There are infinite anecdotes about what happened to our best-laid plans when the coronavirus hit. But in the context of Hollywood, one must stop and appreciate the unique pain of Erik Feig — a veteran film executive whose rogue production and financing company Picturestart was only months into its infancy when the global shutdown arrived.
Funded by a consortium of top private and strategic investors (including Warner Bros., Scholastic and Bron), former Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-president Feig’s vision was to serve distinct voices with a uniquely pliable infrastructure. A shop that could fully or partially finance and produce indie-to-mid-budget films without the deep pockets of streaming or tie-ups with the studios. One that could foster talent, cross it over into new mediums and offer full marketing services. COVID-19 scrambled those ambitions.
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“The thing I came back to, the principle behind why we set up Picturestart, was to be strong but flexible. Everything we make is unified by this concept we call ‘discovery of voice.’ Stories about and for people who are figuring out who they are, where they fit in, what they stand for. Our goal is to enable talent’s vision and help them figure out how to get things done, so we did that for ourselves in the pandemic,” Feig says.
Feig and his team spent almost a year drilling down on development and packaging in anticipation of this past February, when the whistle blew and six films went into back-to-back production: Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s “Am I OK?” and Cooper Raiff’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” both starring Dakota Johnson; “Luckiest Girl Alive” with Mila Kunis at Netflix; A24’s “Sharper” with Julianne Moore; the ambitious video game adaptation “Borderlands” at Lionsgate; and the raunchy live-action talking-dog comedy “Strays” from the “Lego Movie” team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller at Universal.
All of these projects entered Picturestart in nascent stages, and each received bespoke support before finding distribution. Feig’s creative philosophy and financial model is a rarity in a contemporary landscape rife with consolidation. He champions a kind of film that’s disappearing from the wide theatrical market — offbeat stories that can appeal to indie audiences or scale up into the mainstream, often aimed at adults, which require risky spending.
“People have feared that Bermuda triangle of a budget zone, but that hallowed space has been unbelievably successful for me. That’s the zone where ‘Step Up’ lived, and ‘Twilight,’ ‘La La Land’ and ‘John Wick,’” Feig says, name-checking his previous credits. “These were mid-budget movies with unique visions, all a bit left of center or reinventing the genre they were in.”
Picturestart will produce up to eight features in 2022, including a biopic about barrier-busting super-agent Sue Mengers at Apple, from producer and star Jennifer Lawrence, and a feature from “Search Party” creators Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss. The company has also invested in series like the upcoming reimagining of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and the “Grease” prequel “Rise of the Pink Ladies.”
“If someone told you there’d be a 12-car pileup on the freeway, you probably wouldn’t get on,” Feig says of the current mad dash to stockpile streaming services with wholly owned content. “There are other ways to get to your destination, and we want to be that other way.”
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