Open Road CEO Tom Ortenberg has spent over 25 years in the film business, with stops along the way at Columbia/Sony, Lionsgate and Hemdale. In this interview we ask him about Open Road’s success formula, the company’s upcoming release schedule and how the film festival circuit has changed in recent years.
THIS HAS CERTAINLY BEEN A GREAT START TO THE YEAR FOR OPEN ROAD, TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE UPCOMING ON THE RELEASE SCHEDULE, WHAT’S NEXT IN STORE FROM OPEN ROAD?
I feel like 2014 is a bit of a watershed year for Open Road, we laid what I think is a terrific foundation over these last couple of years with successes like “Killer Elite” and “The Grey”, “End of Watch”, “Haunted House”, “Side Effects” and of course most recently with “The Nut Job” in January and we’re very excited about the next group of films. We have “Sabotage” coming out on March 28th which is directed by David Ayer, who we worked with on “End of Watch” and he did “Training Day” and a couple of “Fast and Furious” movies also. “Sabotage” is a terrific movie about a band of elite, yet possibly corrupt DEA agents led by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington and Josh Holloway. It’s a great cast. We follow that in April with “Haunted House 2”, which we’re hoping we have the same kind of success as we did with the first one. Marlon Wayans is back, Cedric The Entertainer is back, we added Gabriel Iglesias, a very funny and popular Latino/American comedian, Jamie Pressly. And then in May we have “Chef”, written and directed by Jon Favreau, starring Jon, Sophia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlet Johansson, Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr. “Chef” is a terrific movie, we actually did a research screening (over the weekend) and the scores were the highest we’ve had since we’ve been in existence. The film is a real crowd pleaser and we’ll be the opening night film at SXSW March 7th. We are considering what release pattern to go, we’re debating between opening it wide or platforming it into a wide release so it’s a special film and it plays great with audiences.
AND WHAT CAN WE LOOK FORWARD TO AS WE HEAD INTO SUMMER?
We have a terrific Gabriel Iglesias comedy film this summer called “The Fluffy Movie” and we’re hoping he can be to both Latino and mainstream audiences similar to what Kevin Hart has become. Gabe is extraordinarily popular. He sells out arenas and we are taping two shows in San Jose this weekend (for the film) and there will be close to 10,000 people in each one. We also have Eli Roth’s next film, “The Green Inferno”.
KEEP GOING AND TAKE US THROUGH THE REST OF THE YEAR AND BEYOND
We have just come off much success with “The Nut Job” and we’re very excited about the next four titles and we think they’ll all be successful and we see this as part of the planned strategic growth of Open Road. So we see each of our films as individual entities but they are all building blocks as we build something bigger at Open Road. And for next year we think we’re building a terrific slate with “Triple Nine” with Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael B. Jordan, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet and Woody Harrelson. Also, “Rock the Kasbah”, directed by Barry Levinson with Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Danny McBride and Kate Hudson and we have a couple of pictures we will be announcing shortly as well that will be big deals and we are very excited about.
ARE YOU FINDING THAT BUYING FILMS AT FESTIVALS HAS CHANGED? GIVE US AN OVERVIEW OF WHAT THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS ON THE FEST CIRCUIT HAS BEEN LIKE
I do believe that the acquisition circuit has changed over the last few years. We are seeing fewer completed films available for acquisition at major film festivals that are appropriate for wide release. Several years ago there were more and I think the difference is that with the onset of a few more distributors over the years, ourselves included, along with Relativity, Film District, which is now Focus, and CBS, so in the independent film distribution community more of the top level independently produced movies are pre-bought, some by us and some by our competitors. So that’s really leaving few wide release films waiting until they’re finished to be presented at film festivals. Therefore the acquisition landscape at festivals has evolved so when we started Open Road we didn’t have any have any particular model set but if you asked me three years ago when we were ready to hang our shingle I would have guessed that our lineup would be about half completed films that we would be buying at festivals and half that we would be buying at various stages such as pre-buys or at some level of production or post production or something like that. But it’s turning and the pretty strong percentage of our pictures now are going to be as pre-buys.
CARE TO ELABORATE?
Well for example, of our recent films, “Killer Elite” we bought in post-production off of five minutes of footage, a script and a relationship we had with the filmmakers, “The Grey” we bought from some footage and a relationship with the filmmakers, “End of Watch” we bought as a completed film, same with “Haunted House”. “Side Effects” was a pre-buy, “Sabotage” was a pre-buy, “Nut Job” we bought in the very early stages of production, so you can see it evolving. And then next year’s titles, “Triple 9”, “Rock the Kasbah” and the movies we are close to announcing will all be heavily weighted to pre-buys.
LASTLY, AS A RELATIVELY NEW FILM COMPANY IS EVERYONE AT OPEN ROAD PLEASED WITH WHERE YOU’VE BEEN AND WHERE YOU’RE GOING?
We feel like we’ve been releasing movies, as we put it around the office, for two years plus “Killer Elite”. That was 2011, the next film was “The Grey” in January of 2012 so we’ve really only been doing this for two years and change. We have been heartened by the response we’ve received from the exhibition community and we feel like we’ve been laying the groundwork for some pretty substantial growth as an independent distributor of mainstream, commercial product. So far we are very to report we are very much on plan.