Robert Kessel has joined Participant Media as SVP Production. He’ll report to EVP Production Jonathan King and help manage the development, production, and acquisition of narrative films for the company. Kessel most recently was SVP Production at Sony-based Matt Tolmach Productions, working on such films as the upcoming genre mash-up Kitchen Sink. Prior to that he was an exec at Overture Films, and before that was a partner and production head for seven years at Hart Sharp Entertainment, where he oversaw production and development for numerous high-profile projects. He served previous roles at Miramax and New Line.
Los Angeles, CA – Participant Media announces the formation of a distinguished fellowship, “The Jake Eberts Fellowship for Social Impact Filmmaking”, in honor of acclaimed producer Jake Eberts at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television for graduate students. It is to focus on feature film development, social media and digital post-production with an emphasis on stories that inspire and compel social change. Participant Media has made a five-year commitment to underwrite the fellowship.
EXCLUSIVE: Film producer Participant Media is beefing up its TV ranks as the company gears for the summer 2013 launch of its cable network targeting millennials. FremantleMedia North America executive Holly Hines has joined the new network as SVP Scripted Programming. She will spearhead all scripted development and production and be based in Los Angeles, reporting to Evan Shapiro, President, Participant Television. “Holly is a talented programmer with a keen eye for talent and a great understanding of the millennial audience,” Shapiro said.
Participant Media in December purchased the Documentary Channel, distributed on satcasters DirecTV and Dish, and entered into an agreement to acquire the distribution assets of emerging cable network Halogen TV from The Inspiration Networks. The company is combining and will rebrand the assets into a TV network targeting millennials that is expected to reach an estimated 40+ million subscribers on cable and satellite. The new network will carry Participant’s brand of socially relevant entertainment with a slate of original and acquired programming catering to adults 18-34, including live cross-platform news and events as well as scripted and unscripted series. The company’s films conveying similar message include An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc., The Help, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Promised Land.
LOS ANGELES /BERLIN/DOHA– February 13, 2013 – Participant Media, the leading provider of entertainment that inspires and accelerates change, known for such critically acclaimed and commercially successful films as An Inconvenient Truth, Food, Inc., The Help, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and Doha Film Institute (DFI), a leading cultural organization established to support the growth of a sustainable film industry in Qatar and the Middle East, and backer of critically-acclaimed films such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Where Do We Go Now, May in the Summer, and Just Like a Woman, have formed a $100 million revolving fund to finance a slate of feature films, it was announced today by Jim Berk, CEO of Participant Media, and Abdulaziz Al-Khater, CEO of Doha Film Institute. The five year revolving fund provides production and development funding for 12-16 feature films, with Participant and DFI working in collaboration to develop the films as well as oversee production and arrange worldwide distribution.
In addition to the Film Fund, Participant and DFI are exploring a joint venture to create content for Participant’s new television channel, launching in August; establishment of a distribution outlet for DFI’s film production through Participant’s media interests in the US and other territories; creation of an Arabic version of TakePart.com, Participant’s on-line division and Social Action Network to jointly create Middle-Eastern based content in Arabic and English for distribution around the world; and establishment of a Middle East branch of Participant to be based at DFI’s Qatar headquarters.
As local-language movies take on increasing importance for U.S. firms, Participant PanAmerica expects to develop and co-finance 10-12 Spanish-language films a year under a deal with Mexico’s Canana, Chile’s Fabula and Colombia’s Dynamo. The five-year agreement follows Participant Media‘s recent co-financing of Canana’s Chavez and Fabula’s No, an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film. The company is also in talks with Dynamo to finance supernatural thriller Aguas Rojas, which Spain’s Apaches is co-producing. Participant CEO Jim Berk said the deal will enable the company to expand its reach into the fast growing Spanish-speaking market and give it access to a talent pool of “fresh and highly creative filmmakers who are looking to explore important contemporary issues in exciting ways.” The initiative will be led by Jonathan King, EVP of narrative production for Participant. Canana, founded in 2005 by Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal and Pablo Cruz, and recently joined by partner and CEO Julian Levin, has credits that include Sin Nombre and Miss Bala. No director Pablo Larraín
January 28, 2013 – Los Angeles, CA – Participant Media has acquired North American rights to Audrey Ewell & Aaron Aites’ documentary 99%–The Occupy Wall St. Collaborative Film, directed by Ewell & Aites, along with Lucian Read and Nina Krstic, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last week. Following its theatrical run, the film will have its world television premiere on Participant’s new TV channel targeting millennials, scheduled to launch in August.
UPDATE, 10:40 AM: DreamWorks has confirmed my story, and they’ve got a title for the WikiLeaks feature – The Fifth Estate. (At right is also a first photo from the production featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange and Daniel Bruhl as Berg.) I’m putting the press release after the original scoop.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 9:44 AM: Participant Media is closing a deal to become DreamWorks‘ partner on the untitled feature film that Bill Condon is directing about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The studio has Benedict Cumberbatch playing Assange, with Daniel Bruhl playing Daniel Domscheit-Berg, whose book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange At The World’s Most Dangerous Website, was one of two books that were the primary source material for the script written by Josh Singer. Steve Golin and Michael Sugar are producing.
This becomes the fifth film partnership between DreamWorks and Participant, where Jeff Skoll and Jim Berk’s focus is to generate socially relevant subject matter. Those other collaborations are the Best Picture nominee Lincoln, The Help, The Kite Runner, and The Soloist.
This gives a clear shot at a production start on the film at a time when there has been big interest in the rogue web entrepreneur Assange. That includes one that Zero Dark Thirty scribe Mark Boal partnered on with Management 360 and financier/producer Megan Ellison that’s based on The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, an article about Assange in The New York Times Magazine written by the newspaper’s executive editor Bill Keller.
Fleming Q&A’s Participant’s Jeff Skoll And Jim Berk On What The eBay Billionaire Wants Out Of Hollywood (It’s Not More $$$)
EXCLUSIVE: After Jeff Skoll made his fortune turning eBay into a juggernaut, he turned to Hollywood as the first financier/producer not looking to make more money and rub elbows with the stars. Skoll formed Participant Media — and hired former Hard Rock Cafe CEO Jim Berk to run it — as part of his mandate to use his fortune for good causes forged by his belief that movies can illuminate important issues more powerfully than any other medium. After eight years, Participant has done that — its films have won five Oscars and 22 nominations — and shown there’s a sound business in issue-oriented films. They are in the Oscar hunt this year with three films: Lincoln, Promised Land and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; and Middle Of Nowhere created buzz at Sundance on the indie film circuit.
DEADLINE: Jeff, before eBay made you a zillionaire, you wanted to be a writer. Will you write one of these issue-oriented films for Participant?
SKOLL: Funny you should ask. All these years, I’ve felt that for the amount of time it would take me to write something, we could have 10 projects going with really good writers. But I have an idea. It’s not fully fleshed out, but I want to write the screenplay. I’ve never done it before, and respect the people who can. Whether or not it turns out to be a great screenplay, I think making the effort will help me understand how hard it is to actually write and come up with something creative. I want to keep the issue close to my vest for now and let it unfold the way most creative efforts do.
DEADLINE: The decision to hold back Lincoln until after the election hasn’t worked against the film, judging by its $144 million domestic gross. Did you have a sway in not putting it out during the elections, when interest might have been higher?
SKOLL: Steven had a very strong opinion from the very start that the film should not be used as a political football. He was pretty firm that he wanted it to come out after the election, and given it is Steven…
DEADLINE: You were grateful he bothered to tell you?
BERK: Actually we had never done a film with him before and he was very amazingly collaborative. I was like, “Why are you asking us? You’re Steven Spielberg.”
DEADLINE: How much input do you require? Do you consider yourselves creative producers?
SKOLL: It really depends on the film. In some cases, we develop. Contagion, Waiting For Superman, they started with an idea on the blackboard and then you bring in people. On Lincoln, you defer.
BERK: We were involved in The Help early days, and were part of that process all the way through. Where we played an active role in Lincoln was in positioning in the marketplace, enlisting ingenious folks that would put this film in certain conversations, getting it into the zeitgeist.
DEADLINE: Of all the places you could spend your money, Jeff, why Hollywood?
EXCLUSIVE: Participant Media has acquired Currency, a script by Mark DiStefano (Modern Sherlock Holmes) that has Ric Roman Waugh attached to direct. Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin and Alix Madigan will produce. The drama focuses on two Secret Service agents in pursuit of a private mercenary’s powerful and sophisticated counterfeiting operation.
Waugh directed the Stephen Dorff/Val Kilmer-starrer Felon, and he just wrapped Snitch with Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper and Susan Sarandon. DiStefano is repped by APA and Anonymous Content; Waugh by WME and Management 360.
The mission is admirable. But after seeing Current TV’s struggles, I wonder whether the socially conscious film and TV production company can attract many young YouTube viewers to a channel that focuses on weighty subjects including the elections, the environment, sexism and homelessness. That’s the goal Participant has set for itself beginning today as it launches TakePart TV, which will offer what the company says will be “clever, eye-opening and optimistic content around big issues that face our planet.” Participant Television President Evan Shapiro says the channel will “bridge the gap between heartfelt idealism and slap-stick humor by bringing provocative programming that will engage dialogue and, better yet, give viewers a way to take action on the issues that they care most about.” It will launch with the channel’s flagship show, BFD: Brain Food Daily. Initial videos will examine whether reality TV is racist; whether the government should legalize prostitution, drugs and gambling; and look at 10 foods that officials should ban. Other videos will feature politically active pundits and celebrities including Dan Savage, Henry Rollins, Alison Sudol and Kobe Bryant. Participant has backed films including Good Night And Good Luck, An Inconvenient Truth, and The Help.
Toronto: Radius-TWC, Participant And History Team For Errol Morris’ Donald Rumsfeld Doc ‘The Unknown Known’
BREAKING… The Errol Morris-directed The Unknown Known: The Life And Times Of Donald Rumsfeld has been a hot topic ever since promo material for the controversial feature documentary was shown this year at Cannes. Now History Films, Radius-TWC and Participant Media in association with Moxie Pictures have come aboard for the pic, which The Weinstein Company label Radius-TWC will release theatrically sometime next year. Netflix and international sales agent Hanway Films also have joined the project, which draws on hours of filmed interviews and never-before-seen material from Rumsfeld’s private archive and looks at the Washington power player’s role in American history from Watergate to 9/11. The deals were negotiated by Submarine’s Josh Braun, who will also be an executive producer on the film; attorneys Sue Bodine of Cowan Debaets Abrahams & Sheppard; Peter Grossman of Lichter Grossman Nichols Adler & Feldman; and Participant COO Jeff Ivers.
New York, NY – July 27, 2012 – The Wagner/Cuban Company’s Magnolia Pictures announced today that they have acquired US rights to A PLACE AT THE TABLE, a powerful documentary from Participant Media and co-directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush about the hunger crisis in America. Featuring Jeff Bridges and Tom Colicchio, with music by T Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars, the film debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival with the title “Finding North.” It was produced by Jacobson and Silverbush, along with Julie Goldman and Ryan Harrington. Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Christina Weiss Lurie, Jeffrey Lurie and Colicchio served as executive producers.
Here’s a trailer for Sundance Best Director winner Middle Of Nowhere, which Participant Media and AFFRM acquired at the festival and plan to release October 12th. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, the movie stars Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissaint, Edwina Findley and Sharon Lawrence.
Watch the trailer on YouTube
EXCLUSIVE: Ric Roman Waugh is in negotiations to direct Summit Entertainment and Participant Media’s Deepwater Horizon, the drama about the April 20, 2010 of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that caused a massive offshore oil spill that created what’s considered to be the second largest U.S. environmental disaster. The film, scripted by Matthew Sand, is based on The New York Times article titled Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hour, published December 25, 2010 written by David Barstow, David Rohde, and Stephanie Saul. Summit and Participant Media, in association with Imagenation Abu Dhabi, acquired the feature film rights to the project in March of 2011 in a bidding battle. Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian will produce the project via the Di Bonaventura Pictures banner. The rig, which was owned and operated by Transocean and drilling for BP in the Macondo Prospect oil field about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast, blew up and the explosion killed 11 workers and injured 16 others. The drama will focus on the courage of those who worked on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the final minutes up to the disaster, and the attempt of more than 100 others to stay alive. Waugh is currently directing Summit’s Snitch, with Dwayne Johnson and Susan Sarandon. He just made the move to WME and is also repped by Management 360. Erik Feig, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group’s President of Production, …
Diego Luna is directing and Hotel Rwanda scribe Keir Pearson wrote the script for Chavez, starring Michael Pena as the famed labor organizer. Participant Media has landed all North American rights to the project, which focuses on Chavez organizing the largest non-violent protest in U.S. history to aid more than 50,000 farm workers in California. Luna’s Canana Films is producing the biopic, currently filming in Sonora, Mexico, and co-starring America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson, Wes Bentley, Michael Cudlitz and Gabriel Mann. Canana principals Pablo Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal (who has a cameo role in the film) and Luna are producing with John Malkovich (who stars as Bogdanovich, one of Chavez’s key adversaries), Lianne Halfon and Russell Smith of Mr. Mudd, Pearson and Larry Meli. Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King are executive producing. Jonathan King and COO Jeff Ivers negotiated the rights deal for Participant, and Robert and Matt Wallerstein of Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof and Fishman negotiated on behalf of Canana.
Participant Media’s push into television continues. On the heels of the company last week launching a formal TV division and tapping IFC TV and Sundance Channel president Evan Shapiro to run it, the feature producer has made an equity investment in Canada-based TV producer and distributor Cineflix Media. Participant’s TV division, headed by Shapiro, will partner with Cineflix to develop and produce original television programming that fits Participant’s brand of commercial and socially relevant entertainment. Participant is behind 39 narrative and feature films, including Contagion, Syriana, An Inconvenient Truth, The Cove and The Help. Cineflix Media set a foothold into the American marketplace with the 2010 launch of U.S.-based Cineflix Studios headed by another former Rainbow Media executive, AMC’s Christina Wayne. Cineflix Studios’ first scripted original series, Copper, premieres on BBC America in the U.S and on Shaw Media’s Showcase in Canada this summer. On the unscripted side, Cineflix Media produces a slew of series, including American Pickers, Property Brothers, Mayday, William Shatner’s Weird or What?, and Nazi Hunters.
IFC TV and Sundance Channel president Evan Shapiro is leaving AMC Networks. He has been named president of Participant Television, a newly formed TV division of Participant Media. Shapiro, who will report to Participant Media CEO Jim Berk, starts May 7 and will oversee the development and production of original television programming that the company says will follow its model of commercial and socially relevant entertainment. Participant is behind 39 narrative and feature films, including Good Night, And Good Luck and Food, Inc. as well as Contagion, Syriana, An Inconvenient Truth, The Cove, The Help and the upcoming The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Last Call At The Oasis. “Expanding Participant’s brand of storytelling into television is both a natural progression and integral part of our expansion strategy,” Berk said. “Evan’s tremendous impact in transforming the IFC and Sundance networks combined with his genuine interest in socially relevant media, make him the perfect choice.” This is the first time Participant is launching a full-fledged TV division to be run by an executive at a president level. The company previously dabbled in TV with John Moser, who did a stint as SVP of TV, and Steve Tao as consultant and executive producer.
Participant Media and Doha Film Institute have signed on along with MyGroup Lebanon, FFA Private Bank, JRW Entertainment and Code Red Productions for animated project The Prophet, which Hayek’s Ventanarosa Productions will produce. Deadline first reported on the project last March. The Prophet is based on the best-selling book by Kahlil Gibran of the same name. Since its 1923 publication, the book has sold over 100 million copies. Roger Allers (The Lion King) is adapting the screenplay and will direct two chapters of the storyline in addition to framing the narrative which will be directed by a number of other filmmakers. To date, directors who have signed onto the project include: Marjane Satrapi (Oscar nominated for Persepolis), Chris Landreth (Oscar-winner for short Ryan), Tomm Moore (Oscar nominated for The Secret of Kells), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Mohammed Saeed Harib (Freej), Michal Socha, Francesco Testa, Joan Gratz (Oscar winner for Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase) and Bill Plympton (Oscar-nominated for Guard Dog and Your Face).
UPDATE: I’m told the film has a new title: Promised Land.
EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Focus Features and Participant Media won a bidding battle for the untitled film that Gus Van Sant will direct with Matt Damon and John Krasinski starring, from the script those actors co-wrote. Focus and Participant are tying down the details. You’ll recall that Damon planned to make his directing debut on the film, but when his schedule made that impossible, he and producer Chris Moore brought it to their Good Will Hunting director Van Sant, who signed on. The film, which got a first draft from Dave Eggers when its title was Gold Mist, is a Capraesque tale in which Damon and Krasinski play rival corporate executives. Damon plays a sales executive who arrives in a small town only to have his whole life called into question. Moore, Damon and Krasinski will produce and production begins in April.