When local author Angela Townsend decided she wanted to go into the production business, she didn’t leave much to chance.
Instead of setting up a business based on trial and error, Townsend took the time to do her research, and found out she had a great local resource when it comes to the world of film and television production: Whitefish resident Sanford Horowitz, whose pre-Montana life was partially spent building two major film production and distribution companies in Hollywood and working with the likes of Orson Welles and Max Youngstein.
In January, they formed Horowitz and Townsend Productions, a fledgling company with big plans in the media realms of film, books, and television.
“I got a call from (Townsend) and it was like a call from heaven,” Horowitz said in a recent interview with the Beacon.
Townsend, whose nine novels include the popular Angus MacBain series, was looking to marry her worlds of publishing and movies. Her book, “The Forlorned,” was adapted into a film and completed in 2016. She wasn’t going to stop there.
She learned of Horowitz and discovered she truly enjoyed how he produced his projects, which range from dramas such as “Woman in the Rain” to documentaries such as “The Carradines Tonight” and even epic fantasy in “Merlin.”
“I really loved the way that he was able to film in such a way as to bring the viewer close,” Townsend said.
The partnership also worked on a practical level, because the new company would be starting on a modest budget. That’s a difficult place to be in the world of entertainment, Horowitz said.
“When you’re doing things on a budget, you have to be extremely efficient,” Horowitz said. “(Townsend) was looking for a strong, experienced hand.”
Townsend said her lawyers in Hollywood — M. Kenneth Suddleson and Michael Eisner of the power firm Eisner Jaffe — were thrilled with her choice of a partner in Horowitz, who is credited with starting the production and distribution companies Filmmakers International Releasing and United Filmmakers International with producer and director Paul Hunt.
On his end, Horowitz also saw a bit of kismet in Townsend’s call because he was about to release a self-help book called “Life at Seventy: Pedal to the Metal.” Her work in the book publishing industry would help him maneuver those uncharted waters, and he would help her with the film and television side of the business.
Their first venture is a reality television series already being filmed called “Earth Angel: Montana Medium,” featuring a local woman who uses her skills as a psychic medium to talk people down from suicide.
“It’s about healing,” Horowitz said. “Montana is (one of) the leading states for suicide in the country.”
The show also touches base with local religious and spiritual leaders, all with the goal of helping people who are suffering. Suicide hotline information will also be made available with each show, Horowitz said.
“The message is definitely universal,” he said.
The new production company will also start the process of turning all nine of Townsend’s novels into movies, and is planning a music festival for Whitefish in response to the community’s recent show of solidarity. Ideally, it would include local musicians, plus some Hollywood headliners. They plan to call the concert, “This is America.”
“We want to promote really good, positive energy, because that’s what this place is all about,” Horowitz said.
They plan on shooting and editing the Earth Angel series before shopping it around to distributors, and Townsend said they are up to their eyeballs in potential projects already.
Horowitz is also well-known for his real estate work in New York, and his collaboration with then-New York State Sen. Joe Bruno, who worked with Horowitz to create a 35 percent film tax credit.
Creating a similar tax credit for Montana would be beneficial, Horowitz said, especially for the local, burgeoning talent. Part of the fun of starting Horowitz and Townsend Productions is being able to provide opportunities for local actors, musicians, producers, cinematographers, filmmakers, and all the other positions needed to make movie and TV magic.
“I’d like to do something similar here in Montana,” Horowitz said. “It does open up the opportunities here.”