The London-based outfit is also led by ex-Pathe exec Mike Runagall and Andy Mayson, formerly of Exclusive; James Watkins to be a key collaborator with company.
In Altitude Film Entertainment, Clarke will be Chairman and CEO, with Mike Runagall as Managing Director and Andy Mayson as joint CEO. Runagall was previously senior VP international sales at Pathe International (he left his post there at the end of March), and Mayson was previously MD/CFO at Exclusive Media.
The company’s aim is to be a vertically integrated outfit led by production but also including international sales and finance.
As part of the company’s launch, it has announced a 50-50 joint venture sister production company (as yet unnamed) with James Watkins (whose credits include Eden Lake and The Woman In Black). Clarke and Runagall noticed a shared sensibility when they worked on Eden Lake (which Pathe sold and Optimum released).
The first film under that joint company will be The Loch, a new take on the Loch Ness Monster myth. Watkins is currently writing with Simon Duric, who will direct.
Of Watkins, Clarke says: “He’s not just in the horror genre, he’s got an intelligent approach to narrative and he’s very commercial minded in terms of the way he tells stories as a screenwriter and also as a director, and now as a producer.”
Projects on the Altitude’s slate include satirical comedy Kill Your Friends, which John Niven is adapting from his own novel about the music industry in the Britpop era, to be directed by Owen Harris (Misfits, Holy Flying Circus) and produced by Gregor Cameron; and Spielberg-style action/adventure Mythica from UK writer Matt Charman (known for plays including A Night At The Dogs) and director Ben Craig (who made the short Modern Times).
Runagall will spearhead the international sales activities, which will be integrated into the company as Altitude Film Sales, not seen as a separate offshoot.
That joined-up approach is key for Clarke. “Production is the beating heart, and building from that, we need to have some of that reach into the marketplace…It’s been part of my thinking for the past few years, post-Optimum, how I’d like to build a company. We wanted to pull together this vertically integrated company which allows us to come to a negotiation with a bit more power than an independent producer. It’s an international sales company as a component of an overall infrastructure.”
The slate will be comprised of about 30-40% original productions and co-productions and the rest from outside partners. Once off and running, the company will aim to produce about three to five features per year, and Runagall says the sales slate would represent about eight to 10 films per year.
“Buyers want distinctive films that stand out. There’s a big appetite for concept-driven movies that can be made for a price, so we’ll pay attention to that,” Runagall says. The partners say they are open to films of budget levels from very low to the $40m-$50m range, and in a range of commercial-leaning genres.
Being UK-headquartered will be key, although the company will also work with international projects and talents. “We love working in Britain, the creative community here is fantastic,” says Clarke. “We will work with British talent but also talent in the international marketplace. We’re looking at Scandinavian talent, American projects.” Runagall adds that foreign-language pictures can be part of the mix: “We want to be open to the best of everything.”
Distribution, in the UK or elsewhere, will not be a part of the company’s focus, at least for now. “It’s not something we’re ignoring, there are possibilities in the long term but not the short term,” Clarke clarifies.
Mayson will spearhead the company’s establishment of a fund for backing new projects. “It will be part equity, part MGs and specific rights, or international rights, it will be a combination of those elements,” he told Screen. “We are out to market now to raise that finance.”
He adds: “In the near term, we’ve got pockets of angels investors so we have backing for specific projects. The strategy [for the fund] is that it’s easier to finance through a mechanism rather than reinvent the wheel each time. We’ll still raise money outside of that for specific projects, too. We are working with several banks in the US and UK. We can use those banking relationships to fund pre-sales and gap and then the fund can be for equity and MGs. Per project it may be 10-20% of the budget going through the fund.”
All three partners are personally invested in the new company, with Clarke drawing on the multi-million pound sum he earned for selling Optimum to StudioCanal in 2006. “Independence in this business doesn’t come for free and you have to put your money where your mouth is,” he adds.
Clarke was a founder of Optimum in 1999 and left that company 18 months ago. Since leaving Optimum, he has also produced Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth and has co-founded video games company Ripstone. Clarke has served as a member of the UK Government’s recent Film Policy Review chaired by Chris Smith.
Runagall has also worked with the BFI/London Film Festival and Film4 International.
Mayson has also worked with Icon, Working Title Films, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and Intermedia.
All three executives will be in Cannes to discuss their current slate and future projects.
The slate won’t be actively sold in Cannes, with Runagall adding that a full active slate will be readied for Toronto and AFM. New company hires and more projects should be announced by that stage as well.
Given the slew of new companies launching sales operations in theUK, such as Tim Haslam’s Embankment and David Garrett’s Mister Smith, Clarke clarifies that Altitude stands out partly by its leading focus on production. “Ours is a different type of company, we relying on the product that we’re investing in and developing and producing to then take to market.”