'It's the anti-epic,' Atmosphere Entertainment founder Mark Canton says of 300, which opened on March 9 to an astonishing $70.9m three-day gross, setting a new record for a March release.
'I call it the 'new-fashioned' way of making an epic movie because it combines the artistry and the emotion you get in a story well told. We set out to do both, and thanks to (director) Zack Snyder's ingenuity and vision we think we've made a movie the likes of which nobody has ever seen.'
Snyder's adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel about the ancient Battle of Thermopylae stars Gerard Butler as King Leonidas, who led 300 hopelessly outnumbered Spartan warriors against the invading Persian army.
Canton first heard about 300 five years ago through his friend and rights holder Gianni Nunnari: 'We were looking for a project to do together and one of my sons told me about 300.' The pair got together with Bernie Goldmann and Jeffrey Silver and, once funding was secured through Warner Bros, Legendary Pictures and Virtual Studios, the $62m production shot on three blue-screen sets in Montreal last summer. Warner Bros is the worldwide distributor.
'I knew Frank Miller from when I shepherded Batman at Warner Bros,' Canton says. 'I have a passion for heroes and I love history, so it all blended together. I've been on both sides of Warner Bros and they're extremely competent, passionate, and supportive.'
Canton aims to use his production nous in creating a diverse slate. 'The benchmark of Atmosphere is that we're primarily in the business of making pictures, and the business plan calls for us to not only develop but produce and finance them,' he says.
Relativity Media's Ryan Kavanaugh, with whom Canton had worked on several investment deals, arranged the financing for the company.
Canton is producing with Kathy Kennedy family film The Spiderwick Chronicles, which is due to finish shooting in April and will be released through Paramount.
He is also preparing a remake of Piranha with Dimension Films, with French horror maestro Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) set to direct. 'We're trying to make it in a way that's of its time, with a film-maker who understands how to entertain an audience with technology that you haven't seen before.'
Title: Chairman and CEO, Atmosphere Entertainment
Career: Canton first joined Warner Bros in 1980 as vice-president of production, rising to senior VP in 1983 and president of worldwide theatrical production in 1985. He left the studio in 1991 to join Columbia Pictures as chairman and by 1994 was chairman of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Companies. He left Sony to return to Warner Bros in 1997 with his own production label, The Canton Company, where he produced films including Jack Frost and Red Planet, before joining Artists Production Group (APG) in 2002 as a partner. He formed Atmosphere Entertainment MM in December 2003.