Making Movies with Film Producer, Bill Johnson of Inferno Entertainment

Interview with Film Producer, Bill Johnson, CEO of Inferno Entertainment (now Lotus Entertainment).

I started an Insurance company right out of college and I still own that company. But I did that for a number of years before I ended up in the film business.

Obviously your passion was for film, how did you get your start in the business?
The first thing I did was, I wrote a screenplay called, “Within the Lines,” which I ended up directing as a low-budget movie back in 1996. After that, I decided I didn’t want to be a writer or a director because, in most cases, writing is a pretty solitary lifestyle and I like to be around people. Directing is a very detail oriented path, and I just don’t have a lot of patience for detail. I’m more of a “big picture,” person.

In 2002, you launched Inferno Entertainment with your partner, Jim Seibel. Could you please tell us what your company’s primary focus is, and what a typical day is like for you?
Inferno has evolved, because when we first started it was just a foreign sales company, and then it branched into financing and production. Right now my typical day is a combination of meeting with people who are pitching us ideas; or I’m talking to investors, bankers, or lawyers trying to figure out project financing. Much of my day is spent with the 20 employees here, whether I’m working with our international department, finance department, or our production team. It’s sort of across the board, because one minute I might be meeting with the Casting Director or talking to the Special Effects Producer about the shot on an upcoming movie. The next minute I might be dealing with some collection problem that comes up.

Typically, how many hours do you work each day, and is it a 7 day a week job?
It’s definitely not 7 days; it’s more like 6 days because I do a lot of script reading over the weekend, which takes up a good chunk of my time on the weekend. During the week, I work a lot, but I also make sure I spend the first few hours of each day with my wife and our babies. Then I go to a yoga class or do some sort of exercise. After that, I start my day.

If my research serves me correctly, in 2007, your company and Sony Pictures inked a multi-picture co-financing and domestic distribution deal; then in 2008, you and Magnet Media Group formed a two-year joint venture deal. How did those deals come about?
The deal with Sony came about based on a relationship I had with the executives over at their [Sony’s] studio. The deal with Magnet was something that was orchestrated by Endeavor. It’s a combination of taste
and relationships.

How do you select the projects you want to finance and produce?
We take all of our experience of understanding what buyers all around the world are telling us, from domestic buyers to international buyers; then it’s what we think we can sell or what we think is going to get
attention in the market place.

What projects are you currently working on?
We’re in post-production on a movie called, “The Experiment,” that we’re doing with, Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker, and Cam Gigandet. And then we’re prepping an action movie with, Jason Statham, called, “The Killer Elite.” And we’re also prepping a movie called, “Arabian Nights,” which is going to be directed by, Chuck Russell, and it’s a $70 million film.

Very cool! For the young kid who’s reading this and drawing inspiration from your interview; what would you say is the most challenging, as well as the most rewarding, part of your job?
I remember someone told me once that producing movie’s is like herding squirrels [laughs] and I agreed [laughs]. But no, it’s a challenge to pull all the pieces that you need in order to make a movie, together simultaneously. But at the same time, that challenge brings about satisfaction when you actually do pull it off and end up making a movie that you can hopefully be proud of. When people come to you and say that your movie touched them, or that they really enjoyed it, I think that’s pretty satisfying.

If you could change anything about this business, what would it be and why?
I think that this business is a pretty good reflection of where our culture is at, so I don’t look at it as changing, but rather reacting to what’s happening. But if I could change anything, maybe it would be that some people could stand to be a little nicer to one another. Also, I’d say that there are some elements of the business that are very focused on money and feel a bit too greed driven, so it would be good if that wasn’t the case in many instances.