Broad Green Brothers Gabriel and Daniel Hammond Reveal Shift to Bigger Films and 'Bad Santa 2' Plans
Heading into the fall festivals, the billionaire founders of the indie-film upstart reveal a pivot to broader-appeal fare and why the midbudget movie isn't dead.
Gabriel and Daniel Hammond aren't the first interlopers to crash the gates of Hollywood with deep pockets and ambitions. But the Washington, D.C.-reared duo, who sold their hedge fund, SteelPath, to OppenheimerFunds in 2012 for what was said to be several billion dollars, have every intention of sticking around. Since launching Broad Green Pictures (named for the street they grew up on in Potomac, Md.) in 2014, the brothers — whose parents took them to old movies — have assembled a staff of 90 that includes Straight Outta Compton producer Matt Alvarez as production president. When Alvarez took the position in May, and indie-minded Alix Madigan exited her creative executive post a month later, it signaled Broad Green is shifting its focus from smaller-budget dramas to broader-audience pics (fewer anti-greed polemics like 99 Homes or auteur meditations like Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups). There's still room for acquisitions, and Broad Green will troll the Toronto Film Festival in September, but it's seeking films in the vein of its most successful release, the Robert Redford-Nick Nolte starrer A Walk in the Woods ($29.5 million domestic after Broad Green paid nothing for the film, committing only to a wide release). The shift is apparent in Broad Green's slate: Bad Santa 2 in November, then Villa Capri (a two-hander with Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman) and the dance comedy Step Sisters.
Gabriel, 37, and Daniel, 33, share a home in West Hollywood. "I call it the reverse Entourage house because I get home from work and have a cup of chamomile tea," says Daniel. "He puts on his blue-light[-blocking] glasses, we have takeout, watch half a movie before we're like, 'Wow, we're way too tired to finish.' " Their living arrangement likely will change given Daniel, a former aspiring screenwriter, is planning his wedding to New York-based attorney Matt Rand. "The beautiful thing about having a gay wedding is there are no rules," says Daniel. Gabriel will serve as best man. Heading into the fall festivals, the Hammonds invited THR to their sleek offices near the Paramount lot (where staff gets breakfast and lunch prepared by private chefs) to discuss the Netflix threat, films they regret not buying and why they didn't buy The Birth of a Nation.
Daniel (right) was on THR’s Next Gen list in 2015.
The midbudget movie business seems the most challenged. How do you plan to buck that trend?
GABRIEL Despite the media attention devoted to the rise of the tentpole superhero franchise, you don't need to look outside this summer, with Sausage Party and Bad Moms, to see that compelling ideas made in the midbudget space can be profitable and make a tremendous impact. The challenge is in finding stories so compelling and universal that one can compete with larger blockbusters and brand-name intellectual property.
Netflix and Amazon are spending big. How can you compete?
DANIEL Amazon and Netflix are both fantastic companies with tremendous resources in terms of their people, finances and data technology. However, although in some cases their product is no different, their business models, economic incentives and strategies are very different from ours. So in many ways I don't view them as competitors but rather as strategic partners. We are already working with Amazon on [Nicolas Winding Refn's] The Neon Demon [which went to Amazon Prime after a June theatrical release by Broad Green] and on the upcoming movie The Dressmaker. We also have an output deal with Amazon.
Considering Neon Demon grossed only $1.3 million theatrically, do you plan to partner with Amazon again or with Netflix in the future?
GABRIEL It's something we've definitely explored. We sat down with [Amazon film chief] Ted [Hope] and had a great conversation about what he's looking for and what he's trying to build. It's really kind of amazing the resources he's been given and how much of an impact it is having on the industry. So I definitely think there will be projects we do together with Amazon or Netflix.
Who do you see as your competition?
DANIEL The traditional studios are still our largest competitors in the $25 million to $50 million space insofar as they may be moving away from these types of movies but they're still the biggest producers of them overall. Those traditional studios and Lionsgate are really the model we're emulating. New Line is really good at doing things that are original but for mass appeal.
Daniel calls the Homer clock “amazing,” adding, “I’m a total Simpsons nut.”
What do the recent staff changes mean for Broad Green's focus?
GABRIEL When we started, we wanted to be able to get things out into the marketplace right away. It obviously takes a long time to get from idea to screen, so acquisitions became the only way to do that. But all along we've been developing these larger projects, which have a longer gestation period, to get them into production. Part of it is just moving toward what we've always intended to do, which is to really leverage the breadth of the organization we've built.
What is the game plan heading into Toronto?
GABRIEL We'll definitely have our team there, and we'll be looking for things in both categories [small- and medium-budget], whether that's a wide release like Walk or a platform release.
How many films a year are you looking to release?
DANIEL We're moving toward making things in-house and being able to work on co-productions on a much greater scale. We're really focusing on eight to 10 films a year. Around seven, eight of those we want to be true wide releases and two or three in that sort of high-prestige-echelon specialty space, with a mixture of things produced fully in-house and co-productions.
Gabriel owns blue-light-blocking glasses for when he works late.
What will be your breakdown of acquisitions versus homegrown?
DANIEL Probably two out of our eight to 10 a year will be true acquisitions. There is so much competition now. There are so many distributors. Things very quickly get extremely expensive. So it's easier just to make sure we're building things in-house.
You bid for The Birth of a Nation at Sundance but weren't in the final mix, right?
DANIEL In that final mix, no. It's an incredible movie, and Fox had some really big ideas for it.
Were you aware of Nate Parker's rape case when you bid on the movie?
Gabriel, who plays guitar, keeps a Gibson Memphis 1959 ES-335.
Which film do you most regret not buying?
DANIEL Definitely Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
GABRIEL [Asif Kapadia's Oscar-winning documentary] Amy. It was extraordinarily powerful, and I was just brutalized. But I didn't understand how that would translate into a theatrical release. I just didn't properly evaluate it. That was the one where I feel I could have done a better job understanding how its release would work.
What is your biggest challenge now?
GABRIEL It's getting the people who work with us to think differently and to try new things. We're really big on Broad Green [having] a collaborative culture and saying: "This is not a culture where you fear failure. We want you to fail."
DANIEL Our big challenge as an industry is to find a way to take those more complicated stories that used to be made [into successes] and market them to an audience in such a way that they still want to see them in theaters.
"The hippo was a lovely gift from my fiance, which he purchased in South Africa,” says Daniel.
Terrence Malick does not make mass-appeal films. What's the mind-set behind releasing three of his movies?
DANIEL It's just honestly being able to sit down with the man and talk because he's so genuinely curious about everyone he meets and wants to ask them questions about their lives. To have that kind of feedback from someone who is so insanely talented and beautiful has been a fantastic experience.
What's the backstory on how you got Bad Santa 2 instead of Dimension, which released the first film?
DANIEL Miramax was in the process of reigniting Bad Santa 2, and me and [Broad Green marketing president] Dylan Wiley went over for a general with them. They mentioned that they were in the process of moving on the movie. I was like, "You need to call us when that happens because I loved the original movie, and I think that would be a fantastic way for us to get into business together."
What attracted you to this business?
GABRIEL Our parents would take us to see foreign-language films at E Street Landmark. And our [late] mom would show us Hitchcock.
Daniel, will you now develop any of the screenplays you wrote?
DANIEL No. I'm realizing my vision now doing this. I do want to get back to it one day, but the stuff I wrote when I was younger will stay in the vault. (Laughs.)
This story first appeared in the Sept. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.