Berlin: Participant Media, Doha Film Institute Launch Five-Year $100M Feature Film Fund

By | Wednesday February 13, 2013 @ 1:05am PST

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.

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Berlin: Participant Media Enters Pact To Co-Finance Spanish-Language Pics

By | Thursday February 7, 2013 @ 2:14am PST

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 Read More »

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Sundance: Participant Media Acquires Occupy Wall Street Docu ’99%’

Mike Fleming

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.

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UPDATE: Participant Media Joins DreamWorks For WikiLeaks Movie ‘The Fifth Estate’

Mike Fleming

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.

Related: Q&A: Participant’s Jeff Skoll And Jim Berk

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. Read More »

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Fleming Q&A’s Participant’s Jeff Skoll And Jim Berk On What The eBay Billionaire Wants Out Of Hollywood (It’s Not More $$$)

By | Monday January 7, 2013 @ 3:54pm PST
Mike Fleming

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? Read More »

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Participant Media Acquires Mark DiStefano Spec ‘Currency;’ Ric Roman Waugh To Helm

By | Friday October 5, 2012 @ 8:34am PDT
Mike Fleming

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 … Read More »

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Participant Media Creates YouTube Channel To Promote Social Activism

By | Tuesday October 2, 2012 @ 4:50am PDT

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, … Read More »

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Toronto: Radius-TWC, Participant And History Team For Errol Morris’ Donald Rumsfeld Doc ‘The Unknown Known’

Mike Fleming

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, … Read More »

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Magnolia Buys Hunger Crisis Doc ‘A Place At The Table’

By | Friday July 27, 2012 @ 10:56am PDT

Magnolia A Place At The TableNew 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.

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Hot Trailer: ‘Middle Of Nowhere’

By | Wednesday July 25, 2012 @ 6:03pm PDT

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 … Read More »

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Summit, Participant Tap Ric Roman Waugh To Helm ‘Deepwater Horizon’ Oil Rig Disaster

Mike Fleming

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 … Read More »

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Participant Acquires Cesar Chavez Biopic ‘Chavez’

By | Tuesday June 5, 2012 @ 10:22am PDT

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 … Read More »

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Participant Media Acquires Equity Stake In Cineflix Media

By | Tuesday April 24, 2012 @ 9:49am PDT
Nellie Andreeva

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 … Read More »

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Participant Media Launches TV Division, Taps Evan Shapiro To Run It

By | Monday April 16, 2012 @ 9:41am PDT
Nellie Andreeva

Evan Shapiro AMC Participant MediaIFC 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 CoveThe 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. Read More »

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Financiers Sign On For Salma Hayek’s ‘The Prophet’

By | Thursday February 23, 2012 @ 2:37pm PST

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 … Read More »

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Focus, Participant Acquire Matt Damon/John Krasinski Film; Gus Van Sant Directing

By | Wednesday February 1, 2012 @ 3:33pm PST
Mike Fleming

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. Read More »

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Participant Acquires ‘Middle Of Nowhere’: Sundance

By | Friday January 27, 2012 @ 3:03pm PST
Mike Fleming

Park City, UT – January 27, 2012 – Participant Media and AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) have jointly acquired U.S. theatrical rights to MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, an elegant and emotional drama chronicling a woman’s separation from her incarcerated husband and her journey to maintain her marriage and her identity. Written and directed by AFFRM founder Ava DuVernay, the film was produced by DuVernay and Howard Barish with producer Paul Garnes.

Staring into the hollow end of her husband Derek’s eight-year prison sentence, Ruby Sexton fights to support him on the inside and survive her own identity crisis on the outside. Through a chance encounter and a stunning betrayal that shakes her to the core, Ruby is propelled in new and, often frightening, directions of self-discovery.

AFFRM will distribute the film theatrically later this year, activating marketing and promotional support through its broad grassroots collective powered by the nation’s top black film organizations. AFFRM’s inaugural feature through this innovative model was the critically-acclaimed drama, “I Will Follow,” released in March 2011. In December 2011, AFFRM distributed last year’s Sundance World Cinema Drama Audience Award winner, “Kinyarwanda.”

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Image Nation Separates Hollywood Division

Image Nation has separated its U.S. business from its local filmmaking activity. Michael Garin, who was appointed CEO in February, will continue to be overall head of Image Nation, while running overseas business Image Nation International. Its American partners include Participant Media, Hyde Park Entertainment, Parkes/Macdonald and Warner Bros. Former UAE ambassador Mohammed Al Otaiba has been appointed head of newly formed Image Nation Abu Dhabi, which has produced two local movies so far: Sea Shadow and Djinn, directed by Tobe Hooper. Garin told me recently that he has spent time restructuring deals originally signed by his predecessor Ed Borgerding, trying to give Image Nation more of a say over what gets greenlighted. He has restructured Image Nation’s deal with National Geographic Films in particular. “Before I arrived, the strategy was much more passive,” he told me. “The partnerships have changed significantly. Before I arrived Participant and National Geographic were structured in a way that gave us little or no control over projects. Those are not structures I would have entered into on that basis.” Read More »

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Participant Media Can Boast ‘Contagion’ #1 & ‘The Help’ #2; ‘Warrior’ #3 Disappoints; ‘Bucky Larson’ Bombs; Kevin Hart Still #10?

SATURDAY PM: This is shaping up as 2011′s lousiest box office weekend in North America with only $70M total grosses. Yes, even worse than Hurricane Irene’s. A lot of surprises in this weekend’s numbers and a fuller analysis is coming. But no surprise which new North American movie is No. 1:

1. With $8M Friday and +20% for $9.7M Saturday, it’s a $24M weekend for Warner Bros’ Contagion playing in 42% more theaters — 3,222 — than its nearest newcomer. This Participant Media-backed disease movie looked like yet another yikes-you’re-all-going-to-die formula pic. But I’m surprised it didn’t generate more appeal what with Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh directing 6 Academy Award winners or nominees: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Laurence Fishburne. (Readers are urging me to include Oscar-honored John Hawke and Elliott Gould as well…) That added oomph to credited screenplay writer Scott Burns’ material. “Yes, it was important to be provocative and to scare people,” a Warner Bros exec tells me about the $60M-budget pic. “But both the print and trailer and TV campaign present a more well-rounded view of the mystery. We did sell the visceral experience — a smart and thrilling look at a  killer virus, the science behind it, and the aftermath.” Warner Bros took the film to Venice to solid reviews and conducted an aggressive consumer campaign. Besides, adult movies are working at the box office.

2. Entering its 5th weekend in release, DreamWorks/Disney’s hit dramedy The Help which is also backed by Participant Media made $2.7M Friday and $4M Saturday going to $9.4M from 2,935 locations for the weekend. It’s estimated new cume of $137.8M by Monday.

3. This seemingly anticipated mixed martial arts drama Warrior starring Tom Hardy (Bane in the next Batman) and Joel Edgerton was only released for 1,869 runs. It opened with $1.8M Friday and $2.1M Saturday for what was just a dismal $4.8M weekend. Another very disappointing opening for Lionsgate which was very high on this actioner. Did last weekend’s sneaks let some wannasee steam escape? Will this hurt Hardy whom Hollywood execs consider a hot soon-to-be-star?

4. Focus Features’ adult holdover The Debt earned $1.4M Friday (-45% from a week ago) from 1,874 theaters and a projected $4.5M weekend for an estimated $21.6M cume by Monday.

5. Sony Pictures’ holdover Colombiana made $1.1M Friday and $1.9M Saturday from 2,354 runs for a $4M weekend and $29.8M cume.

But I have it on good authority that Sony execs were hiding out at the Toronto Film Festival (where better-than-expected Moneyball officially premiered Friday night) rather than get tagged by its Columbia Pictures’ R-rated Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star which had one of the most annoying TV ad campaigns I’ve ever been assaulted by. Mercifully, its box office take was miniscule: $540K Friday and $570K Saturday for only a $1.2M weekend. That wasn’t even enough to make it into the Top 10 much less Sony’s hoped-for $4M. Fortunately the budget is purportedly just $10M. Usually Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production banner gives Sony box office gold: stupid pics popular with audiences. But this was fool’s gold.

Before I give you the rest of the Top 10, you should know that Kevin Hart’s Laugh At My Pain was No. 10 Friday despite Hartbeat Productions and Codeblack Entertainment releasing it into only 99 theaters. It opened to $758K Friday and an estimated weekend of $2M. But it may ultimately be beaten by The Weinstein Co’s Spy Kids 4D. (I’ll know Sunday AM.) Hart’s fans turned out for this profanity-filled film version of his recent stand-up tour. It offers less than an hour of Hart onstage but also includes such bonus footage as Hart touring his old neighborhood in Philadelphia and faking a bank heist. Directed by Leslie Small, this 1-hour, 28-minute pic and its entry into the Top 10 now establishes Hart as a bonafide star beyond just his YouTube videos which have drawn tens of millions of views. Look for the major studios to take notice.

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