ALTA GLOBAL MEDIA: A Conversation With Founders Steven Adams and Theo Dumont
In these disruptive and challenging times, it takes a special breed to rise to the occasion and find success. Meet Steven Adams and Theo Dumont of Alta Global Media. Their boutique firm is a leading Artist Management, Marketing & PR, and Production company. Together, the duo has carved a unique and powerful impact with a worldwide reach. They’re poised between updates on the classic methods of old Hollywood, and a fresh future presently taking shape. However, their stories extend far beyond an elevator pitch or this introductory paragraph, so read on.
The respective CVs of Adams and Dumont are lengthy and varied (with more to explore throughout this article), yet, for the sake of introductions, here are some details:
An established producer of film and television, Mr. Adams began his career at Paradigm Talent and Literary Agency, served as President of FilmPro Finance, and turned to France as VFX Executive Producer for the distinguished French VFX house BUF, earning VFX EP credits on Avatar, Thor, Life of Pi, Green Lantern, Dark Shadows, amongst others. His producing credits also include the adaptations of Roger Guenveur Smith’s Peabody Award winning A Huey P. Newton Story and the critically acclaimed Rodney King, currently streaming on Netflix, both directed by Academy Award winner Spike Lee.
Mr. Dumont co-founded the Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival, as well as the Hollywood Comedy Festival, and Mammoth Film Festival. A longtime advisor to iconic Oscar-winning director Spike Lee and his 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, as well as screenwriter Adi Hasak, Mr. Dumont has executive-produced and is currently producing a plethora of films both feature-length (Jaclyn Bethany’s Indigo Valley, Richard Lawson and Tina Knowles Lawson’s upcoming Black Terror) and shorts. Mr. Dumont later co-founded 88th Street Productions, the production arm of HollyShorts.
Significantly, ’twas a couple of Lees who brought us together here, as Mr. Dumont set up my first of three interviews with comics super-scribe Stan Lee over a decade ago, and then a terrific one-on-one with Spike Lee in 2017, to discuss (among many other topics) Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man show Rodney King directed by Mr. Lee. (Completing my trio of Legendary Lees, I thank John Smith of New Line for setting me up with mega-thespian Christopher Lee. Humble-brag alert.) As we sit down together online for this discussion, I’ve crossed paths with Mr. Dumont on occasion, whereas I’m meeting Mr. Adams for the first time. But it all connects. Hereafter, for easy reading, Steven (Adams), and Theo (Dumont).
After a little ice-breaking, including my mention of Steven making a feature film on film with his high-school class back in the Bay Area (let’s double-feature it with that other teen Steven’s Firelight), and Theo poignantly recalling a specific kid with a question for Stan Lee (who froze and clammed up before his idol), I steer us toward new clients and content emerging from Alta Global Media. We begin with their recent signing of cinematic artist Mandla Dube.
“He is a brilliant South African director, and prior to directing, he was a very accomplished cinematographer,” notes Steven, who is managing Mr. Dube. “I think it’s really informing his success now, because he knows how to tell stories so beautifully and so visually. He has one of the first multi-picture deals with Netflix Africa, which is quite the achievement, so, very, very proud of that.”
Dube recently directed the feature film Silverton Siege about the event that incited the “Free Mandela” movement, and which rose to the third spot on Netflix in the U.S. The film was written by Sabelo “Subz” Mgidi — who is also managed by Steven at Alta Global Media.
“Sabelo is doing all sorts of interesting things now,” clarifies Steven, referring to Mr. Mgidi. “He’s got a series development deal with Netflix and is highly sought after.
“So that’s a big deal,” Steven justifiably remarks. “Then we just announced another film called Goat Days, with our client, [actor/producer] Jimmy Jean-Louis. It’s with an amazing team of people out of India, who are just the top of the heap — from the company Visual Romance, to the director Blessy [Thanmthra, Kaazcha]. The film is based on a book, inspired by a true story, and it’s very controversial because it concerns a man from a small village in Kerala, in India, who winds up enslaved in Saudi Arabia.”
No small deal that, yet I expand the topic to the international scope encompassed by Alta Global Media (note the Global). It’s fair to suggest that this company may be more universal than Universal. (It’s a lot to juggle, as some days the extent of my globalism extends as far as the South Park kids mistaking an actual goat from Afghanistan for Stevie Nicks.) AGM’s range is impressive. How do Steven, Theo, and such far-flung clients from all over the world find each other?
“Both of us have a very genuine global perspective,” says Steven. “Clients come to us for the established international network, business acumen, and our ability to bridge cultures. We have a wide range of relationships which are also fed by HollyShorts and our work on various boards. It also doesn’t hurt to have a longstanding profile at festivals like Cannes.
“One year, we featured three international clients at Cannes, and got on the radar of the French VFX company BUF who were like, ‘You. You can represent us to the US studio system, work in French and English, and when the jobs come, produce them!’ I thought, why not? So that’s what I did. It’s been a long-standing goal to continue to work internationally on an even larger scale.”
“It’s in the DNA,” declares Theo. “Born in Haiti. New York, Miami raised. Career started in Los Angeles. Wife is French. First job was in the South of France for MIPCOM [the global entertainment market]. So I was thrown into the fire early, with six or eight clients at Cannes. And then eventually an independent agency [Theo ran his eponymous Dumont Marketing Group for six years, prior to co-founding Alta Global Media with Steven]. Showrunner and series creator Adi Hasak mastered the art of international entertainment business, creating Shades of Blue, and then adapting foreign series for different territories worldwide (Eyewitness, The Box). We have a deep relationship beyond PR — it’s everything. He opened a world of relationships, and it’s been tremendous.”
Theo continues: “Going to festivals and working with Steven, it became more aggressive on the film side. We started working together in 2016 or so, and we had a mutual client. Within months of working together, he’s got me up at TIFF representing a film in the main competition and it just expanded and expanded. We also began to realize that the internationalization of content was a big growth area, so we really doubled down on Europe, Africa, and now the Middle East.
“We doubled down on the international expansion, and guess what happened at the same time? Squid Game [from South Korea]. Look at the Oscars this year: All Quiet on the Western Front — it’s Netflix, but it’s German. That’s a lot of miles, but Steven’s done it, decades ago. Cannes Film Festival is like our backyard.”
Steven chimes in that it was in fact Spike Lee’s adaptation of client Roger Guenveur Smith’s Rodney King that brought him and Theo to form Alta Global Media, with them doing marketing for Mr. Lee ever since. Theo encourages Steven to share a specific anecdote:
“We found a sponsor to promote Rodney King at Cannes, doing two full days of press and hosting a gala that celebrated the remarkable collaboration between Spike Lee and Roger Guenveur Smith, and really learned how to move the needle internationally on a streaming project which was relatively new in 2017. It was a great moment that set our partnership in motion.”
We segue to a new topic, as I ask the fellows about their work in many companies, and the origins of their entrepreneurial instincts.
“I can say that, for me, it runs in my blood, because my great great grandfather and great grandfather were very entrepreneurial and had their own businesses,” Steven explains. “So did my grandfather, and my father, and so I’m kind of like, ‘What else am I supposed to do?’ I am a great collaborator and love to create opportunities. It’s great to connect with peers and fellow strategists. And it’s worked well.”
“Yeah, that’s brilliant,” adds Theo. “Same thing with me. I think, now, knowledge of self, knowledge of mentorship, early education… I got that as a kid. My parents were entrepreneurs as well. My dad ran a mini-bank, and my mother had her own shop: Chagalle, with nice, high-end home goods. I watched them, and I thought everybody was like that! Then they split, and things changed, and I was like, ‘Oh, not everything is like this.’ But those early years instilled in me a knowledge of entrepreneurship: You can do anything, if you really try. And then America, being here, you witness people building businesses, and so it was always there.
“Then there’s a fool’s gold part there: once you get your business, you sometimes think you can do all businesses; that’s not necessarily the case. So it was difficult, having a P.R. agency on my own. That’s one of the reasons we had good, clear conversations: Could we team up?
“You need a team. You need support. You need someone to bounce ideas off of,” Theo posits. “That’s just the way it is. All successful teams are teams!
“HollyShorts started as almost a hobby, then gradually evolved, and is now an Oscar-qualifying film festival that is considered one of the world’s best. We recently launched 88th Street, a production arm that produces with HollyShorts alumni, and we have several film funds available for filmmakers. All of that requires lots of strategy and collaboration.”
As both men cut their teeth in established agencies, I ask what lessons therefrom they’ve carried into AGM.
“Working in an agency teaches you how to do a few things,” reveals Steven. “One: You can look at anything from a high view, and once you understand the key qualities of whatever it is you’re dealing with, you know how to sell it, you know how to move it. It teaches you how to strategize, how to organize things into steps: If this is the goal, and this is where we are, then here are the ten steps to get to the goal — and then we start to execute them. You can always adjust, you can always refine, you can always learn as you move along. But generally that’s how things break down. You also learn how to navigate a business that has been known to shift since its very inception: think about the movement from nickelodeons to full length silent features, the advent of sound, then color, then television, the color TV, then cable, et cetera, et cetera, up to the current streaming moment… We’ve always existed in a technology-driven business — it’s just faster now!
“You also learn how to execute huge amounts of work in a short time. People are always asking, ‘How do you get all that done in a day?!’
Theo reflects on his own experiences: “I’d say there’s an obsession with the business of entertainment. In that first job, one of our clients was Harry Sloan [former chairman of MGM], and I really liked his business acumen. Peter Guber was also a client at one point via a firm I worked with, run by Dawn Miller, and just observing the way he navigated between entertainment and sports was fascinating.
“There were these fibers of hacking intel from the client side of the agencies, working inside the studio, and competing with the major companies of the time. Seeing that even the people whom you think are the most genius executives don’t really quite know what they’re doing, right? And just seeing them competing at the box office at the time, seeing how the studio runs, and knowing what the budget is, how difficult it is to compete and watching the agencies intertwine — it always fascinated me.
“Also the creative process,” Theo considers, “that an underdog can be built, and go all the way! That’s amazing.”
Like a one-man TCM, Theo shows where then meets now:
“With that festival [HollyShorts], it started off organic. Think about that. You keep finessing the craft. If you keep painting something, maybe you’ll get a masterpiece. That’s the lesson I learned from that festival. Next thing you know, we built an ecosystem where you’ve got really great filmmakers. And then working with our clients, who are established filmmakers, I would see the next-gen people, and the established ones. Then Steven pointed out: it’s all the same thing. Harness them together. I think I had a really hard time separating ‘church and state’. Now it’s all together.”
Theo sagely likens their work to scholarship — not a class that’s over, but a continual learning process. “We want to keep up with what’s next, always.”
Steven elaborates on how to work well in such an industry: “If you’re of that sort of mindset that makes you able to navigate rapid change and build things… because this is a living, breathing organism, that’s always shifting, always changing. I think we’re going through an unprecedented moment but it will offer new opportunities in the long run.
“Then this internationalization, which for us is the moment we’ve been waiting for. We have the experience, we have the real relationships, we have ties everywhere. We’re not afraid of it. What’s always been an asset has become more of an asset recently.”
As another aspect of development, I ask if there are any dream projects Steven and Theo are considering.
“We have a few interesting things up our sleeves, very fresh takes on science fiction and history from new perspectives.”
Concluding our session, I ask how much the international angle enters in-house discussions, in terms of which cultures might be more apt to grok certain subjects.
“That’s a good question,” Theo smiles. “I work with so many Israelis, I try to think like them a little bit.”
“To crystalize it,” adds Steven, “best storytelling for the least budget, set anywhere in the world. That’s it.”
Ladies and gentlemen: Alta Global Media. Were the major studios ever to fall into dissolution, these guys could run the film industry.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
All images courtesy of Alta Global Media.