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Byron Allen Released the Highest-Grossing Indie of the Year, but Won’t Be Satisfied Until He’s the Next Walt Disney

The surprise success of "47 Meters Down" has the founder and chairman of Entertainment Studios on a mission.

Jennifer Lucas and Byron Allen

Jennifer Lucas and Byron Allen

Rob Latour/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Allen told the story: “What happened was, Bob said: ‘If you don’t get me the money by 12 noon today, those trucks are going to deliver the boxes, and they’re going into the back rooms and they’re going to be taken out of the back rooms on Monday and Tuesday, and they’re going to be on the shelves Tuesday.'”

Allen double-checked the wire instructions himself, and when it went through, “they turned the trucks around with the DVDs on the trucks. And in some cases they were already in the back room, and they had to go grab and confiscate them and send them back. It literally was a half an hour from being a DVD release.”

And then, they waited. Allen wanted a summer release (“We’d never really seen a shark movie do poorly, so I felt good about it”); in the meantime, Moore got a fresh lease on stardom with NBC’s “This Is Us.”

All of that conspired to provide Entertainment Studios a stunning theatrical debut, but it came at a price: In addition to giving Weinstein profit participation, Allen said he spent some $30 million in prints and advertising, a sum “infinitely more” than what he spent on the film itself.

Allen said he’ll stick to acquisitions for now, with production down the line. “Right now it’s acquisition because there’s no shortage of movies. There’s plenty of movies,” he said. “There’s a world where Amazon does well, and Netflix does well, but also the movie theaters do well. But [theaters] are gonna have to definitely adjust their game based on these new players on the field. The best way to adjust that game is to really do everything you can to make sure more independents come into the space and do well. There’s a lot of capital watching how the industry treats us.”

The industry is also watching Allen’s $10 billion lawsuit against Charter and Comcast, which he filed after struggling to license his channels with the cable giant. He said the suit is more than a bargaining chip; it’s a “revolutionary” move designed to bring genuine media diversity.

What I’ve said to Charter and Comcast is: ‘You guys are spending billions of dollars every year licensing content, and none of that money is going to people in the community,'” he said. “African Americans don’t own the networks, Hispanics don’t own the networks, women don’t own the networks, people in the LGBT community don’t own the networks.

we the people with gloria allred

“We the People with Gloria Allred” is an Entertainment Studios production that’s syndicated in addition to broadcasting on the company’s own Justice Central channel.

“My lawsuits were to start the process of: We need to have ownership. We need to control our image and how we’re produced and depicted and seen around the world. So these lawsuits are revolutionary. What I said to Charter is, ‘Shame on you. Your board of directors, 11 white guys. Every 90 days, you get together in a room and you look around and go, “This feels right.” You don’t even have a woman on your board, that represents 60% of the global population. No African Americans, no Asians, no Hispanics. 11 white guys, every 90 days. Who’s your crack dealer? It’s just blatant racism and sexism, and I’m not going to leave this for my kids to deal with. Here, here’s a $10 billion lawsuit.'”

Allen filed a similar suit in 2014, against AT&T. That one settled in December 2015, when Entertainment Studios secured distribution for seven cable channels across AT&T’s DirecTV and U-verse.

However, lawsuits won’t determine whether he can turn Entertainment Studios into the second-Greatest Place on Earth. He’s done an extraordinary job building his company, but it’s largely a one-man show. “I am naturally uncomfortable having a middleman,” he said.

Establishing a major studio when the media landscape is in a constant state of fracking seems like a pipe dream — but perhaps no more so than the idea of a “Real People” host launching a global corporation. It’s a story he’s clearly told many times, but he tells it well.

“I’m sitting in Malibu, on the deck of a friend of mine, Dick Robertson, and he’s head of Warner Bros. Television distribution, over a billion-dollar-a-year division,” Allen said. “And he says, ‘Yeah, I gave away the HBO Comedy Hour to a friend of ours. It’s a 3 1/2-year deal for the first cycle of ‘Friends’ and I expect my salespeople to come back to Burbank with $650 million. I don’t want them out there on the road dicking around with a show that only brings in $10 million a year.’

Allen leaned into his story. “I went home and started my company the next day because in that moment, what he told me was ‘$10 million a year is crumbs.’ And I said, ‘I could take the studio crumbs and make a loaf of bread. I will make a gourmet meal off of your crumbs.’”

Just like he did with “47 Meters Down”? He roared with laughter.

“Oh, I’m going to get there.You don’t understand. This is storytelling. You got to understand your character’s motivation.”

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