Robert Friedland goes to Hollywood

Robert Friedland hopes to shake up the way Hollywood portrays the mining industry. Photo by Ale Moraes.Robert Friedland hopes to shake up the way Hollywood portrays the mining industry. Photo by Ale Moraes.

One thing that irritates Robert Friedland is the lack of recognition and appreciation  the mining industry receives from the wider public. “Take a look at everything around you,” he says in an interview with The Northern Miner, “we either mined it or we grew it — there are no exceptions.”

And, as urbanization has driven more and more people away from supply chains in the countryside, the problem has become even more acute.

“Most people who live in urban environments think a ham sandwich comes from a refrigerator — they don’t really visualize all those pigs being slaughtered in a river of blood outside Chicago,” he says.

“Most people don’t realize that when they walk into a dark room and turn on the light, somewhere a generator has to kick in and give them that power, because there’s virtually no storage of electricity in the grid.

“We think miners have to do a much better job of explaining how fundamental we are to improving this world,” he says. “That’s why we have gotten into Hollywood — that’s why we are in the movie business.”

Robert Friedland hopes to shake up the way Hollywood portrays the mining industry. Photo by Ale Moraes.

Robert Friedland hopes to shake up the way Hollywood portrays the mining industry. Photo by Ale Moraes.

These days Friedland is working with his connections in Hollywood to make movies that will, in an entertaining way, reposition mining and improve its image — unlike how producer and director James Cameron portrayed the industry in his blockbuster 2009 sci-fi film Avatar.

“Subconsciously the bad guys in the movie are the miners,” Friedland says. “James Cameron made the miners the bad guys in one of the biggest movies ever produced out of Hollywood.”

The premise of the film, he says, is that miners, thousands of years from now, in another part of the universe, are hunting for a scarce and valuable commodity called unobtainium. The only place they can find it is in a pristine environment where they have to chop down giant trees and displace native people to get it out of the ground.

First, Friedland argues, if it was a thousand years in the future and we needed a rare metal, we would be able to mine it on a dead asteroid and wouldn’t need to disturb anyone or anything. Second, with technological advancements, even if we were on a beautiful planet and we needed unobtainium, he says, we could mine it underground and never disturb those magnificent trees or aboriginal people.

“Mining in general has been viewed askance by Hollywood for a long time,” Friedland says. “Hollywood has given mining a very bad reputation.”

In what he describes will be “the revenge of the miners,” Friedland is producing a 60-part series for television called Red Rush that he describes as being “somewhat related to copper mining on Mars in the twenty-ninth century.”

The script, he says, has been written by Charles Randolph, who cowrote the screenplay for The Big Short. The 2015 film was based on Michael Lewis’ best-selling book about the subprime mortgage crisis, and won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

“Mining will be viewed differently in a future context, and in this case, we are in control of the script,” Friedland says. “It’s important to be able to do that.”

Friedland is also working on developing a sequel to Before the Flood — a 2016 documentary he saw at the Toronto Film Festival about climate change that was cocreated by Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio and director Fisher Stevens. In the film, DiCaprio travels around the world examining what are claimed to be the deleterious effects of anthropogenic global warming.

“We are interested in doing a sequel to that movie that presents the solution to the problem,” Friedland says. “It’s not to scare people about global warming — we want to talk about what you can do for your children and grandchildren and talk about the revolution in the transportation industry, power generation and electrical storage, and what metals you need.”

Friedland says his people are already working on script development and while he would love to get DiCaprio involved (“Leonardo is a very intelligent man [and] a superb actor”), “Tom Hanks is equally popular, or say, Meryl Streep.

“We’re in Hollywood and we have access to people who would like to help the world and put it all in context,” he says.

A sequel, he continues, would “in a very good Hollywood way” explain everything and “recast the position of mining, not in an ‘in-your-face way,’ but in an intelligent and entertaining way explain what Canadian miners are doing. Mining copper or copper-gold are part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Friedland cofounded Ivanhoe Pictures in 2013 with executive and producer John Penotti. The motion picture and television company has focused on international local-language content for film and television.

In March, Ivanhoe Pictures merged with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment to form SK Global, where Sidney Kimmel and Friedland will serve as cochairmen.

SK Global will control the combined libraries of both companies, consisting of more than 75 feature films, including the recent Academy Award nominated film, Hell or High Water, starring Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine.

While SK Global becomes the parent entity, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Ivanhoe Pictures will continue to release film and TV projects under their respective labels.

Kimmel, the founder of international fashion giant Jones Apparel Group, created Sidney Kimmel Entertainment as an independent film finance and production company in the United States. Its body of work includes films such as 9 ½ Weeks, Blame it on Rio, Breach, Moneyball, The Lincoln Lawyer and the Kite Runner, among many others.

Kimmel and Friedland were first introduced by Penotti in 2015, and began collaborating on a slate of local-language productions.

Ivanhoe Pictures has financed and produced films throughout Asia, focusing on China, South Korea and India. It also produces content through coproductions with Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions in India and South Korea, and with Fox International Pictures.

Ivanhoe’s Korean-language thriller, The Wailing, a collaboration with Fox International Pictures, was the most awarded film last year in South Korea and has grossed US$50 million in the nation, becoming Fox’s second-highest grossing film in South Korea after Avatar.

Ivanhoe Pictures, in conjunction with Warner Bros, is now coproducing Crazy Rich Asians with Color Force, an American studio founded in 2007 by producer Nina Jacobson, who has produced films based on novels such as The Hunger Games and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Crazy Rich Asians is based on Kevin Kwan’s bestselling book about the exploits of a wealthy Chinese family in Singapore.

RELATED STORY: Robert Friedland: Celebrating a lifetime of achievement


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