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Earthquake in the U.S. Distribution Landscape

Earthquake in the U.S. Distribution Landscape


Earthmoving news today was that Bob Berney walked away from Apparition on the eve of Cannes. Its waves reverberated throughout Cannes. What confidence is there in the US business as a market for the Cannes films? Will Sara Rose stay on at Apparition? How about Martin Marquet, the son of Cannes favorite Daniel Marquet? Who are the US buyers today?
While these questions circulate, to reassure the sellers I am giving this rundown of who are the US distributors today. There is great grassroots movement and an optimism about the new models of distribution which are evolving. Some of these involve coproduction, some involve social networking, but here in Cannes, cinema still leads and the great efforts being made are about preserving cinema.

The links you will find in the commentary below will be mostly to Cinando since this is written with the Cannes buyers and sellers in mind. However, sometimes the company website is referred to instead. Often IMDb is used as the point of reference as well.

Before the litany begins, the newest to announce is new distributor-on-the-block Red Flag Releasing. Led by two ex-Warner Independent execs, Paul Federbush and Laura Kim—the company embraces both the digital future and the theatrical past with its first release, the controversial hot-button Sundance doc 8: The Mormon Proposition. Get the full story on Thompson on Hollywood.

And the home video company Olive Films is now gearing up theatrically because John Tilley, the veteran distributor whose Cinevista brought Almodovar to the US in the 80s, has taken a risk and left Strand where he was head of home video to take Olive into the theatrical arena, opening in the fall with The Match Factory’s Academy Award contender, Milk of Sorrow.

Then there is Jim Sherry’s Toronto-based distribution boutique D Films. Entering the US market with its first acquisition Max Manus, which it distributed in Canada, D Films will give the film a limited platform release. Consistent with their business plan to span the North American continent and thus increment the Canadian release considerably while helping to fill the US vacuum, D Films recently signed an exclusive, multi-picture, DVD distribution deal with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Canada (SPHEC).

Year old Toronto based Phase 4 Films in Cannes for the second time, acquired North American rights to SXSW audience-award-winner Brotherhood from CMG. Berry Meyerowitz and his LA-based acquisitions chief Larry Greenberg considers itself to be in competition with Sony Pictures Classics, Magnolia and Screen Media (who is not listed here because they are home video and not theatrical distributors), among others, and is willing to invest in fully-packaged films under $7 million at the pre-production stage. The company, which has a staff of 65, is slowly ramping up from four to six releases in 2010 to eight to twelve in 2011. Phase 4 (which absorbed Peace Arch and Content Films and boasts a 1000-title library) released in its first year IRA drama 50 Dead Man Walking, starring Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess, and the Matt Tyrnauer doc Valentino: The Last Emperor, which grossed $1.6 million, the third-highest grossing doc of 2009. Coming up next on July 30 is Brigitte Berman’s doc Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel.

And yet another new US distribution company, Inception Media Group has acquired all US rights from Moonstone Entertainment to the action thriller 2:22 featuring Val Kilmer about a bungled boutique hotel robbery on New Year’s Eve. Santa Monica-based Inception was recently formed by Andy Reimer (former VP Starz, Blockbuster Video) and David Borshell and will stage an exclusive theatrical release in Los Angeles on June 18 with DVD and Blu-ray launch set for autumn.

Founded in 2008 but not heard of until recently, Red Dragon was set up by investor Franck Dubarry. They picked up Drake Doremus’s Sundance Film Festival entry Douchebag for U.S. and will partner on the project with former William Morris Independent head Cassian Elwes, along with Mark Urman, whose company, Paladin, will handle the film’s theatrical release and marketing. A September release is planned.

Making a comeback, October vet Jeff Lipsky was the subject of TOH blog by Anne Thompson.

And also returned to the scene is the recently defunct New Yorker Films, now reinvigorated with some capital and being run by Peter Marai

And finally, GKIDS acquired Brendon and the Secret of the Kells from Celluloid Dreams just before Cannes.

The veterans which, aside from Sony Pictures Classics, IFC, Magnolia Pictures, Fox Searchlight, and perhaps Focus Features if it is still acquiring specialty films, have mostly retained their micro size, from Zeitgeist Films, Kino International, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, Roadside Attractions, Strand Releasing, Regent Releasing, Here Films, Indican Pictures, Film Forum, First Run Features, Women Make Movies, Roxie Releasing, Panorama Entertainment, Vitagraph Films. Finally, Menemsha Films who had two films over last three years which did over $1,000,000 box office, Gloomy Sunday ($1.5 Million) and The Rape of Europa ($1.2 Million). Presently they have A Matter of Size (Israel) and Nora’s Will (Mexico) in U.S. theatres, with A Matter of Size in its 9th consecutive week in Boston theatres, the first city of release for the film and Nora’s Will in its seventh week in Miami/South Florida, its first city of release for that film.

The new interesting labels such as Marc Urman’s Paladin Entertainment and Summit continue to be watched.

Next come those other distributors still needing to prove their longevity like Bob Berney’s Apparition, The Weinstein Company, Palisades Tartan who picked up Lourdes in Venice and is about to release it, Music Box Films, National Geographic, Indiepix, Film Movement, Oscilloscope Pictures, FiGa Films, Global Film, and Cinema Tropical who are also looking to make a profitable deal. There’s also 24 Frames.

And now in great demand are the For-Rent-DIY distributors like Susan Jackson’s Freestyle Releasing, Richard Abramowitz’ Abramorama and Films We Like, Wendy Lidell’s International Film Circuit and MJ Pekos’ Mitropoulos Films, all run by truly professional vets able to think and act creatively on a case by case basis and to turn on a dime.

For the record of the past year’s box office performance, I am citing IndieWire’s Summer Hot, Summer Cool: A Specialty Box Office Recap – indieWIRE: “Back in July 2009, indieWIRE ran an article examining the first half of this year’s specialty box office. The general consensus was that while Hollywood was doing just fine (at the time tracking 10% above last year – now that number is a little under 7%), Indiewood was having a tougher go at it. Only two limited releases – Sunshine Cleaning and Away We Go had grossed over $5 million. The top five had a combined gross of $26.5 million, while at the same point in 2008, the top five had grossed nearly twice that. Two months later, things have seen a notable turnaround…With 2009’s unusually late Labor Day weekend about to commence, it’s safe to call this summer movie season a wrap. Reports have already found their way through the trades, proclaiming this Hollywood’s highest-grossing summer ever…“Not only will 2009 finish ahead of 2008 – which was our record year – but we continue to expand our audience. Because of the diversity of product we are attracting all ages to our theatres. And thankfully, they seem to be coming back for more.” claims Landmark Theater chain’s Mundorff…Looking down the list of the summer’s top twenty-five limited releases (which you can find on page 2 of this story), nine of the top ten grossing films came from either Summit or one of four studio specialty divisions – Fox Searchlight, Focus Features, Sony Pictures Classics (which had an impressive 4 in the top 10), and Miramax…this isn’t new news…the idea of what makes a film “successful” varies greatly between the vast scope of what people generally consider an “indie film” (the mildly disappointing $3.5 million Summit got out of “The Brothers Bloom” would have been a massive success for, say, Music Box Films’ “Seraphine”).

In one final attempt to quantify and qualify the distributors today, I cite The Hollywood Reporter’s Distributor Report Cards: “Distributor Report Cards Written and compiled by THR Staff Aug 30, 2009 Updated: Sept 2, 2009″

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