AFM/Cannes - California Pictures - Expanding, Growing And Daring To Be Great



California Pictures

Originally founded by Howard Hughes and Academy Award winner Preston Sturges in 1944, California Pictures,Inc.,  was reincorporated in 2008.  Having met Steve Istock, the new head of the company, at his second AFM, we now sat in his office on the Paramount Studio lot and talked about his past and future plans as he prepared for  2016 Cannes. 


A former Merrill Lynch finance manager, Steve Istock also worked at Bank of America.  With 15 years of finance experience in corporate, media and real estate finance, he specialized in the structuring and closing of debt and equity transactions that were in excess of two billion dollars.  As a banker, he worked for a variety of clients as MGM, Digital Domain, HKM, Asylum Visual Effects, Academy Tent and Canvas,  Sweetner Products, California Clinical Trials, LNR Property Corporation and Media Services.   (The latter is one of the largest production accounting and payroll company with numerous industry clients.)


Yearning for a creative challenge, Istock, who wrote stories, plays, and comedy skits throughout high school and toured Europe singing in a show choir, did some acting himself and several years ago earned his SAG (screen actors guild) card.   Following his own passion of making a movie from scratch, he started his new company only to realize the history of California Pictures.  It made sense to keep the name since it attracted people who otherwise might not know about them. 


Under the new banner, Istock  recently financed, produced and distributed the family drama,  A Warrior's Heart,  a teen love story - with Kellan Lutz  (The Expendables 3) and Ashley Greene (Twilight) - which has been distributed internationally for theatrical and premium VOD and video rights. The DVD, available in Target, Wal-Mart, and Barnes and Noble, was ranked #1 as an independently produced film.  


from California Pictures

They are also producing and at Cannes are showing a science fiction action film Scavengers - starring Sean Patrick Flanery (Boondock Saints, DexterRoark Critchlow (V), and Jeremy London (Party of Five, Seventh Heaven.)  The film hit #68 on the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) has been distributed worldwide. 


Other films they hope to produce shortly include the $20 MM feature  "Rude Buay- The Unstoppable," a black James Bond Caribbean novel written by John Andrews; also another 20 MM urban feature - true story called The Jones Boys who formed a powerful numbers racket in Chicago being produced Horace Jones and Ray Copeland; and  Greg Burridge's London Rampage,  which takes the viewer on a dangerous tour of London's underbelly as it deals with one man's struggle to protect his East London home despite the odds and shows you London as it really is.  


Istock was also an executive producer on the James McAvoy film Filth, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, who wrote Trainspotting.


from California Pictures

One of my favorite of their films , A Fish Story, from a new award-winning Canadian writer/director, is a family saga that relates to many with its father/son theme can now be found on several venues including Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and others. 


Steve proudly  let me know that a female writer/director Marcia Weekes had produced Vigilante: The Crossing, a Barbados film, another film they are pushing, as well as the Jamaican film, Kingston Paradise,  by Mary Wells.


A recent Chinese venture to be screened at Cannes is the $20 million Chinese action movie The Hero Chiyou.  A new film has already been commissioned, which will have more of an international cast.


The company, which once only focused on distributing material, has now expanded into production of television as well as films.  Starting to work with the major studios, they look for dynamic characters, strong and personally identifiable themes,  and powerful journeys for a worldwide audience.    Themes and stories must be universal, and commercially interesting.


from California Pictures

They are interested in all genres and have an eclectic library as Fear Of Water ( an LGBT coming of age film between a gay guy and straight girl) from British director Kate Lane.   (This will be released late fall or Christmas 2016) and Strike One - urban action adventure with Danny Treo and Johnny Ortiz.


Most independent films need a twoyear sales cycle (something that many filmmakers do not understand) since the movies have to be exposed to all the major markets.   The filmmakers must also, as astute business people, know that it's not only how a film is presented, but also all the changes in production and distribution -- like the fact that VOD has changed the demand for DVDs.-


Another specialty of the company is advising various companies and producers on financial architecture.  This involves  structuring debt and equity finance, examining production and project budgets, cash flow, casting selections, packaging, resource  allocation and distributor interest in all stages of production and distribution. An independent movie can be good, but may be lost without the right cast and that is often why they need assistance and advisement. 


from California Pictures


Among the others involved with the success at California Pictures, Inc, are the talented European experienced Monique Nayard, who serves as the senior vice president of sales and distribution; and Augustine Mendez, Jr., a senior executive producer who specializes in television and feature production;  Ashleigh Hubbard, a vice president of production, and Dylan Whitehead, a distribution executive.


Unlike many companies, California Pictures will look at unsolicited projects, but lean toward those with attachments, partial financing, or other partnerships.   They ask that the creators don't write scenes, but have an outline so that they can be advised from the start as to content, distribution, marketing, trailers and sell sheet.  Telling a good story is one thing. Having a dynamite trailer and sales presentation- something many new filmmakers forget - is crucial because it is all about hooking the buyers with memorable content and then the audience.


If you are interested in California Pictures, check them out or visit them at their Cannes booth - Cannes Riviera C 7 where they will be exhibiting some of their award winning films.


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