Ashok Amritraj Exclusive Interview – the CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment

     November 5, 2008




Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub



About a week ago I posted part of my exclusive interview with Ashok Amritraj – the CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment. What I posted were his comments on the upcoming “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li” movie. But after taking a lot longer to transcribe than expected….I’ve got the rest of the interview.


Since the interview is quite long, I’dlike tokeep this intro brief.



If you’re not familiar with Ashok’s name or all the movies he’s produced, here’s the link to his Wikipedia page as it’s quite extensive. And only 3 days ago he was on the front page of Variety, as his company Hyde Park Entertainment just signed a $250 million deal to develop, produce and distribute up to 20 feature films over seven years for Abu Dhabi‘s production company Imagenation.



So during our interview he talked about his relationship with Steve Martin, how he hosted a show in India like “The Apprentice” for filmmakers, he talked about his distribution deals and how they work, the “Street Fighter” movie, Thomas Jane’s “Dark Country” movie, “Dead of Night”, the comic book property “Mandrake”, his remake of Blake Edwards “10” and a project called “Persuaders”.



Here are some bullet points on the upcoming movies:



  • “Dark Country” is done filming. It’s in 3D. Was made for under $10 million. Will be rated R. Ashok called it “a small, edgy, dark film.”
  • “Dead of Night” will start shooting in the first quarter of next year…most likely Feb or March. He thinks it’ll be released in 2010 and it has a lot of visual effects. Calls the budget mid-range. Doesn’t yet have a distribution deal. About the project Ashok says, “it’s going to be a very visually arresting project because the vampires, the werewolves and zombies and the relationship between the Brandon Routh’s character and Marcus who’s the sort of human that becomes a zombie.”
  • “Mandrake” (based on comic book) – says they have a great script but it’s a much larger budget and “as a result the casting becomes more sort of…having a larger budget is a double-edged sword so you then have to support that budget with a cast and director that means something more.” About when it will get made he says, “It’ll get made. It’s just a question of when it goes and I’d say it’ll get made in ’09.”
  • “10” remake – He says, “I did the deal with Blake Edwards. We’re partnered on “10” and so we’re going to do the re-make of “10” in ’09 and we’re working on the script.”
  • And for those that don’t know, “Persuaders” was an old British TV show which starred Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. Roger Moore is a British Lord and Tony Curtis is a guy from the Bronx. The show was a mix of action and comedy. Ashok is working on a film version with a script by David Dorfman who wrote “Anger Management”.


As you might imagine, it was a very informative interview and anytime you get to speak with a movie producer you learn a lot. And with that…here’s the interview with Ashok.





Collider: I’m going to cover a bunch of subjects because you’re actually involved with a bunch of things, but what is the secret with you and Steve Martin? You seem to have a very good relationship with him and I definitely want to ask what’s your secret?



Ashok Amritraj: Well, we have a great relationship. He’s an extremely talented guy so actually though “Bringing Down the House” he was the lead actor in it. And then on “Shop Girl” it was his novel and he co-produced it with me and he starred in it. So, you know, different reiterations of Steve Martin then of course Traitor he was part of the story process and we produced it together. So, he’s such a talented guy and comes at it from so many different directions that I enjoy working with him. I hope we do more and, you know, we probably will.



Does he just like pick up the phone and hit you up with things? I was just curious how that works.



Ashok: Oh it’s not just the Steve Martin business. I think I keep good relationships with all the talent that I work with but Steve is very special. We’ve done 3 films together. Adam Shanklin for instance we did “Bringing Down the House”. He then brought me “Premonition” and he produced “Premonition” with us. We’re sort of repeat business kind of guys. I mean, we’ve always tried to nurture the talent and kind of do the best we can. We’re sort of a good alternative to a studio where we finance our own movies but distribute it through a studio. So, you kind of try to get the best of both worlds in that by financing a movie you sort of creatively are able to have more leeway both for the talent, for the director, for ourselves, you know? But at the same time understanding that the studios are by far the best at distribution. If you’re able to get the movie out through them here because I think especially domestic nobody can compete against studio distribution.



Well speaking of distribution, I mean you have a first look deal with MGM and I know you have…



Ashok: Not any more. My first look is with Fox.



And are you still in relationship with Disney?



Ashok: I still have a relationship with Disney.



A second look deal?



Ashok: Yeah.



So what has that process been like for you because…I completely agree with you that the studios can distribute a movie like no other. They have the resources. So how does it work when you have a property…can you talk about how it goes about discussing it with the studios and how your relationship is with Fox and Disney?



Ashok: Sure. For many years my first look was MGM and then my 2nd look was Disney. After MGM got sold and all of that. My 1st look moved over to Fox for the last 4 years. And really the way it works is writers or directors or whatever agents bring us ideas or screenplays or books or video games or whatever they are. Our first obligation is to go to Fox and discuss it with them because that’s the relationship. We have a terrific relationship with them. We have a movie called “Street Fighter” which comes out in February through Fox under that deal. And then if they end up passing, then I go to Disney where we’ve made a number of movies like “Bringing Down the House” and “Raising Helen” and so on, “Moonlight Mile”. And we sort of discuss it with them. Two interesting but it’s two completely different studios making different kinds of movies which is actually quite helpful because in placing the movies we make, because I make you know completely all different kinds of things, that’s one of the things I pride myself on is the fact that we aren’t just making action movies or comedies or dramas. We kind of find a good script hopefully find good talent and put it all together. So internationally of course, Hyde Park International, which is our foreign sales company—foreign distribution company— handles all of our movies but in the U.S. and Canada we always try to distribute through a studio.



You brought up “Street Fighter”. I was going to get to that eventually. I might as well jump into it now. I’m going to get to the movie you were about in about a second, but many movie producers have tried to tackle the video game genre. Why is “Street Fighter” going to be the one that works?



Ashok: Wow. Video games are not easy to translate into movies obviously.



Exactly.



Ashok: But it’s a double-edged sword. On the one-hand you have a wonderful awareness and built-in audience, which is very important these days with the crowded market place. On the other hand, you have to make sure you please your core audience and it’s not always easy to do. We feel that in the “Street Fighter” world universe there are 3 key characters which are Ken, Ryu and Chun Li. So we hope the movie works but we’ve taken Chun Li and this is a movie “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li” so the Chun Li movie we’ve gone with and if it works we hope to do Ken and Ryu and so on. But we would do Chun Li and then we’d have Bison and Vega and you know some of the Balrog and all that.



First of all you relieve me by even knowing the names of the characters. (we both laugh) I’m very happy about that because I speak for “Street Fighter” fans that are looking forward to finally getting…you know video game movies have had a very difficult transition to the movie screen and but I interrupted you. I’m sorry. I’m happy you know the names.



Ashok: No, I really think we have a good film. I really think Kristin is enough unknown to play the role and not be identified with some star. While on the other hand, people kind of know who she is, you know from “Smallville” but not really. She fits the role. I think she’s absolutely terrific in the film and we have very cool sort of all the things from the video game that we tried for but then we feel we’ve not really stuck to it. It’s an origin story of Chun Li is what the movie is and we feel it works. I mean I feel it works.



I’m really looking forward to it. Now I’m going to ask this again for…sorry to go on about this…but how are the action set pieces? Are they…did you guys take any inspiration from the video game? And if so, which one did you look at as the one you wanted to base it on?



Ashok: We did up to a point and then we went off and went into…it is a classic martial arts movie. I mean it’s a classic genre martial arts film in certain ways. In other ways it has the hadouken – the chi ball… It has the spinning bird kick you know, where she does her spinning bird kick. It has many of those sort of iconic images to it but I think the action sequences are quite wonderful to tell you the truth. So it has some lovely character moments but I think the 6 or 7 set pieces with the ending being sort of the big one between Chun Li and Bison is great and the character of Gen is terrific, so it’s a cool movie.



About how many characters in total do you take from the game? Like 8 to 10? 12? And also you mentioned that if it’s successful you’re going to move on to Ryu and Ken.



Ashok: Chun Li, Bison, Balrog, Vega, Maya, Cantana I think have shown up in parts of the video game but are not major characters. They’re minor characters; at least that’s what Capcom says to me. I don’t follow it to the minutia… and then there’s Gen. So 7 or 8 characters.



Okay so assuming it does well at the box office is this the kind of thing you’d want to move right into doing another “Street Fighter” movie?



Ashok: I would love to. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I would like to do the Ryu and Ken stories. Again everything is always tied of the performance.



Of course. Do you see those 2 as being one movie together or separate movies?



Ashok: No, separate movies.



Okay. Let me move on to other things. You did a TV show in India? Is that true?



Ashok: I did. I hosted a TV show in India called “Gateway”.



Sort of like the Donald Trump version in India. So did you have any catchy trademark? And what was that experience like for you?



Ashok: You know it was to discover a young director, you know. And part of over the last couple of years what has been exciting for me is to sort of provide a platform for some of the Indian talent or Asian talent to the west—at the end of the line which is one of those things “Gateway” which is Gateway to Hollywood is really what it is, and yes I did have a catch line. I may not tell you though because you’ll start laughing.



Did you create it or did one of the producers come up with it?



Ashok: You know, I told them that I needed a line so it was what was that line? So they threw out a whole bunch of lines at me and then we went back and forth and then finally we got it the night before we shot the first episode because we had 6,000 entries for the director who was making 2-4 minute films that they had to submit. Sony, of course, did a lot of the work and when they narrowed it down to 18 I got involved. So when I let somebody go it was “your story ends here” was the catch line.



That’s actually…that makes some sense actually.



Ashok: So that was that. But I ended up picking a kid from Bombay who’s directing a little…who’s developing right now and then going to direct in ’09 a little movie for us. He came to Hyde Park, he came to L.A. and spent 8 weeks with us here. He’s gone back, he’s working on the script and then it’s sort of a dream come true. Some kid from somewhere you know?



Totally.



Ashok: And now gets to direct a movie.



So how long were you in India for and what was that experience like for you? Or did you do it here? I’m not sure.



Ashok: No, I did it in India. I thought it would be shorter. I thought I was going to be sort of the bookends on the show but it turned out to be much more and so it was almost 6 weeks of work. And it was significant which is why I don’t think…the show was extremely successful and got great rave reviews and was really touted as the sort of movie sort of show in India, but it’s hard for me to do again because it was a lot of time. So I don’t know if I’ll ever…in fact Sony just in fact talked to me about doing it again but I’m not sure we can quite frankly or I can.



Would it be easier if you did it here in L.A? Like bring the contestants here and you work on it?



Ashok: Hard to do because we had 2 guest jurors in each show. All the famous Indian directors came on. They were very supportive of the show. I had vignettes from the top Hollywood directors that are buddies of mine. So Randy Wallace did a little bit and John Turtletaub did and Brad Silverling did. You know all my friends kind of chipped in and they were all fabulous. You know I told them they were all stars in India now.



Let me ask you, you have obviously have a great relationship…from India there is a ton of talent over there. Bollywood is massive. Is there anything that you’re doing on your end to try to…I mean obviously you had this TV show and you’ve picked a lucky person to develop something, but is there any other way of you mining India to merge? I know that Reliance did a deal with DreamWorks and they’re going to be distributing, but I’m just curious if you’re able to do that?



Ashok: Well, Reliance’s first deal in Hollywood was with Hyde Park a couple of years ago. Certainly let’s not make any comparisons because the numbers were slightly different than the Dreamworks deal. But certainly there’s talent but actually at this point the business in India for Indian actors and directors is better than the business could ever be here for them. Meaning that there’s a lot of money coming in. There’s a lot of activity. They’re all busy. They are all doing well and I always tell my friends there if you’re doing great here, don’t come knock on doors and stand on the street here. There’s no reason for it. On the other hand if there’s a movie that I’m doing that requires an Indian actor there’s tremendous talent there. It comes down to what is the movie, you know?




continued on page 2 ——–>


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So let’s jump into…I do have a bunch of other questions but let’s jump into the reason I got to talk to you today “The End of the Line”. So could you talk a little bit about how you got involved in the project and what it’s about and you know the basics?



Ashok: So about 5 years ago Tracey Jackson who’d written The Guru came to my office and pitched me sort of a 2-3 line idea about “the other end of the line” and I loved it. So I took it to MGM which is my 1st look. MGM liked it. Chris McGurk was running MGM at that time and so we decided to develop it and we developed it and we were into the 3rd and 4th draft and we were all enjoying ourselves with the script and then MGM got sold. And you know, I found myself talking to Sony. But MGM got sold and it really got put into limbo—a lot of the projects and there was big time….including “Premonition” by the way…so I took “Premonition” out of there and ending up making it with Sandy Bullock and Sony ended up distributing it. Then I took “The Other End of the Line” out and we made a small budget, you know, lovely film which was sort of a labor of love and a passion project. We brought Jesse on board first, who I think is perfect for the role, and then cast the Indian girl around him where I think the chemistry is terrific and works very well. And that’s sort of how it developed. So it took a number of years to actually get it made and it went through different iterations of should it be higher budget, smaller, how should it be done, who should it be done with, where should we shoot it? And finally we ended up shooting the majority of it in India in a very quick shoot. It was a 32 day shoot. Built a lot of sets in India and then we shot 4-5 days in San Francisco.



Okay, so let’s move on to…I know you’re attached to “The Dark Country”, “Dead of Night”, “Mandrake”. I’m sure you have other projects, so I wanted to know if I could get updates on those 3, so let’s just start with that. How’s the “Dark Country”?



Ashok: “Dark Country” is done. Thomas Jane directed it.



In 3D no less.



Ashok: In 3D and that is done. That’s with Sony-in fact a division of Sony.



Have you seen it?



Ashok: Yeah, of course. Many, many times. It’s very cool but it’s again a very small budget picture just so we’re clear about what it is.



Oh no totally.



Ashok: Under a $10 million movie. It’s very small.



But Tom has fans.



Ashok: Tom has fans. And I’m drawing a blank on the girl’s name…Lauren….a very, very beautiful girl isn’t it?



Shocking that Tom would want to work with a beautiful girl.



Ashok: It’s very good. It’s very good. Tom did a great job for his first directorial.



Exactly. Is it a hard R? Is it very violent? What kind of…?



Ashok: It’s an R.



Okay.



Ashok: It’s an R.



Does it push the boundaries or is it sort of just to the violence to tell the story? Or is it not violent?



Ashok: No, there’s a combination of violence and a combination of both psychological and visual violence, so it’s a small sort of edgy, dark film.



Okay. Let’s jump into “Dead of Night”. I know you’re working with Kevin Monroe or at least you’ve been scheduled to work with him.



Ashok: We are. We are working with Kevin and Brandon.



How is that project progressing and when can fans look forward to possibly that being in front of the cameras?



Ashok: It goes in front of the camera first quarter of next year. February-March of next year we start shooting. For a release, you never know these days, hopefully before 2015. No, I’m kidding. If it’s not the end of next year, it’ll be probably early 2010. A lot of visual effects.



I was going to say Kevin obviously learned—cut his teeth—on TMNT and a bunch of other things and I’m curious how’s it been like working with him and…?



Ashok: Oh Kevin’s fabulous. Kevin is just fabulous. He is a non-stop workaholic. And has really fine-tuned the script. He, I think, is perfect for the project. He understands it very well and he knows visual effects very well.



Absolutely.



Ashok: It’s sort of that fine mix.



For that project I’m sure fans are very curious. Is it a mid-range? Is it a low budget? Is it a high budget? What kind of thing?



Ashok: Mid range.



And does it already have a distribution deal set up?



Ashok: Not yet.



So is like an AFM kind of property? Or is it…?



Ashok: We’ve already announced it. We announced it at Cannes.



Yeah, exactly.



Ashok: I mean, we’ll certainly have it at AFM, but we won’t make the domestic deal until we have something to show.



I got it.



Ashok: Because we’d like to…I think it’s going to be a very visually arresting project because the vampires, the werewolves and zombies and the relationship between the Brandon character and Marcus who’s the sort of human that becomes a zombie. So that’s really interesting.



I’m very curious. Is he shooting it on digital like an HD camera? Is it going to be filmed..?



Ashok: No, no, no.



Okay. “Mandrake”. What’s going on with that project?



Ashok: More difficult to give you an update, you know? It’s all down to casting, you know. Good script. Terrific script.



Because the comic book superhero is…



Ashok: But it’s a much larger budget.



Ah yes.



Ashok: And as a result the casting becomes more sort of…having a larger budget is a double-edged sword so you then have to support that budget with a cast and director that means something more.



With the success of comic book properties recently and “Mandrake” I believe is based on a…



Ashok: Oh yeah a popular international comic book.



Absolutely. So is it a little bit easier to get interest in this property now?



It is but it’s a tougher marketplace, you know? Internationally, I think just globally with the financial crisis it is just a more difficult marketplace—not at the audience level—but the audiences will always go to the movies right? And they’ll always….in fact in times of depression it’s been shown that audiences go more to the movies.



Absolutely. Absolutely.



Ashok: However . . .



I totally agree with you that even in the Great Depression Hollywood was making gangbuster business, but it’s still the credit crisis.



Ashok: There’s players in-between that are much more withdrawn with the whole thing—banks, financing, distributors all get much more wary of things.



So this is a project that you have the script and it’s just a question of getting the behind the scene people?



Ashok: Yeah. I mean it’ll get done. It’ll get made. It’s just a question of when it goes and I’d say it’ll get made in ’09.



Okay. Last question for you; I was pulling some of these things off the “always accurate IMDB” but are there any other projects getting ready to go?



Ashok: Well there’s 2 others that are on the upper end of the interest level at Hyde Park, which is the remake of “10”, which I did the deal with Blake Edwards. We’re partnered on “10” and so we’re going to do the re-make of “10” in ’09 and we’re working on the script.



I was going to say how is the script progressing and do you…?



Ashok: Well it’s a Blake Edwards script that we’re updating currently.



Are you already thinking director or casting?



Ashok: We are but I mean nothing that I can tell you. But we’re working on all of that. And the other is a project called “Persuaders” and the “Persuaders” was an old British TV show that I bought the rights to which starred Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. And Roger Moore is a British Lord and Tony Curtis is a guy from the Bronx. And you know hi-jinx, action, comedy.



Okay.



Ashok: And so this is a script by David Dorfman who wrote “Anger Management” and we’re just in the process of putting that together. So those would be the 2 that….



The next 2 that are on the agenda?



Ashok: Would be.



Cool. I know you’re being pulled 7 different ways so I’m going to say thank you.




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