President and CEO of Initial Entertainment Group, producer Graham King made a name for himself as a powerful force in Hollywood by financing a series of financially troubled films like "Traffic" (2000) and "Ali" (2001). Known for believing in the vision of an ambitious script and willing to take a gamble when major studios would not, fierce fundraiser King went on to executive produce several award-winning films with director Martin Scorsese and earn his own Best Picture Oscar for Scorsese's 2006 mob film, "The Departed."
Graham King, the son of a hairstylist, was born in Northern London on Dec. 19, 1961. When he was 18, he moved to Los Angeles, CA to attend U.C.L.A. The newcomer landed a temp job at 20th Century Fox, where he was taken under the wing of fellow Brit, William Saunders, in the International Television division. He stayed on for five years, promoting U.S. films and television shows to overseas markets and laying the groundwork for a career in the film production and distribution business. In 1987, King left Fox to work with international distributor Cori Films, where he worked for five years before honing in on the production end of the business at the Beverly Hills Producers Group. While working at the independent film production company, King and co-worker Cindy Cowan, decided to launch their own production company. Backed with only $350,000 in seed money, the two partnered to create Initial Entertainment Group (IEG) in 1995.
Over the next 10 years, King emerged as one of Hollywood's most successful film producers, known for taking financial risks with expensive, high quality films that amassed over 17 Oscar nominations. IEG started out mainly dealing in distribution rights for smaller films like "Very Bad Things" (1998) and Robert Altman's "Dr. T and the Women" (2000), but after buying out Cowan's share of IEG, King ramped up operations and began carving out a name for himself backing controversial, high-ticket productions that major studios would not touch, but directors and actors jumped at the chance to make.
When Stephen Soderbergh's drug epic, "Traffic," was in dire straits, following the pull-out of lead Harrison Ford, King wrote a check for 80 percent of the $59 million budget and convinced Catherine Zeta Jones (with whom he had a production deal) to enlist Michael Douglas for the lead. None of the major studios wanted any involvement with the risky film, which went on to dominate award season with Oscars for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. King also produced the 2004 Emmy-nominated miniseries based on the film.
The man who The Hollywood Reporter called "The Suicide King," next saved director Michael Mann's biopic "Ali" from hitting the mat by raising over half the $100 million dollar budget. In 2002, King pre-sold $65 million dollars in foreign rights to finance Martin Scorsese's historic drama, "Gangs of New York" and was honored by the Producers Guild of America with a Golden Laurel Award for Producer of the Year. With "Gangs," King began a lucrative and personally gratifying working relationship with director Martin Scorsese, as well as an IEG partnership with Leonardo DiCaprio's production company Appian Way. King worked with both entities again on "The Aviator" (2004), which was financed by King's pre-sale of $110 million dollars in foreign sales rights. King finally took home his first Academy Award for Best Picture in 2007, a year in which the self-proclaimed "lunatic workaholic" produced "Blood Diamond" and the Best Picture winner, "The Departed." Both films were produced under a first-look deal King had signed with Warner Bros. in 2005.