Beyond Blockbuster: DEJ Works Outside the Spotlight for Its Indie Deals
by Wendy Mitchell
The Miramaxes of the world grab headlines often, but there’s a company acquiring 70-80 indie films per year that you don’t hear much about — DEJ Productions. When you think of the phenomenal success of “Monster,” Newmarket Films is probably the first company that springs to mind, but DEJ was involved with Patty Jenkins‘ Oscar winner even before Bob Berney & company came on board (and even before Charlize Theron signed on). DEJ worked with Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment to bring the film to DVD earlier this month, packaged both alone and with Nick Broomfield‘s doc “Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer.”
But most of the company’s deals don’t draw much attention. “We’re under the radar,” admitted DEJ president Andy Reimer, a veteran of Lions Gate and Trimark. “We feel like as a company we’ve grown a lot, we’ve evolved a lot and made better and bigger strides in the work we do and the movies we’re associated with. Perhaps we’ll beat our chest a little louder in the future and try to be as high profile as we ought to be.”
Los Angeles-based DEJ is a 100-percent-owned subsidiary of Blockbuster (currently owned by behemoth Viacom). Since its founding in late 1999, it has changed strategies slightly. The company was founded on the idea of acquiring independent films to be distributed on home video exclusively at Blockbuster stores, but now, Reimer explained, “The thrust of the business has evolved to acquiring not just video rights, but we acquire all rights in all mediam and to have a business model approach to the marketplace as a whole although Blockbuster is obviously an important part of the equation for us.” Continuing Reimer said, “It becomes an almost essential element of our overall business model that we can have product that is going to satisfy the larger marketplace as a whole. Blockbuster is, for us, as any distributor, an important component, but it is not the entire equation.”
Some notable recent acquisitions include two films from Sundance, “Employee of the Month” starring Matt Dillon and Christina Applegate, and “Grand Theft Parsons,” starring Johnny Knoxville (which was recently released theatrically by the film’s producers).
The company tries to acquire all media rights to a film and sometimes carves up the rights to other companies, like it did with the Newmarket theatrical service deal for “Monster,” or with theatrical deals for other indies such as the multiple Independent Spirit Awards nominee “Dahmer” or the cult hit “The Boondock Saints.” The company has occasionally dipped into theatrical releasing itself, like with the recent film “Shade,” starring Gabriel Byrne, Jamie Foxx, Stuart Townsend, and Sylvester Stallone. Reimer said the company could do more limited theatrical releases in the future. “It’s a really tough and very risky business although it sometimes is appropriate. It’s a side of the biz that is really difficult and I think we should view it as such — we want to be opportunistic about it, but we also are aware of the risk that is involved with it.” But he said directors and producers are eager for theatrical runs. “In some cases it’s just not economically viable… many times filmmakers are able to (raise) some sort of P&A capital on their own and we try to be entirely supportive of that.”
Of DEJ’s 15 staffers, only Reimer and Stephen Break work on acquisitions. Their buying strategy involves attending major film festivals and markets, reading industry reports, and staying in touch with producers. Going forward, Reimer said that the company may scale back to about 45-50 acquisitions per year. The company doesn’t concentrate on any particular genre of film, though almost all of its buys are English-language works. DEJ tends not to pursue many documentaries, because, Reimer said, “there is a tough video marketplace for them at the moment.”
Deals range in the “very, very low six figures” for smaller indie productions up to the occasional multi-million dollar deal for larger films. One such larger buy was an action thriller called “Eye See You” starring Sylvester Stallone; DEJ bought the rights from the film from Universal and opened it in a small theatrical run and a big video release.
The “Monster” deal was a special case. DEJ met with director Jenkins very early in the process. “We had read the script and been a fan of it and wanted to see if there was some way we could be involved. As it turned out, the producers were able to raise full financing of the film from another source and we sort of sat on the sidelines for a while and hoped that we would be able to stay involved,” Reimer said. DEJ stayed in touch with the “Monster” financiers, Media 8 Entertainment, and when the company showed a few minutes of the film at Cannes in 2003, DEJ aggressively pursued (and acquired) the North American, U.K., and Australian rights. Part of that deal stipulated finding the best way to exploit the film theatrically. And that’s when Media 8 and DEJ started working with Newmarket.
Having a parent company like Blockbuster gave DEJ the financial support it needed. “We stepped up to the plate and provided the P&A that was necessary to get the film ultimately to the place that it got to,” Reimer said. “Newmarket did not pay for the P&A, very initial P&A was paid for by Media 8, but the vast, vast majority of it was spent by DEJ.”