DAILY NEWS: Lions Gate The Next Generation; "Lift" Wins at Urbanworld; Lot 47 Gets "Some Body"
by Anthony Kaufman
>> Lions Gate's Survival Tactics: Ortenberg Shapes Company Strategy
(indieWIRE/08.07.01) -- Is it just the economy or simply the age-old
challenges of releasing art films? Either way, 2001 is turning out to be the
year that specialized distributors collapsed, consolidated or newly
configured their business models. Just last week, the Shooting Gallery's
parent company officially declared bankruptcy, October Films co-founder
Bingham Ray emerged as the new
leader of MGM's specialized division, and Fine Line suspended its remaining
releases until 2002. Welcome to the ups and downs of the film business.
Another Indiewood player in the midst of restructuring is Lions Gate Films,
the aggressive mini-major that now has Larry Clark's "Bully" and Maggie
Greenwald's "Songcatcher" in release. When the company closed its New York
offices last February -- and lost its last remaining Gotham foothold, former
Co-President Mark Urman in late June -- (not to mention an offer to purchase
Artisan Entertainment), it became obvious that changes were in
"We were looking to centralize as much as possible," explained Lions Gate
Films Releasing's President Tom Ortenberg in a conversation with indieWIRE,
regarding the New York shut down. "We're a growing company, but we're still
not so big that we needed all those offices."
Centering their operations in Los Angeles could have certain drawbacks,
namely alienating those in New York's independent film community. (Note that
one of Bingham Ray's caveats before joining UA was moving the company to
Manhattan.) Several former Lions Gate staffers left the company to stay in
New York; in addition to Urman, acquisition exec Sarah Lash defected to IFC
Films and regional publicist head Samantha Levine went to distributor IDP.
"There was a concern about a lack of a New York presence; that's real,"
defended Ortenberg, "but we just didn't feel like we would be losing any of
our business by doing this. And we would be a more efficient operation and
we would save significant money, which certainly in the indie film sector is
pretty important. The name of the game is not where you have an office,"
Ortenberg continued, "but staying in business and thriving."
Ortenberg feels the way to achieve this is through releasing a mixture of
commercial films (produced in-house "under a very controlled budget") and
arthouse films (often acquired at festivals).
Starting with Tim Blake Nelson's "O" in August, Ortenberg promises one
commercial film every quarter. These "wide release pictures" will be the
cash cows for the company, but Ortenberg maintained that the big movies will
have "quality scripts with real indie roots," citing Mary Harron's "American
Psycho" as one example, and two upcoming titles: "Monster's Ball," from Marc
Forster ("Everything Put Together") and Bill Paxton's "Frailty," described
by Ortenberg as "very much a commercial exercise, but it's going to be very
controversial; no studio would touch it." The company also recently
announced a production of Bret Easton Ellis' 1988 novel, "The Rules of
Attraction," to be directed by Roger Avary ("Killing Zoe").
Lions Gate has a history of handling challenging projects, from "Psycho" to
"Bully," to recent Miramax cast-offs "Dogma" and "O." "That's one of our
competitive advantages," said Ortenberg. "I don't think any other
distributor at this point could do 'Dogma,' or 'American Psycho' or 'O.'"
Ortenberg said the reason Lions Gate can withstand controversy is because
they are not studio-affiliated, unlike rivals Miramax, Fine Line and Fox
Searchlight. They are also one of the only companies that can release
pictures wide at a reasonable cost, Ortenberg argued. "Is a studio going to
tackle a potentially controversial subject," he asks, "which may give them a
lot of corporate headaches, just for a $30 million gross when they don't
know how to release a picture without spending $25-30 million in P & A?"
As the fall film festival season kicks into high gear shortly, Lions Gate
will once again be an active player -- especially since they need to fill
their arthouse pipeline. "We believe the economic model for producing
arthouse films is a limited one," said Ortenberg. "We've had great success
acquiring specialized arthouse films at festivals for a fraction of the
production cost and so, I would argue, in general, that the better economic
model for arthouse films is acquiring them at festivals."
At last year's Toronto Film Festival, Lions Gate acquired a number of films
that have yet to see theater time: one of their smaller, more auspicious
indies, Michael Walker's "Chasing Sleep," unfortunately, will go straight to
video ("there was no theatrical obligation when we acquired the movie,"
defended Ortenberg) and Kathryn Bigelow's "Weight of the Water" will come
out in Spring 2002, because the film may receive some tweaks, according to
Whether Lions Gate will stay true to the indie roots that it claims to
retain, one can only wait and see. For now, we have Orternberg's word: "Even
if the pictures that we're producing and distributing are beginning to feel
a little bit bigger, quality is still the name of the game." [Anthony
>> "Lift" Gets Lift from Urbanworld; 5th Edition Wraps
(indieWIRE/08.07.01) -- DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter's second feature
"Lift" took the top prize at the Urbanworld Film Festival over the weekend.
The 5th edition of the New York-based festival ended Sunday with an awards
ceremony and repeat screenings for the winning films. "Lift" premiered in
the Sundance 2001 dramatic competition, then screened to acclaim at the
New Directors/New Films' series in March, followed by festivals appearances
from Seattle to Maryland to Acapulco.
Contacted after their win, filmmakers Davis and Streeter told indieWIRE,
"Urbanworld represents what a distributor perceives to be our core audience.
It's both validating and encouraging to be embraced by Black people at one
of the few Black film festivals in existence." According to one of the
film's producers, Robert Kessel, advanced discussions are taking place "with
a certain company" and an acquisition announcement for "Lift" is due in the
Other award winners included William Jennings' "Harlem Aria," which took
home the Audience Award, Craig Ross, Jr., who received a Best Director nod
for the U.S. premiere of "Bluehill Ave.," the story of drug dealers in
Boston's South End, and Clement Virgo's Canadian feature "Love Come Down"
received a Special Jury Prize for Artistic Merit.
In the documentary competition, Alison Duke's "Raisin' Kane: A Rapumentary"
was awarded the HBO Documentary prize "for its introduction of a fresh
look at the young Black male as an enterprising entrepreneur in hip-hop
culture," along with $5,000; a special documentary award for "Excellence
in Documentary Filmmaking" went to Estela Bravo for "Fidel," a portrait
of the infamous Cuban leader. Best Short went to b's "The
Life And Times Of Little Jimmy B."
Opening with b's prison picture "Lockdown" and closing with
Tim Blake Nelson's Othello-in-high school story "O," Urbanworld showcased a
handful of world premiere features and special screenings (a preview of
"Rush Hour 2" and Jean-Claude LeMarre's "Higher Ed" were among high profile
events). Adam Ripp's gritty handheld "Gang Tapes," which Lions Gate acquired pre-fest, also garnered a lot of attention, and the world premiere
of Greg Wilson's "Home Invaders" received an additional screening after over
150 attendees were turned away at its debut.
Urbanworld also hosted a script reading of "Mood Indigo," the festival's
Grand Jury Prize winning screenplay, written by former festival volunteer
Beresford Bennett; a special conversation with Rosie Perez, the festival's
first female Actor's Spotlight; and several busy panel discussions, the most
popular being "Movin' on Up: Women & Movies" and a heated debate at "Digital
This year's festival received about 10,000 visitors, level with last year,
according to Urbanworld's executive producer Joy Huang, and took place at
two new venues, the Loews State Theater in mid-town Manhattan and the Magic
Johnson Theater in Harlem.
"We have a mission to help those voices that are not normally heard," Huang
told indieWIRE. "It was really worthwhile to see the same faces coming back,
realizing that there are opportunities and coming to Urbanworld to make
those dreams happen." A DGA luncheon with attending directors was another
festival triumph, according to Huang, "creating a nice community." The DGA
lunch will now be an annual part of the festival. Also new for the
organization is a college tour of Urbanworld films and a Filmmaker's Lab
is in works for the spring. [Anthony Kaufman]
>> Lot 47 Finds "Some Body"
(indieWIRE/08.07.01) -- Lot 47 films has acquired all North American rights
to "Some Body," Henry Barrial's digital video verite feature about a
20-something woman caught in the throes of Los Angeles singles life. A
Sundance 2001 competition entry, "Some Body" was a small team effort,
starring first-timer Stephanie Bennett, produced by Bennett, Barrial, and
cinematographer-editor-composer Geoffrey Pepos, and made on and off during
weekends and nights over two years with an L.A. theater troupe. The film
received finishing funds and support from Next Wave Films.
"I believe the success of 'Some Body' will help persuade any residual cynics
that not only is digital filmmaking here to stay," commented Lot 47
President Jeff Lipsky in a prepared statement, "but that it isn't merely an
excuse for low-budget, artistically limiting filmmaking. Rather it's the
most liberating creative format that has ever been available to
The "Some Body" acquisition marks yet another example of Lot 47's acceptance
of digital video. They recently pacted with digital production company, Blow
Up Pictures, to distribute half of their DV slate in the next three years,
the first of which will be Paul Quinn's "Never Get Outta the Boat,"
executive produced by John Cusack. Later this month, the company will put
out Gary Burns' Canadian DV corporate slacker comedy "waydowntown." Upcoming
35mm film releases include Michael Cuesta's "L.I.E.," Billy Morisette's
"Scotland P.A." and Claire Denis' "Trouble Every Day." [Anthony Kaufman]