Antonio Banderas’ ‘Gun Shy’ Aims to Crowdfund New Path to Success

Here’s how “Expendables 2” director Simon West tapped a “small group of bright kids” from Cambridge to help finance his new movie

Gun Shy

As the director of films like “Con Air” and “The Expendables 2,” Simon West has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Nicolas Cage and Sylvester Stallone. But for his latest film, “Gun Shy,” he tapped some less-famous people: He crowdfunded.

The Saban Films comedy (based on the Mark Haskell Smith novel “Salty”) stars Antonio Banderas as an aging rock star who battles rebels in the South American jungle to rescue his kidnapped wife (Olga Kurylenko). It’s the first time a major theatrical release has been crowdfunded, setting U.K. fundraising records along the way. 

But West actually started out on the traditional path, looking for equity, before one of his early investors suggested looking into the wisdom — and wallets — of the crowd.

“I didn’t really know about crowdfunding,” West told TheWrap. “I’d heard of Kickstarter and I thought in the past there were just donations from fateful followers and they got a T-shirt or pen.”

But West learned that the rules in the U.K. are different, meaning that investors who participate in crowdfunding actually receive real equity in the project. (Last May, the U.S. legalized equity crowdfunding through the adoption of Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act.)

After evaluating a few potential funding platforms, West and his team decided to go with SyndicateRoom, a company developed by a “small group of bright kids” from Cambridge University.

“They were very enthusiastic about putting a film project on the platform,” he said. “I suppose for them it was a very sexy sell. Instead of a new headache tablet, it was sort of ‘Hollywood goes to the platform.’”

He collected a diverse group of 164 investors. One was a film fan who worked at Radio Shack and scrounged to come up with the minimum investment of £3,000 (about $4,000.) West also won over one skeptic, a finance guy from the City of London who came to one of the few days of shooting in the U.K. to monitor his investment.

“He came with his defenses up — what are these slick Hollywood types doing with my money?” West said. “But he ended up being so enthusiastic, I ended up putting him in the film. Giving him a line.”

West was also able to get the rights to the novel the film was based on — and more — from Smith, the writer, in a highly unorthodox fashion.

“For a bottle of tequila — a good bottle of tequila — I got the option to the book rights and the first draft of the script,” West said.

West said he was pleasantly surprised by the success he had in meeting his fundraising targets, given how many internet ventures go awry. But he positioned himself for the best shot at success.

“I tried to choose a film that modestly budgeted with very broad appeal,” he said. “To give it its best chance. I wasn’t going to make a very obscure, small film that had a very small audience. I tried to make it commercial, broad appeal action-comedy.”

And as “Gun Shy” prepares to hit screens this weekend, that investment will start bearing fruit — and at least a theater full of very loyal fans.

“They’ve got a lottery ticket in their hand,” he said. “They’re actually real shareholders. And I’ve got 164 people who are going to see the movie.”

“Gun Shy” opens this weekend in limited release.