August 21, 2014 is the Russian release of the movie “Sin City 2: A Dame Worth Killing For.” Immediately after the release of the first part of “Sin City” in 2005, director Robert Rodriguez said that the film will have a sequel. However, shooting the sequel did not begin until the fall of 2012.
The second part was written by Frank Miller, the writer of the original graphic novel, produced by the Weinstein brothers, starring Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba and Eva Green. The largest private investor in the picture was Russian businessman Oleg Boyko, owner of the holding company Finstar. He is also funding the directorial debut of Scarlett Johansson – the movie “Summer Crossing” – on which work will begin this year. On the night before the release of the Rodriguez movie on the big screens, Boyko spoke with Forbes about the risks of investing in movies and the ability to make contacts with the top people in Hollywood.
– You are a professional investor, always choosing projects with expectations of a stable rate of return or yield of a good profit: retail, metals, banking, gaming, real estate development business. Why suddenly movies?
– I’ve always wanted to try to do something in the creative sector. I’ve got quite a lot of friends there. About two years ago, my old friend Mrs. Gecmen-Waldeck (also a producer), spoke about the opportunity to participate in the filming of the second “Sin City”. I immediately agreed. Naturally, I met with the director, producers, read the script. But for myself on an emotional level I immediately decided that yes, I was interested in the genre. In addition, the American film industry is the most professional, the American film market is the biggest. I wanted to be in the epicenter.
– And under what conditions?
– The terms were more or less standard. I do not have the right to discuss details – trade secret. This is a fairly complex system of cascade money distribution between different participants at different stages. Movies in the United States are never financed only out of pocket by investors. There are always banks and tax credits. But among the private investors in “Sin City 2”, as far as I know, I am the biggest.
– The film’s budget is supposedly $60 million. Either way, your investment is a few million dollars. Have you evaluated the risks and prospects of a return?
– Naturally. I went to Hollywood and lived there for six months. I wanted not to just make a film, but to understand how the film industry is built. I have to say, I found many things that surprised me. I bought a bunch of books and the first of them, on the first page, found in large print (paraphrasing, not verbatim): “people invest in a movie, as a rule, for emotional reasons, from a desire to join the art.”
– In other words, for the entire happiness of the project participants need a romantic investor.
– Someone has to carry the creative risks. The most important and unpleasant law in the film industry is that out of ten films shot, seven films lose money, one breaks even and only two earn money. Meaning that this is, in fact, venture capital investment.
– Regardless of the director, the script, the cast?
– I tried to enumerate the producers and directors who have a stable long-term “track record” of making money. I must say, the results were surprising: not the ones you would expect. And all these people, for whom each film project is profitable, are very few. Even the most talented directors have failures. It’s still not a science but an art.
– If it’s not a secret, you could name a few names?
– Honestly, I do not remember the list.
– Were the Weinstein brothers there?
– I can say that not one famous director or producer was on the list.
– Why did you then invest in “Sin City 2”?
– First and foremost, to enter the world of cinema. “Sin City” is a good business card for a start. The movie business is all based on emotions, relationships and attitudes.
– One can not just go and buy a good script.
– The same thing with relationships with directors, actors, contracting companies. “Sin City” is a specific project, but proven. The sequel was announced long ago, the public has become anxious. The cast of stars was joined by Eva Green, which will add interest. At minimum, a sequel will draw everyone who watched the first movie. And given the fact that there will be a 3D-version, it has to collect even more money [Sin City, released in theaters in 2005, grossed $158.7 million: $74.1 million in the United States, $2.4 million in Russia. – Forbes].
– Were you on the set?
– Of course. There were many miracles happening. Rodriguez is a very avant-garde filmmaker. Despite the fact that he is subject to creative impulses, the technological part of it is built entirely rationally. The process is painted by the minute, all 12 hours every day of shooting: these came, those left, this was set up, this was turned on. Shooting time is the most expensive. Scenes involving several people Rodriguez somehow manages to shoot in parts. Then they are assembled, if all the actors were playing together. Otherwise, if there were 45 days of shooting, everyone would have to pay for 45 days, while this way, we pay for five. The set may even have no scenery: only a table, a chair and a door frame. Everything else is the so-called “green screen”. Entourages are drawn in. Even the clothes are drawn in later. What the actors came dressed in they were filmed in. Straight down to their badges – passes to the studio. And then the desired costumes are drawn in.
– In your opinion, are not such adaptations emasculating creativity?
– Quite the opposite – it gives you the opportunity to dream more and embody more ideas. In “Sin City” this method is something that makes it interesting.
– Did you try to participate in the shooting process?
– No, that is not allowed, especially by accomplished directors.
– Up to what point are you allowed to participate?
– Until such time as it is decided that you are investing. Contact with Rodriguez was mainly handled by Bespalov [Sergey Bespalov – producer, a native of Russia, the founder of Aldamisa company. – Forbes]. All the important things in the budget process are discussed, but as soon as it is approved – I’m sorry, everyone. After that we only discuss business issues in distribution and so on. This is why a movie is a thing one can not count through to the end. For me, it was the second unpleasant discovery – making a predictable business out of a movie is very difficult. One would need to build a vertically and horizontally integrated corporation with its own production, distribution and finance division. That is, a set of interrelated activities, which perform a few tens of transactions per year: shooting a full cycle, the sale and purchase of rolling rights, acquisition of packages (unfinished films), post-production funding and so on. And studios need a few. To balance the ups and failures.
– You have learned how to organize everything, but, it seems, you will not?
– I will not build a big business, but I will invest in major projects, with which it is interesting to be related.
– Collaboration with Scarlett Johansson is a strategic alliance.
– She’s that kind of strategic partner in Hollywood who can get to anyone and ensure the participation of anyone in the draft, and that is fundamentally important. This is achieved not by money, but only relations.
– Who introduced you?
– A Hollywood agency, through Sergei Bespalov. In Hollywood, everyone has an agent – the writers, directors, actors, producers. We were shown the script, told: “Scarlett is making a film, it needs financing.” And I immediately decided that this was one when you can get the necessary contacts in a relatively small budget.
– How small?
– Significantly less than in “Sin City.” Let’s just say, the lower level of the middle segment.
– In “Summer Crossing” you are the main investor?
– Almost the only one.
– Scarlett Johansson is of course a celebrity, but still an actress. And actors of the first order who want to make a film – it’s always a risk. Ben Affleck, for example, as a director has had numerous failures.
– Scarlett is not very well known as a business woman, or rather, generally unknown. But among the people who know her well, – the same agents, lawyers, and so on – she has a completely different reputation than you might think on-screen images. We suggested, and in the process all confirmed. She is a very practical person, we can say – in the business and the system. Few well-known actors would I happily entrust with such risks as her. People who are not down to earth are difficult to work with. Rodriguez is a man who is more than creative, but who has a machine, well-established by special people who have a system.
– Can you somehow predict the return on your investment in “Sin City”?
– Of course, there are preliminary expectations. And there is also prepayment from distributors. This is the most important signal. Distributors are the basic appraisers of the commercial prospects of the film, they are voting with money. Then again, like in the stock market, there may be errors. The evaluation is given only by the public.
– And how much does prepayment cover costs?
– Standard for Hollywood, around 20-25%.
– Rights to “Summer Crossing” are already begun to sell?
– All the agreements on “Crossing” have just-just been signed. It is now in preproduction. The premiere is in two years. “Summer Crossing” is a complicated story. We are, in a way, competing with “Great Gatsby”. They had a huge budget, more than $100 million, and the script wsa based on the cult novel, and ours is based on one of Truman Capote’s most famous short stories.
– Do you have something third in mind yet? Or you first need to finish the second movie?
– Yes, of course. We are looking at all sorts of projects.
– “We” – meaning you and Sergey Bespalov?
– Yes, Bespalov and I. And I have a lot of other friends in this sphere, and in Russia too.
– Do you intend to work with Russian directors?
– The Russian film market is quite small, but nevertheless I consider all sorts of projects. As a rule, good Russian projects still go international. Now, to get the income you need, one must sell not only in Russia. To put it mildly, I do not want to make unqualified investments. I am in business generally, and do not rely on venture capital investments. Of course, it’s fun, but it’s not the main course. Rather, dessert.