Xeitgeist backs Australian production with cross-cultural slate
Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons in The Man Who Knew Infinity.
After just four years Xeistgeist Entertainment Group has built a globally appealing film and TV slate with an Australian production base and Singaporean finance.
Their “east meets west” film slate includes The Man Who Knew Infinity (Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel), Damascus Cover (John Hurt, Jonathan rhys Meyers), Mumbai Hotel (Armie Hammer, Teresa Palmer, Dev Patel) and Shambala (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
While in television, they’re into their fourth Australian season of The Code and are in pre-production for their first series of an international format of the same show.
Founder and chief executive, Joe Thomas, who has lived in Austraila for more than 15 years, said the company, which is based in Fox Studios, Sydney and Singapore, was also looking to form a TV drama division to be led by an Australian creative team.
“We look at ourselves as a cross-cultural film production company and in our first few years we have picked up a few films that, like The Man Who Knew Infinity, are global but at the same time globally appealing stories that can be released as a globally commercial film,” he said.
“The main focus is east meets west, so we look at stories that can be told with a vision of bringing it to life as a mainstream medium.”
Thomas said the The Man Who Knew Infinity, was the perfect example of the type of film project the company takes on.
“It’s a story about an Indian mathematician whos goes to Trinity College in Cambridge and his profound mathematical equation paves the way to the digital era.
“The character, or the man himself, although people are somewhat familiar with him in India, not many people know the story in the rest of the world. We focus on stories like that to bring them to life and to throw light on their life’s work or their challenges and put a film around it so it’s promoted in the rest of the world.”
Based in Singapore and Sydney, Xeitgeist Entertainment Group is a boutique IP acquisition, management, licensing and distribution company specialising in films and TV.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Damascus Cover.
It was founded in 2011 by producers Mark Montgomery and Joe Thomas, and works with its global partners to link filmmakers and financiers.
“When we looked at the structure of it – being in Singapore, the kind of support we get out of there in terms of financial structures, the thought leaders of the finance world – they are not necessarily in the film financing world, but our board, our shareholders, they are very aggressive in terms of doing these kind of films, they back us.
“So being in Singapore helps that and in terms of co-productions with Australia and Singapore. There’s a great co-production treaty and being here in Fox gives us access to a lot of post facilities and crew and talent.
“We’re maximizing our reach within Australia when it comes to talent and when it comes to co-production and finance, between Singapore, China and Australia. We feel like it’s a very strong position to be in.
"We are still working with the mothership called Hollywood. On Infinity we worked with Ed Pressman who has produced 80 films, but at same time we drove the whole process from Australia and Singapore. We like to work hand in hand with the distributors, who are well established internationally, but as much as possibly bring the production and post back to Australia.”
Their next project Hotel Mumbai, written by John Collee and directed by Australian first timer Anthony Maras, is pegged to have a bigger budget than The Man Who Knew Infinity. Maras was also writer on the project.
“It’s based on the Mumbai attacks that happened in 2008 and when you look at it, again it’s a cross-cultural film, because the film happens around the Taj Hotel in India,” Thomas said.
“There’s Americans, English, Australians and Indians. That’s a project we are very excited about. It’s an Australian director and we are co-producing it with Arclight, which is also Australian. So this film will go into production in August and is shooting in Australia and India.”
Thomas tells IF Hotel Mumbai is likely to be filmed in Adelaide and possibly NSW with a majority of the post work to be done in Australia.
“We have a few options but we want to try and do most of the shoot and the post in Australia.”
Maras was attached to the project after discussion with Arclight Films, Thomas said.
“We saw his (Maras) short film that he did a couple of years ago called The Palace and when we started talking to Arclight about the project the first thing they gave us was The Palace and it’s a really impressive short. It was shortlisted for an Academy Awards Short Film Award.
“He’s very driven, he’s great with actors, I have seen him workshop the script. So I am really excited about working with him and he’s one of the new talents out of Australia to look out for.”
“It’s a substantial budget (for Hotel Mumbai). It’s an ensemble cast, it’s quite significant crossover talent from Hollywood, from India, from Australia. It’s bigger than Infinity.”
Summer Nicks, another Australian writer/director, who is also on staff at Xeitgeist, is helming Shambala, a somewhat smaller film set at the foot of the Himalayas.
Thomas said the project was filming for about a week in the Manali Himachal Pradesh region of India until production stalled due to weather concerns.
“We are still working on the production schedule on that but hopefully when the weather is a little bit more friendly we will continue shooting that in Manali,” he said.
“During that process we are also rejigging some of the cast as well but we have a week of work in the can which looks absolutely beautiful. It’s a smaller project, but again the writer/director is Australian, most of the crew are Australian, so it’s something we are excited about.
“Whether it’s the Man Who Knew Inifinty, Hotel Mumbai, Damascus Cover or Shambala, we have always worked with first time directors.
“There’s an excitement in that and there’s a very collaborative nature that we enjoy. There are opportunities and advantage working with first time directors so we are open with meeting first time directors all the time from the region.”
The Code, a factual series exploring the inner workings of sports teams and their quest for on-field glory, is now its fourth season in Australia.
Thomas said Xeitgeist has been working with a broadcaster and a rights holder based out of Singapore and Europe to take the format international.
“The first one, which we successfully just finished which will go to air very soon is a baseball world cup which happened in Taiwan and Japan. We have just finished that and it is in post.
“The crew was Australian led by producer Nick Piper. The Baseball World Cup was our first international Code. We already have the rights to the international exploitation of the The Code but now we are discussing with two teams in India for a sport called Kabaddi, which is a very unique sport.
“Kabaddi is the second most watched sport in India. It’s become this huge league and there are fascinating stories where these players come from.
“They come from remote villages in India where they play this sport a lot. A lot of these franchises are owned by Bollywood actors. They go and recruit these players from villages. From a filmmaker’s perspective it’s very colourful. You go into these remote villages and you look at the process of getting these guys who have never travelled out of their village and are now playing in this major league that’s watched by almost 2 billion people, it’s huge.
“We have a project called So You Think You Know Me, which we are discussing with some networks in the US as well. The first one, which is a one-hour standalone, is about women who choose to veil.
“Why do women choose to veil? What is behind the veil? So you meet a woman who wears a hijab, but she flys a commercial aircraft – or you meet a woman who is training to be formula one driver. It’s breaking that stereotype down and getting to know these women more intimately.”
Thomas also believes that films can be made from anywhere.
“Hollywood is a state of mind,” he said. I started from scratch and a lot of filmmakers think it’s a hard place to get to whether it’s finance or talent, but Hollywood really is a state of mind.
“You can make it here, you can make it in Mongolia, you can make it in Singapore. In my time I have seen a lot of people give up half way through. You are just one step away from that film or meeting that financier or the talent. It just basically comes down to relationships with people.
“There’s plenty of good stories that will never see the light of day because you haven’t nurtured those relationships with people. For me whether it’s the film school I went to in Australia, people I met in the airport or someone I met in the bar, it’s always those connections that have led me to the next level.
"We love looking at a story and helping to structure it from our knowledge base. We have tried everything in the industry to come up with the particular model that we have in Xeigeist."