Michael Benaroya: Film Financier to Watch

Michael Benaroya, scion of a prominent Seattle real-estate family, is making a name as a film financier

Michael Benaroya was prepared to follow in the footsteps of his formidable family members – among the most prominent real estate developers in the northwest.

“I was expected to take over the family business,” the financier told TheWrap. “I never thought that I would be a movie producer or in the movie business at all.”

But, he said, he’s “always been a cinephile.”

Also read: 10 Producers Who Will Change Hollywood 2012

So when some friends asked him to help budget a movie project, the 31-year-old who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Pomona College agreed.

And he got stuck.

He has since formed Benaroya Pictures to develop, finance and produce movies — and to take risks.

He personally financed "Margin Call" from first-time director J.C. Chandor. The $3.4 million movie was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay this year.

He also financed "The Words," by first-time directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, which stars Olivia Wilde, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons and Dennis Quaid. CBS Films acquired the Sundance movie and plans to release it in September.

Also read: More Producers Who Are Making a Mark on Hollywood

Since 2009, Benaroya has produced or executive produced “New York, I Love You,”  "The Romantics," and “Catch .44,” in addition to "Margin Call" and “The Words.” “The Paperboy,” which he executive produced, recently completed filming, and he has one movie in post-production, one project now filming and one in pre-production.

“He has turned out to be a formidable force because he has great taste, and he knows what he likes and he knows what he doesn’t like,” Cassian Elwes, producer-financier and former head of William Morris Independent, told TheWrap. “Beyond that, as a dealmaker, once he identifies something he likes and he wants to do, there’s no one smarter. He’s a really bright guy financially. And artistically, he’s got great taste, so it’s a deadly combination.”

He has generally kept away from huge budget movies, but isn't opposed to the notion. Certain movies with a big budget "can be a lot of fun," he said.

Will he make them?

"I have not decided that I'm not going to do those one day," he said. "I understand a lot of the attraction, but I have definitely made a firm commitment in my mind to stick to what I'm good at and not to go make bigger movies just for the sake of making bigger movies."