Exclusive Media’s Tobin Armbrust and Simon Oakes tell Wendy Mitchell about plans to extend production strategy in the UK, making non-genre fare in addition to the company’s output through Hammer Films.

After spooking big audiences with scary hits such as The Woman In Black via its Hammer Films label, Exclusive Media is now ready to show a softer side in the UK.

Exclusive recently announced plans to produce and fully finance comedy Daylight Robbery, which reunites the Calendar Girls team of director Nigel Cole and writer Tim Firth, and tells the story of a group of feisty retirees who plan a bank heist to help a friend.

Tobin Armbrust, president of worldwide production and acquisitions at Exclusive Media, explains that this project marks a widened production remit for the company.

‘The UK offers us an opportunity for a creative agenda’

Tobin Armbrust, Exclusive Media

“After we had done Ides Of March, End Of Watch and Rush, the next part of our production strategy was to build our activities on non-genre films in the UK,” he says.

“It’s not something we woke up one day and decided to do, it’s a natural offshoot of our production activities here. We’ve made The Quiet Ones, Rush and The Woman In Black here, and we think that’s a good basis for UK production experience. We’re now actively developing eight film projects in the UK and dealing with the writers and film-makers already,” he says, adding that he has been travelling to the UK more frequently from his base in Los Angeles.

One-stop shop

Exclusive can offer the same thing it does in the US, which is a one-stop shop for finance, production and sales (via the company’s international sales arm led by Alex Walton).

“We want people to know that beyond Hammer we are a one-stop shop for production in the UK. That’s a rarity,” Armbrust says. “We’re not owned by a studio, we’re not someone you come to and have to piece together your financing.” Exclusive would, however, be open also to partnering with other funders and companies on specific titles.

Budgets for the company’s non-genre features are likely to be $3m at the low end of the scale and up to $50m-plus for the right commercial project.

All of Exclusive’s productions so far, in the US or overseas, have been backed by equity investment combined with pre-sales and tax rebates. Working in the UK means the company can keep taking advantage of the stable UK tax credit. London-based Simon Oakes, vice-chairman of Exclusive Media Group and president & CEO of Hammer, says: “I think [the UK tax credit] is important to every producer and it should be applauded and maintained. Raising 80% of financing for film is the easy bit, it’s the final 20% that’s tougher. And that’s your tax credit. It’s a massive boon to the industry.”

Yet the move into more British productions is not just about the money, Armbrust reiterates. “The UK offers us an opportunity not to see something here for a business agenda, but for a creative agenda. It’s a strong marketplace — the small comedies travel, the romantic comedies travel, whether it’s The Full Monty or The King’s Speech, these films travel.”

‘The UK tax credit is important to every producer and it should be applauded and maintained’

Simon Oakes, Exclusive Media

The UK is also famed for its talent, both on screen and behind the camera, and Exclusive already has close ties to some writers, directors and producers through its past feature films as well as through new UK TV work being spearheaded by Oakes.

“The best way for us to work is to find a few trusted partners and keep going back to them,” he says of collaborators like producer James Gay-Rees, who worked on Hammer’s The Quiet Ones and is on board for Daylight Robbery.

Meanwhile, Hammer will continue with its genre focus. The company’s most recent shoot was for John Pogue’s supernatural thriller The Quiet Ones, which Lionsgate will release in the US and UK in 2014.

Tom Harper’s The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death is now shooting with Exclusive co-financing alongside eOne, and Hammer producing with Talisman. The follow-up to the 2012 hit returns to Eel Marsh House four decades after the last film’s story ended, as a group of children are evacuated from Blitz-era London to the manor. The cast features Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory and Oaklee Pendergast. EOne will release in the UK in February 2015 and it has rights for Spain and Canada.

Exclusive’s US production team has been busy with the likes of Parkland, Toronto hit Can A Song Save Your Life?, A Walk Among The Tombstones starring Liam Neeson, and Gillian Flynn adaptation Dark Places, starring Charlize Theron. There are plans afoot for Exclusive to move into Asian production, with the company working alongside China’s Talent International on Skiptrace, starring Jackie Chan.

An empowering story

Of Daylight Robbery, which will likely shoot in the first half of 2014 on the south coast of England on a budget of less than $10m, Armbrust says the film won’t just be a cheap attempt to cash in on the rising grey pound at the UK box office. “The idea immediately captured our attention. This concept of people feeling disenfranchised, it felt real but very timely; this idea that they were the forgotten generation,” he says. “It turned out to be a really warm, realistic and inviting script. It’s very cast-able and nuanced.”

Oakes adds: “Since [the success of] The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel you could end up making something patronising… [but] this is an empowering movie. It’s also showing the benefits of community.”

Oakes says the film is akin to something like the modestly budgeted Toronto hit Can A Song Save Your Life?, which Exclusive backed and sold. He says: “There is a great model for what you can do: you make a great film at a level that attracts a cast based on the quality of script and director. The general strategy is to make films that don’t have to have that US pre-sale.”

The British production slate will then include “different kinds of films”, Armbrust notes. “There are a couple that we are reformatting for the UK. We’ve hired UK talent to come in and set them here. There is a film community in the UK that provides a level of accessibility; it’s a close-knit community and the walls are down — you can access the talent a lot quicker, you can get answers a lot quicker.”