It is 10 am as I call Monroe Mann’s mobile phone. I get his voice mail. This is no surprise. Mann rarely picks up his mobile. The outgoing message greets me with Mann’s enthusiastic voice letting me know: “This is Monroe Mann and the Unstoppable Actors Business School. I’m off making history, so I can’t take your call right now, but leave your name, number and message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you so much for calling and I look forward to meeting you… at the top.”
The message ends with an Al Pacino-like hoo-ha. I hang up and decide to call his office in Westchester, just outside of New York City. I do get Monroe Mann on the phone, but I have the wrong Mann. Monroe senior is at the end of the line. Monroe junior may be Chief Executive of Loco Dawn Films, but both enterprises are currently run out of his home, or more specifically his parent’s home.
As I leave a message for Mann, I imagine that across the pond, in Queens Park, just outside of Central London that Patrick Towell, the Chief Executive of Golant Films, is about to leave his office for afternoon tea. This is not a difficult task for Towell, simply a venture down the stairs to his kitchen. Like Mann, not only is the house on Galton Street the base of Golant Films it is Towell’s home.
Do not let the humble bases of operation fool you. As Mann and Towell set forth on their respective company’s first major productions, their previous experiences and passions make them stand out amongst sea of production companies. Even if they are still new to the production company business, that hardly counts them out of the film industry.
For Towell, this is not his first company. He was previously the founder and chief executive of an award winning New Media agency that dealt in setting up systems and creating services that delivered content to people in the education and culture sectors.
Towell always wanted to work in films. It is an itch he has been meaning to scratch ever since he was a runner for a post-production company in one of his first jobs out of university.
“I did the time-honoured part of making the tea and the tomato soup and lunch and stuff like that,” says Towell.
His next job had him the manager of a production company working with mixed medias including film, video, and graphics created using a Mac computer, which Towell describes as “radical stuff in 1992.”
This experience in the early development of New Media allowed him to start his own company. “In a sense I was working literally on the cusp of the major change of post-production,” says Towell. Now with Golant Films, which went public in July, Towell wants to return to the dream that he says was always a glimmer in the back of his mind.
As for Mann, he may be 28-years-old and still living with his parents, but the stigma that goes along with that hardly applies to him. In addition to starting Loco Dawn Films, Mann is the founder and president of the Unstoppable Actors Business School, a published author and was a National Guard intelligence officer stationed in Iraq for a year.
Mann has gone to great lengths to paint a picture of success that while perhaps an exaggeration of reality is not too far from the truth. A trip to his website will have you believing he is the next big thing.
“I know a lot of people shy away from bragging about what they have done and I’ve received a lot of flack for it from many people,” says Mann. “‘Why do you brag so much? Why do you have to tell everyone what you are doing?’ Why? Because if you don’t tell people what you are doing, nobody is going to have faith in you to support you.”
Mann founded his business school in 1999 after successfully teaching a class on how to break into student films for the New York branch of the Learning Annex, a seminar centre in many of the major cities across the United States and Canada. After the course, someone suggested he should teach such courses for a living and the idea struck a cord in Mann.
“I realised, wow I’ve got this ability to inspire and motivate people and I love show business and the arts. Long story short, seven years later it is Unstoppable Artists Business School,” says Mann.
Loco Dawn came out of a desire to get better acting roles. Although Mann was successful getting small roles on TV shows like Third Watch and the film swimfan, he longed for a role to truly show off his talent.
“I got tired of auditioning and trying to prove to people that I am the right person for the job,” says Mann. “After the film swimfan I said I am just going to write my own screenplay and cast myself in a supporting role.”
That screenplay is In the Wake of Identity, a film about the little known sport of wakeboarding. The film was set to go into production, but came to a halt when Mann was deployed to Iraq. According to Mann, the film was on the Internet Movie Database website (www.imdb.com), but was removed due to members protesting against it because of Mann’s involvement in the war in Iraq.
“When you’re in Iraq and you are trying to make a film and you see that’s the stuff that is happening it is kind of depressing, not because I started losing hope, but that everyone else was losing hope and faith and that was kind of disappointing,” says Mann.
Now Mann and Towell are at the same point, trying to get their first productions mounted at their young production companies.
In the case of Golant Films, while the company worked with Film Education on an learning website for Roman Polanski’s recent adaptation of Oliver Twist, they have yet to make their first video or film project. That is about to change as Towell has found funding for the first of a planned series of educational videos. The series would help with the planning and the health and safety issues of off-site school trips to historical castles, museums and attractions like the London Eye.
“They will show the teachers and the parents that none of these are going to be exhaustive academic work,” says Towell. The videos, which will be distributed to schools via DVD and the internet, will also emphasize the cultural and social aspects of the trips they cover.
Recently, Mann has found interest in packaging his film In the Wake of Identity from industry heavies like Creative Artists, Endeavor and William Morris. Various production companies interested in the script have also contacted Mann.
“Things are really humming, getting a lot of interest behind it, a lot of people want to help put this thing together,” says Mann.
When running a production company you cannot only have one project in the works, it is important to have the next project in line.
For Mann that project is Fobbits…And Other Tales from the Lighter Side of Combat. Although he describes the film as the first comedic documentary about the war in Iraq he stresses it would in no way make fun of the war, but merely show how humour can be a survival tool.
“When people say how did you survive the war, I think the answer for most people is you’ve got to stay light and you’ve got to laugh,” says Mann.
Back in London, Golant Films’ script associate Alan Pollock, an award-winning playwright, who lectures on screenwriting in the UK and has a popular TV background, is writing a short film.
“I have an objective to get a short made by the end of the year,” says Towell. “It would be quite nice to get that made.”
Towell and Pollock are also looking into finding a literary work that would be ripe for a feature film adaptation. Golant Films is also continuing a partnership with Limelight Studios, a New Zealand-based content development company.
Having previously represented digital and educational spin-offs for the children’s series Fifty the Tractor, Towell hopes to continue developing projects with Limelight.
“We are working together to develop new kinds of licensing that have animation at the core of the product,” says Towell, who, as with all Golant projects, hopes these projects would increase the quality of life for people in the world.
Towell believes it is his background in the New Media that gives him an edge and that makes it difficult to pigeonhole Golant Films.
“I am a funny mixture and I think that helps, so I’m not Mr. longstanding TV, Mr. longstanding film,” says Towell.
It is a similar case for Mann, who says it is versatility that makes him appealing to potential backers.
“I credit a lot of where this film has gone so far, and where it is going to be, to the fact that I let people know, ‘Hey this thing is going to be a success, here are some of things I’ve done,” says Mann.
So, Towell and Mann will continue to struggle on, but while the sizes of their companies are modest, it does not leave them out of the game.
“I don’t think it really matters if you are big or you are small, I think what really matters is the breadth and depth of your vision,” says Towell.