by Eugene Hernandez
Clearly the landscape has shifted at the specialized studios owned by the
major Hollywood entertainment companies -- productions are up, and
acquisitions of finished films are down. Witness Bob Aaronson, former
Executive Director of Acquisitions at Searchlight, who left the company in
September. Why would someone who had shepherded "The Full Monty" from its
packaged script stage exit the specialized arm of 20th Century Fox and why
should we care? "It wasn't that active an acquisitions department,"
Aaronson told indieWIRE yesterday underscoring a shift that has only
recently begun to resonate with the hundreds of filmmakers working outside
the specialized studio system. "There wasn't that much going on," Aaronson
said of his former company, "The department has not grown. The acquisitions
activity there is pretty limited to the occasional finished film."
Bob Aaronson is currently mulling a few options -- producing films he is
developing, serving as a producers rep on others, or even joining an
existing company in a permanent position. "I would like to help out some
emerging independent filmmakers," Aaronson explained, "my strong
relationships are in the specialized distribution world." However, the
angle here is not that Aaronson has abandoned the studio's specialized
movie system. "I want to be involved in big successful films, and I think
they can be generated," Aaronson explained, citing indies which were
overlooked by the specialized studios but surpassed the golden $10 million
box office mark -- "Big Night", "Secrets & Lies", and "Welcome To The Dollhouse".
According to Aaronson, there are a host of "interesting start-up companies
that are in a position to fill a niche." That niche being enlarged by the
acquisition of October Films by Universal Studios. Perhaps hinting at his
own future, Aaronson said that "even European companies are interested in
getting involved," explaining that in the past he has put together
co-productions and helped find financing from outside the usual sources in
this country. "There are companies out there trying to package those indie
studio films," he said.
Speculating on the situation at the specialized arms of the Hollywood
studios, Aaronson elaborated, "they're paying more money for fewer films.
They are raising the bar in terms of competing for the films with the
greatest amount of perceivable upside, because really they are looking for
films that are going to get $10 million (at the box office) or get Oscars.
That's why they're moving into production, because they're trying to
manufacture those kind of films." Asked about the fate of the purely
independent film by the first timer or outsider, Aaronson explained, "they
(the specialized studio companies) won't be buying those films as a manner
of course...if they have a string of hits they will pick up the little
films, (but) if they have a bunch of films that don't perform, they're not
going to be picking up small pictures."