Finance I: The Risk Takers
What does it take to raise money for an independent film in today’s global landscape? Leading financiers and decision-makers discuss the state of financing, insurance, how to compete in the age of studio franchises, and their outlook on the future of the industry.
Jason Cloth, Founder & CEO, Creative Wealth Media
Erica Lee, Partner, Thunder Road Pictures
Laura Lewis, Founder, Rebelle Media
Milan Popelka, COO, FilmNation
Erich Schwartzel, Film Industry Reporter, The Wall Street Journal
Jason ClothFounder & CEO, Creative Wealth Media
Jason M Cloth is the Founder and principal of Creative Wealth Media Lending Inc., Creative Wealth Media Finance Corp. and Creative Wealth Media Advisors Inc. (Creative Wealth Media), a prolific film and television financing group of companies.
Mr. Cloth has executive produced over 87 feature films with producer BRON Studios for a portfolio that includes critical hits, commercial blockbusters and cult favorites that have included multiple Oscar® nominated films; JOKER (the highest grossing R rated movie of all time), Jason Reitman’s GHOSTBUSTERS AFTERLIFE (Sony), JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (Warner Bros), PIECES OF A WOMAN (Netflix), BOMBSHELL (Lionsgate), Ron Howard’s THIRTEEN LIVES (MGM), Dev Patel’s MONKEY MAN (Netflix) and two Kevin Hart films: THE MAN FROM TORONTO and FATHERHOOD, to name just a few.
Mr. Cloth is also a Director of BRON Media Corp. Mr. Cloth joined BRON Studios in September 2014 in a key strategic financial and investor management role.
Additional film credits for Mr. Cloth include the acclaimed Denzel Washington led films FENCES (Paramount) and THE WAY BACK (Warner Bros.) as well as New Line Cinema’s ISN’T IT ROMANTIC, THE KITCHEN (Warner Bros.), SUPERINTELLIGENCE and Angelina Jolie’s THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (MGM), LEGALLY BLONDE 3 (MGM), CANDYMAN (MGM), RESPECT (MGM), THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (MGM), and ROBOCOP RETURNS, as well as Orion Pictures’ CHILD’S PLAY, BAD TRIP and GRETEL AND HANSEL, ROMAN J. ISRAEL ESQ (Sony); Clint Eastwood’s THE MULE; the breakout hit A SIMPLE FAVOR starring Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick; Tom Hanks Apple TV+ hit GREYHOUND; RED SEA DIVING RESORT, starring Chris Evans; THE GOOD NURSE starring Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne; THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME starring Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon; TULLY starring Charlize Theron (Focus / Universal); BIRTH OF A NATION (Fox Searchlight); and ASSASSINATION NATION.
Laura LewisCEO & Founder, Rebelle Media
Laura is the CEO and Founder of Rebelle Media. Laura has over twenty years of experience in film and television development, production, strategy, sales and financing. She produced Mr. Malcolm’s List for Bleecker Street Media and Universal Pictures and is an Executive Producer on Hulu’s hit television series Tell Me Lies, which is about to start production on its second season. Previous credits include Producer on Sony Pictures’ Long Weekend, Executive Producer on An Acceptable Loss starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Tika Sumpter, Co-Executive Producer on All About Nina, written and directed by Eva Vives, and Little Woods, written and directed by Nia DaCosta.
Prior to launching Rebelle, as a film finance and sales agent at Creative Artists Agency, Laura packaged and sold films such as On the Basis of Sex, The Wife, Jackie, Dallas Buyers Club, The Imitation Game, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Maggie’s Plan, Begin Again, Mud, Bachelorette, Sleeping with other People, and Still Alice, amongst many others. Her focus has always been on finding ways to push against the “no” and getting stories, across all genres, about women and other marginalized voices made and seen.
Prior to CAA, she consulted with financiers on slate and individual picture film financing and worked as a development and production executive at Twentieth Century Fox and Edward Saxon Productions on films ranging from Away We Go to What Happens in Vegas.
Laura has a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. She is a proud member of the Executive Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, BAFTA, the Television Academy, the Producers Union and the Producers Guild of America. She also mentors and volunteers for Sundance and Women in Film. Laura runs marathons, loves Duke basketball, musical theater, exploring the world, can occasionally be found lost in her imagination at Disneyland, and is the loving mother of Gus, her willful Yorkie.
Milan PopelkaCOO, FilmNation
Milan Popelka is the Chief Operating Officer at leading independent entertainment company FilmNation Entertainment. Popelka’s responsibilities include overseeing all day-to-day operations, strategic planning/business development, and finance for the company, and extending across film, television, theater, and podcasting. FilmNation’s films have grossed over $3.4B worldwide at the box office, while garnering a highly prized ‘EGOT’ across its various businesses: an Emmy win for its first TV series, 2 Grammys for its first Broadway musical, 50 Oscar nominations (including 5 for Best Picture) and 9 wins, and 17 Tony Award nominations and 10 wins.
Popelka served as Executive Producer on Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction epic Arrival, Emerald Fennell’s Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman, and WWII epic Greyhound starring Tom Hanks, among many others, as well as on the award winning podcast SNAFU with Ed Helms. He is a member of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Erich SchwartzelFilm Industry Reporter, The Wall Street Journal
Erich Schwartzel covers the film industry in The Wall Street Journal’s Los Angeles bureau. He joined the Journal in 2013 and has written dozens of front-page stories on life and business in Hollywood, specializing in features where commerce meets culture.
Schwartzel’s first book, “Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy,” was published in February 2022 by Penguin Press and detailed the growing influence of China on the American entertainment industry. “Red Carpet” was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, called a “page-turner” by Foreign Affairs, and named one of the best books ever written about Hollywood by Esquire. Schwartzel’s work on “Red Carpet” was featured on NPR’s Fresh Air, CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” and excerpted in the Atlantic and the Washington Post.
Before joining the Journal, Schwartzel covered energy and the environment for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where his work won the Scripps Howard Award for Environmental Reporting. He grew up in Latrobe, Penn., where he got his start in journalism writing a police blotter for the local paper.
Erica LeePartner, Thunder Road Pictures
Born in NYC, Erica Lee graduated with honors from Florida State University with a degree in communications and immediately entered the entertainment industry with an internship at NBC Studios in Burbank. Following her internship, she began working at Creative Artists Agency as an assistant in the talent department. A fifteen-year veteran of Thunder Road, Erica started as the assistant to Chairman Basil Iwanyk. Now President of Production, she has produced some of the company’s most successful films including all three installments of the John Wick franchise, Taylor Sheridan’s chilling Wind River, the critically acclaimed Sicario, directed by Oscar-nominated Denis Villeneuve, starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, as well as the Stefano Sollima directed sequel, Sicario: Day of the Soldado.
Erica has also shepherded development on such titles as A Star is Born, We Are Marshall, Brooklyn’s Finest, The Town, The Expendables franchise, Clash of the Titans and its sequel, Wrath of the Titans, and served as co-producer on Universal Pictures’ Seventh Son, directed by Oscar-nominated Sergei Bodrov, starring Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, Oscar-nominee Matthew Heineman’s gripping narrative debut, A Private War, Andrea Di Stefano’s The Informer, starring Rosamund Pike and Joel Kinnaman, and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon. Most recently, Erica produced Ric Roman Waugh’s white-knuckle disaster thriller, Greenland, starring Gerard Butler. Her other recent titles include Halle Berry’s hard-hitting directorial debut, Bruised, and Tarik Saleh’s black op thriller, The Contractor, starring Chris Pine. Erica is currently in post-production on the fourth installment of John Wick, which reunites Keanu Reeves with director Chad Stahelski, as well as Mouly Surya’s Trigger Warning starring Jessica Alba; John Woo’s heralded US action film return SILENT NIGHT starring Joel Kinnaman; Stefon Bristol’s sophomore film BREATHE starring Jennifer Hudson and Milla Jovovich; Ric Waugh’s Kandahar starring Gerard Butler, Dev Patel’s directorial debut with the revenge thriller Monkey Man, and Jim Strouse’s romantic comedy Text For You, starring Priyanka Chopra-Jonas and Sam Heughan featuring original music by Celine Dion. Erica is also working on projects expanding the World of John Wick, including the limited series The Continental and the first feature spinoff, Ballerina, starring Ana De Armas, which recently began pre-production.