By Jay A. Fernandez | Indiewire September 13, 2012 at 1:38PM
So the heavy activity for you this year at Toronto has been just a fluke?
I think that Lionsgate and Roadside working together, we’ve really developed a strong partnership over the last year and a half, where we’ve had the opportunity now to acquire several films and take them all the way through to completion. We’ve learned a lot, and we all had a clear sense of how we were going to be approaching it strategically. That doesn’t mean we came into the festival saying we had to acquire even one movie.
Right. All those parameters have been true at other festivals when you didn’t buy four movies. It sounds like you’re saying that you’re just really in sync now, you know what you can do and how you can do it.
Absolutely. Right now there aren’t too many companies that can do a traditional theatrical release as a platform and an effective day-and-date VOD release. That gives us an enormous amount of flexibility, and it gives us an enormous amount of flexibility when the same team is working together to handle the theatrical as well as the DVD and television. Not all companies that are doing platform releases have a strong output deal, where essentially one company is handling all the TV, all the DVD, and I think that that is something that has been beneficial for us in terms of targeting and being strategic.
Where do you see these new films fitting into your slate? How do they impact your overall strategy?
The films that we acquired this particular week at Toronto, these are all films that Roadside is going to be releasing. We see Roadside as an opportunity for us to harken back to the roots of Lionsgate. If you look at Lionsgate ten years ago, we were releasing movies like “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and “Monster’s Ball” and “Lantana.” When I first started working at Lionsgate in 2000, those were the majority of the films we were releasing, and then we would maybe release one or two wide release films a year. The rest would be more arthouse. As the company grew, became more successful and larger in terms of the number of wide releases we were doing every year, we realized that we weren’t able to release as many of these platform arthouse movies but that there were still so many excellent films in the marketplace that were available for acquisition that fit that. It took a little while for us to realize the Roadside-Lionsgate partnership allowed us not to be ignoring all those wonderful films. And if it hadn’t been for this, which really got started about two years ago, then the films that we acquired at the festival this week we would have looked at, we would have said, wow, we really loved them, and somebody else would have had the opportunity to release them. But this gives us a chance to release the films that harken back to the Lionsgate of ten years ago, and it gives us a chance to maintain relationships on movies we love with filmmakers we love to work with, like Joss Whedon and Sarah Polley.
It’s also a function of Summit coming in, and how well you’re doing in the “Hunger Games”-“Twilight” business, that it frees you up to put more into the Roadside angle. Is that fair to say?
No, look, at Lionsgate, “Expendables” and “Expendables 2” were acquisition-co-productions. An acquisition can be a wide release. “Expendables” and “Expendables 2” combined are almost $200 million in North American box office, and two of the most successful movies we’ve released. “Saw” was an acquisition, which then became us overseeing seven “Saw” movies. So an acquisition doesn’t need to be only a platform release. So I wouldn’t phrase it that our larger franchises free us up to focus on the other things. I think the biggest thing that freed us up to focus on it was when Lionsgate took an ownership stake in Roadside, and we formed the partnership, and that Howard and Eric have been so strong in that space. Certain companies that were in that space ended up folding up tents or being bought by a large studio and they closed the doors on them. So many things happened. So that really created an opportunity for Roadside in the marketplace, and now that they’re established, it creates an ongoing momentum for Roadside and Lionsgate to be working together.
Over the last couple years, releasing several films together in partnership, we’ve had the opportunity to refine our partnership and our model. And that’s allowed us to be focused, opportunistic and synergistic. This particular Toronto, with that experience and knowing how the partnership works, we saw several movies that we loved and felt would work great for the partnership. We couldn’t be more thrilled.
Do you decide on release dates in concert, or does Roadside figure that out for itself?
Yeah, we certainly discuss it. Many of the films are Roadside-Lionsgate releases, so we’re keeping everything coordinated, for sure.
Are any of these three new pick-ups 2012 releases?
All of them will be releases in 2013. None of them are going to be before the end of the year.
Does the size of your Toronto stash now affect your approach to Sundance and Berlin?
No. The truth of the matter is, we have a very focused, disciplined approach to acquisitions, and we have for the last decade. Whether it’s a big wide traditional release, like “Kick-Ass,” or “Crash,” which we acquired at the Toronto film festival many years ago, or a pre-buy that we’re buying off the script, like “Expendables,” or “Saw,” we’re very disciplined about what kinds of movies we’re targeting specifically for our company, and we’re very disciplined on the financial model on how we approach them. So our approach hasn’t changed. The thing that does change from time to time are just opportunities within the marketplace, opportunities with cross-promotion within your own slate. We’re focused on our financial model, what kind of movies we’re releasing, and we always want to make sure that we know who the audience is and that we can be effective in releasing to that audience.