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DriveWhiplashNightcrawler and Only God Forgives are just a handful of the critically acclaimed, award winning and award nominated films that Bold Films have been behind. There can be no doubt that these are halcyon days for the company.

The man at the helm is indie Hollywood’s boldest, and perhaps most dynamic, CEO, Gary Michael Walters.

Their upcoming slate is as exciting and eclectic as what has come before. Stronger is a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and set following the Boston Marathon bombing, Collette has Kiera Knightley as a French novelist who overcomes an abusive marriage to emerge as a leading writer and a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and The Neon Demon is about an aspiring model whos youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has. There is also the recently announced Samaritan, a superhero movie of sorts. These are just the tip of their creative iceberg.

As the company begins to move from making movies with budgets in the $5-$15 million range and into the realm of $10-$25 million and $25-$35 million budget ranges, Bold is fast becoming one of the go to creative hubs for the hottest creative talent in Hollywood and beyond.

I caught up with Gary to talk about the companies past, its future, piracy, the VOD space, why they are making their first superhero movie and why they’re diversifying even further, working with Jake Gyllenhaal on his, and Bold’s, first documentary.

Bold Films is a little over 10 years old. A decade on, is Bold where you thought it would be?

GMW: I actually never envisioned Bold continuing this long, getting this big and being so successful. It wasn’t planned. It was probably the result of persistence and largely the result of Michel Litvak’s ongoing faith in me, personally, and what we were doing. As we got results, and there are a couple of factors why we’ve grown so dramatically in the last three or four years versus what we’ve done in the first eight or nine years, one is that Michel, who is the owner of the company, got very creatively excited starting with Drive and on through Whiplash and Nightcrawler. But also he’s been involved in a very large infrastructure project in Europe and now that that is achieved it has unleashed a lot of his personal time. When Michel gets personally involved a lot of good important things happen. He’s been spending a lot more time here and it’s been incredibly exciting to integrate him more deeply because he’s a great businessman who also has great taste.

Bold’s mission statement is “to produce original studio quality films which have worldwide commercial appeal.” Is that easier or harder to do now than it was five or 10 years ago? Is it harder to stick to that statement or just say, ‘Forget it, let’s just do a Transformers’?

GMW: I wouldn’t want to be involved in Transformers irrespective of its financial success. It doesn’t interest me. There are certain very successful movies that would have interested me, I would have been very interested to have done The Bourne Identity because it was so compelling, such an interesting character, such a visually unique style and Paul Greengrass is such a phenomenal filmmaker – so there are the occasional studio films that are very are compelling. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy and I loved Brooklyn so my own personal tastes are eclectic. I’ve never been an either-or person, I’ve always felt more ‘yes and’. The way I look at it is slightly different from the way you phrased the question. I think that in some respects you can divide movies into two broad categories – original films and unoriginal films.

Can you explain?

GMW: The world of unoriginal films is being mined and exploited by the studios vastly better than I can ever hope to do and there is a huge audience for branded entertainment, there’s a huge audience for the familiar, so I then have to play in an area that’s much trickier because once you’re original now you have left the shores behind, you’re sailing on the open waters and your North Star is your own creative instinct. There are no formulas there, or they are much harder to execute so, for us at Bold, the great challenge is not to find the screens but the great challenge is for us to find the stories and the filmmakers and the above and below-the-line talent who are going to bring it to life. There is absolutely an ongoing craving for original characters, for edgy storytelling and for movies that are about something and that for me is more meaningful than merchandising. That’s the reality of a lot of the big studios. The word synergy is such a lovely buzz word but what it means is moviemaking is secondary and schmatas, that’s Yiddish for t-shirts, and tchotchkes, which is also Yiddish for every type of merchandising… flashlights and lunchboxes and toys… none of that has anything at all to do with cinema. I love Harry Potter but I haven’t been to the Wizarding World yet, but I’m absolutely going to go to the studio tour and Platform 9 ¾ in London but how do you not? And so, on one hand I’m a total geek and fan but, on the other hand, as someone who is trying to make thoughtful films, when I talk balancing the various factors or art and commerciality I like to say that our films are commercial enough. Look at Drive and there’s a love story, there’s a crime thriller, there are certain tropes that are familiar so you take the world of familiarity and commerciality and give a smart edgy version of it and that can attract a broad audience. You can also play the needle in a haystack business of the likes of Whiplash and Brooklyn and hope that lightening strikes but that is a true riverboat gamble and we don’t do that often these days.

You have worked a number of people again and again such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling, Nicholas Winding Refn. What is behind that? Is it because you like them and like working with these people or because you know audiences like watching their work so it’s kind of an easy win?

GMW: All of the above? We’ve finally gotten on the inside, we’re part of the new establishment of indie Hollywood and indie Hollywood is where a lot of the movie activity that is interesting is flowing. Although the studios, to their credit, are putting their foot back in the game a little bit more over the last two or three years. I’m a simple person so when people ask me ‘What kind of producer are you?’ I say I’m the kind of producer who gets movies made and that’s it. So when you sit there and ask yourself the simple question which drives every action, every thought, every direction I give to people, every instruction it is all built around one question, ‘How do I get this movie made?’ because that’s the only thing I care about. And then within that is the hard part. There is a certain muscular formula to how a film gets made as you drive it into production with a certain amount of equity and a certain amount of star power but then how do I get a movie worth making made? How do I get the best version of this movie made. Those are as important to me because at this point in my career just making a movie is an empty accomplishment. We are not financers, we are producers who have a lot of financing wherewithal. There is a constancy here, a steadfastness to our intention that is inspiring to people, we’re not in it for the short haul and so when you have an experience where someone does everything that they said they would do and people appreciate that and so they are like, ‘Well I can go back to the marketplace and find someone who does something like that or I can just go back to Michel Litvak and Gary and Bold and the Bold family.’ So there has been a lot of repeat business and we have formed and built a couple of very powerful talent alliances with Jake Gyllenhaal and his production company, Nine Stories, and with Ben Stiller and his production company, Red Hour Films, and so that becomes a situation where they’re looking to us first and foremost. In Ben’s case, to have someone of his immense global market force leave Fox for movies after 17 years and pack his bags and come up to Bold is both exciting and at the same time I feel an immense responsibility to justify that faith. I have never taken anything lightly. I am always honored to have people come and appreciative that these great talents believe that we’re going to be there for them.

Do you have a wish list of talent that you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to?

GMW: My wish list really focuses more around filmmakers than around actors because we’re a director’s shop. When you look at the people who are exciting me now and you look at people like Jean-Marc Vallee, Denis Villeneuve and Antoine Fuqua and then you realize that Jake Gyllenhaal has worked with all of them in the last two years and then you realize he’s working with Tom Ford and so you then go, ‘Hey, Jake, let’s find projects.’ We’re about to do our second film with Jake, Stronger, about the Boston Marathon bombing, it’s the number two script on the Black List, we have global distribution through Lionsgate and Bold is fully financing. We have an auteur in David Gordon Green who is directing plus Jake is growing into a very savvy producer. It’s really interesting on Stronger that his acting instincts and his producer instincts coincided so we’ve shifted the emphasis on that one for the character’s personal growth and less on his rehabilitation. So now it’s become a love story with the circumstances as the backdrop and that love story makes it more emotional, more character driven and also, we believe, makes it more universal. So this is one of those circumstances where the art and the commerce actually pushed in the same direction. We’re very hopeful on that one. It’s our biggest film to date.

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It sounds like it could be not just a financial success but potentially being also awards worthy. Is that something you think about when you look at a project?

GMW: If you don’t make a good film it’s not going to make it to the awards, that’s my opinion. I’ve always felt that good movies are your best business. When you have such an amazing story and such amazing talent and it’s such an inspirational story I do suppose that there’s a huge cache attached to it and nothing would make me happier than to get Michel and Jake and David Gordon Green back into the Dolby Theatre – it would be a dream come true. I don’t think you plan on these things but there are certain movies that we do that are more for commercial purposes, there are some movies that we do that perhaps more for the prestige and then, in this case actually, it’s an all of the above. There is also a strategic element for us as we have more capital to deploy now than we have ever had and so that is giving me the chance to make films in $25-$35 million budget range which we have not done before.

Is that more concerning for you because the commercial risks you are taking moving into that space are potentially higher because the investment is higher?

GMW: Michel had a very interesting point which is, ‘A good bet is a good bet whether it’s for a dollar or $1 million and a bad bet is a bad bet.’ Stronger was actually presented to us as a co-financing but we stepped up because we were so excited about it and we’ve actually stepped up to fully finance. Lionsgate is only distributing so we believe very strongly in Stronger. That’s such awkward phrasing but… creatively and prestige-wise and commercially and strategically, Stronger is a great template for what we’re going to be doing next. More scope, more resources, bigger bets and yet the degree of risk is not necessarily any higher. The absolute risk may be higher but the quantitative risk, I don’t think, is any higher with these larger films.

How does the VOD space and the likes of Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix and so on look to you? Is that something you would look to explore?

GMW: Netflix is an extremely viable distribution model. I met recently with Ted Hope up at Amazon and they explained their model and, in some respects, I think Amazon is a better model for us than Netflix. Netflix pays very handsomely but they take the world and there’s no real back end – you make good money upfront but we at Bold Films, are in the business of creating library value, we’re not in the fee business. I think it’s great for producers, I don’t know that it’s so great for producer-financers. Amazon, as described to me, their global footprint isn’t as broad as Netflix, and so they are actually willing to keep that component of foreign sales in there which is were a lot of our value derives plus the data that they can provide about their customers and what’s going to work for this movie is very, very intriguing. The idea of tapping into data as an independent film company is enormously exciting to me, to access those analytics about consumer behavior and wants and needs is very interesting and has the ability to bring greater efficiency to the marketing – that’s very interesting to me.

Piracy continues to be a major problem for the industry. It costs the industry around $20.5 billion annually in the United States alone. What is your take on that? Is it a winnable battle or an ongoing one?

GMW: It’s extremely winnable on one condition. That condition is that the tech companies stop being so cavalier about the needs of the IP creators who are the foundation of much of their traffic. I am no tech expert but somehow, intuitively, if I can be on a website and I can buy something and within a blink they can start customizing to me and if 30 years ago Nielsen Soundscan could know what was playing on the radio because they could recognize the digital signature, I do not believe that these companies cannot monitor the digital packets that go across their system and make sure they are coming from reputable download vendors rather than thieves. They have so many tools at their disposal and if you could get your internet shut off because you didn’t pay your $89.99 or whatever, I am confident that you can get your internet shut off because you’re trafficking in stolen goods. I have no answers, I just have an intuition that the answer is out there. If all of the internet service providers wanted to stamp out piracy they could, but in a lot of ways they benefit from the traffic, they don’t care, it doesn’t matter to them, traffic is traffic, transactions are transactions. I am confident there is a way to monitor and drive these people to the fringes without squelching technological innovation. The tech industry is so big and so powerful that they can afford to be cavalier about it, it’s really not their problem, and they’re pushing back hard on anything that might be theoretically impinge on their margins and I don’t think it’s equitable.

You are moving into it superhero movie arena with the movie Samaritan. Why now?

GMW: We’re not doing Samaritan because it’s a superhero movie. We’re not doing Samaritan because it’s a good day for superhero movies. We’re not doing it because Deadpool worked and offbeat superhero characters are in. What I want to do with Bold is grow it up and out – I want to increase the magnitude and scope of our films but we also want to broaden the type of film that we do. The question ‘Why a superhero movie now?’ is now is as reasonable a question as asking ‘Why Collette now?’ It’s simply about what is a great story and what is a great character and eliminating the boundaries where we’ve been known as a company that does “elevated genre films”. What I want to do is look at the core DNA and look at why they are working. Why are they working? Because they’re cool and they’re smart and they have something to say. So how I can make movies that are cool and they’re smart and they have something to say in any genre. Both Samaritan and Collette are cool and smart and have a lot to say about redemption and, for me, Samaritan is not a superhero movie, it’s a redemption story. It’s about a character that gets hurt so badly emotionally, not physically, and their identity is so shattered that they slink back into the shadows and then through the faith of another person they regain their belief in themselves, they rebuild themselves and they come back as better versions of themselves. It’s a very well respected script and it’s very edgy. We wouldn’t have an interest in a popcorn superhero movie. People seized on that story when we announced it because we just happened to, well, I think we happen to do a lot of things at the right time so people think we have some kind of plan behind it. You’re much more likely to do something relevant if you do it because you believe in it as opposed to you doing it because the market is telling you it’s a hot market for superhero movies. That, to me, is the worst reason to make a superhero movie.

Have you had any thoughts on casting around that? Is there anybody in the frame at all?

GMW: There has been some shockingly high level interest from cast in that part but I couldn’t possibly mention who it was but there is an important actor who is reading it. What’s very cool is that it’s very hard to get the actors because we can rarely afford them what they get and so they then have to be not just excited but super excited. It’s great because over the last six months we’re getting a lot of great talent whose reps are reaching out to us.

You can’t name a name but were you surprised that this person was interested?

GMW: Very pleasantly surprised. There’s a good back and forth between Bold and the talent community, people coming to us earlier, people are sniffing hard on what we’re doing. We’re now on the inside so at least people know that we’re making quality movies, our financing is highly reliable, our energy is very filmmaker and artist friendly. There are a few companies that are like us but I would say we’re in the top tier of those. And we’re very hungry right now.

You’ve opened an office in London within the last 12 months. What are your plans for that?

GMW: In the UK there is a wealth of talent and it is a great footprint to try and penetrate into Europe. We’re really using London to access a lot of super buzzy, upcoming European directing talent that my colleagues here in the US are just not even aware of let alone working with. It’s become a phenomenal information source for us. Whereas people in the US may be covering Sundance and Toronto, which we do cover, in the UK we’re covering all of the European festivals and we’re discovering the next wave, and plugging deeply into, the development system of filmmaker talent in Europe.

Let’s talk about the TV space. You did Dominion for SyFy and Black Box for ABC. How committed are you to making TV?

GMW: It’s more in the conceptual stage right now but when we partnered up with Red Hour, they have an active TV division, mostly in comedy of course as that’s been their brand. We are going to go to market with a couple of very compelling TV projects and I think in the long run we will have, and this is just an educated guess, probably the same negative cost in television as we do in film. TV is really a producer space so there’s not a lot of room for independent money, so we’re going to have to chisel very hard and aggressively to have a couple of shows a year that we deficit finance and then most likely the majority of our activity will be as executive producers of TV shows for established TV studios and networks.

Where do documentaries sit with you? That’s not something Bold has explored yet but are you interested in that space?

GMW: We’re actually doing our first documentary now and it’s through Jake Gyllenhaal. He asked us to do it and he’s very passionate about this story. Michel Litvak said we don’t do documentaries but I said we didn’t do documentaries. The film division may not do documentaries but then it begs the question, what about our digital division and what about our television division? With the healthy marketplace, the $500 thousand to $1 million market, why wouldn’t we want to place a few out there. I don’t see documentaries being a big business for us but we have now committed. We are financing our first documentary for Nine Stories, Jake’s production company, and it’s a great story about a photojournalist named Chris Hondros. His best friend was doing a documentary about him and during the course of taping of the documentary Chris got killed in Libya during the rebel wars. That will be our first documentary. And you got that story first, it’s an exclusive.

Do you think the US election this year will change what audiences are looking for? Will whoever wins the Presidency affect Hollywood?

GMW: There will be a lot of noise, certainly especially in October and November, so I wouldn’t want to do a circus movie because don’t believe we could compete with the political circus that is going on right now. Really the elections are so entertaining this year, the debates are getting record viewership and the turn out on the Republican side is record breaking. I don’t think we’re in the Headline Of The Week business up here, at Bold Films theme is something that transcends headlines and so we’re trying to tell universal stories, timeless stories, things that will endure but again I may have stumbled into the middle of a zeitgeist moment with our movie Shot Caller. We were just having the dialogue yesterday with our marketing people. It’s about a regular guy, a family guy, a businessman in LA who has a little too much to drink one night and runs a red light and his best friend gets killed. Because he blows a 1.0 it’s now manslaughter and when you get convicted of manslaughter they don’t send you to a soft prison, you go in with the big boys. This person then, in order to survive, evolves and become the head of the Aryan brotherhood. In one respect it’s this very elevated genre story but there is a social commentary component and the notion is that in America, if you go to jail a soft criminal you come out a hard criminal. In America we institutionalize and criminalize more behavior and incarcerate more people than any industrialized country in the world by a wide margin. So I think the ‘tough on crime’ hysteria of the last 20 years, in the face of plummeting crime rates, we are a society that seems to have lost respect for reality and facts. As a citizen I find it highly disturbing.

Do you hope the film will drive a dialogue or sorts?

GMW: I don’t hope it will drive a dialogue, I am confident it will drive a dialogue. It, Shot Caller, will land right in the middle of a very heated debate about our incarceration society and the costs of that and the why of it and the how of it. It works on some level because the more criminals you take off the street, great, but to make small crimes so heavily penalized, the cost to those people and their families and society is in the hundreds of billions of dollars – it’s a massive cost and it’s a human cost. It’s wrong.

How hard is it to remain truly independent these days?

GMW: Very hard. We have a great patron in Michel Litvak who can buffer us from some of the harsher financial realities and so his incredible patronage of the arts is invaluable to allowing us to do great quality. As the company and resources are growing exponentially we will turn into more of a business than a hobby and with that will come more financial responsibility to perform. I’m excited to have the resources and I’m confident that if we can play in an elevated way with the quality of the work that we do that there will be a thriving future for Bold Films but because the audiences for these films are always going to be smaller it’s a tricky venture. I think it’s tricky for Weinstein Company, for Open Road, for Lionsgate, for Focus and I think that there’s a lot of soul searching and questions being asked in the corporate halls of all of these enterprises of how do we evolve to stay competitive.

I started by asking you if, 10 years ago, you though Bold would be where it is now. So, 10 years from now, where you hope Bold will be?

GMW: If we can build out the company according to our strategic plan now we’ll be sitting in the very top tier of thriving media companies – we won’t be a film company, we’ll be a media company and doing great work around the world, bringing thousands of jobs to the creative community and with all of those pieces creating audio-visual art that has something important to say. The legacy won’t be the value of the library, however many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars that’s worth, but the impact we will hopefully have on art.

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