Producer Perspective: Ashok Amritraj
Hyde Park Entertainment CEO continues his Toronto Film Festival run with director Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes”
Producer/entrepreneur Ashok Amritraj has a strong bond with the Toronto International Film Festival, his latest project slated to screen there being the Ramin Bahrani-directed 99 Homes. Amritraj is a producer of the film which was fully funded by his Hyde Park Entertainment as part of its joint venture with Imagenation Abu Dhabi. Amritraj is CEO and chairman of Hyde Park Entertainment.
Amritraj’s Toronto track record includes his having produced last year’s closing film for the festival, Life of Crime directed by Daniel Schechter and starring Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def, Will Forte, Tim Robbins and John Hawkes. Amritraj’s Toronto exploits date back to such features as Shopgirl starring Steve Martin and Claire Danes (for which Amritraj was a producer), and Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story starring Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning (with Amritraj serving as an exec producer). And a few years back, Amritraj served as a keynote speaker for the Toronto Film Festival’s Asia Summit.
“Cameron [Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Fest] has grown the festival, making it more diverse as well as an important platform for North America and globally,” assessed Amritraj who noted that 99 Homes has come to the Toronto proceedings in search of a domestic distributor. Another of Amritraj’s companies, Hyde Park International, is handling the international rights for the film. A conscious decision, related Amritraj, was made to hold back on U.S. distribution until the Toronto Festival which he described as “the perfect platform for a film like this to get its domestic distributor and to take the next step.”
99 Homes–which prior to Toronto recently made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival–stars Andrew Garfield as Ennis Nash, a construction worker whose family is evicted from their home. He tries to get his home back by working for the corrupt real estate broker (Rick Carver portrayed by Michael Shannon) who evicted them. Nash’s new job is to evict other struggling people from their homes.
The tale is a microcosm of the real-life mortgage meltdown which triggered an economic tailspin from which many are still struggling to recover. Amritraj recalled that the project came to him directly from Bahrani, its co-writer and director. (Bahrani is handled for commercials and branded content by Moxie Pictures.)
“I enjoyed the script, of course,” recalled Amritraj who would up meeting with Bahrani for several hours. “He told me about the story and the research he had done. It was the first time we had ever met. I was impressed with him as a talented young man, well studied. He really does his homework. He had gone to Orlando [Florida] and spent time with a number of people who were evicted from their homes. Even with today’s economy seemingly improving, this is still very much a present-day issue and problem. So many of the moments in this film are based on true incidents which are mind boggling.”
The actors also did their share of hands-on homework. Reportedly Shannon spent time with a real estate agent while Garfield stayed in a motel housing families whose homes had been repossessed.
As for what’s next, Amritraj noted that Hyde Park Entertainment and Imagenation Abu Dhabi currently have a family-appeal movie in postproduction, Midnight Sun, a Canadian/Italian co-production directed by Roger Spottiswoode. The film centers on a boy’s attempt to reunite an abandoned polar bear cub with its mother in northern Canada. Also on the Hyde Park/Imagenation docket is a comedy starring Ken Jeong that at press time was scheduled to begin shooting in Los Angeles.
Amritraj is a prolific producer. His Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, done in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment and Imagenation, performed well in the global box office and featured a cast that included Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Violante Placido and Ciaran Hinds. Amritraj’s filmography over the years as a producer includes such films as the aforementioned Shopgirl and Dreamer as well as Bringing Down The House starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, Premonition starring Sandra Bullock, Bandits starring Cate Blanchett, Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton, Raising Helen starring Kate Hudson, and Walking Tall starring Dwayne Johnson. Amritraj has served as an executive producer on film including Traitor starring Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce, Moonlight Mile starring Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Jake Gyllenhaal, and Machete starring Robert De Niro and Danny Trejo.