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INTERVIEW: Indie Hitmaker; Berney Discusses His Magic Touch

INTERVIEW: Indie Hitmaker; Berney Discusses His Magic Touch

INTERVIEW: Indie Hitmaker; Berney Discusses His Magic Touch

by Matthew Ross

Pictured at indieWIRE’s 5th anniversary party in July 2001 are Bob Berney (left), with wife Jeanne Berney of Rogers & Cowan.

Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

If the ups and downs of the media industry have taught us anything in the past few years, it’s that innovation is impossible without sufficient experience. Just ask independent film veteran Bob Berney. Berney began his professional film career in the early ’80s, when he programmed art movies in Texas. He soon switched to distribution, and in the past three years has marketed and releases specialty titles as both an independent consultant and as the head of the releasing unit for IFC Films, owned by Rainbow Media (a subsidiary of the entertainment conglomerate Cablevision).

Judging from traditional art-house film models, both of Berney’s most-recent jobs — releasing films without an actual company, and releasing films under a hybrid indie-corporate banner — were uncommon to the industry. Yet despite the frequent changes in surroundings, he has shown a near-preternatural ability to spot sleeper hits and then maximize their earnings through carefully crafted release strategies. In 2001, working as an independent consultant for financier Newmarket Capital Group and with no established distributor to back him, Berney helped steer director Chris Nolan‘s “Memento” to over $25 million at the U.S. box office. This year at IFC, he has presided over one of the most unlikely blockbusters in U.S. history, Joel Zwick‘s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The crowd-pleasing family comedy, which broke the $66 million mark last weekend, is on pace to easily surpass the $100 million mark. Berney also racked up impressive numbers in 2002 (over $13 million) with Alfonso Cuaron‘s erotic Mexican road movie “Y Tu Mama Tambien.”

In July, just as “Greek Wedding” was hitting full stride, Berney surprised the industry yet again when he abruptly resigned from his post at IFC Films to head Newmarket Films, the new theatrical distribution outfit launched by Newmarket Capital’s Will Tyrer and Chris Ball, with whom he had worked on “Memento.” The company, of which Berney officially took charge on August 23, has already acquired rights to Patricia Cardoso‘s Sundance hit “Real Women Have Curves,” due for release this October. indieWIRE senior editor Matthew Ross spoke with Berney about the “Greek Wedding” phenomenon, opening art-house theaters in redneck suburbs, and his plans for Newmarket.

“I still think that no one really knows anything, but it helps to have the experience. You have a strategy, you try, but you never really know.”

indieWIRE: No offense, Bob, but only one person I know has seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Bob Berney: That’s the weird thing! And the scary thing is that the rest of your friends might go. There are a lot of people still left to see it, and at some point, if it’s just around long enough, even the hipster people go. What I find is that even those cinephile types, if they’re there with the right people, they enjoy it. Even the most cynical ones break down and go “Well

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