On the flip side as well, the majority of films that we buy are commercially driven, but I think every once in a while you’ve got to buy films that you love, and sometimes those films that you love end up being big hits. Bowling for Columbine was a film that I just really loved, and really didn’t have a commercial sense of it at all, but bought it because I loved it and I think that’s really important.
Did you get the rights to Fahrenheit 9/11 because you’d bought Bowling for Columbine?
It definitely played a big part. Australia was Bowling‘s most successful territory in the world pro rata, so Michael Moore knew of us. When 9/11 wasn’t even in production, he basically offered us the film, but only had a paragraph on an A4 page about what it was about. He needed a big chunk of change for us to be able to do it, again, it’s a punt that you take based on the abilities of the film-maker. I always think that the director’s the most important part of any film, and I think you’ve got to back the talents of brilliant directors. So it was a big risk.
I was sitting across from one of my best friends, probably in the world, who’s also on this circuit. She is a French woman who works for Wild Bunch, an amazing company, who do the riskiest films and amazing stuff, but we’ve always been really good mates, and really good mates without ever doing business with each other. And then all of a sudden she had Fahrenheit 9/11 and she was selling it on behalf of Michael Moore. She said, “Troy, we’ve just got to put our friendship aside,” and then she said, “I really want you to have this film, but I need to close it in the next ten minutes because this other company’s coming in, they’ve made an offer”. So the window on that film was ten minutes, the price was half a million dollars, and all I had was one paragraph, and one of my best friends actually selling it to me. So I just made a really instinctive – could have been stupid – decision, but it ended up being a smart decision. But it’s hard to say that it was a smart decision at the time, based on such small things I can’t really figure out if it was smart. I remember coming out, and telling my business partners Sandie and Frank, “I’ve just bought Fahrenheit 9/11.” They were like, “How much?” And I told them, and both their faces just dropped, because we all knew that if the film didn’t turn out, then we could have just lost the company on that one.
Really? What would it have had to do at the box office for you to recoup that?
Well, you’d have to spend at least half a million again on marketing, so probably about three or four million…
And did it do that?
Oh, we did eight million. That’s what the business is like. I mean it’s about personal relationships. I think when a lot of people say, “You’ve got really great taste, you buy really great movies”, and that’s what people think my ability is, but I actually don’t think it’s that at all, because most of the time when I’m buying a movie all my competitors are going after the same movie. I actually think my best attribute is I get on well with people, and I don’t really try to be anyone else, and I’m really social so I actually quite enjoy staying up to two o’clock in the morning having drinks at Cannes. I know that sounds like such a wank. Our major success this year so far has been a film called My House in Umbria. If you know my taste in films, it’s like the anti-taste – I hate those movies. When that screened, my partner Frank saw it and said, “Fantastic, it’s going to do really well, Maggie Smith in Tuscany”. I really was resistant to the film.
You thought it wasn’t Hopscotch?
Yeah, not Hopscotch, not the kind of film that we do. And then now of course it’s the biggest hit of the year, and my talent there was not actually knowing that it was a good film, my talent was just wanting to back up my partner who really loved something. Instead of fighting him and going, “I don’t want you to do it, I don’t like it”, I said, “You like it then let’s go and do it”. It’s a different way of being good at what you do, because even if it didn’t work, you still know that you backed your partner in a positive way.
So who are your partners?
Frank Cox, who has been in the business for 30 years. He owned a company called New Vision. We have that library now, which has the seminal art house films of the ’80s and ’90s; the Three Colour trilogy, basically the whole Jarmusch catalogue, the Kevin Smith catalogue, Clerks, Chasing Amy, Monsoon Wedding, amazing films. And there’s Sandie who is I guess my professional soul mate. We’d been working with each other since I was 21, she started at Dendy about two months before I did. I’m more numbers and relationship oriented, so I do sales, accounts and a lot of the relationship stuff, but she does all the marketing and all the artwork. We describe it as everything that you see about the company is Sandie, and I’m everything that you don’t see, the airy-fairy stuff. The way Hopscotch came about was that Frank was basically my main competitor when I was at Dendy but we were obviously at different stages of our lives.