Three Cheers

Ashok Amritraj completes three decades in Hollywood and his latest production 99 Homes makes it to three prestigious film festivals

It has a curious title, an unusual mix of actors, and a director whose works never fail to create a buzz in the international film festival circuit. Indian-born Hollywood film producer Ashok Amritraj has a knack of picking the right projects. His Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon and Laura Dern-starrer 99 Homes, directed by Ramin Bahrani, is set for a busy season at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals. Here’s a quick five with the tennis star-turned-filmmaker who began his Hollywood career in 1984.

THIRTY YEARS AND COUNTING I cannot believe it has been three decades. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time in Hollywood. Producing a wide range of films has been a great experience. The latest one, 99 Homes, is an emotional drama set against the backdrop of the home foreclosure market where ordinary people have had their homes foreclosed on and been evicted. Andrew Garfield plays a construction worker whose family gets evicted when the bank forecloses on their home during an economic slump. He ends up working for an unscrupulous real estate broker (played by Michael Shannon), spirals downward, but ultimately does the right thing. The movie is reminiscent of the original Wall Street and Training Day.

FESTIVAL RUN Both Andrew and Michael are terrific actors who raised their performance level in this project. They have become good friends and are joining me at the red carpet world premiere in Venice and the red carpet Canadian premiere in Toronto. It has been a fantastic experience working with Andrew, Michael and Laura Dern. I believe we are the only film this year to be ‘in competition’ in Venice and chosen for Telluride and Toronto as well. It is extremely rewarding to see my film get such an extraordinary response.

FICTION TO FILM Life of Crime, which I co-produced, is based on The Switch by Elmore Leonard. It’s similar to his classic works Get Shorty and Be Cool. It has a terrific cast which includes Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Will Forte (Nebraska), Oscar nominee John Hawkes, and Isla Fisher. It has been a wonderful experience working with Aniston. She is a true movie star. Life of Crime was screened on the closing night of the Toronto Film Festival last year. Lionsgate will be releasing the film later this year.

STRATEGY AND SUCCESS Hyde Park’s (Amritraj’s entertainment company) strategic partnerships across the world have been very fruitful both in the production and distribution areas. Over the last three years, Hyde Park has produced over a dozen films with aggregate budgets in excess of USD150 million. India is always in my thoughts, however, after producing over 110 films with worldwide grosses in excess of USD2 billion, the most important thing for me is that I’m really passionate about the projects I get involved with. So, I look forward to finding something in India that is exciting and out of the norm.

DOCU DREAMS As CEO of National Geographic, I would like to focus on documentaries like the one that captured James Cameron’s journey to Marina Trench, the deepest place in the ocean, in a one-man submarine. Features that fit the Nat Geo brand have been harder to find, though there are a couple in development.