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Plan B Entertainment partners Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner play their cards close to their chests when it comes to strategy and upcoming plans.
Co-president Kleiner gave a rare insight into the company’s inner workings this week at the San Sebastian Film Festival’s Creative Investor Conference, organized in association with CAA Media Finance.
“To do this gig you have to have some underlying idealism and optimism,” he said of navigating the current volatile market as a producer.
“We’re working with a mix of established filmmakers and more emerging talent. The spectrum is really wide. Whether its Nia DaCosta, Bing Liu, David Michod, Lee Isaac Chung or RaMell Ross, Bong [Joon-Ho], or Jo Kosinski on his Formula One movie, things kind of find their place but I definitely feel like the bar seems quite high these days.”
Kleiner, who is marking his 20th year at Plan B and 10th year as its co-president, said there were no hard or fast rules around the kinds of projects the company gets behind.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is trying to have some kind of sensibility, or artists led way of picking projects and working, but trying to stay very present tense about it and not come up with formulas that start to limit what we do,” he said.
“For that reason, we may be a little harder to define than some companies and then we do a lot of different kinds of things. For some, that’s a weakness, we’ve always viewed it as kind of a strength.”
“We’re drawn to things that maybe are a little hard to come by sometimes. We like things that have a personal dimension to them but try to combine things in new ways. What we don’t have is a quota. We’re trying to be a productive company and we’ve managed to make a lot of things, but we try to keep a bit of that homemade quality about how we go about it.”
He said the three Plan B partners had very different tastes and interests but generally managed to forge a consensus, and that no one partner was focusing on one particular type of film or series.
“Dede has incredible taste and I aspire to have as good taste as she has and Brad has,” he said. “We have each plugged into our respective favourite things in ways you wouldn’t have necessarily predicted, and that’s some of the fun that we have together. It feels distinct but not complimentary. And we usually end up kind of in the same place, but not always.”
Giving an update on its slate, Kleiner said the company was working on post-production on Bong’s Mickey 17, featuring Robert Pattinson, Toni Collette, Steve Yeun and Mark Ruffalo in the cast.
He said that Plan B had suggested the adaptation of Edward Ashton’s 2022 sci-fi thriller novel Mickey 7 to Bong.
“It came from a book that we had read that we send to director Bong. We had been involved in producing Okja and we’re very excited that we got a chance to work with him again,” he said. “It’s a movie that will hopefully find a big audience.”
“Those of you who know the book will know it has some genre elements, but it’s very director Bong. It’s an example of repeat business with a director that we admire… but doing it in kind of a new setting.”
He also cited Plan B’s upcoming adaptation with Anonymous of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Nickel Boys. Previously, Plan B executive produced Barry Jenkins’s mini-series The Underground Railroad, which was adapted from Whitehead’s 2016 historical novel of the same name.
The new Whitehead adaptation is directed by Ross (Hale County This Morning, This Evening).
“I’m very excited about this movie and the idea that these movies are very different, but both based on matching directors with source material. I think that’s kind of what we’ve historically tried to do. They’re very different from each other but they’re about the chemistry between the story and the artist.”
Kleiner said the company would also be pushing deeper into series with the hiring in late August of veteran Smoke House Pictures and Netflix executive and producer Nina Wolarsky as President of Television over the summer.
“That’s representative of more commitment to that space. We have done some series and are wanting to do more. I like it when we work with writers and directors in both mediums,” he said.
He suggested that as with feature film, the series slate would be diverse, pointing to Plan B’s work with creators such as the UK’s Dennis Kelly (The Third Day) and involvement in kids’ series Lego Masters.
The exec also touched on the company’s international ambitions which have been bolstered by the entry of Paris-based pan-European content group Mediawan into the company as a majority shareholder at the end of 2022.
“We’re based in Los Angeles, but we’ve always tried to think of ourselves as a globally minded company, whether that’s in choice of story, or the filmmakers that we’ve worked with,” he said, citing Okja and Minari as projects where the company had worked with a more international mindset.
“In Europe, there’s a set of conditions, talent, production cost and this financing system that can put producers in a potentially very strong position, creatively and financially.”
He said this was one of the reasons Plan B had been drawn to Mediawan as an investor.
“They have put together an ecosystem of mostly European production companies,” he said. “That has opened up even more opportunities.”
“Here in Spain, they have companies like Boomerang and Good Mood. That’s another source of potential collaboration for us with great producers. We’re figuring out ways to put things together, where you might be able to multiply force and be really strong and take things to market.”
Assessing how things had changed since he first joined Plan B in 2003, Kleiner said the climate was more challenging today, but he was of the view that there were always opportunities to be found in chaos.
“When a conservative outlook starts to become the entrenched ideology, it means opportunities get overlooked people. People have dogmas about what works and what doesn’t work and in that sort of space, nimble, agile producers will figure out ways to get things through, whether it’s by making them in innovative ways, or creating new financing models,” he said.