‘Boy Kills World’ Producer Alex Lebovici Breaks Down His Journey From Window Washing To A “Calculated Gamble” With Hammerstone Studios

Five-plus years following the launch of his film financing and production company, Hammerstone Studios, producer Alex Lebovici finds himself at “a big turning point.” After working for years on “building block” projects that held little to no interest for him on the level of story, he’s been able of late to assemble an increasingly packed studio slate, devoting himself solely to making the “fun, commercial, star-driven films” he likes to watch.

Breaking out in September 2022 with the buzzy horror thriller Barbarian, underscoring the company’s commitment to fresh genre fare with big, original ideas, Hammerstone is looking to recapture the zeitgeist this weekend with Boy Kills World, an action thriller starring Barbarian‘s Bill Skarsgård. Directed by Moritz Mohr, the film has him playing Boy, who vows revenge after his family is murdered by Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen), the deranged matriarch of a corrupt post-apocalyptic dynasty that earlier in life left him orphaned, deaf and voiceless.

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Boy Kills World has weathered an unusual path to theaters, world premiering at TIFF in the midst of an actor’s strike, and with no talent on hand for publicity. Following a re-cut of the first act and the addition of voiceover from H. Jon Benjamin, who doles out Boy’s interior monologue, the film was given a distribution deal by Lionsgate/Roadside in January.

Lebovici is aware that this ultra-violent flick isn’t for everybody. The producers are taking on the responsibility of P&A which was financed by Nthibah Pictures. Currently, per Deadline midday projections, the movie is expected to earn around $2M in just under 2,000 theaters. It’s “one of those that people either love or hate,” says Lebovici, something “you’ve got to be a fan of the genre to really appreciate it.” Still, he’s hopeful for the film’s future as a discovery title, “one of those midnight movies that plays for years and years.”

A producer who prides himself on his involvement at each stage of a film’s lifespan, Lebovici began his formal education in the film business at New York Film Academy, on the main campus of Universal Studios, where he’d use his student badge to sneak into the adjacent theme park. His biggest lessons, however, were learned during a few years spent back home in Toronto, Canada.

By this point, Lebovici felt he had a grasp of the creative side of filmmaking, having been making shorts since he was 13. His company takes its name from the street in Thornhill, Ontario where he and friends were arrested as kids, while shooting an outdoor action scene with fake weapons. “Somebody called the police like, ‘There’s a child militia outside,'” he recalls, “and so we had like six cop cars arrest us at gunpoint.”

When Lebovici returned to his native country, he devoted himself to learning business fundamentals. “A door-to-door salesman by nature,” he accomplished this not by working on set, but rather by launching and overseeing a window cleaning business for six or seven years. Initially, he worked alongside his father and brother alone. But soon, he’d be training droves of kids from the neighborhood to work for him. Within three years, he says, he had 150 employees and was “doing like $2 million a summer,” installing and repairing water heaters and the like in the winter.

In retrospect, he says, running this business was not all that dissimilar from managing a major Hollywood production. “In Canada, the weather’s only good for a couple months of the year, so you basically had to have this production where you had no work, you could generate work, and then hire 150 people for a four-month, five-month period of time, and then manage all these different trucks and things,” Lebovici explains. “Everyday, there would be crazy amount of drama that I had to be prepared for.”

After doing this for a while and making money “hand over fist,” Lebovici had put enough away so that when he sold his piece of the business, returned to Los Angeles and began pursuing work as a producer, he’d bought himself four or five years to build connections, take risks, and work for free as needed.

“That’s a trick in this business, and that’s why there’s so many people that are wealthy from before. Because it’s so expensive and complicated and there’s a learning curve,” says the producer. “I was the right age, with the right experience, and enough money that I was sitting on, that I was able to take risks and turn down paychecks to work on projects that I believed in, or projects that I thought would put me in a good position.”

Early on, Lebovici worked on a “really terrible” zombie movie, “a bunch of small action programmers,” with the likes of Dolph Lundgren, as well as Billionaire Boys Club, a true-crime thriller that looked good on paper but proved “unwatchable” and got buried by Kevin Spacey’s #MeToo scandal.

Arguing that now is perhaps “the worst time in history” for filmmakers, given the increasing costs of production, increases in the cost of capital, the decline of the U.S. dollar’s value abroad, and the expectations streamers have set by inflating actors’s upfront salaries, Lebovici says that he faced down “some of the worst situations” in his first years on set. Still, his early projects served their purpose, as learning opportunities giving him the chance to show people what he could do. Over time, his situation began to improve, and he now feels fully “battle tested,” after weathering both the Covid pandemic and last year’s double strike.

Lebovici’s first movie of some profile was the Tribeca-premiering comedy The Clapper, starring Ed Helms and Amanda Seyfried, and in the few years that Hammerstone has been active, he’s produced a total of 11. Currently, he’s managing a slate of six to seven movies per year, at an average budget of $18 million. Most recently announcing At the Sea, a drama to team Amy Adams with Pieces of a Woman filmmaker Kornel Mundruczó, the company’s dance card also currently includes the horror thriller Don’t Move, recently acquired by Netflix, the animated creature feature Slime with Kid Cudi, and Mel Gibson’s Lionsgate thriller Flight Risk, starring Mark Wahlberg, which recently showcased its first trailer at CinemaCon. While the company now has a team of six, yesterday announcing the appointment of Jon Oakes as President Of Production And Development, much of what it’s accomplished so far has been through the hustle of Lebovici and an assistant alone.

There’s a large, albeit “calculated gamble” at the heart of Lebovici’s business strategy, which is the fact that 90% of Hammerstone’s films are made without a domestic distributor on board. Helping him to make this scenario work is Christian Mercuri’s Capstone, which serves as Hammerstone’s foreign sales arm through a joint venture, bringing in around 60% of the budget of any given project through pre-sales. To accrue the remaining funds required, he’s turned to both tax incentives and a pool of high net-worth investors — some of whom, he first met while cleaning windows — positioning them to gain a lot and risk little. In the best-case scenario, Hammerstone’s projects engender a bidding war and his investors are paid back handsomely. In failure, he says, they take a small loss, though he can always flip a dud to a “lower-tier domestic distributor” to bring some money back in.

Admittedly, Lebovici says, the financial results for Hammerstone to this point can only be described as “fine,” though there are mitigating factors to consider. While the producer had high hopes for Bill & Ted Face the Music — the third film in the Bill & Ted franchise, starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter — that title proved only a modest success given its unveiling at the height of the Covid pandemic. Similarly, Lebovici was gung ho about the actioner Kung Fury, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender, an adaptation of the crowdfunded short of the same name which went viral in 2015 after playing Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. That project has now sat in limbo for years, amidst a lawsuit with a Chinese financier, though Lebovici believes it remains salvageable.

Co-financed alongside New Regency and released by 20th Century Studios, Hammerstone’s biggest success to date, Barbarian, grossed 10x its $4.5M production cost with $45M worldwide. The film was highly acclaimed and launched director Zach Cregger toward multiple hot bidding wars on other projects, including Weapons at New Line with Josh Brolin and Julia Garner starring.

While Barbarian could have perhaps performed even better given a larger theatrical push, this isn’t to discount what Hammerstone gained from the project and its cultural cachet. Bringing in another nice chunk of change through an exclusive streaming window on Max, it established the company as one to watch and fostered an all new level of opportunity. “It was very meaningful because first of all, we started getting horror films sent to us, left, right and center,” he recalls. “It gave some prestige to our company and it’s opened a lot of doors. There’s always been a lot of access we’ve had to content, but now a lot more respect for the taste that we have.”

As Hammerstone begins its ascension, Lebovici has the grandest of visions for what the company can become. While looking to continue to produce breakout works, his hope is one day expand into distribution, as well. “If I have the international side and we are good content creators, if we can self-release our own movies, that’s also an ideal, long term,” he says. “Because then, we become a mini Lionsgate, a mini A24.”

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