Saturday, 4 April 2015

[HOT AND EXPOSED!!] ... Where did Riza Aziz (Najib Razak's step son) get the money to finance the movie.

[HOT AND EXPOSED!!] ... Where did Riza Aziz (Najib Razak's step son) get the money to finance the movie.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Christopher J. McFarland and Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, co-owners of Red Granite Pictures, which produced “The Wolf of Wall Street,” are stalking someone bigger than that film’s hero, the stock hustler Jordan Belfort.

To wit, George Washington.

“Very visceral, very gritty,” promised Mr. McFarland, who is known as Joey, growing visibly excited. He had popped from his padded chair and was prowling a loungelike meeting room in Red Granite’s offices above the Sunset Strip.

“He’s a conflicted guy,” added Mr. Aziz, speaking of their new passion, a raw Revolutionary general.

The picture, they reckoned, should be ready to shoot by the summer of 2015. Mr. Aziz was confident they would land a filmmaker and star of the stature of Martin Scorsese, who directed “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Mr. Belfort.

So “The General,” as Red Granite’s Washington project is currently titled, may become the next large-scale film from a four-year-old company with A-list ambitions, but one that has already rattled Hollywood with its audacity and exotic connections — not to mention a tangled legal history.


Jim Carrey, left, and Jeff Daniels in “Dumb and Dumber To,” a coming Red Granite release. Credit Hopper Stone/Universal Pictures

Last month, Mr. Aziz and Mr. McFarland settled a fierce dispute in which they exchanged lawsuits with two producers, Brad Krevoy and Steve Stabler, who had accused Red Granite and its owners of hijacking their rights in a comedy sequel, “Dumb and Dumber To.”

The settlement, which cleared the way for release of the film in November, added Mr. Krevoy and Mr. Stabler, who produced the original “Dumb and Dumber,” as executive producers of the sequel.

But it was also accompanied by a public apology from the pair to Mr. Aziz and Mr. McFarland for having named them personally, rather than simply Red Granite, as defendants. And that bouquet closed a fight in which Mr. Krevoy and Mr. Stabler had also filed a racketeering claim that accused Mr. Aziz and Mr. McFarland of funding their films with “ill-gotten gains” from a conspiracy that drew money from Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East and Mr. Aziz’s home country, Malaysia.

The accusations echoed similar assertions — particularly on Sarawak Report, an activist blog that monitors accusations of corruption touching the Malaysian state of Sarawak — that have persistently dogged Mr. Aziz. He is the stepson of the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, and has perhaps invited scrutiny by saying little in the past about the sources of his funding.

Speaking in the company’s relatively modest offices last week, Mr. Aziz and Mr. McFarland offered a more detailed description of Red Granite’s backing.

They were finally free to speak, they said, because Red Granite’s principal film investor, the Abu Dhabi-based businessman Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny, had agreed to be publicly identified after insisting for years on silence about his involvement. 

Mr. Al-Husseiny, who is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s government-owned Aabar Investments, previously said that he did not want to be solicited by other producers.
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In fact, Mr. Al-Husseiny has regularly shown up on Red Granite’s film sets. But whenever they were asked about their financing, Mr. Aziz and Mr. McFarland, honoring what they say was a nondisclosure agreement, would say only that their money came from backers in Asia and the Middle East.

“I have known Riza for many years, and have done business with Red Granite Pictures since its inception,” Mr. Al-Husseiny said in a statement last week.

Mr. Al-Husseiny added that he and a consortium of private investors — none of them from Malaysia, according to a spokesman — expected to continue what he called “fruitful and profitable investments” with the company.

Mr. Aziz, 37, said he met Mr. Al-Husseiny while working as a London-based investment banker with HSBC.

Mr. Al-Husseiny and his co-investors in Red Granite, Mr. Aziz said, were investing personal money, not government funds. The point is a sensitive one, as Sarawak Report and other critics have questioned whether money drained from the Malaysian people has found its way into the company’s films.

“There is no Malaysian money,” said Mr. Aziz, when questioned directly on that point. Mr. McFarland added: “We have no money coming from Russia, and nothing from Indonesia.”

Mr. Al-Husseiny, the producers said, has financed their films on a picture-by-picture basis, reviewing each before agreeing to invest. Their first film, “Friends With Kids,” they said, cost only about $5 million to produce, and has been profitable, as have their other projects. In four years, four Red Granite-produced films have been released, and “Dumb and Dumber To” will become the fifth.

“The Wolf of Wall Street,” they noted, cost about $100 million to make. But that amount was reduced by New York incentives that contributed roughly $20 million.

In the end, Mr. Aziz said, “We did moderately well.”

“Horns,” a horror film on which Red Granite collaborated with Mandalay Pictures, will be released by the Weinstein Company’s Radius-TWC unit in October, with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead. “Out of the Furnace,” a drama starring Christian Bale, was released by Relativity Media in 2013. Mr. Aziz acknowledged that he was personally wealthy, and confirmed press reports that in 2012 he purchased a New York penthouse for $33.5 million.

But Mr. Aziz said he had only a small amount of personal money invested as “seed capital” in Red Granite. He avoided direct investment in films, he said, to sidestep the political implications for his stepfather, who is married to Mr. Aziz’s mother, Rosmah Mansor.

If there has been a mystery around Red Granite’s rise to prominence, much of it centers on the sudden emergence of Mr. McFarland, a 42-year-old native of Louisville, Ky., as a major film producer, with close ties to the likes of Mr. Scorsese and Mr. DiCaprio.

“I want everyone to know that I don’t come from a lot,” Mr. McFarland said last week, referring to his modest roots.

Mr. McFarland said his mother was a talented baker who has sold her wares and judged contests at state fairs; his father is a real estate broker.
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After graduating from the University of Louisville, Mr. McFarland worked briefly for Chrysler’s finance arm in Cincinnati, then quit to focus on investments that included real estate and a restaurant.

Another investment, Mr. McFarland said, was in a talent brokerage company that booked performers and others into events. That, he said, led to travel, which in turn led to an acquaintance with Jho Low, a jet-setting Malaysian investor who had been a friend to Mr. Aziz during their student years in London.

Mr. Low, Mr. McFarland said, introduced him to Mr. Aziz. Somewhere along the way, Mr. Low introduced both to another acquaintance, Mr. DiCaprio, who proved willing to join forces if they could find a way to finance his favored projects.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” was one of those, and its success, they said, cemented an alliance that remains one of Red Granite’s bulwarks. The company, Mr. Aziz and Mr. McFarland said, means to pursue a small number of high-level projects annually, while serving as a foreign sales agent for at least a handful of additional films made by others.

To date, Mr. Aziz and Mr. McFarland have focused on reviving projects that stalled in the studio system. “The Wolf of Wall Street,” for instance, had hit an apparent dead end at Warner Bros. when they picked it up and shifted to a distribution deal with Paramount Pictures.

But the pair soon encountered legal troubles over the rights, leading to an exchange of lawsuits with Alexandra Milchan, a producer. The suits were eventually settled.

As for the George Washington project, Red Granite bought an original script by Bill Collage and Adam Cooper, who share in the writing credits on Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” a biblical story set for release by Fox in December.

Asked for a provocative detail or two, the writers were tight-lipped. “It’s about the most perilous moment in American history, and the moment that made the man,” said Mr. Collage, who declined to say more.

On whether Mr. DiCaprio might have his eye on the role of George Washington, Mr. Aziz and Mr. McFarland declined to offer more than a hint.

“It will have the same pedigree,” Mr. Aziz said.

New York Times.

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