Film-production house signs worldwide distribution deal

B.C.-based Bron Studios teams with Sony Pictures Classics on biopic

B.C. film producer Aaron Gilbert’s Bron Studios has signed a deal with Sony Pictures Classics for worldwide distribution rights for I Saw the Light: The Hank Williams story.

The close-to-$20-million film, which stars Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen, is produced by Bron Studios and RatPac Entertainment and will be in theatres this fall.

“It’s the first film for Bron that has been acquired for worldwide release by a major studio,” Gilbert said. “They were tracking the film and they approached us.”

Sony Pictures Classics is one of the top global distributors for independent film, and has a reputation for buying films that go on to earn Oscar nominations and awards.

Gilbert is one of the few B.C. film producers who doesn’t go to Telefilm Canada for funding and doesn’t do production service work for American clients. Yet he has managed to produce or executive produce 40 liveaction and animated films and television shows with actors like Ewan McGregor, Jason Sudeikis and Ellen Page. Executive producer is a financial role – “I’m basically glued to a phone,” he said – while a producer is also creatively involved in the filmmaking, he said.


The key to financing films is learning how to deal with the private sector, Gilbert said. “You have to build financial models and treat a film-production company like you’re trying to open a coffee shop,” he said.

“You have to make sure your investors’ portion comes first.”

Gilbert and his wife Brenda started Bron Studios and Media House Capital, a company that lends to the independent film industry, in 2010.

“When you’re out there knocking on doors and meeting people, you end up identifying some folks who just don’t have the interest in putting equity into a movie and taking that longerterm investment,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t want to ever turn down money.”

So he started Media House to provide short-term loans secured against unsold distribution rights. Gilbert said lending against unsold markets is fairly unusual.

Media House retains approval on everything from cast to budget, schedule and marketing. Media House, whose investments include By Way of Helena starring Woody Harrelson, also takes a percentage ownership.

Gilbert also helped establish an RRSP-eligible media mutual fund with Toronto’s Crystal

Wealth fund managers.

Gilbert, 42, became a producer by accident. Through a chance connection, he ended up managing a music group in Los Angeles on its way stardom. “They were young. I was young,” Gilbert said.

He had only had a brief brush with business school, but was a good deal-maker and parlayed that first connection into six years in the music industry, eventually coming to Vancouver as a business consultant for Mainframe Entertainment.

In 2009, he assembled investors for a $2.5-million sci-fi TV movie that derailed. Gilbert ended up taking over and finishing the movie with $1.25 million from friends and out of his own pocket. It was a “brutal” experience, he said, but after all was said and done, “I said to myself, ‘I can do this.'” Gilbert hasn’t avoided Telefilm funding for ideological reasons. His projects, often music-driven films or with famous stars, simply haven’t fit into Telefilm’s Canadian content parameters. The Telefilm process also requires a long lead time he doesn’t always have.

“If you’re offering $150,000 to an actor used to getting $2 million to $3 million per film,” he said, “you have to offer something they can’t get with studios – an incredibly dynamic role, a role that tests them as an artist – and you have to work around their schedules.”


Gilbert’s first movie with Telefilm was this year, with Into the Forest starring Ellen Page.

But Gilbert’s first love is animation. Live-action characters aren’t quite the same.

“Are you really emotional about some of those people as you are with Woody or Buzz?” he asks, referring to the characters from the animated Toy Story franchise.

He is producing his first theatrical animated film, titled Henchmen, in Duncan.

“We have, give or take, 60 people in our studio,” he said, “and 45 of them are exclusively with animation – yet we’re producing 10 to one live-action to animation projects.”

Bron will oversee more than $100 million in productions this year.

Bron is also producing Special Correspondents, written, directed and starring Ricky Gervais, in Toronto. Welcome to Me, a comedy produced by Will Ferrell’s Gary Sanchez Productions and Bron Studios and starring Kristen Wiig, will be in theatres May 1. And the studio’s upcoming Bill Macydirected comedy The Layover will be shooting in Vancouver this month.

Read more:


Comments are closed.