Who they are: Sean Furst is the founder and president of Furst Films, producing feature films, made-for-television movies, and television series. His younger brother, Bryan, joined the company in 2000 after graduating from NYU Film School. Their company's producing credits include the HBO feature Blue Ridge Fall, starring Peter Facinelli, Chris Isaak, Tom Arnold, and Amy Irving, and Everything Put Together, starring Radha Mitchell and Megan Mullally. The well-received film premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and piqued the interest of Lions Gate Films, which soon after tapped its director, Marc Forster, to helm Monster's Ball.
Sean and Bryan had two films debut this year at Sundance: the black comedy Owning Mahowny, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, and John Hurt (which Sony Pictures Classics will release theatrically in May), and The Cooler, a gritty crime movie starring William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, and Ron Livingston. The Cooler, directed and co-written by newcomer Wayne Kramer, was a hot ticket at Sundance and the first film to be picked up at this year's festival. Lions Gate will release it in movie theatres this fall.
On gambling in the movie business: Coincidentally, both Owning Mahowny and The Cooler revolve around casino gambling. While the Furst brothers don't frequent Vegas that much in their free time, they are risk-takers in the film industry, particularly when it comes to independent film. "We do consider ourselves huge gamblers. It's a theme in our lives," said Sean.
Upcoming projects: The Fursts have a number of independent feature projects in the works. They are currently in pre-production on The Woods, to be directed by Lucky McKee. "We'll probably put that into production before summer," said Bryan. Furst Films is also collaborating with Fine Line Features to develop Rain Falls, written and to be directed by I. Marlene King (writer of Now and Then). Noted Bryan of the project, "We've been talking to Naomi Watts and Kate Beckinsale to star. It's a drama, sort of in the vein of American Beauty, about suburban couples who start experimenting with couple swapping." They are also in development on Live Free or Die, to be directed by two former Seinfeld scribes. "We're talking to Casey Affleck and James Van Der Beek to star in that," said Bryan, who compares the story to the cult favorite Bottle Rocket. Also in the pipeline are Alpha, to be helmed by Marc Forster; the Hughes brothers' Conviction; The Matador, with Pierce Brosnan attached to star, and Son of the Wolfman, based on Michael Chabon's short story, for the Lifetime cable net.
On getting started: Sean remembers a time not that long ago when many doors were closed to him: "There were so many years of frustration and [wondering], Should I stay in this business? But I couldn't see myself doing anything else that was going to make me happy. I love the arts. I love theatre. I love movies. And I love the creative people that I get to work with every day. It inspires me to wake up in the morning and go to work." Added Bryan, "Our watershed [moment] was Everything Put Together. Even though it didn't actually get a huge theatrical release, it really set the tone for our company—that we were serious about making great movies and making bold choices. From then on, writers, agents, and managers felt like we were people to go to with their great material and that we could nurture it."
What they look for in scripts: "We have projects across all genres," said Bryan. "It's really a matter of hearing a voice that distinguishes itself from the masses of material that we get." Above all, said Sean, they look for character-driven material: "We want to be able to make movies that we can cast with actors that we want to work with, because if you don't have great actors, you're not going to have the kind of movie that ultimately we want to be associated with."
Advice for first-time producers: "Control the material," emphasized Bryan, explaining that novice producers can often make the mistake of letting more-experienced producers step in to help—before the neophyte producers know it, their project is no longer in their hands. "Option material that you're shopping around," he advised.
Sean tells new producers, "I was smart enough to know that I didn't know everything when I went out to make my first movie. That was the best thing I could have done because from that point on I felt like I came out of that experience with an understanding of the process—of dealing with agents and financiers and also the technical side of what it takes from a physical production standpoint. I have a lot of pride in the fact that I know how to produce a movie know. I know everybody's job on the set. I know a lot of producers who just get a kick out of schmoozing people and putting a deal together and walking away. To me, that isn't as gratifying as being able to put your stamp on it."