In The Bedroom producer Graham Leader has just locked production on Childless, his first feature since the 2001 Todd Field hit. It launches a slate of feature projects Leader is developing for his new company, New York-based Granite Films.
'There has never been a better time for independent films,' says the British-born producer, pointing out that four of last year's five best picture Oscar nominees were independent pictures. 'It's now more of a level playing field. There's a real sense of opportunity.'
A former art dealer, Leader moved to the States in 1976, after meeting US film-maker Jim Szalapski and producing his Heartworn Highways, a cult feature documentary (recently re-released on DVD) about Nashville and progressive country music. Leader's other credits include 1990's Shuttlecock, with Alan Bates, directed by Andrew Piddington and adapted from Graham Swift's novel.
Leader founded Granite last spring to develop well-written, commercially viable films with budgets from $1m-$10m. Armed with a solid business plan as well as In The Bedroom's five Academy Award nominations, he raised enough private equity within just a few months to entirely fund Childless, a feature debut by writer-director Charlie Levi that focuses on a group of adults who come together at a teenage girl's funeral. The film, which stars Barbara Hershey and Joe Mantegna, unfolds via a series of monologues delivered directly to the camera.
'I don't have any industry partners. I didn't want to have to make concessions and compromise before I got out of the gate,' Leader explains. 'Charlie Levi sent me the Childless script three-and-a-half years ago. It was highly original and written in a way that meant the film could naturally be made on a lean budget. We worked on it together and I believed Childless would be a great way to launch this company.'
Now Leader plans to produce one low-budget film every 12-18 months, but he also intends to work with third-party equity financiers or production and distribution partners on bigger films.
He says it is essential for Granite to have a strong slate. 'It took nine years to make In The Bedroom. Lots of people thought it was the thinking Death Wish man's and it was difficult to finance,' says Leader, who optioned Killings, the Andre Dubus short story on which the film was based, in 1991.
'No matter how good a script is, it's essential to have a strong slate because that's the only way to build a business.'
Leader is now busy closing Granite's first round of financing. 'First, I want to create revenues for my investors and then, once the company is established, I intend to put together a production fund (of) $10m-$15m to finance and co-finance future Granite productions,' he says. 'In Granite, I've tried to develop a business model where the risk to investors is reduced against the first film and then hedged against a diverse slate of projects.'
Leader's slate will include memorable character-driven films. 'I want to make films that stick,' he says.
In the pipeline: Granite's first slate
* Drama Living Conditions, which Leader will co-produce with Ray director Taylor Hackford.
* Vietnam-era love story Tinian, co-written by Leader with Charlie Levi from Charlie Smith's novella.
* Hollywood satire Apollo At Sunset, from the book by Mary Beach.