by Randy McClain, Tennessean Business Editor
December 12, 2010
The Tennessean, Business Section, page 1

Banker J. Hunter Atkins, chairman of the Bank of Nashville, likes to dive into the unknown, and this time he’s in deep (but fun) financial waters.

Atkins has gone into the movie business.

The guy who lists his favorite all-time films as The Graduate, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has joined forces with filmmaker and studio owner Curt Hahn on what figures to be a seven-figure investment.

The duo intend to make a movie based on the newspaper murder mystery novel Grievances by journalist Mark Ethridge. It will be filmed locally.

“You only mature in business when you lose sight of your own shoreline,” Atkins said. “I’m way out there right now. I’m a fool for things I don’t know much about. But I like to learn.”

Atkins has figured out a few things about filmmaking already.

“This is a nine-ring circus and a team sport. There’s marketing, costumes, actors, location and budget. We’re going to do the best we can on our budget, and if this doesn’t work out - I quit,” Atkins said.

“But if this works out, and we see some rewards, this partnership (with Hahn, CEO of Film House studios near MetroCenter) could go on and on.”

Atkins’ banking career has been a varied one, and he has occasionally dabbled in outside investments, including an ill-fated restaurant out of state a few years ago.

He doesn’t always come out a winner, but he likes the odds in today’s film business.

Atkins met Hahn through a CEO peer group called The Alternative Board. Men and women who run companies get together and brainstorm, share advice about corporate problems and do some high-level hand-holding.

Hahn showed up at a meeting several months ago complaining how hard it was to raise money to make a new movie. Wall Street meltdown, TARP, AIG and the rest of the national alphabet soup of financial pain had sapped investors of interest in funding independent movies. But demand from cable TV, Showtime, Lifetime, Netflix and a host of other outlets means there’s huge consumer demand for new entertainment products.

“I wasn’t there looking for investors,” said Hahn, who sits on the same nine-person CEO panel as Atkins.

But the banker bit. After the group meeting broke up, Atkins sent Hahn a “let’s do business together” e-mail. A partnership was born.

The way Atkins sees it, demand for films is strong and supply is weak. Hahn already owns a film studio and a bunch of sets; and he has lighting guys, camera operators and other crew members ready to go to work on the Grievances film script. (It will be titled Deadline for the big screen.)

“I watched Curt get wind fatigue from the economic headwinds blowing in his face” as the Film House boss tried to raise money to make the new movie, Atkins said. “I had a light bulb moment. I told him I was game for a partnership.”

Atkins - who gets credit as one of the executive producers - has already gotten more than he bargained for on the project.

“I’ve added more value to this than I ever dreamed I could,” he said. “At first, I was in the dugout watching this team on the field, and now I’m in right field.”

Hahn concurs. He said Atkins made a key suggestion on how to tweak the script to make the story of a murdered African-American youth in rural Alabama and a newspaper investigation into the killing 20 years later come alive. “I found out that my ideas weren’t stupid or rejected,” Atkins said.

But a personal screen test didn’t pan out so well. Just for fun the banker read for a minor role and got one of those: “Don’t call us; we’ll call you” moments. Atkins still might get a bit part, but he probably shouldn’t worry about signing with an agent just yet.

The film could start shooting early next year, and Hahn hopes to release it in major theaters in early 2012.

Atkins likes the idea of being Hahn’s equal partner. He has already helped negotiate a near deal with the actor who could become the film’s male lead, and he plans to remain active once shooting starts.

“One investor and his partner - that’s what this sport is made for,” the banker turned film producer said.

Randy McClain is business editor. Reach him at 615-259-8882 or [email protected].

Copyright (c) The Tennessean. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc.

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