Playback’s Film Producer of the Year: Don Carmody

With another Golden Reel Award, 3D epic Pompeii set for 2014 and a new focus on smaller screens, the "Don of Canadian production" has had a banner year.
Don Carmody

This article originally appeared in Playback‘s Winter 2014 print issue. The full issue can be viewed here

This year saw “the Don of Canadian production” in theaters, in production and in new areas of the business.

Don Carmody’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, a 65% Canada-35% Germany copro with Constantin Film’s Robert Kulzer, opened on more than 3,000 North American screens Aug. 21 through Sony Pictures in the U.S. and eOne Films in Canada. Based on the first in a series of young adult novels by Cassandra Clare, the supernatural flick follows Clary Fray (Lily Collins), a teenager who discovers she has the power to connect with demon-chasers called Shadowhunters.

Rights-holder Kulzer approached frequent collaborator Carmody to see if they could shoot the FX-heavy film economically. “We moved forward in that direction, taking advantage of our partnerships with Toronto’s various labs and FX houses,” Carmody says. Although he won’t confirm it, the film’s price tag has been estimated at US$60 million. It has taken in US$31 million in North America and US$83 million worldwide. While impressive, this falls short of the expectation that this would be another Twilight.

“Could we have made it for a wider quadrant? Potentially,” Carmody says. “But you also have to satisfy the fans, and I think we did an amazing job. Would I have liked to have gone out on a different weekend? Absolutely. Pre-Labour Day generally has been a terrible time, but Sony believed in it and everybody wanted to follow on Sony.”

Sequel City of Ashes was put on hold after City of Bones’ performance. “We are revisiting the script and budget and determining where we want to take this,” the producer explains. “Many young-adult projects have not worked the way the industry thought they were going to.”

Meanwhile, Carmody continues to keep a hand in Canadian indies, and this year saw the release of 13 Eerie, a horror copro with Minds Eye Entertainment that shot in Saskatchewan. While it had no significant theatrical run, Carmody says it’s gaining a following in home entertainment, particularly DVDs, downloads and VOD in Canada and the U.S., which is in line with projections. Executive producer Roger Christian approached Carmody to help put together the zombie flick for an estimated $3 million. “You can’t achieve economies of scale by doing just one big movie after the other,” Carmody says.

In the spring, Carmody and Constantin shot the 3D Pompeii, re-creating ancient Italy at Kipling Studios. The story concerns Milo (Kit Harrington), a gladiator who falls in love with Cassia (Emily Browning) – the daughter of a wealthy family – before Mount Vesuvius erupts.

The film is slated for a Feb. 21 release through Tri-Star Pictures/FilmDistrict in the U.S. and eOne in Canada. It’s a passion project for British director Paul W.S. Anderson, who has helmed his actress-wife Milla Jovovich in three Resident Evil films, including

Resident Evil: Retribution, a Carmody/Kulzer copro that nabbed Carmody the Academy’s Golden Reel Award for biggest Canadian box office for a Canadian film ($5.4 million) in 2012. It’s his third win for the action franchise, which is nearing the US$1 billion-mark in international receipts.

Carmody is bullish on 3D. “There is an appetite for native 3D,” he says. “As a theatregoing experience, good 3D pulls in an audience. Look at Gravity, Life of Pi and Resident Evil: Afterlife and Retribution. The studios are still finding that, done properly, 3D is an added incentive and added value.” A sixth Resident Evil film is in development, and Carmody says he is open to shooting it in Canada pending the script and his availability.

In March, he launched Don Carmody Television, run by former Minds Eye exec and 2012 Playback 10 to Watch finalist David Cormican. Carmody was sporadically involved in TV in the ’80s and ’90s and was persuaded to jump back in. “The Canadian BDUs and networks and U.S. studios have been saying, ‘You’re successful on the feature side – can you do it in television?’ I could do [a series like] Game of Thrones. Would I do it as well as those guys? I don’t know, but I could try.”

The division’s first announced project is the sci-fi series Echoes, focusing on a young woman trying to survive amidst an alien conflict brought to Earth. Carl Binder (Stargate:Atlantis) is writing the pilot and will show-run, and Carmody says a broadcaster is on board.

And he’s involved on even smaller screens. After adapting video games Resident Evil and Silent Hill into movies, Carmody is producing a mobile app game called Evil Empire with Toronto’s XMG Studio. “When I was approached to be involved in the actual creation of a video game, I said, ‘This is interesting. Let’s try,’” he recalls.

Meanwhile, he’s in development with French Silent Hill collaborator Samuel Hadida on a movie adaptation of World War II video game Castle Wolfenstein, which he describes as “Where Eagles Dare meets The Walking Dead and all the zombies are Hitler clones.” He’s also developing the romantic comedy The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, adapted by author Kim Izzo. And he’s hopeful about reuniting with David Gross and Jesse Shapira on a sequel to Goon, the 2011 Canuck comedy about hockey thugs.