- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kirk Shaw wants your phone to know what you’re shopping for before you do. The Canadian film producer and financier envisions a future in which smartphone apps automatically deliver entertainment in a marriage of branding and content.

“I think of J.C. Penney as having millions and millions of people with their app,” Mr. Shaw posited as a theoretical example. “I want to tie in my TV show with them and bring what I have. When you can bring that marriage of advertising and content closer together, [they] help each other.”

Mr. Shaw has spent his career finding innovative ways to bring entertainment to the masses — from little-seen works such as 2008’s “Riddles of the Sphinx” to the same year’s Oscar winner for best picture, “The Hurt Locker,” for which he served as an associate producer.

Although some of his works, including “The Hurt Locker,” are bona fide grand slams, others are what he calls “base hits.”

“My company produces about 20 films a year,” he said, of which 15 or 16 ring up the movie biz equivalent of a baseball single. “And then I sell ‘doubles or triples,’ which are bigger films with a little more risk on them.”

Mr. Shaw currently is swinging for the fences by betting on longtime action mainstay Jean-Claude Van Damme, who stars this month in “Pound of Flesh.” Mr. Shaw’s company put up a significant part of the money for Mr. Van Damme’s salary as well as for the services of director Ernie Barbarash and screenwriter Joshua James.

“I actually talked to [Mr. Van Damme], his lawyer [and] his manager for years before I could get him to agree to do a movie with me,” Mr. Shaw said of the Belgian action star. “It takes a lot for them to trust you. There’s a lot of work to get in the door. But we finally got in there.”

One of things that attracted Mr. Shaw to the Van Damme film was the fact that it would shoot in China. Far from wishing for a trip to an exotic locale, Mr. Shaw said, it offered him a chance to foster business relationships in mainland China for future productions.

“Part of [‘Pound of Flesh’] was finding a different economic model,” Mr. Shaw said. “I produced the film in China so I could learn about the economics of China and make partnerships in China. And through our Chinese partner, part of that economic model is that China paid for all the below-the-line costs of that film,” he said, referring to the hundreds or even thousands of labor artisans who are crucial to realizing a film.

Part of the appeal of action films such as “Pound of Flesh,” Mr. Shaw said, is that their stories typically offer viewers a travelogue experience from the comfort of their theater seats.

“They travel well, whereas a comedy doesn’t necessarily travel well,” he said. “I like action movies because they sell around the world, and you can build them around a star like Jean-Claude Van Damme.”

With the proliferation of Internet content and media outlets competing for consumers’ attention, Mr. Shaw said, his unique notion of a marriage between content and advertising may be the most savvy way to turn a profit in the digital world.

“Viewers have already changed, the advertising is going to change, so the economic models are going to change,” he said. “You can’t get too far ahead of the curve, but you want to be close to the curve.”

Mr. Shaw said his interest for future projects is tailored primarily around a notion of “financial engineering and how it relates to content. Because in terms of my dream project, it’s more trying to find new financial models to deliver content than it is having one project. So it’s more to do with how can I get in the right position to sort of lead the change that’s going on right now.”

Despite consumers shunning the multiplex in droves for home viewing, iPads and unlimited numbers of YouTube channels and social media, Mr. Shaw remains optimistic about creating and distributing more projects to worldwide audiences. He was especially pleased about his experiences at recent industry conferences, where he found more buyers than producers roaming the halls.

“I came back knowing that content is still highly in demand,” Mr. Shaw said. “It’s more than that there’s too much content. It’s more adjusting to how people are changing their viewing.”

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