LL: What made you decide to be the lead investor of Soul Surfer?
DT:Believe it or not, I never thought I would invest in a film. I'm kind of a judicious investor and a realist. I always thought anything that was too cool to talk about at cocktail parties would make bad investment. I was not inclined to invest that way, but the story was so magical and powerful. I saw this movie project as an investment. I'm not your stereotypical venture investor but I do like inspirational movies. I love movies like Rocky, Ruby, October Sky, and I like to inspire kids and this movie is just that.
It's the story about Bethany Hamilton which was so overwhelmingly popular. I am not a big surfer but I find it very appealing. I even was able to learn to surf in Hawaii and I did get up for five seconds. I love the look of crashing waves and acrobatic bodies on surfboards. But besides all that, there is also a faith message in this story that I knew would be well received by the faith based community.
I think the Christians in the country tend to come out and support movies with a faith message in them. My intent was to create a cross over movie because faith was and is organic to Bethany and her family's life. So my down side was covered because of the faith message. It would be subtle and still hopefully attract the main stream.
LL: Soul Surfer is one of several faith-based films similar to The Blind Side. It was originally set to be released in 300 theaters but TriStar decided after seeing the final product to release in 2,000 theaters. That's a bullish sign. How successful of an opening do you hope it will be?
DT: I'm a first time movie guy and I know I'm starry eyed. I believed in this movie from the beginning. I have great movie pros around me that are thinking it should do pretty well. They have all this tracking that says we will be behind Arthur because they are spending more marketing dollars and is on more screens, but I don't know.
I might be starry eyed and crazy but I think we can beat Arthur. It can be big! There are a lot of people out there, including families that are kind of tired about bathroom humor movies. I think Hollywood ignores them. I think we could to $100 million.
LL: Soul Surfer had a reported budget of $15 million and it reportedly exceed it. Can you say what the budget in the end was?
DT: In Hollywood you are not really allowed to talk about that so I can't say.
LL: You briefly mentioned your down side risk earlier. Risk mitigation is one thing all money managers like yourself weigh with all of your investing decisions. How do you take into account risk mitigation in a movie?
DT: A big part of my down side analysis was looking at the faith base side and I saw where Fireproof was a very in your face evangelical movie and it was made a half a million dollars and 33 million dollars in box office and so I felt like if we got the faith base community behind us at all it would cover my downside.
We also have claimed back some of the foreign territories from Sony so therefore I think we will get some foreign sale estimates of several million dollars that would defray my negative costs. Film economics are complicated- the exhibitor takes half, then there's the Print and Advertising component, and the studio takes out a distribution fee.
There is a lot to take into account. We know we will have some DVD sales and a tv deal. Sometimes the domestic box office doesn't necessarily mean that much to your negative cost because of the big takes from the exhibitor and P&A component.
LL: Approximately 50 percent of box office receipts are returned to the studio. What do you consider to be a good return for such a film in terms of percentage on your return on investment?
DT: I'm still the starry eye. I hope to make two or three times my money. I'm not just looking at this as a 25 percent return. But if I get a 30, 40 percent return and I made a great film and had a lot of fun and create great art that touches people I will be happy. I am just so proud of my team. Even though I was the guy writing the checks, I did throw myself into this. I was on the set every day from call to wrap.
I moved to LA and was involved in post production in the Summer and have been involved in marketing of the movie. It has been a great experience. I found out there is a real business orientation in the way they utilize budgets and money.
Its really like a start up company that goes up from cradle to grave. After the premiere and once the DVDs are produce its done. Its fascinating from that perspective. We had great support by Film District, Sony, Bob Berney and Jeanne Berney, they were the ones who were responsible for marketing the Passion of the Christ which did 600 million and 200 million dollars for My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
We think this movie will have legs and stay in the movie theaters for a while because it is an uplifting movie. I'm just very, very, proud to be involved and I'm proud of my team and of Bethany and her family. They are great people and her life story is inspirational.