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Apparition Fate Up in Air; Graham King Flirts with Berney

Apparition Fate Up in Air; Graham King Flirts with Berney

Post-Cannes, the fate of Bill Pohlad’s distribution start-up Apparition remains murky in the aftermath of indie distribution vet Bob Berney’s unexpected departure. Now the LAT reports that producer Graham King, who founded GK Films in 2007, is talking to Berney about yet another new distrib venture, GK Distribution. At Cannes, Berney launched discussions with several possible distribution partners; at this point Berney has no news to report.

Berney got to know King during the release of The Young Victoria, one of the high-water marks of Berney’s short tenure at Apparition. (The film earned Emily Blunt a Golden Globe nomination and $11 million domestically.) King has been saying that he wants to get into distribution, for the same reason many producers are lured into releasing their own films—they want a guaranteed slot for their projects over which they have control, and they don’t want to give away as much of the back end to an outside distributor. Berney also worked well with Sony exec Peter Schlessel on Black Dynamite and the Boondock Saints sequel. And last week, Schlessel, who is expert in film financing, rights and foreign sales, joined GK Films as president.

The ranks of folks lured into launching distribution outfits who did not make it work are legion–Bob Yari comes to mind. But especially these days, when producers are often asked to raise their own P & A anyway, this makes sense. King is also a producer of consummate taste–he made The Aviator, The Departed, Gangs of New York, and is prepping with Mel Gibson and Leonardo DiCaprio a Vikings project written by The Departed‘s Bill Monahan. Kings’ GK Films has a three-year put deal for Sony to release two films a year. So far Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Tourist, written by Julian Fellowes and Christopher McQuarrie, and starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, is on that list; the film is not yet dated. Sony will also release Martin Scorsese’s 3-D period mystery The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written by John Logan, which is set to start filming this summer with Chloe Moretz and Ben Kingsley.

Paramount plans to release Gore Verbinski’s animated Rango, also written by Logan and voiced by Depp and Timothy Olyphant, in March 2011. Warners, Legendary and King are partnered on Ben Affleck’s September release The Town, starring Affleck, Blake Lively, Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm. These are films I want to see.

King also produced Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, starring Depp, an indie project that was left hanging without a distributor when Warner Independent Pictures was shuttered by the studio. Another film in post-production in need of a home in a wickedly difficult indie environment is Monahan’s directing debut London Boulevard, starring Keira Knightley and Colin Farrell.

When Berney was negotiating with Warners’ Jeff Robinov to possibly merge Picturehouse (which had been backed by New Line Cinema and HBO) with WIP, he wanted to form a company of size and scale. Warners was not willing to step up to that. I’ve often wondered if Berney might not have landed a deal if he had been willing to think smaller. In this tricky market, it can seem risky to go out on a small platform release –which is exactly what Berney is good at. His decision to leave Apparition was partly based on the fact that Pohlad didn’t necessarily want to acquire the films that Berney did (including Alex Gibney’s Eliot Spitzer doc and the brainy horror flick Splice, which could have used Berney’s help), nor did he have guaranteed P & A backing, thus leaving him with less pictures in the pipeline to use as leverage when booking dates with exhibitors. All the Apparition acquisitions post-Bright Star were made in cahoots with Sony Worldwide.

Insiders are speculating about what will become of the films left behind with Apparition, including Sundance pick-up Welcome to the Rileys (a Sony Worldwide partnership set for fall) and River Road’s Brad Pitt-starrer The Tree of Life, which may not wind up showing in Venice after all–Terrence Malick is still not making any commitments. Pohlad has talked directly to neither Bingham Ray nor Pandemic’s Russell Schwartz about coming in to help; his COO Mitch Horwits has been talking to prospective candidates such as One Way Out’s Tom Ortenberg. Acquisitions chief Sara Rose, an experienced indie exec, may oversee the remaining slate. (Eventually Berney is expected to bring his old gang over to his new shingle, wherever it may be. They may have felt abandoned by him, but Rose and others should be happy to rejoin Team Berney when the time comes.) Pohlad can be deliberative, and tends not to give swift answers (which can be a problem in a fast-paced acquisition environment). But Pohlad does have films to release. Summit CEO Patrick Wachsberger is his trusted confidante; Summit is releasing River Road’s Cannes entry Fair Game.

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