Zombies, Swans and Beautiful Ruins
A look at how some of the most popular independent films get made through the eyes of a Louisiana production and finance company.
In 2012, Tyler Thompson joined Aziz Ansari, Lena Dunham, Maude Apatow and Rebel Wilson on Forbes‘ “30 Under 30” list. A native of Houma, Louisiana, Thompson was in the oil and gas business before making the leap from movie viewer to investor. Thompson and his family formed Cross Creek Pictures in 2009, but two years before that he went to Los Angeles for the first time to help put together financing for “Burning Palms.” Starring a now famous Rosamund Pike and Dylan McDermott, the film is a dark comedy that didn’t resonate with critics, but Thompson says he learned plenty about making movies.
“How someone takes a story out of thin air or pitches a story from a book and hires a director and producers and the actors, how it all comes together has always intrigued me,” he says. “The fact that you set up shop for two months and do something that special and then just go away … ”
Thompson (pictured) took all of those lessons from “Burning Palms” and decided to partner with Brian Oliver, an Academy Award-nominated producer and 15-year veteran in the industry. “With his wealth of knowledge and our taste together, we formed Cross Creek Pictures and with the help of my family, we went out and raised a fund in 2009 and that first fund encompassed people from Louisiana and Houston,” Thompson explains.
Cross Creek’s first picture was a film whose financing was falling apart and may have been lost had the company not made a quick decision. Thompson and Oliver had 24 hours to read the script for “Black Swan” and loved it. “We mostly loved the fact of Darren Aronofsky, who was one one of the best directors in town at that point,” says Thompson. “We wired the money over a day or so later to save the production and keep everyone on set.”
After “Black Swan”‘s success — it grossed $330 million worldwide, was nominated for five Oscars and hailed a groundbreaking masterpiece — Thomspon says Cross Creek started to get better and better scripts. Next came George Clooney’s “The Ides of March,” “The Woman in Black,” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and “Rush.”
Now in its third wave of funding, Cross Creek is in post-production on six films, with three more in development. The majority of them are based on books, including bestsellers Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. Expected to hit the big screen on February 19 next year, “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed in England and co-written with David O. Russell and Natalie Portman producing.
“‘Pride and Prejudice’ looks absolutely stunning,” says Thompson, promising tons of action and sequels to come. He’s also eager to see viewers’ reaction to “Beautiful Ruins,” which is still in development, because of the chance to bring the book’s seaside Italian setting to life. “We’re obviously hoping the film takes you to a much more vivid place,” he says.
More buzz for Cross Creek has come from Indiewire selecting “Black Mass” starring Johnny Depp, “Everest” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin (based on the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer) and “Legend” with Tom Hardy, as some of the most anticipated films of the year. All three have been mentioned as Oscar contenders.
“We definitely try and get films out for Academy time because it’s a marketing tool for us to use and it’s another way to really amp up your box office if you can get into the Academy Awards,” Thompson says.
For newcomers like him, it’s an exciting time to be in the industry, not only because of tax incentives in places like his home state, which he’s still waiting to shoot in, but also new financiers and producers coming onto the scene. “It’s almost like a resurgence,” he says. “It’s great to see movies like ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ getting made, movies like ‘Black Swan’ getting made — not by the old timers but by new people who are willing to take chances.”
Photos courtesy of Cross Creek Pictures.