowski.
“We will continue to have a small number of French-speaking films but we want to mainly develop mainstream English-language features focused on the international and US market.”
The largest project on Umedia’s slate is Universal War One, based on a six-part French sci-fi graphic novel from Denis Bajram, which Marvel published in the US. Scriptwriter Skip Woods, who penned X-Men Origins: Wolverine and A Good Day To Die Hard, recently signed on to adapt.
“The budget will be large, north of $50m, and we want this to be an important sci-fi film,” enthuses Politowski. “It will be a challenge to adapt as it’s so dense but I’ve had my eye on it for a while. Next we will attach a director.”
Also in the pipeline is a remake of French film Priceless. Politowski is looking to sign a writer and director shortly and put the project into production by summer 2014, shooting in Europe.
Other titles include thriller Exit 147, starring Taylor Kitsch and directed by Julian Jarrold, which Umedia will produce with Mandalay Vision; and another comic-book adaptation titled Black Ops, a Spy Game-meets-Bourne thriller, which is still in development.
Final negotiations are also ongoing with xXx director Rob Cohen for Risk, which Umedia will produce with Tim Kwok, Ksana Golod and George Parra.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” says Politowski. “Between now and the end of the year, we hope to announce many more projects.”
Heading into AFM, the Umedia chief executive recognises the situations faced by his company going forward.
“Our challenge is to ensure the films we produce are a commercial success,” adds Politowski. “It’s hard to produce a film, harder to produce a good film and even harder to produce one that’s a success. But we’re excited to take on the challenge.
“From the outside, our growth may seem rapid but for us it’s been very controlled. We’ve been mindful to grow in an intelligent way and not let things spin out of control. There’s a lot of excitement in the group as we head into a very busy period.”