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.
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.