The biggest surprise of the Toronto film festival thus far has been the vacuum-like acquisitions fervor of the Lionsgate-Roadside Attractions team. In a matter of days, LGF acquisitions president Jason Constantine and Roadside toppers Howard Cohen and Eric D’Arbeloff have scooped up a trio of films — Stuart Blumberg’s “Thanks for Sharing,” Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s “Imogene” and Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” — for nearly $5 million combined. (Roadside also grabbed Sarah Polley’s family documentary “Stories We Tell” for itself over the weekend.)
While other companies have certainly been shopping as well, Lionsgate and Roadside have by far dominated the high-profile buying in the festival’s first week.
It’s been just over five years since Lionsgate purchased a 43% stake in the specialty distributor, and with the success of the pair’s multi-platform, day-and-date release last year of “Margin Call,” the collaboration seems to have hit a groove. According to Constantine, the partnership’s recent momentum is an “opportunity,” one that he fully engaged in the dealmaking trenches up in Toronto.
While Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment continue to work through their merged slates and attempt to bloom into the kind of franchise-based studio — “The Twilight Saga,” “The Hunger Games” — that can compete with the majors, the Roadside option has become a renewed avenue for releasing the kinds of independent films that Lionsgate used to peddle.
The combined mix is designed to create maximum flexibility for connected companies that can do everything from grab a Toronto 2011 Midnight Madness entry such as “You’re Next” (Lionsgate); pre-buy and produce an action juggernaut such as “The Expendables” (Lionsgate); release documentaries such as “Super Size Me,” “The Cove” and “Good Hair” or narrative films such as “Winter’s Bone” (Roadside); and roll out platform-release acquisitions such as “Friends With Kids,” the Cannes pick-up “Mud” and the Sundance thriller “Arbitrage,” which hits theaters and VOD day-and-date Friday, Sept. 14 (Lionsgate-Roadside).
That day-and-date model has drawn new adherents even as companies such as IFC Films and Magnolia have been experimenting in the space for years. The Weinstein Co.’s RADiUS-TWC is the newest player to explore the possibilities, with its first release, “Bachelorette,” in the middle of its dual run now. Millennium Entertainment, which just acquired “What Maisie Knew” at Toronto for a potential day-and-date rollout, had an unexpected success with “Bernie” this spring using that model. And Roadside continues to tinker with the formula.
In the midst of Toronto market fever, Indiewire asked the very busy Constantine to explain the week’s seemingly anomalous acquisitions activity, how the Lionsgate-Roadside collaboration has changed and what to expect from both companies moving forward.
Boy, you’ve been having fun up there. Have you ever been that active before? Did it feel different to you?
We come to every film festival trying to be opportunistic and synergistic. One of the things we realized a few years ago was, as Lionsgate became a larger company and we were doing more wide releases on our release slate, we were doing fewer platforms and rollout releases. We just felt like there were a whole bunch of films out there that were terrific films but that we weren’t able to capitalize on them as much because they were rollouts, and that’s what led to the partnership with Roadside. And now with Roadside, when we go to a film festival, we can look and if it’s a wide release and a film that can work for Lionsgate, then great, we can acquire it for Lionsgate. And if it’s a film that’s more specialized, then it’s a perfect opportunity to partner with Roadside.
Was the plan from the get-go to be pretty aggressive, or were you simply surprised by the movies and your ability to get the ones you wanted?
There’s always something very special about seeing a movie have a world premiere in front of a live audience — Toronto’s a great festival for that — and you get a sense of, is this a film that we respond to as a company? Is this a film that fits within our slate of films that we’re releasing? So this particular year, we found several movies that we really responded to and felt would really work great in partnership with Roadside. As a bonus to all this, all four films that have been announced as acquisitions this week is our company working with filmmakers for the second or sometimes even more-than-the-second time. And it’s important to us to continue fostering relationships with filmmakers. So, for instance, Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” which Roadside acquired, we had acquired and released [her debut] “Away From Her” a couple years ago. Joss Whedon’s extraordinary version of “Much Ado About Nothing,” we absolutely fell in love with it, and we had a great experience working with Joss the last year and a half on “Cabin in the Woods.” The opportunity to work on the next film that Joss did after “Cabin in the Woods” and “Avengers” was a wonderful opportunity to keep Joss in the Lionsgate family. And similarly, producers on “Imogene” and “Thanks for Sharing” are producers that we have worked with before. We’re really looking forward to continuing those relationships.
So the heavy activity for you this year at Toronto has been just a fluke?
I think that Lionsgate and Roadside working together, we’ve really developed a strong partnership over the last year and a half, where we’ve had the opportunity now to acquire several films and take them all the way through to completion. We’ve learned a lot, and we all had a clear sense of how we were going to be approaching it strategically. That doesn’t mean we came into the festival saying we had to acquire even one movie.
Right. All those parameters have been true at other festivals when you didn’t buy four movies. It sounds like you’re saying that you’re just really in sync now, you know what you can do and how you can do it.
Absolutely. Right now there aren’t too many companies that can do a traditional theatrical release as a platform and an effective day-and-date VOD release. That gives us an enormous amount of flexibility, and it gives us an enormous amount of flexibility when the same team is working together to handle the theatrical as well as the DVD and television. Not all companies that are doing platform releases have a strong output deal, where essentially one company is handling all the TV, all the DVD, and I think that that is something that has been beneficial for us in terms of targeting and being strategic.
Where do you see these new films fitting into your slate? How do they impact your overall strategy?
The films that we acquired this particular week at Toronto, these are all films that Roadside is going to be releasing. We see Roadside as an opportunity for us to harken back to the roots of Lionsgate. If you look at Lionsgate ten years ago, we were releasing movies like “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and “Monster’s Ball” and “Lantana.” When I first started working at Lionsgate in 2000, those were the majority of the films we were releasing, and then we would maybe release one or two wide release films a year. The rest would be more arthouse. As the company grew, became more successful and larger in terms of the number of wide releases we were doing every year, we realized that we weren’t able to release as many of these platform arthouse movies but that there were still so many excellent films in the marketplace that were available for acquisition that fit that. It took a little while for us to realize the Roadside-Lionsgate partnership allowed us not to be ignoring all those wonderful films. And if it hadn’t been for this, which really got started about two years ago, then the films that we acquired at the festival this week we would have looked at, we would have said, wow, we really loved them, and somebody else would have had the opportunity to release them. But this gives us a chance to release the films that harken back to the Lionsgate of ten years ago, and it gives us a chance to maintain relationships on movies we love with filmmakers we love to work with, like Joss Whedon and Sarah Polley.
It’s also a function of Summit coming in, and how well you’re doing in the “Hunger Games”-“Twilight” business, that it frees you up to put more into the Roadside angle. Is that fair to say?
No, look, at Lionsgate, “Expendables” and “Expendables 2” were acquisition-co-productions. An acquisition can be a wide release. “Expendables” and “Expendables 2” combined are almost $200 million in North American box office, and two of the most successful movies we’ve released. “Saw” was an acquisition, which then became us overseeing seven “Saw” movies. So an acquisition doesn’t need to be only a platform release. So I wouldn’t phrase it that our larger franchises free us up to focus on the other things. I think the biggest thing that freed us up to focus on it was when Lionsgate took an ownership stake in Roadside, and we formed the partnership, and that Howard and Eric have been so strong in that space. Certain companies that were in that space ended up folding up tents or being bought by a large studio and they closed the doors on them. So many things happened. So that really created an opportunity for Roadside in the marketplace, and now that they’re established, it creates an ongoing momentum for Roadside and Lionsgate to be working together.
What makes the Lionsgate-Roadside Attractions unique in the larger landscape of the specialty business?
Over the last couple years, releasing several films together in partnership, we’ve had the opportunity to refine our partnership and our model. And that’s allowed us to be focused, opportunistic and synergistic. This particular Toronto, with that experience and knowing how the partnership works, we saw several movies that we loved and felt would work great for the partnership. We couldn’t be more thrilled.
Do you decide on release dates in concert, or does Roadside figure that out for itself?
Yeah, we certainly discuss it. Many of the films are Roadside-Lionsgate releases, so we’re keeping everything coordinated, for sure.
Are any of these three new pick-ups 2012 releases?
All of them will be releases in 2013. None of them are going to be before the end of the year.
Does the size of your Toronto stash now affect your approach to Sundance and Berlin?
No. The truth of the matter is, we have a very focused, disciplined approach to acquisitions, and we have for the last decade. Whether it’s a big wide traditional release, like “Kick-Ass,” or “Crash,” which we acquired at the Toronto film festival many years ago, or a pre-buy that we’re buying off the script, like “Expendables,” or “Saw,” we’re very disciplined about what kinds of movies we’re targeting specifically for our company, and we’re very disciplined on the financial model on how we approach them. So our approach hasn’t changed. The thing that does change from time to time are just opportunities within the marketplace, opportunities with cross-promotion within your own slate. We’re focused on our financial model, what kind of movies we’re releasing, and we always want to make sure that we know who the audience is and that we can be effective in releasing to that audience.