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THE ENVELOPE | THE CORNER OFFICE

Bright lights, big kudos

December 20, 2006|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TINY ThinkFilm is lately getting more attention than it's had in its young life, thanks to accolades and praise for "Half Nelson" and the performance of star Ryan Gosling as an urban teacher struggling with drug addiction.

The gritty drama has been picking up film critic awards and received Independent Spirit Awards nominations for best feature, best male lead, best female lead for Shareeka Epps and best director for Ryan Fleck, who also shares a best first screenplay nomination with Anna Boden.

"Half Nelson" is considered a breakthrough for ThinkFilm. Previously, the company was best known for award-winning documentaries such as the Oscar-winning "Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids" and the Oscar-nominated "Murderball."

Founded by a group of former Lionsgate executives, ThinkFilm was bought recently by Los Angeles entrepreneur and producer David Bergstein. Mark Urman, the company's top U.S. executive, spoke from ThinkFilm's offices in New York.

What's it been like to get this kind of attention?

There's not a day that goes by when someone isn't in a position to read about "Half Nelson." That wasn't the case when it was in active theatrical release. Now, it's part of the dialogue. On the January-February cusp, when this film is about to come out on DVD, if the gods are good, it will be an Oscar nominee in a major category. It would make an enormous difference on DVD.

How important is this to the company as a whole?

It's very important to prove to important filmmakers and important actors that we will match their commitment with our own, and that we can get people to take their work seriously. We can get it noticed, and if we can get it noticed, then they may get the sort of accolades they probably are doing the film for in the first place.

This has been a very defining season for us. We've had an amazing run in a short period with four Oscar nominations in as many years. We started with nothing but a smile on our face, a shine on our shoes and our reputations.

When you first saw "Half Nelson" did you focus immediately on Ryan Gosling?

We thought that the performance would be the thing that would drive the film coming and going. When other people say it's an Oscar-caliber performance, you can mount a campaign. If you're doing it for vanity, for appearance's sake or because someone expects you to do it -- and you're us -- you're an idiot.

Does it bother you that he wasn't nominated for a Golden Globe?

We didn't expect it. It's the sort of film that rarely shows up on their radar. They are lovely people, but they aren't on the beat. You have to bring everything to them. We weren't counting on it.

How level is the awards playing field?

It's a fine line between spending stupid money that you don't have to spend and spending just enough so people feel he's a contender because he's getting support.

james.bates@latimes.com

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