Gary Hamilton: Seeing the Light

August 10, 2017
The founder of Arclight Films has Jungle about to hit cinemas, a Paul Schrader film in Venice and is threatening to bust open the doors in China for Australian films.

It’s a whirlwind life for Gary Hamilton, MD of Arclight Films, who have offices in Sydney, LA and Beijing. “We still have a home in Australia, but I haven’t been there since Christmas,” he tells us on the line from Beverly Hills.

On top of that, there’s movies being shot all over the world, and when we spoke to Hamilton he was just about to board a plane for the world premiere of Greg McLean’s survival thriller Jungle at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Jungle

Starring Daniel Radcliffe and based on the true story of a young Israeli man who travels to the Bolivian Amazon, Jungle was a project originally to be produced by Chris Brown and directed by the Spierig Brothers (who end up being credited as directing the Bolivian second unit). “I think a number of people had a long history on this project of trying to put it together,” says Gary Hamilton. “Arclight only connect to movies where we see a very clear path of getting them financed. We produced the movie with [US based] Dana [Lustig], and we really thought it was a great script [by Justin Monjo]. It’s certainly something that we thought would raise interest at festivals but also be commercially viable.

“The previous directors [Spierigs] had decided not to do it, and virtually around then I got a call from Greg [McLean] about another project, and I said, ‘why do you want to do that, I have something that has become available?’ And within twelve hours he called me back and said, ‘I love it, I want to do it.’ I think it’s about finding the right team to create material.”

According to Hamilton, getting the green light on the project was all about “having Greg attached, and also convincing Greg that Daniel Radcliffe was the right choice for the leading role. Greg was a little resistant at first, and quite rightly thought that Daniel had a pre-conceived perception – this was before he took on more riskier roles – but we did believe that Daniel was both a great name in terms of being able to finance the movie, but also a brilliant actor, and it was certainly a different role for him.”

This story about getting Jungle up is indicative of Arclight’s versatility and ability to adapt to an ever-changing film financing climate. Something which Gary Hamilton did very well in his previous role as head of Beyond, and now with his own company, Arclight for the past fifteen years.

“When we started the company, we were handing 12-15 films a year,” says Hamilton. “A couple of years ago we decided to pull back and handle less films and give us more focus. We now handle about 6-7 films a year, that we can really nurture and be a part of from the beginning to the final marketing of the film.

“That said, we also team up with people,” he continues. “Right now, we are on Hotel Mumbai from a concept that we developed because I personally was going to be in that hotel. That story was very personal to me. I found the documentary on the ABC (Surviving Mumbai), and then decided to option it, and then brought in Anthony Maras and John Collee in to develop it. We wanted to position it as a slightly bigger film so we teamed up with Thunder Road, who we’re now doing two more projects with. So, we’re always working with other producers, both overseas and in Australia. But we do want to have a hands-on role, and be a part of the production process.”

Arclight now operates under three banners, including Darclight and Easternlight, and recently announced the initiative Chinalight to encourage co-productions between China and Australia.

Guardians of the Tomb

“We have our film Guardians of the Tomb due out in China before the end of the year, and will probably open on 5000 screens. But the Chinese market is changing, and it’s really moving very fast. You have to be on the ground and travel there frequently to really work out what’s going on. It’s certainly a land of great opportunity, but it’s not as easy as a lot of people think, that you just come up with a concept and get a Chinese actor and think you can sell it. You have to be really focused and spend a lot of time on development, continue to go to China and work with investors and also with the people there to make sure that you’re making a story that is relevant to China and that says something to the Chinese people involved in the film. It’s not just some token story. A lot of people resist doing in China what we do because they say that the Chinese only want to see Hollywood movies or local Mandarin films. Those people are right… but if you create a really good story, which Chinese people can relate to, then there’s an opportunity to play both markets – Chinese and outside of China. Some films take us two or three years to get approval in China, and you have to continue to push and prod all the way.”

Another film on the Arclight slate is Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried, which was recently announced in the competition at the upcoming Venice Film Festival.

First Reformed

It’s certainly an eclectic slate and is reflective of the Arclight business model.

“I think the role of an independent producer is changing,” says Hamilton. “I don’t see the survival of independent producers and sales companies that do not have fully structured development and sales. I don’t see how you can build the business. I say business, not that independent producers can’t survive without having that structure in place. But we self-develop the movies, we go to funding bodies in Australia to help us but also put our own money into development; we produce them, we finance them and then we’re involved in selling them.

“It’s all about how we believe we can market the project and make a successful film that works for the people we’re selling it to,” he ends. “Our reputation is built on making a commercially viable movie. That’s why we’re more selective than we were, because it’s much harder to get it right. I think the next 12 months for us, with Jungle and First Reformed, the proof will be in the pudding with their results.”

Head to the Arclight website for more information.

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