Relaunched First Look Media Bolsters Company In Advance of AFM
by Brian Brooks
With the American Film Market (AFM) kicking off in Santa Monica this week First Look Media, the L.A. based distribution and sales company, is debuting a re-branded international sales division with the new name: First Look International. The company, once known as Overseas Filmgroup, is unified with the U.S. theatrical and home entertainment operations under the First Look Media brand. The news comes as First Look settles after an exec shift and makes a play for more commercial fare.
This re-branding of First Look International is the latest development at the company prompted by Bill Lischak, the new president of First Look Media, who was appointed to the post last July after co-chairman Robbie Little resigned his day-to-day involvement. Little and the company's CEO Chris Cooney appointed Lischak to the post. Little took a step back last year to focus on his Little Film Co. with wife Ellen Little. The outfit has a deal with First Look. The Little's founded Overseas Filmgroup in 1980. Former execs MJ Peckos and Bob Myerson left First Look last year to found a new company, Dada Films.
"We have made changes to the structure primarily to adjust to a changed marketplace and to return the company to being a profitable, competitive and important player in the independent sector," explained Lischak in an email correspondence with indieWIRE yesterday. "The marketplace changes most dramatically related to the downturn in television revenues worldwide. We needed to shift our product from being television dependent to being better suited for the burgeoning video/DVD marketplace worldwide."
Referring to the international side of the business, Lischak indicated that the company will be handling movies that can work theatrically in the U.S. "The concept is the same [as before], offering international rights to films which will be meaningfully distributed in the U.S.," commented Lischak.
Three new people have been named to the newly re-branded division including Dina Vangelisti who joins as senior VP of television sales as well as Amy Beecroft, the new director of international sales. Also joining the team is Linda Monterrubio, who will head Latin American sales.
Currently at AFM, the company is representing four titles including Reverge Anselmo's "Stateside," which will have its world premiere during the market and will be released in the U.S. in May by Samuel Goldwyn Films; other world rights for the film are still pending. Also at AFM, which continues through March 3, are Joseph Fiennes' "Luther," which grossed $7 million in the U.S.; "September Tapes," which was acquired at Sundance and will open in theaters this summer under the company's theatrical releasing banner First Look Pictures, and "The Boys (and Girls) from County Clare," the Irish romantic comedy by John Irvin, which First Look will release later this year. All the titles are for sale in territories outside the U.S.
"As a founding member of the AFMA, [the market] is an appropriate place to announce another step we are taking in the significant changes we are making to the company, which began eight months ago," commented Lischak when asked how the AFM is important to the timing of the company's re-launch. "It's particularly relevant as a function of some of the new product we are offering, including 'Stateside,' and 'September Tapes.'"
Lischak plans to continue its distribution and production partnerships in addition to developing First Look's own distribution and sales teams. Along with Independent Distribution Partners (IDP), the company will release George Hickenlooper's "Mayor of Sunset Strip," a doc about legendary L.A. rock DJ Rodney Bingenheimer on March 26 and Nick Willing's psychological thriller, "Close Your Eyes" on April 23. Heading First Look's theatrical division is Steven DeMille, senior VP of marketing.
Going forward, Lischak said that First Look will remain "eclectic" in the types of films it will focus on (although most likely English-language fare), including projects with a range of development budgets. "We have lower-budget fare on our development slate as well as higher, I don't see us being highly involved in foreign-language films, but I wouldn't rule one out. We are trying to make sure any film we are involved in is unique."
Lischak is eyeing a bit more expansion on the international side with the addition of another sales person, in particular someone with a Strong international TV background. "We have a significant library and I want to see us maximize the television values for all our films and be poised as the market firms up in this area. I also want to see us get one or two especially high profile films (based upon cast, director, etc.)." Concluding he said, "On the domestic side, we want to continue expanding our video/DVD operation. Partly by racheting up the product particularly with sell-through product and theatrically released films."
As to the overall health of the motion picture business today, Lischak added, "It's difficult, but opportune. I think the market is ripe for 'out of the box' thinking. I think everyone (in all businesses) has learned we need to be lean and efficient and we must be productive -- after all, it's business."
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this article.]