EXCLUSIVE: Members of the international industry community gathered on Thursday night in Los Angeles to celebrate the life of Samuel Hadida, the veteran French producer and distributor who passed away suddenly in November. The event was hosted by a group of companies that included Constantin, FilmNation, Lionsgate, Participant, eOne, Sierra/Affinity, IMR, Millennium and STX Entertainment. More than 400 guests crowded Tiato in Santa Monica to pay tribute to the passionate executive and film lover.
Morocco-born Hadida was a pillar of the international business and an early champion of filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary and Christophe Gans. Since its inception, Metropolitan FilmExport, the independent Paris-based distributor Hadida founded with his brother Victor and their father David, bridged a gap between France and the U.S. via long-term output deals with such companies as New Line Cinema (which included the Lord Of The Rings trilogy), Lionsgate (the Hunger Games franchise) and DreamWorks, as well as making individual offshore pick-ups and releasing local titles.
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Lionsgate’s Motion Picture Group President of International Helen Lee-Kim was part of a committee that organized last night’s event which took place on a rainy and gray evening. Kim tells me the weather “was a good luck omen” as if Hadida was “just looking down on us to give us some atmosphere.”
The informal get-together, MC’d by Moonstone’s Etchie Stroh, was punctuated by speeches from such executives as Sierra’s Nick Meyer, Bohemian Rhapsody producer Graham King, FilmNation boss Glen Basner, Resident Evil producer Robert Kulzer, Speranza 13’s Camela Galano, Participant CEO David Linde, filmmaker Roger Avary, producer and former Legendary East CEO Peter Loehr and Lionsgate Chairman Joe Drake.
The ceremony followed one that was held in Paris in December, shortly after Hadida passed away at age 64 at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital after a short illness. Hadida was someone I’ve known for more than 20 years and who was always an infectious character, with an impish grin and twinkling eyes. I was unable to attend last night’s event, but Voltage Pictures’ President and COO Jonathan Deckter emailed me this morning to say, “Walking into to a room of 400-plus people who all knew and loved Samuel was beyond emotional. It was the most well-attended gathering of people in our business outside of a market I’ve ever seen which is a tribute to Samuel who touched so many lives.
Deckter recalls that Hadida had “a desire, ability and need to communicate with people which is why his network and circle are so huge. It’s mindboggling how many worlds he walked in. And he could walk into any restaurant in the world and just light the place up.”
The event included a slide show — guests had been asked to send in favorite photos with Hadida who was a constant presence at markets and festivals. Lee-Kim tells me, “He was always there. All over the world, you just expected him to pop in. It’s still very surreal that he’s not on this planet with us any longer. He was such a legend and the energy he brought to the industry will leave a huge impact that we’re all going to feel.”
Hadida leaves behind Metropolitan, in the steady hands of his beloved brother Victor who was also in attendance last night. The company currently has Best Picture Oscar winner Green Book in release, an acquisition from Participant (Lionsgate handled international sales). France is the biggest offshore market to date on the film.
Sierra/Affinity CEO Meyer, who is also a fluent French-speaker who often broke bread with Hadida, says “He is a man who brick-by-brick built a juggernaut with passion and conviction and joy… When I’m down, he reminds me of how f*cking lucky we are to do this.”
FilmNation CEO Basner said last night was “a moment we all need to be together. Sammy was vital to the international film community and bigger than a distributor or a buyer; he was a personality. When you were in with Sammy, it meant something — you felt it in how he treated you.”
One of my personal favorite Hadida recollections came during Cannes several years ago. The fest was so plagued by rain that execs were doing deals on their phones from hotel lobbies. When I ran into Hadida in the Majestic, he told me he’d just closed a film with Basner, but wouldn’t feel it was done until he could hug him in person. The first time I met him, on the first Friday of my first Cannes Film Festival in 1998, he was hosting a dinner party for New Line’s Dark City which Metro was distributing in France. He charmed his guests with a parlor trick using a sort of Vaudevillian (and slightly risqué) deck of cards which he thought was just the bee’s knees. We still laughed about it years later, and when I brought this up to folks I’ve chatted with in the past day, each got the joke, recognizing that silly side to Hadida.
Graham King tells me this morning that last night’s event was “a love fest” that included great impersonations of Hadida. “I stopped selling films to (Metropolitan) quite a while ago, before I went over to the studio side, but we stayed friends. It wasn’t about business with Sammy,” King says, noting that Hadida last year made the trip from Paris to London for the world premiere of Bohemian Rhapsody to show support. He also says, “When I’ve gone through hard times on films, Sammy has been there for me on the other end of the phone trying to bubble me up and keep me energized.”
Of the hole Hadida leaves in the business, King and others note that this year’s Cannes Film Festival will indeed feel strange. King recalls, “Other buyers would run around to see what Sammy bought, and then they would buy it. When I was coming up, if I could get a sales meeting with Metropolitan, I knew I was going to get the rest of the territories. He was so smart. He could do business and then sit with a filmmaker, and he could negotiate like none other. He’d negotiate his airfare just for the kick of it.”
Hadida was inseparable from his brother Victor who has run the distribution side of Metro and is President of France’s National Federation of Film Distributors as well as film industry liaison body the BLIC. He continues to run the business and will find support from the industry, King assures. “The community has to rally around and help him through this period. It’s up to us to be there for Victor, he’s the one to carry the torch.”
Hadida’s vast producing credits include the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises; the Tony Scott-directed/Tarantino-scripted True Romance; Claude Lelouch’s Un+Une and The Best Years; The Hitman’s Bodyguard; and, back in 2001, the first French superproduction made in the Hollywood vein, Brotherhood Of The Wolf, which Universal released domestically. He had several film in various stages of production at the time of his death.
Martin Moszkowicz, boss of Constantin Film which produced the Resident Evil movies, was also unable to attend last night, but shared a note he sent to Victor after Samuel’s passing that provides a window onto who Hadida was.
“When I met Samuel over 25 years ago, I was not sure what to make of him. It was not love at first sight. My German side did not understand this man, with the heavy French accent making Kung-Fu noises in the middle of a sentence and jumping from one topic to the other within a second. When we negotiated the original deal for Resident Evil and I could not get hold of Samuel, I bombarded him with faxes. After days, I got him on the phone and asked him why he would not return my faxes. His answer was so Samuel: ‘I am not a fax guy, I am a phone guy.’
“It took me months if not years before I understood that the gasoline that operated Samuel was pure passion for movies and a genius understanding of how this business works. I was too young to see what a powerhouse Samuel was immediately. The longer we have known each other, the more I grew up, the more I understood. What started then turned out to make motion picture history as the most successful independent feature film franchise and one of the most profitable deals both of us were involved in. I was deeply impressed that you both were running Metro as a family operation without any big corporation behind it and without any backing. Any decision you made was personal. Now we are all in the sunset phase of our lives and careers, and personal relations become more important than ever. I realized that I had not only lost a friend, but also that the movie world had lost one of a kind. Producers like Samuel are not made anymore.”
The Hadida family has asked that donations in Samuel’s memory be directed to Synagogue Courbevoie in France where Samuel and Victor have been involved in the financing of a new building.