Exclusive: CEO Alex Bafer Tells Us About The Return of Carolco

News Ryan Lambie
1/26/2015 at 8:23AM

Almost 20 years after it closed, Carolco is back. CEO Alex Bafer tells us about its revival and a "very big" future sci-fi blockbuster.

At the height of its 80s and 90s powers, Carolco was one of the biggest independent film studios in Hollywood. Its distinctive logo appeared on some of the most successful movies of the era - the Rambo series, Terminator 2, Total Recall, Basic Instinct - but the studio also found a place for smaller-scale, unique films such as Angel Heart and Jacob's Ladder.

Then a combination of recession, a faltering TV and home video label and cinematic misfires - not least the infamous Cutthroat Island - saw Carolco file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 1992. And with that, Carolco seemed to be finished.

On January 20th, however, it was announced that the Carolco brand is back. A company once called Brick Top Productions has acquired the Carolco name, and producer Mario Kassar - who co-founded the original Carolco with Andrew Vajna back in 1976 - has been named as the studio's chief development executive.

Carolco's new CEO, Alex Bafer, is a former investment banker turned movie producer. Bafer's career change came when he agreed to executive produce a small, independent movie called Nick The Doorman with actor John Turturro and his brother Nicholas. It was a venture that resulted in the formation of Brick Top Productions, which became a public company 2011. Since then, Bafer's been steadily growing the business, and acquiring the Carolco brand is, he tells us, a chance to "restore the Carolco name to where it once was, which in my opinion was the pinnacle of the moviemaking industry."

"There's probably no bigger fan out there of Carolco," says Bafer. "I'm a Terminator fan, a Rambo fan, a Total Recall fan. My bedroom as a teenager was papered with Rambo and The Terminator. When I saw there was a possibility that I might be able to acquire the Carolco brand, I said, 'This is fantastic. This is a huge step for us.'"

As part of the new Carolco deal, the studio will be funding Mario Kassar's latest project, Audition - a new version of Ryu Murakami's novel first brought to the screen by Takashi Miike in 1999. Written and directed by Richard Gray, it's currently scheduled to go before cameras later this year.

"There are going to be a couple of changes from the original," Bafer says. "I'm biting my tongue because I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, but there's going to be some different twists to it that are going to be quite surprising to people, I believe."

Beyond that, Carolco has other projects in the pipeline. Although they're currently shrouded in secrecy, one of them sounds like the kind of movie the old Carolco might have brought to the screen in its 80s pomp.

"We're talking something very, very big," Bafer told us. "An action packed, Terminator-type sci-fi summer blockbuster, which is probably the logical next step for us after this."

When we asked whether the new Carolco would mix major releases with smaller films like Angel Heart, Jacob's Ladder or Chaplin, as the old studio did, Bafer replied, "100 percent. I love those films. I remember watching Angel Heart. I can tell you exactly where I was: I was with my closest friend, and I believe it was the seventh grade, and we sat on his parents' couch watching it. We were just floored. We couldn't believe how good it was."

The Hollywood filmmaking has, of course, changed enormously since the 1990s, and Bafer admits that there are lessons to be learned from the past: "They drove the price up on everything, they spent excessively, and I think it's a completely different animal now," he says.

The new Carolco is an entirely separate entity from the old, with the rights to the original Carolco's back catalogue remaining with StudioCanal. But Carolco's revival means that Mario Kassar is reunited with the studio name he brought into being almost 40 years ago - a plot twist that few could have predicted. Can Kassar work his old magic with the revived Carolco? Bafer certainly believes he can.

"In my opinion," Bafer says, "there's no human being on the planet better at making Hollywood blockbusters." 

The Carolco story, it seems, if far from over. We'll be fascinated to see how this next chapter in its history unfolds.