Cannes: Signature Entertainment Boss Marc Goldberg on His Post-Pandemic Production and Theatrical Drive (and Reuniting With Dave Bautista)
It’s been quite a decade (and a bit) for Signature Entertainment. Having launched in 2011 as a UK DVD distribution business (its first release: the live-action/animated adaptation of the classic British children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit), the company — set up by former DVD salesman Marc Goldberg — has evolved and grown with the changing times. It became a major player in the home entertainment space as digital and streamers took over, expanded its distribution into Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the US, and also moved into production.
Signature’s debut title was the Dave Bautista-starring 2018 action thriller Final Scorea film Goldberg describes as “Die Hard in a football stadium” (and a film that also saw him blow up — on camera, at least — the former stadium of his beloved soccer team West Ham United, whose chairman, David Sullivan, happens to be a major Signature investor) . While taking this “crash course” in production, Goldberg made the decision to relocate with his family to Los Angeles to help spearhead that side of the business, telling his team in London that he’d “give it a try for a year.”
Six years on, he’s still there, with about 20 movies under Signature’s belt and production having become a significant focus for the company, especially since COVID. The move also sparked the addition of Signature’s international sales arm, now about to have its biggest year so far (it only set up its first office at Cannes in 2022) with potentially five films launching, including the rom-com Cupid and Mestarring Brittany Snow and Cobie Smulders, with Haley Bennett in discussions. And while that bubbles over nicely, the company has made a concerted push into theatrical releasing in the UK, making a surprise box office splash last year with psychological horror. Orphan: First Kill and now upping its acquisitions game, having recently bought the high-profile Jodie Comer-starring, Benedict Cumberbatch-produced environmental survival drama The End We Start From and the Cannes’ competition entry Black Flies.
As Goldberg explains to The News84Media, none of this was ever part of his master plan, but it all seems to be working out rather well, and Signature now has growing teams in the UK and US, having recently brought on UK production and theatrical heads. And with a $50 million actioner in the works, again starring Bautista (whose stock has skyrocketed since their first outing), things only look to be getting bigger. “We have to be bullish,” he says. “Otherwise we won’t do it at all.”
Is the Signature today a totally different beast to how you started out in 2011?
It’s totally different in terms of the way in which we operate, the size and the type of people we deal with. But I think the biggest difference really from even four or five years ago is the quality of films that we distribute and make. At the same time, I’m massively proud of what we did back then. You’ve got to start somewhere. And we made, thankfully, some really good decisions on the type of films that we were able to afford in the market. I never really had any great ambitions to do anything more than try to build a DVD distribution business, let alone the production and international sales and financing we do now.
Your push into theatrical has come at a time when, beyond the tentpoles, it has looked a little shaky. What was behind that move?
It was never really part of our road map when we were growing the business over the past five or six years. But COVID had a huge impact, and one of the things that came out of that was the change in sentiment from exhibitors, being that with the drop in delivery costs and the squeezing of windows, they became more collaborative with distributors like us who didn’t t ultimately feel that releasing a film on a small number of screens and waiting 16 weeks to do something else with it was a good business model. I think the exhibitors recognized that. And there were fewer movies released theatrically, ultimately. We saw that as a sensible approach to be able to acquire more movies to release theatrically. We had done it previously with moderate success at best, and then during COVID we had our biggest hit, Honest Thief, with Liam Neeson. And then post COVID, when we really said, OK, we’re going to attack this, we [did great] last year with Orphan 2 and The Fall. The Fall was a home premiere, and we were able to release that 31 days later, and from a moderate theatrical success it went on to be an astonishing success on home entertainment. It was no. 1 on Netflix I think for three weeks.
So there is room for lower-budget films to thrive in the box office?
We can use “thrive” sparingly, I guess. We’ve released a number of films this year that have done OK for what we expected. We’re quite realistic with what we set out to achieve. It’s difficult to use the word thrive because it really is hard to have a breakout hit with an independent film. So we don’t go into it expecting it to break out. But it happens and things, obviously like Orphan, to do £2.5 million ($3.1 million) at the box office was unexpected. We have six films coming in the next few months, and of the six, five are animated features, three of which are sequels to movies that were released theatrically. So that’s kind of the attack there.
You recently announced that you acquired the Jodie Comer-starring and Benedict Cumberbatch-produced survival film
The End We Start From. Is this a sign of Signature taking a step up in terms of its acquisition for theatrical?
Yeah, this is the first of a number of bigger swings that we’re taking theatrically.
Since COVID, you’ve also launched a big production drive. This started a few years earlier but has been ramped up. How’s that side of the business looking for Signature?
From about June 2020 until January this year, we went on a run of making another movie every few months. We’ve just taken a bit of breather while we get ready for some much bigger projects coming at the end of the year. What has grown out of that has been international sales, which again wasn’t something on the road map at the beginning, it just felt like a natural progression. With the distribution business at the core of Signature, it gives us an edge, because we see what’s working day in day out, and when we’re putting our finance plans together, we can give ourselves the ammunition to see where certain territories are, Because we’re doing it ourselves, especially when it comes to the UK and Australia.
What have been the biggest signature projects so far?
The biggest so far was probably The Estate, with Toni Collette and Anna Faris, which was a big production for us last year. It was released with Universal in the US and was the most-watched movie on Hulu in April. It was something we’re really proud of, and we are in development with [director] Dean Craig on another film right now. We’ve also got the romantic thriller Marmalade with Joe Keery, which we shot in Minnesota last year and will release at the end of the year. With (Scott Adkins actioner) One Shot, we have a mini-franchise, which is something we’re also incredibly proud of. We made the first movie in 2021 and just finished shooting the sequel, and the first was so popular that Sony came in for the world. [rights], excluding the UK, for the second. And we have a third already lined up.
Is there a framework for the size of the budgets of your self-produced films?
There’s no particular framework, but the films coming up are in the $4 million-$5 million range. But there’s a film we’ve had in development for six years, ever since I moved here, which is big bud-
get — in the $50 million range — an action movie called Traphouse, starring Dave Bautista. It was announced many years ago, but it’s taken this long to get the script to where we want it. But there’s also a horror film we’re making this summer, a romantic comedy we’re making this autumn and a psychological horror thriller that we’re looking to make at the end of the year, and there the range is anywhere between $3 million -$10 million.
How does Netflix and other streamers pulling back from acquisitions impact Signature?
One streaming platform may say they’re taking less, but another one decides they want to do more. And there are certain territories that are more aggressive than others in terms of their buying. What’s read in the press isn’t always the case. If they’re reducing from $6 billion to
$5 billion, it’s still $5 billion. And as a company, we obviously want to have as much of that spend as possible, but we don’t need to have huge amounts to make it work. I think the biggest challenge is not the fluctuation in streaming budgets, it’s the challenge of getting films made. Just getting a film made is a miracle, and getting a good film made is even harder. With getting the cast, you’re constantly fighting for attention. We’re all producers and all working from the same list, so we’re fighting for the same pool of actors. So I do foresee over the next few years, fewer films will get made.
Do you have any traditions in Cannes?
I have a couple. I always have dinner at Le Maschou, I always have that booked. And although I haven’t played in a few years, I was a regular in the industry football match. Unfortunately, injury and age has caught up with me. But I have gotten myself fit again, so was thinking of making an appearance this year.
I’ve always been a center midfielder, which is probably why I’m always injured. I never had any pace, but I was good with the ball.
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