Tarak Ben Ammar, the president of Eagle Footage, strolls into The Hollywood Reporter Roma studio on the Venice Movie Pageant in informal gown, polo shirt and pants, all in the identical matching gray, aside from pitch-black loafers.
“I like to stroll,” he says, tutting concerning the state of disrepair of Lido landmark The Excelsior, which he simply handed by and which is in dire want of renovation. “The Excelsior can now not be referred to as a luxurious resort,” he argues, earlier than taking a seat to speak about his storied life within the film enterprise.
The Tunisian-French media mogul is aware of a number of issues about rebuilding. Ben Ammar acquired Eagle Footage in 2007 and has turned the Milan-based manufacturing and distribution group right into a European powerhouse. Unique distribution offers with Paramount and Sony Footage have made Eagle Italy’s largest unbiased distributor, and Ben Ammar has leveraged his Sony deal to co-produce with the studio, teaming up on initiatives together with Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer 3, the most recent within the hit motion franchise starring Denzel Washington, which was shot completely in Italy.
Alongside new acquisitions — of native manufacturing home 302 Authentic Content material and unscripted TV firm Blu Yazmine — Ben Ammar has additionally introduced plans to construct a $50 million-plus studio advanced in Rome. And, he tells THR Roma, he desires to shake up Italy’s staid cinema training system with the launch of a brand new public movie college within the Lazio area.
Ben Ammar is a novel determine on the European movie scene. Born in Tunisia in 1949, he first made his identify within the business as an area service supplier, his Carthago Movies engaged on the Tunisian location shoots for Star Wars and Raiders of the Misplaced Ark. He quickly moved into manufacturing himself, with such options as Franco Zeffirelli’s La Traviata (1982) and Roman Polanski’s Pirates (1986). In 1990, he arrange the manufacturing group Quinta Communications with outdated buddy — and future Italian Prime Minister — Silvio Berlusconi. (Berlusconi died earlier this 12 months).
“What I miss most about Berlusconi is his affection,” says Ben Ammar. “He used to kiss me, and I kissed him. Someday he made an actual declaration of affection to me. There are two sorts of affection, that of household and that of pals. We turned brothers at age 40. He died at 86. I’m 74. A 12-year age hole between males is nothing. Someday he hugged me in entrance of certainly one of my kids and advised him, ‘I like your daddy a lot’ which moved him. It was true, I cherished him too! We’ve got come a great distance collectively. I converse of Silvio as I do about my mother and father who handed away – with a smile. He was an ideal man with me. I helped him; I noticed how a lot he suffered due to politics, and I believe his sickness finally got here from there as properly.”
Ben Ammar’s abilities as a dealmaker made him stand out within the wild Nineteen Nineties, when enterprise empires had been made and misplaced within the courageous new world of European pay TV. He suggested Rupert Murdoch on his entry into the Italian TV market, helped persuade Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to speculate $400 million in Murdoch’s Information Corp. and, in 1999, organized for Berlusconi, Alwaleed and Lehman Brothers to speculate $1.3 billion in German movie and TV group Kirch Media (run by Leo Kirch, one other outdated Ben Ammar pal).
“I had the great fortune to satisfy Silvio Berlusconi, Rupert Murdoch, Leo Kirch,” he recollects. “What did I study from these giants who created empires on their very own? Figuring out the best way to pay attention. Silvio and Murdoch by no means interrupted you. Even when somebody says one thing silly, it’s important to pay attention. After I was younger, I might usually interrupt as a result of I used to be anxious, I wished to indicate how succesful I used to be. Slowly, I realized that the actual power is listening. I at all times inform younger individuals who come to see me: ‘Sit down and study to pay attention.’ Those that can pay attention can study lots. Then, when you might have the time to speak, you realize the correct issues to say.”
Ben Ammar’s affect as a behind-the-scenes energy dealer has by no means waned. In 2017, as The Weinstein Firm teetered on the point of collapse, amid the #MeToo motion and the sexual assault instances towards Harvey Weinstein, Ben Ammar was introduced in by the TWC board to barter with collectors to keep away from declaring chapter. (TWC finally did go bust, and its property had been snatched up by Texas personal fairness firm Lantern Capital Companions).
The Tunisian entrepreneur mentioned he tried to rescue the group from chapter to assist the TWC filmmakers and collectors receives a commission, however that he had no drawback shutting the corporate down.
“I completely wished to kick Harvey out for 10 years, not due to the intercourse scandals, I had no data of them, however as a result of he was a really dangerous supervisor of different individuals’s cash,” Ben Ammar says. “On the [TWC] board I represented Bernard Arnold, WPP, TF1, Softbank. I used to be simply in L.A. working The Weinstein Firm, ensuring individuals received paid, ensuring to pay Quentin Tarantino, ensuring the movies didn’t burn to the bottom, getting ready the chapter, getting funding, restructuring it.”
However alongside all of the offers and the back-room negotiations, Ben Ammar has at all times been a lover, and supporter, of cinema, notably artwork home movies. “Cinema is a steadiness between artwork and business. I’ve needed to do each,” he says. “Because of movies like Equalizer 3, which is doing properly, I will produce extra advanced, auteur-driven movies.”
Ben Ammar went to Venice to obtain the pageant’s producer award, devoted to Martha De Laurentiis, the spouse of legendary Italian producer, and Ben Ammar’s mentor, Dino De Laurentiis.
“This award is particular,” he says, “Dino De Laurentiis was an ideal grasp who helped me enter the North American market.” He contrasts the respect with the Academy Award (a trophy he has but to win), noting that “the Oscars are now not what they had been. They’ve been contaminated by the world of commerce, by the web, the crimson carpet, by jewellery and designer labels. Even the Cannes Movie Pageant or the Venice Movie Pageant, exactly as a result of they want a lot cash, are all influenced by sponsors.”
Continues Ben Ammar: “After all, it is usually true that when movies like The Postman, Cinema Paradiso or Parasite win [at the Oscars], you see there’s nonetheless hope… The Oscar, nevertheless, has by no means been a objective of mine. I at all times say to administrators: ‘Neglect the Oscar, not each movie that has received an Oscar is sweet.’ The actual Oscar is the viewers, not the critics, not the awards. One of many biggest producers in historical past, Dino De Laurentiis, was solely given one Academy Award, for lifetime achievement. It appears to me that there’s something unsuitable with the system. The issue with cinema is that everybody desires to do it however it isn’t a occupation for everybody.”
Requested for his favorites at this 12 months’s Venice fest, Ben Ammar singles out Maestro by Bradley Cooper, concerning the nice conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, performed by Cooper, and his relationship along with his spouse, Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre, performed by Carey Mulligan.
“It deeply moved me,” he says, “[But] my son didn’t prefer it. Possibly it means I’m too outdated. I used to be in tears to the purpose that I assumed, ‘am I dropping it?’ This film jogged my memory that I do the best job on the earth: filmmaking!”
He has his personal Bernstein story, a never-produced adaptation of the Giuseppe Verdi opera Aida.
“I used to be getting ready Aida, which Franco Zeffirelli and Bernstein himself had re-written, to be filmed in Egypt, among the many pyramids,” he recollects. “I nonetheless have the script. I met with [Bernstein], we even went on location. Sadly, he died, and nothing extra was executed with it. Seeing Bradley Cooper’s efficiency within the movie, wanting a lot like him, I assumed. ‘That is the magic of cinema.’ A magic that permits everybody to get contained in the story, the expertise, the pains of a genius.”
Hardly ever, the artwork and business of cinema align, he notes, as with “the phenomenon” of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.
“I didn’t even know who he was [Oppenheimer],” Ben Ammar admits. “My ignorance is that of 99.9 p.c of the viewers. Christopher Nolan, a genius, learn this e-book [Kai Bird’s American Prometheus] and realized it was an enormous hit, a fancy story that’s, nevertheless, based mostly on probably the most highly effective and basic dichotomy for human beings: evil and good. I heard from Common that younger individuals go to see Oppenheimer as a result of they’re curious to know extra concerning the atomic bomb. It signifies that when there’s a nice challenge, the viewers finds it.”
However, he argues, few movies attain the Oppenheimer degree, as a result of producers, and distributors, notably streaming platforms, have diluted the market.
“The issue is that 90 p.c of the movies are dangerous, and the streamers haven’t helped as a result of every thing has grow to be a reduction retailer. It was that producers like De Laurentiis, Cecchi Gori or [Fulvio] Lucisano would make investments their very own cash and take the danger,” he says. “At this time with the appearance of platforms every thing has modified. There may be an excessive amount of cash, too many motion pictures, too many dangerous motion pictures. You don’t want 700 titles a 12 months popping out in film theaters worldwide. That’s the actual drawback. The platforms have led to this as a result of they need to have content material on a regular basis. They’ve lowered the standard of flicks on the market. Each now and again there’s a stunning one, however masterpieces are the exceptions.”
Ben Ammar additionally sees cinema in an existential disaster over what he calls the “social disaster” as a result of unfair distribution of wealth throughout the enterprise. Pointing to the labor motion within the U.S., with the actors and writers strikes, he worries about emotion turning into anger. “I see [the debates] as a dogmatic stance of socialism towards capitalism. Union socialism vs. U.S. capitalism,” he says. “The actors and screenwriters are rightly demanding recognition for his or her work. They used to get it by the networks however with the transfer to streaming platforms, which don’t present scores knowledge, they’ve misplaced every thing.”
Ben Ammar’s resolution, which is a part of the not too long ago negotiated WGA settlement, is to power streamers to be clear about their viewership figures and to pay individuals based on the success of their work.
As soon as he will get on his favourite matter — the state of the movie business — there’s no holding Ben Ammar again. He can discuss for hours on the ins and outs of the enterprise he holds expensive, inside which he has constructed a media empire. From his manufacturing roots, Ben Ammar expanded into distribution. His first huge transfer got here in 2004 when he noticed a possibility. Each French distributor had turned down Mel Gibson’s The Ardour of the Christ, scared off by Gibson’s antisemitic outbursts on the time, which some feared might spark violence. Ben Ammar, a Muslim who has produced a number of movies concerning the lifetime of Christ (The Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and even, as an government producer, Monty Python’s Lifetime of Brian) argued the movie was not antisemitic however anti-fundamentalist. He launched it in France by Carthago Movies, and it was successful, grossing practically $12 million within the territory.
His enlargement into Italy was equally opportunistic. “I purchased Eagle Footage in 2007 as a result of it was out there, and I mentioned to myself: Let’s study the distributor enterprise,” he says. “At this time we’re the main unbiased distributor in Italy.”
Ben Ammar’s subsequent transfer is into the backlot enterprise. He’s planning an formidable, $50 million-plus studio advanced in Rome. The place the studio shall be positioned and when precisely it is going to open stays a thriller — Ben Ammar says by the tip of 2024 — however he’s insistent will probably be huge, on par with Rome’s different, legendary backlot.
“After I made the joke that I’d wished to name [the new studio] Cinecittà 2, it was merely out of affection, out of gratitude,” he says, remembering watching as much as 4 motion pictures a day at Cinecittà when he was dwelling in Rome as a youngster. “Someday an ideal actress, Shirley MacLaine, who was a buddy of my mother and father, got here to choose me up in Vittorio De Sica’s Rolls-Royce and take me to Cinecittà. Are you able to think about the scene: her strolling into this courtyard, all of the home windows open and these little boys looking at this attractive girl? I received a style of La Dolce Vita because of her.”
The largest problem to constructing “Cinecittà 2” is not going to be discovering the area however discovering the workers, Ben Ammar says, noting that Italy is struggling to seek out the skills, notably movie technicians and different below-the-line staff, to satisfy the present manufacturing increase. He hopes to assist fill the abilities hole with a brand new movie college, which he he planning to construct within the Lazio area round Rome.
“I did that in Tunisia [built a film school] after which I’d rent the scholars to work on movies in manufacturing,” he says. “I hope to draw nice American administrators and actors to come back to Rome and do masterclasses. The college shall be a public one and [I hope] shall be an ideal encouragement for younger individuals who need to enter the fabulous world of cinema that’s so tough to enter in the present day.”
Along with the media connections, Ben Ammar has shut ties with Italy’s political elite. He talks up his “particular relationship” with Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
“She’s managed to get the place she is by being a girl in a male-dominated nation and male-dominated world,” he says. “She’s self-made, speaks English and French, she has a uncommon braveness for a major minister. I noticed how succesful she was after I introduced Tom Cruise to her [for the Rome premiere of Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part 1]. He bonded along with her, she bonded with him. She talked about cinema, he talked about tradition and cinema. It went so properly, we had been an hour late to our film premiere.”
Of Meloni’s critics, Ben Ammar says the brand new chief, who took over as Italian Prime Minister final 12 months, needs to be given “a few years” in energy earlier than she’s judged.
Requested if he has any political ambitions himself, Ben Ammar waves off the suggestion. “If politicians need to discuss to me about one thing I do know a factor about, like Africa and immigration, I’m prepared to speak,” he says. “I don’t perceive how it’s attainable that Libya and Algeria, with all that wealth that God has given them, are forcing younger Tunisians, Algerians, Libyans, and Moroccans to decide on demise within the Mediterranean Sea versus dwelling of their house nations. It’s a failure of Africa and the West to not have led these nations to democracy.”
However Ben Ammar plans on sticking to his day job. “With my work, the worst I can do is make a foul film, lose cash and disappoint the viewers,” he says. “It’s not the identical as disappointing the citizens.”