‘Hol­ly­wood North’ is young film mogul’s perch

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - Martin Knel­man

A new movie mogul has taken up res­i­dence in Toronto.

He speaks Ital­ian more eas­ily than English and he is only 28 years old.

“I try to look older,” Andrea Ier­volino told me over drinks at Soho House while gear­ing up for the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. “In Italy in this busi­ness, they say you are young if you are 45.”

It’s al­most un­be­liev­able that any­one could have built a pro­duc­tion/ dis­tri­bu­tion film em­pire at 28. In Hol­ly­wood, he was happy to find, there is no such thing as be­ing too young. That was clear when Ier­volino was named one of the top deal­mak­ers of 2015 by Variety, the in­dus­try trade pa­per.

At TIFF this year, Ier­volino’s com­pany AMBI is rep­re­sented by two movies: In Du­bi­ous Bat­tle and The Bleeder.

But the movie he seems most ex­cited about is To the Bone, which was re­cently shot in L.A. and won’t be re­leased un­til early 2017.

Ier­volino grew up in Italy but has roots in Canada be­cause his mother was born here.

She was adopted by a young Ital­ian cou­ple who had moved here. They went back to Italy and set­tled in Cassino (be­tween Rome and Naples), largely be­cause they wor­ried that if they stayed in Canada their adopted baby’s birth par­ents might try to re­claim her.

“When your par­ents are very young, it makes it dif­fi­cult to grow up in a nor­mal way,” Ier­volino says.

As a young boy, Andrea felt in­se­cure. His fam­ily — in­clud­ing his brother, his sis­ter and his grand­mother — was liv­ing close to the poverty line. In­deed, Ier­volino’s early years were so stress­ful that by the age of 5 or 6 he had a se­ri­ous stut­ter.

At 15, he left home to work in a town near Venice.

He wrote a story for a movie he wanted to make. He man­aged to coax var­i­ous small in­vestors into back­ing The Cava­lier in Love (2003). The movie was about the im­pos­si­ble love of a cava­lier and a princess. The bud­ding mogul wrote the script, pro­duced and di­rected the film and cleaned the set.

Then, when it came time to pay back in­vestors, he solved the prob­lem by in­vent­ing a new model of film fi­nanc­ing. He rented a cinema for morn­ing screen­ings (when it would oth­er­wise be closed) and worked through lo­cal schools to fill the seats with cus­tomers pay­ing five euros each.

Sev­eral small films fol­lowed. Through one of the ac­tors, he met the pow­er­ful Ital­ian pro­ducer Lu­ciano Martino, who was re­garded as the Har­vey We­in­stein of Italy. When Ier­volino went to Martino’s of­fice, he saw the posters of many fa­mous movies Martino had made and re­al­ized the man was a leg­end.

Martino, then 70, of­fered his young vis­i­tor a job. Ier­volino turned down the job but sug­gested they be­come busi­ness part­ners.

Martino proved to be a fa­therly men­tor and Ier­volino proved to be good at sub­stan­tially cut­ting the cost of mak­ing a movie.

Af­ter Martino died, one of his wealth­i­est in­vestors, Monika Bac­ardi (of the Bac­ardi liquor clan), be­came Ier­volino’s new busi­ness part­ner. They set up the AMBI Group (a name they made up by us­ing their own ini­tials) with the goal of pro- duc­ing 12 movies and four TV shows a year.

To­day, AMBI has of­fices in Lon­don and L.A. as well as China and Italy. And it owns the rights to a li­brary of 400 movies.

Toronto has be­come the ideal perch for the young mogul, be­cause he iden­ti­fies it as Hol­ly­wood North, and it’s mid­way be­tween L.A. and Rome. AMBI’s tent in­cludes an animation stu­dio in Toronto near Queen and Lo­gan.

Among the movies Ier­volino is most proud of is The Hum­bling. Af­ter buy­ing rights to the book by Philip Roth, AMBI co-pro­duced the movie, which earned a special prize at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val for Ier­volino along with its star, Al Pa­cino, and its di­rec­tor, Barry Levin­son.

This month dur­ing TIFF, Ier­volino will have a packed sched­ule of backto-back meet­ings about po­ten­tial deals.

The Bleeder, a U.S. box­ing movie co-pro­duced by AMBI, will have its North Amer­i­can pre­miere on Sept. 10. Di­rected by Philippe Falardeau, it’s the story of the boxer who in­spired the movie Rocky. Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts and El­iz­a­beth Moss are the stars.

Then, on Sept. 14, TIFF will have the North Amer­i­can pre­miere of In Du­bi­ous Bat­tle, based on John Stein­beck’s 1936 novel about fruit pick­ers fight­ing to im­prove work­ing con­di­tions. James Franco is both its di­rec­tor, one of its pro­duc­ers and its star (play­ing the or­chard worker try­ing to start a union). Not only is this an AMBI Group pro­duc­tion, but Ier­volino and Bac­ardi head the list of seven pro­duc­ers.

Com­ing soon: To the Bone, an AMBI pro­duc­tion shot in L.A. about a woman bat­tling anorexia, with Lily Collins in the lead­ing role and Keanu Reeves as the doc­tor.

What are the se­crets of Ier­volino’s suc­cess? He sleeps only five hours a night, does not drink liquor or take drugs.

“And I eat pasta with to­mato sauce ev­ery day. If I don’t have it, I feel sick and have no en­ergy.” mknel­man@thes­tar.ca

AMBI GROUP

Andrea Ier­volino has built a pro­duc­tion/dis­tri­bu­tion film em­pire at just 28.

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