In a few short years, Glen Basner’s production, finance and sales operation FilmNation has become a destination for auteurs including Pedro Almodovar, Sofia Coppola, John Hillcoat and Terrence Malick. And for two years in a row, Basner has done double duty on the Croisette — he’s either in his sales office or walking the red carpet at the Palais for one of his films.
This year, he has two titles in official competition — Hillcoat’s violent prohibition era drama Lawless, starring Shia LeBeouf and Tom Hardy, and Jeff Nichols’ Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. Mud is of particular import — it’s an in-house production (Lawless is a third-party title). Like other top-tier financing and sales firms, FilmNation has moved aggressively into the production business as the major studios cut back on the number of movies they make, leaving mid-range projects stranded.
In an interview with THR, Basner opened up about his business plan and surviving Cannes, where he’ll be busy selling a number of high-profile titles, including Coppola’s The Bling Ring, Almovdovar’s comedy Las Amantes and Taylor Lautner-starrer Tracers.
The Hollywood Reporter: How many in-house projects do you and Aaron Ryder, FilmNation’s president of production, have in the works?
Glen Basner: We have produced and finished a handful of movies — The Raven, Mud and House at the End of the Street. We also fully financed Chernobyl Diaries, which Alcon Entertainment bought when the film was in post-production and which Warner Bros. opens May 25. House at the End of the Street stars Jennifer Lawrence and opens on September 21. We’re also developing Guy Hibbert’s screenplay Eye in the Sky, James McTeigue’s Message From the King from writers Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cromwell and F---ing Engaged, starring Jessica Biel, among others.
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THR: What is your goal in terms of how many movies you want to make a year?
Basner: The idea has always been to produce about two movies annually. We’re at a very unique time in the feature film business when companies like FilmNation have the opportunity we wouldn’t have had 10 to 15 years ago, and a lot of this has to do with studios making fewer films. I’m talking about a film like Looper [a third-party title] and Lawless. We’re able to make movies based on our successful track record and our relationships around the world.
THR: The Raven, starring John Cusack, has been soft domestically. Is that a concern?
Basner: Financially, the film — which we sold to Relativity — is fine but we don’t have aspirations to have moderate openings, we have aspirations to have terrific openings. It’s just starting to roll out overseas, and we will certainly out-gross the U.S. internationally.
THR: Why is it important to move into the production space?
Basner: We don’t look at it as separate from sales. From the first, we’d always wanted to be able to get involved in films at an early stage and help shape them in a way that would match up well for distribution. When we started FilmNation, the production group was started simultaneously with Aaron coming aboard as president of production.
THR: You are one of the most successful foreign sales shops around. What’s been your trick in growing FilmNation?
Basner: When we started FilmNation we felt that companies like ours had been doing the business the same way for many, many years and we thought it was a good time to be more progressive. Selling the product — a film — is only a part of the process. We’re also selling a service to the distributors. We are going to push information and materials in a new way that will allow you to be more powerful in making decisions at the local level. And how we did that was we created a web-based platform that is a centralized hub, so that distributors can see everything that is going on with that that film in the entire world. It also creates transparency for producers and financiers.
THR: How big is the appetite for specialty films overseas?
Basner: I think it isn’t specific to the international marketplace. I think there is always a real need and tremendous room for distinctive films, whether it is a specialty film or a movie like Lawless or a genre picture like Chernobyl Diaries. We start there. And we also want tremendous filmmakers at the head of these movies.
THR: You are handling foreign sales on Malick’s next three films. How did that come about?
Basner: I tried to get Tree of Life but was unsuccessful. But I hit it off with Sarah Green and Nick Gonda, two of the producers of that movie. We were very like-minded people and maintained a friendly relationship. They were looking to make his next movie more outside the system, allowing Terry to have a process that works best for him, and we devised a way to finance the movie that met all of those needs. Never did I think when working on one Terrence Malick movie that I would end up working on three, and it’s one of the great moments for FilmNation.
THR: What is your routine for surviving Cannes?
Basner: We start off with an 8:30 a.m. sales meeting, and then from 9 a.m to close to 8 p.m. we have sales meetings, which happen every half hour. And then we’re entertaining our clients at night. We try to get back to the office at midnight for another sales meeting. I don’t know how I survive it, but every year, miraculously, I do.