Take Two: Robert Slaviero and Richard Becker
Robert Slaviero and Richard Becker. (Photo: Fiora Sacco)
Earlier this year, industry veterans Richard Becker and Robert Slaviero announced they were launching a new venture, distribution and consultancy company R & R Films. Their first acquisition, director Kim Farrant’s Angel of Mine, starring Noomi Rapace, is expected for release next year.
Both men bring to the company a considerable legacy and knowledge of distribution. The Becker family founded Australia’s first indie distribution business more than 50 years ago, with Richard serving as CEO of Becker Group from 1985 and MD of Becker Film Group since its sale in 2008. Slaviero is a former CEO of Hoyts Distribution and Studiocanal Australia and former MD of 20th Century Fox Film Distributors.
The two speak to IF about how their longstanding friendship has evolved into a new business partnership.
Oh god, it was so long ago [when we first met]. Slav was working at Fox at the time. When you know somebody from an industry perspective – that is, you see them at functions, events and premieres – your relationship starts off like on slow-mo and then evolves as you get to know each other a little bit more. You go to more functions together, then you might go out and have a beer, and next minute it becomes a real friendship.
But we’ve been friends for years, certainly during his time at Hoyts we were friendly and then ever since. In fact, AIDA [Australian Independent Distributors Association] chose me to present his indie award a few years ago. So the industry obviously knows that we’re very close.
My daughter [Elle Becker, Becker Film Group sales and acquisitions manager] had her second child and told me, “Dad, I’m not going to be able to spend as much time helping you as I have been.” Slav had moved on from Studiocanal and we were having one of our infamous lunches. It just sort of popped up in conversation: “Why don’t we do something together?” It formulated from there.
We joked about the fact that [if we had] a JV together we’d have to call it Becker Slaviero: BS Films. But if we did that the politically correct wouldn’t be too happy so we had to change it to something else, so we went for R & R.
Becker Film Group is inactive in the sense that I’m exporting the library and what have you but I’m not acquiring any new films – I’ll be acquiring them under R&R. Slav is doing some consultancy work with Umbrella and also Ambiance…. There’s going to be times where he’s going to have plenty of time to help and consult. I’m doing some consulting on some independent projects as well. But the films that we’re going to be working on, we’re going to be working on together and bringing into this joint venture.
We’ve been around a long time; it’s not like we’re launching something that we want to grow into a multinational operation. We want to enjoy the fruits of our labour. We want to evolve this business into something we enjoy. We like working with certain people and trying to get a result.
It’s just evolved very gently and very naturally.
There are 400 features or more a year released theatrically in Australia. The only way that you can get yourself noticed is to have something that’s different; something that the others don’t have. We’re looking for films that not only have that quality but also have some cast that are going to make an audience sit up and pay attention. We need something to hang our hat on and most importantly of all we need cast to support these projects. We can’t just rely on an ad campaign and hope to get through if we don’t have names that can talk to the press and have more editorial space to talk about the film in a relaxed atmosphere.
A business partnership is like a marriage; trust is fundamental to that relationship and I completely trust Slav. It gives you shorthand in transacting any plans or arrangements when you trust somebody. You don’t have to cross the i’s and dot the t’s if you know that person has got your back. We get things done quickly. We know how each other thinks. It just makes life really easy when you have to be a little bit faster than your competitors.
I’ve worked in the family company all my life; I worked with my father from the 70s and then I worked with my daughter from the early 2000s. But it doesn’t feel any different working with Slav. Working with a man you know so well and trust is the same as working with your father. There’s an inherent safety net that you know is sitting under you; that you’re not going to get caught out.
I admire Slav’s honesty and I admire his forthrightness. I admire his experience. He’s very talented, and can apply all that experience to that talent. He’s well regarded in the industry; people like him. I haven’t met anybody that doesn’t speak highly of Slav. He can open doors and get things done and that’s why I like working with him, and that’s why I think we’re suited.
I haven’t felt we’ve ever been at odds, or had a different view about the way we approach it. It’s amazing – whether it’s a marketing plan, a negotiation strategy, plans for the future or whatever it is, we seem to be of like minds, which makes life easier. As I say, he’s like family. That’s the best thing I can say about him.
We’ve known each other for probably 30 years, but we probably only really became close over the last probably 10 years, which has all led to what we’re doing currently.
He came to me a few months back and just said look, “I’m going to put Becker Films to the side. I’m thinking about starting a new distribution company, would you like to be my partner?” I think I said yes within 10 seconds. It was quick. I didn’t really even have to think about it. It just made sense because Richard and I are very close. We love the business, and we’ve been around the block a couple times. We know what we want. It was a very easy decision.
The focus is going to be on Australian products, for sure, although we will still be looking at the markets [as to] what’s available from the international side of the business.
We’re not looking for a certain type of film. We’re trying to find stuff that’s a little bit different, a little bit unique with a specific target audience so that we both go, “Okay, we know who to sell this to”.
The door’s open to the type of stuff we’ll be chasing. But we’ve agreed that we both have to be on board with the project before we greenlight anything.
The production stuff which I’ve been working on for the last couple of years, I’m still going to pursue because I’m attached to a number of projects. Storm Boy‘s in the can and there’s an animated feature at Flying Bark which is in pre-production. I’ve got two projects with Prodigy which I’m EP on, and at Ambience at least three or four features that I’m attached to EP as well. But the way production is, it’s lumpy; you can be twiddling your thumbs for weeks and nothing’s going on and then all of a sudden its chaos. I’m [also a] consultant to Umbrella and looking after sales… I spoke to Richard about getting involved and he was 100 per cent supportive of me doing it. But you have to remember that R & R is my company with Richard. So when the time comes for us to be acquiring and releasing, it’s certainly a priority, because it’s my company.
I trust Richard with my life, basically. We’re very close. We’re mates apart from anything else. He’s very upfront. He has great knowledge as far as how the film business works, and he understands that it’s changing dramatically. He’s got good relationships with producers in this market and exhibition as well. Between us we worked out we’ve got about 80 years of experience, which is kind of frightening. But we’ve got everything covered. We throw ideas off each other, we listen to each other, we respect each other’s opinions on things. It’s been great so far, it’s just like working with my brother or something; it’s easy.
It’d be strange if we didn’t have differing opinions on some things. The good thing is we can sit down and we nut through any issues that come up. That’s just the relationship we have which is what makes it a lot easier to do business together. I don’t think there will be ever any screaming matches. It’s just not us. It’s not how we work.
He’s probably had more production experience than me. I have focused on that for the last two years and obviously [have been] working with producers over the last 20 years, but he has a lot of that under his belt. We both know distribution on our ear, and internationally we have great relationships with international sales companies. So it all works – it makes life a bit easier when people return your phone calls.
We’ve only just started working on the business. But we go back a long way. We’ve had plenty of good times together, that’s for sure. Probably too many. Firstly we’re mates and then we can talk business, but we always have a good time doing it. I think it’s a healthy way to be; it’s nice to be with someone who you trust and who you have respect for. It’s a match made in heaven.
He’s a very smart man; a very astute businessman. He’s been very successful. Honesty is the key thing to me and his support for me over the last couple of years has been terrific, because the production side’s been tough. He’s always been there to put a hand on my shoulder and say “Come on, you can do this.”
This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #185.