Los Angeles-based producer Thomas Augsberger is launching ERM Docs, a new documentary division at his Eden Rock Music label whose first title, “Reinventing Mirazur,” will world premiere at the San Sebastian Festival.
A portrait of the extraordinary daring of Argentine-born chef Mauro Colagreco whose three Michelin star restaurant, Mirazur, on France’s Mediterranean coast, was awarded Best Restaurant in the World, “Reinventing Miramar” marks the latest title from French filmmakers Frank Ribière and Vérane Frediani. Prominent producers on France and Spain’s genre scene (“Cell 211,” “Kidnapped”), they have opened up a parallel second career as director-writers of high-quality culinary doc-features of substance with titles such as Netflix’s “Steak Revolution” and “A la Récherche des femmes chefs.”
Also in the pipeline at ERM Docs is “Bonnie,” a portrait of famed casting agent Bonnie Timmermann directed by Simon Wallon and produced with Amanda Sthers; and “Form Doc,” about the Form Arcosanti Film & Arts Festival that takes place every year in Arcosanti, Arizona, directed by Vincent Haycock and also produced with Sthers.
“Reinventing Mirazur” was born in December 2019 when Ribière and Vérane proposed a documentary to Augsberger on “the best chef in the world,” a title Colagreco won when Reed Media’s 50 Best crowned his home restaurant Mirazur in Menton France as the best restaurant in the world in June 2019.
Production began with Ribière and Frediani following Colagreco to Tokyo where he cooked for six days at Cook Japan Project, and then back to Miramar.
There, when COVID-19 struck in March 2020, the documentary, as many of the best do, took on a life of its own as Colagreco used lockdown to tear up his menu and reimagine not only its offer but very concept, aligned with his dedication to the principles of biodynamics.
As businesses around the world, particularly restaurants, shut down, in order to fully finance “Reimagining Mirazur” Augsberger turned to two sources willing to finance a film production at the start of a global pandemic: Swiss investor Santis Media Distribution and L.A.-based Front Berner, owned and operated by producers Schuyler Ransohoff and Wes Fleuchaus.
Many three star Michelin restaurants “are so concerned normally about keeping their third star that they don’t want to change anything,” Augsberger commented. “Colagreco has changed everything. That really tremendous. It’s one of the things that excites me – to go on a journey with somebody like that.”
Augsberger has produced live action across the board from cult horror comedy (“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil”) to a “basically studio movie” (“Mr. Brooks”) and mockumentary “Incident on Loch Ness” as well as foreign-shot TV shows like “Spy City” (AMC Plus) and “Professionals” (CW). “I’ve done almost everything that’s financeable in the independent sector,” he said.
So why the current documentary focus? That looks equal parts chance, COVID-19 and a passion for creative producing.
He started to focus on developing, financing, and producing documentaries in 2019 when he partnered with Storied Media Group to develop and produce Alex Gibney’s “Crime of the Century” jointly with Gibney’s Jigsaw Production. It premiered on HBO Max last May to glowing reviews. Variety called it “shattering.”
“Really, I didn’t do anything but instigate it,” Augsberger said. But “Crime of the Century” gave him the confidence to produce “Reinventing Mirazur” with Ribière and Frediani when they pitched him, he said.
Here, Augsburger was fully involved as a producer co-financier. He will now aid the international distribution: Global rights to “Reinventing Mirazur” are available and represented by Eden Rock Media.
The three new docs have come in “one by one,” their flurry part effect of the difficulty of producing live action under COVID-19. “It became such a great opportunity for me to spend time during COVID-19 on documentaries because they were all shooting and in post, while a lot of other projects didn’t move forward,” Augsberger said.
What unites the three documentaries to date is a focus on creativity and a sense of personal journey, of the subjects or filmmakers.
“I told a friend of mine who didn’t know what I had been doing in docs. And he said that they all seem to have sort of a common thread: ‘You’re taking one person’s journey and they’re admirable people in their own rights for different reasons.’”
“Bonnie” will have exclusive access to 20,000 casting tapes from the last 40 years of her career that she donated to Boston University. It covers her relationship with Michael Mann, who appears in the documentary, high-profile early casting, such as of Liam Neeson in his first U.S. role, and her promotion of minorities.
How quickly will ERM Docs grow? That will depend on early results, said Augsberger. But he admitted that he’s hooked.
“I like this world. As a producer, you are far more involved creatively in a documentary than a feature or as a non-writing television producer,” he said.
He added: “Documentaries lend themselves more to research, improvisation. You have to adapt to your subject and if the subject and story lead you in a certain way you have to go down that path.”
“Form Doc” is a case in point. Partner Amanda Sthers and Augsberger decided in mid-2019 to trust and “go on a journey” with a promising young filmmaker, Vincent Haycock, who has deep roots in the music industry.
“He pitched us his idea five days prior to the live Form Festival in Arizona and we said ‘yes,’ raised the money for the shoot for him and three weeks later Vince came back with awesome concert footage and a few wonderful interviews.”
Currently, Augsberger is raising money again for Haycock to go back to Arcosanti in 2022. He will revisit some of the people and places three years later. “So the journey turned out longer than expected but we think it will be worth it.”