Mike Fleming

Chris Ball, Newmarket president and co-founder, will leave to form Wrekin Hill Entertainment, a new specialty film production and distribution label. Ball will continue his association with Newmarket’s owner, Exclusive Media Group, getting the new shingle started by releasing the Peter Weir-directed The Way Back, the harrowing period survival tale that stars Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong and Colin Farrell. Wreckin will also release the Billy Joel documentary The Last Play at Shea. Both pictures were financed by Exclusive. Wrekin will also release Hesher, the Sundance Film Festival acquisition Hesher, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Natalie Portman and Rainn Wilson. All three films will be released in tandem by Newmaket and Wrekin Hill, but the latter will be the active shingle.

Ball will be joined at Wrekin Hill by longtime Newmarket colleagues Rene Cogan, who was Newmarket COO-CFO and John Crye, who had been Newmarket’s president of production and acquisitions.

The move comes at a time when Exclusive is building up its US theatrical releasing business. The overall company, funded by Cyrte Investments, is spearheaded by co-chairmen Nigel Sinclair and Guy East. Exclusive’s first production is Weir’s The Way Back, while sister division Hammer Films produced Let Me In, the remake of Let The Right One In. The third production division is Spitfire Pictures, which mostly focuses on documentaries like Last Play at Shea, which focused on Joel’s final concert at Shea Stadium before it was demolished, with the ballpark and the New York Mets’ history intertwined into the storyline. Ball will focus exclusively on building Wrekin Hill into an active producer and acquirer of features, and they are near a home entertainment distribution partnership.

“While there may be challenges in the independent theatrical world right now, it is also a time of great growth and opportunity as new methods of distribution are being tried and developed,” Ball said in a statement. “Forming Wrekin Hill will give me and my partners the flexibility to work on a wide variety of films and craft distribution plans that are unique and appropriately scaled for each film we acquire.”

I had expected Ball to build Newmarket into an important player in the indie space after its acquisition by Exclusive. The company certainly has a past pedigree with such films as The Usual Suspects, Memento, Monster, Downfall and The Passion of the Christ. Exclusive isn’t putting the shingle out to pasture; a new team of distribution and marketing execs will be appointed shortly to run Newmarket by Sinclair and Andy Mayson, Exclusive Group CFO and former COO of Icon Distribution UK.. They said Newmarket will continue to acquire films as Exclusive manages the Newmarket library of approximately 250 pictures.

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