Highland Film Group Heads Are Male-Driven Movie Magnets: “Action Translates in Every Language” (Q&A)

February 11, 2016

Arianne Fraser and Delphine Perrier also note whose star power hasn’t waned and the No. 1 threat to foreign presales.

In September, Arianne Fraser, 37, and Delphine Perrier, 44, of Highland Film Group were mobbed when bringing Aquaman star Jason Momoa to the Toronto Film Festival to meet foreign buyers and personally pitch Braven, about a logger who defends his family from dangerous drug runners. In the five years since they founded the Los Angeles-based financing, production and foreign sales outfit, they’ve built a name for handling high-octane, male-driven fare starring some of the biggest action names in the business, including Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage. They’re also handling international rights to a John Gotti biopic starring John Travolta as the infamous crime boss. (Like Momoa, Travolta also came to Toronto to personally meet international distributors.)

At the American Film Market, Perrier and Fraser have their job cut out for them in selling 478, a new revenge drama starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, who thus far has failed to resurrect his acting career. They’ll also finish sales on February, a Hitchcockian horror thriller set at a girls prep school that was scooped up
by A24 in the U.S. after premiering in Toronto.

The duo recently sat down with The Hollywood Reporter in their West Hollywood offices to talk about their slate and reminisce about the toughest sells of their career.

Why the focus on male-driven movies?

FRASER Action translates in every language, so we’ve gravitated toward that genre, and all the [foreign] buyers come to us for that type of material.

You are working on three films with Bruce Willis. What makes him so popular overseas?

FRASER There’s not a lot of action stars today that have the same sort of permanence in our cinema history. People still love to watch him, he’s a great actor, he’s great at action, he’s very professional.

Who are still the other big stars internationally?

PERRIER John Travolta working the room in Toronto for us definitely proves he’s still on that list. You could tell buyers were impressed when meeting him. It was his first time at a film market. He mentioned that no one had ever asked him to do that before, and he said it was like a press junket, only he felt a lot of love and support because the distributors were asking more questions about the material and the creative aspect.

Did buyers ask him about Scientology?

PERRIER No, they were extremely respectful.

FRASER We anticipate a January or February start date.

Kevin Connolly is directing *Gotti*. Are buyers nervous, considering he’s far more known as an actor [*Entourage*] than a director?

FRASER Kevin brings a fresh point of view on a story that is embedded in U.S. history in terms of what life was like when there were monsters running business in this country.

Jerry Lewis is starring in crime thriller *The Trust* opposite Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood for you. How did that project come about?

FRASER This is one of the movies we are producing. Originally his character wasn’t even in the script. Nic Cage came to us and said he’d just had dinner with Jerry and that he’d really love to work with him and have him play the dad. So the filmmakers created a story arc for him.

PERRIER The scenes they have together are great.

FRASER And the French love Jerry Lewis especially.

Do you want to do more female-skewing fare?

FRASER We love women within the industry 
100 percent. But I think we’re moving into a time in our history when I think it’s less about gender and more about ability and skill. So yes, we’re absolutely supportive of females, and it’s nice to be in an empowering generation where we feel like we’re treated as equals.

PERRIER We are looking for action films with females.

FRASER We are incredibly proud of Barely Lethal [which starred Hailee Steinfeld and Jessica Alba]. It was the first movie we financed 100 percent.

The movie bombed in the U.S., earning just $6,000 following its release in April. What happened?

FRASER It wasn’t as financially successful as we had hoped, but success is measured in many ways. There was another picture that went out at the same time, The Duff, that was going after the same crowd.

What is the biggest challenge facing foreign presales?

FRASER A big complaint we hear is the lack of commercial theatrical releases in the U.S. and the lack of confidence in star power. But piracy is the No. 1 complaint across the board. Piracy is destroying our ability too make movies at higher budgets.

We’ve seen a string of movies with big stars bomb at the U.S. box office. Are buyers overseas worried?

PERRIER It upsets everyone. But you know what, if a movie with a big star bombs here, it means the movie is not good, and if the movie is not good, it’s not going to work anywhere. The audience today is very savvy.

What has been your hardest sell?

PERRIER Juno was a very hard one to sell because nobody was attracted to a story about a teenager who gives a baby away. But Diablo Cody’s script was extremely well written. And the smart thing is, we put a lot of bonuses in that movie, so it ended up making good money for foreign distributors. But it was not a winner in the beginning.

FRASER February, whose cast includes Emma Roberts, was very tough because it wasn’t a traditional horror movie with tons of scares.
It’s eerie and uncomfortable. That was a case where you just jump in because you believe in the filmmakers.