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May 16th
Cannes 2013

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Producing Content Tailored To Appeal
To The Needs Of A Worldwide Audience

Shahar Stroh
There is a new generation of producers in the industry savvy, tech aware, and with the grounding to maximize the tools available to filmmakers in the ever-evolving and infinite advances and advantages of what the new technology brings to the table for the Independents. A ninth-generation Israeli born independent producer who has made LA his home, The Business Of Film is In Conversation with Shahar Stroh producer of Favela starring Michael Jai White, which premieres in Cannes from his LA based company Strohberry Films, sold internationally by Moonstone Entertainment.

The Business of Film: It hardly seems possible that The Business of Film first interviewed you for The Young Executives at AFM for our Cannes Feature, when you were only 8 and 12 years old. Can you take us back, and bring us up to date with your activities culminating with your latest production of the action thriller Favela starring Michael Jai White?

Shahar Stroh: Crazy how quickly twenty years fly by. My father started out as a musician and ended up in film, so it's sort of fitting that I did the same. I studied music at Berkeley, intending on going into the music industry after school, but in my freshmen year, Napster came out and the decade of bloodletting in the music industry started. By the time I graduated, music wasn't looking like a very appealing industry, so I went into the family business, Moonstone Entertainment. We're a small boutique film company, so it exposed me to all the different aspects of the film industry, from pre-production all the way through to distribution and sales. I worried about the film industry going through the same distruptive transformation as music - I was constantly thinking about it - so I decided to get an MBA to better equip myself to handle that change. I got into my top choice - NYU Stern - studied finance and strategy focused on media and technology, and did my internship at a film hedge fund, doing financial modeling and all that number-crunching jazz. In the last semester of my master's, I decided to start my own production company, Strohberry Films, to develop content tailored to the needs of our distributors. Rather than make something and then shopping it around, we get distributors involved in the conversation from the get-go. It really helps speed the process along, and Favela is proof of that.

Favela Starring Michael Jai White Premieres at the Cannes International Film Festival 2013
TBOF: With your experience working on the other projects to date, what attracted you to this script? Did you always have Michael Jai White, in mind and why?

Stroh: Michael is a very special guy. It's not very often that you meet an actor who is so talented, so versatile, and yet so nice and humble. Just an awesome guy. From a marketability perspective, Michael is unique in the many different demographics that he appeals to. He's the leading man in Tyler Perry's films and television show, the first black superhero. Among the African-American community, you don't get bigger than him. But he's also the only real all-American martial artist. He's got black belts in seven different martial arts; he films his own fights and stunts. There's no one else in the States that does that. And that legitimacy has created a tremendous following for him all over the world in the martial arts community, because he's the real deal. During Michael's last film, someone filmed a small behind-the-scenes clip where Michael teaches an MMA fighter how to punch properly in a parking lot. Over 13 million views on YouTube! For an instructional video about punching, filmed in a parking lot! Who else can do that? Add to that the Adult Swim college crowd that watches his cartoon, Black Dynamite, and of course all the action fans - it's a winning combination. And the fact that he's such a great guy is the frosting on the cake.

TBOF: How much of the decision to produce Favela was based on what you believe the marketplace is seeking? TBOF recalls interviewing George Miller and Byron Kennedy when they produced the first Mad Max, their dining table was littered with demographics from around the globe, on all aspects of constructing the project. With the new technology did you tap into such extensive research or was the decision based on other criteria.

Shahar Stroh: Hold on, if you want to talk numbers, I'll put on my MBA hat. Take just the first demographic I mentioned: the African-American community in the United States. 43 million people, 14.5 million households, growing at 1.6x the average population growth, and 14% younger than the U.S. population as a whole. Median age of African-Americans is 32 and 54% of the community are under the age of 35, which is exactly the target age demographic for films. African-Americans are 72% more likely to live in an urban area and so are more likely to be closer to theaters and other distribution outlets. The average African-American consumes more than 6.5 hours of media content a day and is 51% more likely to buy products that portray African-Americans positively. All of that for a population that will have $1.1 trillion in purchasing power within the next two years. I see those statistics and they're very appealing to me as a content creator. And that's just one demographic. It's easier than ever for me to get access to that kind of information to make my decisions. Everything I told you is from Nielson and available online if you look in the right places. It's tremendously empowering to be able to collect information and make educated decisions. These days search costs are so low, there's really no excuse for not doing your homework.

TBOF: The choice of the Director Ernie Barbarash is interesting. What do you feel that he brought to Favela that perhaps another director could not?

Shahar Stroh: I wanted Favela to be different from your run-of-the-mill actioner. We were going to have amazing action sequences. That was a given. But we developed it to have a robust story and complex characters as well. We wanted someone who could deliver more than just great action. When we started looking for a director to helm Favela, our friend Jeff Sackman suggested Ernie as someone with a track record in the action genre, but with an eye for storyline. During our first meeting, it was obvious that Ernie "got" the movie and brought ideas to the table that elevated the story above and beyond what was there before. He saw that we had all the pieces in place for great fights, stunts, and a good plot, and came with the attitude of, "Okay, this is already great, now let's make it truly spectacular." And I think we succeeded, in no small part because of Ernie's vision. Ernie was a joy to work with - everyone loved him. We really had great chemistry on the set, and it shows in the results.

TBOF: It was shot in Puerto Rico; were you able to take advantage of the incentives there? And was the shoot relatively easy in terms of finding behind the camera talent?

Shahar Stroh: Puerto Rico is great. Wonderful locations, a great crew, and an incentive program that makes sense. The film commission is very helpful in making sure you make the most of the incentives they offer.

TBOF: The technology has brougth many advantages to film production and distribution, and young producers such as yourself are challenging and changing the concept of how films can be produced and distributed. How key is the new technology in your view in terms of utlizing new platforms available from social networking to the many distribution Platforms?

Shahar Stroh: Social media is a powerful tool that allows for new ways to interact with your end consumers. It's especially powerful when you're working with someone like Michael, who has a strong online following, and if done right, allows independents to make up some of the marketing gap we face with respect to the majors. I think we've finally reached the tipping point where the growth of video-on-demand and similar new distribution channels will outpace the decline in DVD sales, so it's an exciting time. More distribution channels, in the aggregate, are a good thing for content creators. It's just a matter of figuring out revenue models that work and taking the leap. We're getting there.

TBOF: Finally what do you enjoy about the production process? With your Degree in Music, will you go one step further and score the film?

Shahar Stroh: I love it all! I did my first script coverage at age 11 or 12. Having both parents in film, I grew up in the thick of it, so the whole process is just a way of life. My favorite part is probably being on-set, putting out the little - and big - fires every day. Very difficult work, but so much fun. I'd love to score a film, but I compose too slowly! Those guys really churn it out and the musician in me can't help but be jealous.

TBOF: Many congratualtions! The Busines of Film looks forward to following your career as you add more films to your portfolio.

Shahar Stroh: Thank you. Next up, Favela's sequel, Flight of the Falcon! ET.

This article is also available in The Business Of Film's new and innovative QR Reader Platform featured in the TBOF Cannes Special Issue & Product Guide Printed Edition.
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