Warner Bros. Unveils Specialty Division with Mark Gill at the Helm
by Eugene Hernandez
After months of speculation, Warner Bros. Entertainment has made it official and announced the launch of Warner Independent Pictures, its new specialty film unit. Described in a company announcement as an autonomous film label, the outfit will be headed by former Miramax president Mark Gill, who spoke with indieWIRE on Thursday about the new company.
Gill will report directly to Warner Bros. production president Jeff Robinov and consistent with studio policy, Warner Bros. President & COO Alan Horn retains the ultimate "greenlight" authority. Horn and Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Barry Meyer made the long-awaited announcement on Thursday.
Gill told indieWIRE Thursday that he expects the unit to be ready to start releasing films by the spring or summer of 2004. He will be at the Toronto International Film Festival next month to begin scouting projects for the new venture.
Two films already on tap for Warner Independent, according to Gill, are Broadway director Michael Mayer's feature debut "At Home At the End of the World" and "Eros" from Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh, and Wong Kar-Wai. Mayer's "Home" is an adaptation of the 1998 novel by Michael Cunningham ("The Hours") and is the story of love triangle set in New York's East Village in the '80s. It stars Colin Farrell, Robin Wright Penn, Dallas Roberts, and Sissy Spacek. Cunningham co-wrote the script and the film is produced by Killer Films, with Hart Sharp Entertainment and John Wells Productions. From Steven Soderbergh's Section Eight, the company will handle "Eros," a collection of three short films about love and sex by Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Wong Kar-Wai. Wraparounds for the projects are being shot by Pedro Almodovar. Both new films are currently in post-production, Gill said.
Gill said that the company will produce or acquire between five and 10 films each year for worldwide release. The pictures will be budgeted up to $20 million. He indicated that the budgets could go higher with outside subsidies.
"Warner Independent will operate as a true independent film company with its growth and direction developing organically," said Robinov in a prepared statement. "While it might be difficult to precisely define or label Warner Independent, our purpose couldn't be more clear. We want to create a home for director-driven films that don't fit into, or are simply not suited for, the distribution patterns, marketing budgets and commercial pressures that are inherent to mainstream studio films. We want to be the place where filmmakers want to do all of their films, from their first to their last, from the smallest to the biggest."
Gill explained that Warner Independent Pictures will be a lean operation, but that he will be hiring distribution, acquisitions, marketing, PR, and business affairs staffers. He will also rely on the studio for some back office support. The company will be based entirely at the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank and will not have an office in New York.
Mark Gill is joining Warner Independent from Stratus Film Co., the company formed by Bob Yari and Mark Gordon. While at the company, Gill served as an executive producer of numerous projects, including "Laws of Attraction" with Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. He previously served as president of Miramax/Los Angeles, where is was involved with more than 25 films, including "Frida," "In The Bedroom," "Amelie," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "The Quiet American," "Central Station," and others. Gill joined Miramax in 1994 and served as the head of marketing in New York. Before that, he worked for six years at Columbia and TriStar. Gill spent four years at the PR firm Rogers & Cowan and began his career as a reporter for Newsweek magazine and the Los Angeles Times.
Reflecting on the current state of specialty and independent films, Gill expressed confidence about Warner's ability to carve out a niche. "Two things are heartening," Gill told indieWIRE. "Thirteen percent of ticket sales this year have come from specialty films. There are lot of good movies being made and distibuted there is definitely room (for Warner Independent Pictures). The exec singled out the recent critical and box office success of such films as Newmarket's "Whale Rider," and Miramax's "Dirty Pretty Things" and "The Magdalene Sisters" as representive of the opportunities that exist for "smart" specialty films.
"The reason is very simple," Gill concluded, when considering that state specialty and independent films today, "They are well-reviewed films, audiences like them, and they have originality to them."