No longer active indies include Newmarket Films, Artisan, Overture Films, ThinkFilm, Trimark, Destination Films, Yari Film Group, Orion Pictures, Apparition, Palm Pictures, Vestron, Wrekin Hill Entertainment and many many more. Miramax Films, which was founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein and bought by Disney, which in turn sold the company after they left to launch The Weinstein Co., has been exploiting its library and may be on the verge of becoming more active again.
Relativity is on the ropes, as Ryan Kavanaugh finally reaches the limits of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel folded his line-up into Universal subsidiary Focus Features, which has now figured out that blurring a high-class brand with genre movies is a mistake, and has relegated B-fare to a revived Gramercy label. (The long list of companies that have gone through the Universal sluicer is depressing, from October, USA, and Good Machine to PolyGram.)
Long-time indie New Line Cinema was eaten up by Warner Bros., which allowed it to run autonomously for a while; it’s now a production label. Steven Spielberg’s ambitious DreamWorks is a production company not unlike his original Amblin, and is no longer a distributor (Disney does the honors for live action, while Jeffrey Katzenberg’s DreamWorks Animation goes through Fox).
Then there are the studio subsidiaries that have come and gone: Warner Independent, New Line/HBO partnership Picturehouse, Fine Line, Paramount Classics and Vantage. And they had all the advantages of studio resources and output deals.
So it takes guts to join the indie distribution fray, especially as the market is heated up by big buyers like Netflix and Amazon, and as television chases down the hottest indie talent. So all eyes are on the new kids on the block, financial entrepreneurs Gabriel and Daniel Hammond, who launched Broad Green Pictures last summer.
That led to a deal to release Malick’s next three films. First up in 2016 is “Knight of Cups,” which debuted at Berlin to a mixed response. So rather than go out in December during the awards corridor, they decided to go in the new year. “We want to have the longest run possible,” said Hammond, “not for money’s sake, but so we can get as many people to share the experience.” Next will be the still-untitled drama (which will not be called “Weightless”), which recycles some of the same ensemble cast led by Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, followed by “Voyage of Time.”
Last fall Broad Green made a splash at the Toronto Film Festival by opening a hospitality suite and going on a buying spree, scooping up (and probably overpaying for) French immigration drama “Samba” (July 24), which reunites Cesar-winner Omar Sy with the filmmakers behind specialty hit “The Intouchables,” Ramin Bahrani’s well-reviewed real estate thriller “99 Homes” (September 25), a two-hander starring Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield, and Mia Hansen-Love’s French 90s electronic-music drama “Eden,” which is their first release, opening June 19 in New York and L.A., followed by San Francisco and Miami.
They also acquired James Napier Robinson’s undated award-winning New Zealand chess drama “The Dark Horse,” and Spanish-language trans-Atlantic romance “10,000 Km,” which opens July 10 after playing the festival circuit. Broad Green won the Sundance 2015 bidding war for Ken Kwapis’s Robert Redford vehicle “A Walk in the Woods,” which they had to commit to take out wide this fall (September 2) to at least 1,000 screens. In March they announced the pickup of Adam Salky’s “I Smile Back,” an undated Sundance Dramatic Competition entry starring Sarah Silverman and Josh Charles.
In the current competitive climate, they realize that they have to produce their own films. So far they’ve financed Isabel Coixet’s drama “Learning to Drive,” starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley (August 21) and sibling sports drama “Break Point,” starring Jeremy Sisto (September 5). In the works is Lucy Walker’s sequel to Wim Wenders and Ry Cooder’s classic Cuba music doc, “Buena Vista Social Club.” “We got into this with a development and production focus,” said Daniel Hammond. “It’s one of the strengths of our team. So we’re excited to make sure that we’re spending our development dollars as appropriately as we’re spending our acquisition dollars.”
One movie that they paid for they will not release. They are closing a deal with another distributor for uber-violent “Green Room,” which director Jeremy Saulnier (“Blue Ruin”) convinced them to allow him to play at Cannes in Director’s Fortnight, where it was well-reviewed. “This movie’s very unique, in that way — in a good way,” said Gabriel Hammond, “but there may be somebody who can really run with that.”
For international, Broad Green recently bought a 45% stake in David Garrett’s British foreign sales company Mr. Smith, which adds 15 additional people in London. “He’s got an equal passion for the big stuff and small stuff,” said Gabriel. “At DreamWorks, he just sold ‘The BFG’ for Spielberg. Likewise, he likes doing ‘Buena Vista Social Club.’ He’s got a passion for both. Nothing’s too big or too small for him to handle.” While the Hammonds want to run everything from VOD through DVDs through the company with consistent marketing, they do not yet own a homevideo distributor.
“One of the things we’re proudest of,” he continued, “is that we created a place where people loved coming into work every day, that they didn’t consider an office. That’s even harder to do in finance, because it’s not really driven by the same type of intrinsic passion that drives the creative focus of film. And there’s a special opportunity to do that here. So the ability to pick whoever we work with — both internally as a culture, but also who we choose to associate with, whether it’s a talent agent or legal side or otherwise — based on how they treat us or one another is a different way to build something that, ultimately, is going to create a very safe creative haven for filmmakers, because it’s going to be a different environment with a different group of people than you’ll find anywhere else, and a different way of treating one another. It’s an opportunity for all the execs who are joining us, be it from the top level up or the assistants who are coming in and thinking about their future.”
You have to admit these guys have balls. It’s their money and they are willing to risk it. “It’s the stage where we can move out from a creative process, because the decision-makers are seated right here,” said Gabriel. “We can take a certain type of risk that others can’t. Part of it is that we’re spending so much, putting so much time and resource on the technology side, data analytics and the marketing, and we’re going to reinvent that whole side of things. That’s going to be one of the most fun pieces for me, but it goes throughout.”