By Daniel Miller
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Where movie studios see trouble, Red Granite Pictures sees opportunities.
The new finance and distribution company’s business plan is both contrary and simple: Make the films the studios don’t.
Among its first projects are Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which opened Wednesday, and next year’s “Dumb and Dumber To,” the intentionally misspelled sequel to the 1994 comedy.
On the surface, those pictures don’t exactly seem like the sort that a major studio would cast aside.
But both were complicated projects, fraught with thorny issues. Red Granite’s founders, Riza Aziz and Joey McFarland, said they thrive in these sorts of scenarios.
“One of our sweet spots is movies that have died in the studios — movies that are just great product that everyone was hot on but for some reason or another just didn’t make it to the greenlight stage,” said McFarland, 41, a Louisville, Ky., native who is Red Granite’s vice chairman.
McFarland and Aziz, Red Granite’s chairman, started the West Hollywood company in 2009. That year, they began working on their first film, the comedy “Friends With Kids,” which came out in 2012 and grossed $12 million worldwide.
They were also a producer on the recent drama “Out of the Furnace,” which was released in early December, and “Horns,” a Daniel Radcliffe-starring horror film that will be distributed by Weinstein Co.’s Radius label next year.
Red Granite, which has 12 employees, has eschewed a template for producing pictures. In the case of “Out of the Furnace,” the company acquired the project’s international rights from Relativity Media and then used its own in-house foreign distribution arm, Red Granite International, to sell the movie oversees.
On “Wolf,” Red Granite struck a deal with Paramount Pictures to have the studio distribute and promote the movie domestically for a fee. Red Granite sold the international rights to the film, mitigating the company’s downside risk.
“Every movie is different,” said Aziz, 37, who is the son of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “We are very flexible in the model we (can) pursue.”
Red Granite raises money from a pool of undisclosed investors in the Middle East and Asia, and finances its movies on a one-off basis. The company is able to greenlight a picture without a distribution deal in place. But because it doesn’t have a fund it can tap, Red Granite must convince its investors that an individual project is worth the risk, rather than having the comfort of money to underwrite an entire slate.
That’s a tough business to be in, because one flop could scare off investors.
Graham King, the veteran producer behind such critical and commercial hits as “The Departed” and “The Aviator,” knows the travails of this business well. He produced Scorsese’s expensive 2011 3-D family film “Hugo,” which won five Oscars but struggled at the box office.
“That’s when I started paying attention,” King said. “The studios know what they are talking about. They take the occasional risk and they know what attracts an audience.”
“Wolf” is no “Hugo” when it comes to cost, but with a price of roughly $100 million, it wasn’t cheap. Red Granite paid for it all — a big bet for a fledgling company.
According to those who have seen prerelease audience surveys, “Wolf” could have a five-day opening run of $25 million to $35 million. That could be enough to beat out the five other films that opened wide Wednesday — “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” “47 Ronin,” “Grudge Match,” “Justin Bieber’s Believe” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
But that’s at best a decent opening for such a costly project, which has an R rating and a three-hour running time.
“I take my hat off to anyone that wants to get in and dive in at the deep end, so speak,” King said. “It’s all a gamble, isn’t it?”
Getting “Wolf” wasn’t easy. McFarland and Aziz fought for years to get the underlying rights to the movie, and then found their production interrupted by Hurricane Sandy.
Paramount Chairman and Chief Executive Brad Grey praised Red Granite.
“Getting ‘Wolf’ made was a journey shared by many, and credit goes to Riza, Joey and their entire Red Granite team for believing in and supporting the project at a crucial time,” Grey said in a statement. “Marty delivered a wildly entertaining picture, and everyone at Paramount has been delighted to work with Red Granite.”
While “Wolf” could wind up being a hit, “Dumb and Dumber To,” slated for release Nov. 14, 2014, could take the company even higher. The project, which cost about $40 million, reunites “Dumb and Dumber” stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels with the original film’s directors, Bobby and Peter Farrelly.
Red Granite worked for months to assemble the creative team from the original New Line Cinema picture and persuaded the company to cut a deal for the sequel, McFarland said. With that in place, Red Granite inked a domestic distribution agreement with Universal Pictures, which will release and market the film. New Line, a subsidiary of Warner Bros., retains a significant financial interest in the movie.
There is a long line of Hollywood production firms that have come and gone, several of which followed Red Granite’s model of pursuing troubled studio projects. In recent years, companies such as Elie Samaha’s Franchise Pictures and Philippe Martinez’s Baeur Martinez Studios either folded or were diminished in the aftermath of movies that missed the mark.
Producer James Robinson, the Hollywood veteran whose Morgan Creek Productions’ credits include “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and “Major League,” said he is rooting for Red Granite to succeed.
“I’ve seen so many people come into this town with a little bit of money or a lot of money, set up shop and now they are movie producers. But … most don’t last very long,” he said. “There are an awful lot of sunken ships in our business.
Aziz said he worries about “expanding too quickly” — a problem that he said has plagued other film companies that came before Red Granite.
“We have to be responsible with the overheard,” he said. “People get into this trap of getting very aggressive. They expand with manpower — 70- to 80-person teams before you know it — and you only put out two movies a year.”
The company’s next picture is likely to be “The Brigands of Rattleborge,” a Western from screenwriter S. Craig Zahler that would be directed by Park Chan-wook, who made this year’s “Stoker.” Aziz said “Brigands” could be begin shooting as soon as the first quarter of next year.
“Regardless of what ‘Wolf’ does, we are going to be doing what we are doing,” McFarland said. “If (that film) gives us a little more respect in a room, or an easier hand to shake, awesome. But as far as personally, we are going to be the same guys. I am still going to wear a hoodie to work.”