EXCLUSIVE: Following on the heels of the exit of veteran distribution executive Bob Berney, FilmDistrict CEO Peter Schlessel has made alternative distribution arrangements for the company’s 2012 film releases. Deadline has learned that Schlessel just closed a 3-picture distribution deal with Tom Ortenberg’s Open Road, and he has arranged for several other pictures to be released through Sony.
Open Road will release Escape From M.S. One (formerly called Lock-Out), the Luc Besson-produced sci-fi actioner that stars Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace and will be released April 20, 2012. Open Road will also release the Red Dawn remake that is slated for November 2, 2012. The third film hasn’t been firmed yet and there could be more business with Open Road down the line.
FilmDistrict will also rely on its partnership with Sony Pictures for some of the films. That includes the Rian Johnson-directed time travel drama Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, which will be released through TriStar. Sony will also release the Evil Dead remake that’s being re-imagined by Ghost House Pictures. It is entirely possible that FilmDistrict will return to distributing projects by the time it gets Only God Forgives, the Nicolas Winding Refn-directed drama with Ryan Gosling, or the Chuck Russell-directed Arabian Nights starring Liam Hemsworth. The interim move was made to give Schlessel time to figure out a long term strategy.
I’m told by insiders these steps are not a prelude to shuttering FilmDistrict, which along with upstart Open Road and CBS Films helped to inject life into the acquisitions marketplace for films that play on upwards of 2000 screens. Given the rumors of a possible merge of Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate–which would eliminate a major buyer–the fact that Schlessel and his GK backers Graham King and Tim Headington aren’t heading for the exits and will continue to buy films is a good sign for the independent film sector going into Sundance.
But Schlessel, a shrewd dealmaker who at Sony acquired such films as District 9 and the Michael Jackson docu This Is It!, didn’t want to rush to replace Berney. He wants to gauge the condition of the marketplace over the next six months before making a final decision on whether or not to rebuild a distribution pipeline. The priority was to live up to promises made to filmmakers and ensure that their films weren’t left in the lurch next year. FilmDistrict will continue to provide P&A and oversee marketing on its releases. In the case of Looper, FilmDistrict will provide the P&A in partnership with James Stern’s Endgame Entertainment.
“I’m taking a beat following the consolidation of our offices in Los Angeles to examine what distribution avenues are right for FilmDistrict and our slate,” Schlessel said. “It became apparent that a variety of models may work for us in various situations. That includes distributing projects ourselves, partnering on distribution with companies like Sony and utilizing the experience of Tom and a company like Open Road. We had a very successful slate in 2011 and I anticipate it will be the same in 2012.”
As for Open Road’s Ortenberg, he was happy to pick up the slack: “Peter Schlessel is a class act and a longtime friend. We are thrilled that FilmDistrict selected Open Road to work with as a theatrical distribution partner.”
Berney and his wife Jeanne Berney will stay until early next year, and will oversee the release of the Angelina Jolie-directed In the Land Of Blood And Honey. Their exit was attributed to a consolidation of FilmDistrict operations to the West Coast, but there was an undercurrent that they weren’t getting along so well.
Candidates for the third Open Road film include Playing the Field, which stars Gerard Butler, and the Taylor Hackford-directed Parker, which stars Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez.
For a fledgling distributor, FilmDistrict has done pretty well. The runaway hit was Insidious and Soul Surfer and Drive have been high points. Less impressive was the pricey The Rum Diary, but that film clearly had a lot to do with GK Films’ long relationship with Johnny Depp, for whom the Hunter S. Thompson pic was a labor of love.