The Berneys Are Back With Picturehouse, And They’ve Got Metallica: Sundance

Mike Fleming

BREAKING: One of my questions for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival has been answered: when the heck are Bob and Jeanne Berney getting back into the indie distribution mix? Well, they’re back. They’ve restarted Picturehouse, the shingle Berney ran before it was shut down by Warner Bros. After that, the Berneys started Apparition with Bill Pohlad, and left to start FilmDistrict with Peter Schlessel. After they left, they’ve been quietly been percolating the next move.

At a relaunched Picturehouse, the Berneys get underway distributing a new film: Metallica Through The Never. It stars the guys in the band (who were so memorable in the 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster), and Dane DeHaan, the Chronicle star who plays a band crew member. Here’s the announcement, and it will be interesting to see if they will be active players in what is shaping up to be a promising acquisitions marketplace that will kick into gear this weekend in Park City:

Picturehouse, the full-service independent film marketing and distribution company started in 2005, is reopening its doors with founder Bob Berney at the helm. Berney will serve as CEO and Jeanne Berney will serve as President of the relaunched company, which will continue to be based in New York.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be back in business under the Picturehouse banner,” said Mr. Berney, who recently acquired the trademark and logo from Warner Bros. “We worked very hard to build it into a brand known for acquiring exciting, challenging and entertaining films from the U.S. and around the world, and helping them find their audiences.”

Picturehouse’s first new release will be Metallica Through The Never a feature film starring members of the iconic rock band and Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). DeHaan plays a young band crew member who is sent out on an urgent mission while the band is playing a rousing live set in front of a sold-out crowd and unexpectedly finds his world turned completely upside down. The film, written and directed by Nimród Antal (Kontroll, Predators), is due in theaters August 9. One of the bestselling rock acts of all time, Metallica has sold over 105 million albums worldwide.

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FilmDistrict Hires Christine Birch As Marketing President

By | Friday March 23, 2012 @ 5:00pm PDT
Mike Fleming

Peter Schlessel has begun re-staffing FilmDistrict’s distribution operation, hiring Christine Birch to be president of marketing. He has pledged to have a distribution head in place by the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. All this to replace Bob Berney and Jeanne Berney, who departed right after Oscar season. Schlessel placed several … Read More »

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Millennium Entertainment Taps Vicky Eguia To Run Publicity

Mike Fleming

Vicky Eguia has been named vice president of publicity at Millennium Entertainment, reporting to marketing head Brooke Ford. Eguia most recently had been publicity veep at Apparition and before that served stints at Newmarket Films and Picturehouse with former Apparition chief Bob Berney. Under CEO Bill Lee, Millennium has gotten … Read More »

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Bob And Jeanne Berney Exit FilmDistrict As Company Consolidates Operations In LA

By | Friday November 4, 2011 @ 11:00am PDT
Mike Fleming

BREAKING: Bob and Jeanne Berney are leaving FilmDistrict, the company they helped form for GK Films in September, 2010. The distribution company run by Peter Schlessel is consolidating its operations to Los Angeles and the Berneys want to stay in … Read More »

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Post-Mortem: Why Young Guys Didn’t ‘Drive’

By | Sunday September 25, 2011 @ 7:30pm PDT

There are many box office deaths that are deserved. But few and far between are the box office deaths that get grieved. Welcome to the wake for Drive. This well-reviewed favorite at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals, with 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, was a cut above other movies so this is more of a post-mortem than an autopsy report. As FilmDistrict’s president of theatrical distribution Bob Berney emailed me the weekend of its opening, ”Don’t know if you’ve seen Drive or not. But it’s extreme in many ways: ultra-violent, very different pacing. As Albert Brooks (sleazy crime lord and ex-movie producer in the film) says about his character’s films, ’some critics call them European’. This film is not a typical formulaic wide release. Yes, the CinemaScore is ‘C-’ but I just think that their methodology is designed for the average, wide release film. They never anticipated asking people about a Nic Refn movie! I don’t buy it and hope they are very wrong.”

Though defined as an American genre movie, I felt the pre-release marketing with its superficial one-sheet and film trailer and TV ad failed by never distinguishing Drive as anything more special than just another Fast And Furious ripoff. Based on the book by James Sallis, with a screenplay by Hossein Amini, Drive was FilmDistrict’s widest release to date — 2,886 locations. It arrived by way of a pre-buy for U.S. from script stage. Ryan Gosling hand-picked Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson with Tom Hardy, The Pusher Trilogy). Refn, who went on to win Best Director at Cannes for Drive, has told the story of his “blind date” with Ryan when he first came to Los Angeles: Nic had the flu and was on some type of American medication and was completely out of it at the meeting. After awkwardly looking down and not saying anything, he finally asked Ryan to drive him home. (Nic doesn’t drive.) On the way, with REO Speedwagon playing, he began crying but was living the concept of the movie; a guy driving at night listening to pop music. Ryan said he was in. Through the process they became pals and planning more films together. (Then again actors respond to Refn. It’s rumored that, instead of “action”, he yells “Let’s fuck!” when starting a scene.) In Toronto, Nic, Ryan, Bryan Cranston, and scene-stealing Albert Brooks all wore dark suits and looked like they had just stepped off the set of Reservoir Dogs.

Despite all the Internet/fest hype, Drive‘s weekend box office was surprisingly low-key. FilmDistrict had projected Drive would open #2 with a $12M-$14M weekend. While many R-rated action and horror films normally drop on Saturday over the first weekend, it had a healthy 11% jump, signaling good word-of-mouth for Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks who could get supporting actor nominations for playing against type. But it eked out only an $11M weekend for #3. Younger males used to flock to such an original, violent, and stylized R-rated film that breaks a lot of rules. They didn’t. But now young guys who used to be Hollywood’s target audience are just not consistently (and indiscriminately) going to the movies anymore. The reason is either financial or too many other entertainment choices. That was the gist of internal conversations inside studios all summer when uncompelling fare like Conan The Barbarian, Fright NightCowboys & Aliens, and Green Lantern fell short with young guys. ”It didn’t dawn on us they weren’t coming to the malls,” one perplexed exec told me. “Instead, adults did.” Read More »

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FilmDistrict Hires Lia Buman To Spearhead Acquisitions

By | Wednesday August 3, 2011 @ 9:00pm PDT
Mike Fleming

FilmDistrict has hired Lia Buman to be executive vice president of acquisitions for FilmDistrict. She will report to Adrian Alperovich, FilmDistrict’s president of acquisitions and operations. Buman was veep at Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, where she worked for FilmDistrict chief … Read More »

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FilmDistrict Near U.S. Distribution Deal For Ryan Gosling-Nic Refn ‘Only God Forgives’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: In a low-seven-figure minimum guarantee deal, FilmDistrict has acquired U.S. rights to Only God Forgives, a drama that will reteam Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn with Ryan Gosling. Several distributors were in the mix, but FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel had … Read More »

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Big Drama At Closing Night Of L.A. Film Fest

Pete Hammond

2011 Los Angeles Film Festival Winners

The closing-night film of the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, was designed to scare the crap out of the audience. But who knew the real nightmares would come from the actual screening itself.

Just an hour into the world premiere of the movie Sunday night the Regal L.A. Live theater, the emergency warning system started flashing lights accompanied by a siren-like noise and an announcement that audience members should vacate the premises immediately due to an “emergency in the building.” Everyone got up and marched outside before the all-clear was quickly declared (a false alarm), the auditorium filled again and the film restarted at the crucial point it left off. And you wonder why producers get ulcers.

But THAT was nothing compared to the nightmare end of the movie that surrounded audience members from that screening (and the overflow house upstairs) who simultaneously had to retrieve their cellphones and BlackBerrys that had been seized for fear of piracy when they entered the theater. The crush as final credits rolled was mammoth as theater personnel slowly took claim tickets and acted like they were on a scavenger hunt. The guy searching for my phone finally came back and rather pathetically asked me, ‘Uh, what color is it?’ to which I replied ‘Black,’ like every single other friggin’ one there.

FilmDistrict (which is releasing the film Aug. 26) distribution honcho Bob Berney came over during the forced intermission of the showing to say that co-writer/producer Guillermo del Toro thought the unplanned interruption was the dirty work of Bob Weinstein or the MPAA (which gave his film an unwanted ‘R’ rating for “violence and terror,” particularly since it involved a minor, according to Berney). Read More »

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FilmDistrict Acquires Taylor Hackford-Helmed ‘Parker’ With Jason Statham

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: FilmDistrict is closing a deal for U.S. distribution rights to Parker, the Taylor Hackford-directed thriller that will star Jason Statham. Production starts in early August. The John J. McLaughlin-scripted film is an adaptation of the Donald E. Westlake novel series, and Statham is playing a character that Mel Gibson played in the Brian Helgeland-directed Payback and Lee Marvin played in the John Boorman-directed Point Blank. Parker is a thief, but one who follows a strict moral code he’ll kill to uphold. The producers are Steven Chasman, Sidney Kimmel, Les Alexander, Jonathan Mitchell and Hackford. The film’s casting up quickly, and the movie was a prominent sales title during the Cannes Film Festival where Sierra/Affinity’s Nick Meyer sold offshore rights and made the domestic deal. Meyer has sold most world territories. Incentive Filmed Entertainment funded the film, and produced with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Sierra/Infinity. Sierra/Infinity and Incentive Filmed Entertainment previously teamed on Shark Night 3D, a movie that will be released in September. Read More »

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CANNES: Elizabeth Taylor Remembered As amFAR Sets New Record

Pete Hammond

The late Elizabeth Taylor was fondly remembered during a tribute Thursday night at the ultra-glamorous  annual amFAR Cinema Against AIDS event (now in its 18th year) at Hotel Du Cap. The event co-chaired by Kenneth Cole and Harvey Weinstein broke all records, bringing in a haul of more than $10 million after an auction that also saw record prices. In clips from movies like Cleopatra and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, along with footage from her work for the organization in which she was the founding international chairman and host of the first event in 1993  Cole saluted Taylor as someone who “spoke up when others wouldn’t and said things when others can’t. I hope this will always be part of her legacy.” Weinstein added, “It was an honor to work beside her and it was an honor to watch her movies.”

Continuing the Taylor theme of the evening, two “Elizabeth” items went for big bucks in the annual auction that is always a part of this glitzy dinner, thrown near the end of each Cannes Film Festival since ’93. A limited-edition Herb Ritts photo of Taylor taken in Malibu in 1991 fetched a whopping $150,000, while an Andy Warhol dated lithograph of Liz circa 1964 fetched $400,000.

Among the stars taking part in the evening and auction were Janet Jackson, Brooke Shields, Freida Pinto, Kanye West, Rosario Dawson, Naomi Campbell, Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale, Patrick Dempsey, Milla Jovovich (who opened the proceedings with a sultry “I Wanna Be Loved By You”), Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn and Sean Penn. Penn, bringing up the rear, got big laughs demanding women abstain from sex unless their men cough up $10,000 apiece in order to break the record amount for the fundraiser. Twenty-one of them did just that. Boy George performed a couple of songs, too. Among those in the crowd were three Cannes jury members including president Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman (who also participated in the auction) and Jude Law, along with Melancholia star Kirsten Dunst, who looked happy not to have Lars von Trier as her date. Read More »

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CANNES: Q&A With Bill Pohlad, Producer And Financier Of Terrence Malick’s ‘The Tree Of Life’

Mike Fleming

What a difference a year makes. On the eve of 2010 Cannes, Bill Pohlad’s plan to build Apparition into a powerhouse specialty film distributor was dashed by Bob Berney’s stunning decision to take an out in his contract, just as … Read More »

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FilmDistrict Making Deal For Liam Hemsworth-Starrer ‘Arabian Nights’

By | Thursday May 12, 2011 @ 1:58pm PDT
Mike Fleming

UPDATE, 3:15 PM: FilmDistrict has confirmed its deal. The release is below the original exclusive post.

EXCLUSIVE: After starting the day by acquiring the Gerard Butler soccer comedy Playing the Field, FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney are near a deal to acquire domestic rights to Arabian Nights, the Inferno Entertainment project that has Chuck Russell directing The Hunger Games’ star Liam Hemsworth. The film is in its formative stages, with Russell and Barry Ambrose co-writing the script. It’s an ambitious $60 million action film that Inferno is creating action on in the Cannes Festival market. (Inferno also is in pre-production on director Andrew Niccol’s The Host with Saoirse Ronan and in post on the Brad Pitt starrer Cogan’s Trade, Joe Carnahan’s The Grey and Killer Elite.) Meanwhile, FilmDistrict is being aggressive; its first two releases, Insidious and Soul Surfer, both scored at the box office.

Cannes, FRANCE (May 12, 2011) – FilmDistrict announced today the company has acquired all U.S. rights from Inferno Entertainment to ARABIAN NIGHTS, with Chuck Russell (The Mask, Scorpion King) set to direct and Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) set to star. Russell also co-wrote the screenplay with Barry Ambrose. Inferno’s Bill Johnson is producing the film with ROAR’s Will Ward and Jay Froberg, and Mayhem Pictures’ Mark Ciardi. Inferno’s Jim Seibel is executive producing. Inferno is handling worldwide sales of the film.

ARABIAN NIGHTS is a visually stunning 3-D retelling of the classic adventure tale about a bold, young commander (Hemsworth) who joins forces with Sinbad, Aladdin and his Genie to rescue Scheherazade and save her Kingdom from the dark powers of an immortal Sorcerer. The film weaves together weaves together several beloved tales and characters into a wild magic carpet ride for all ages.

“Chuck Russell’s film is entertainment on a grand scale,” says Peter Schlessel, CEO of FilmDistrict. “With its enchanting story and astonishing visuals, ARABIAN NIGHTS truly creates cinematic magic.”

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CANNES: FilmDistrict Buys Gerard Butler Soccer Comedy ‘Playing The Field’

Mike Fleming

FilmDistrict bought U.S. rights to Playing the Field, the Nu Image/Millennium Films Gabriele Muccino-directed comedy that stars Gerard Butler as a retired soccer star. His penchant for scoring off the field ruined his marriage and his relationship with his … Read More »

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Johnny Depp’s Second Hunter Thompson Pic, ‘Rum Diary,’ Lands At FilmDistrict

By | Tuesday March 29, 2011 @ 10:21am PDT
Mike Fleming

NEW YORK, March, 29, 2011 – It was announced today at CinemaCon, by Bob Berney, President, Theatrical Distribution that FilmDistrict will release “The Rum Diary,” based on the early Hunter S. Thompson novel that was ultimately published in 1998. It stars Johnny Depp and will be released on October 28, 2011. The film is directed by Bruce Robinson (“Withnail and I”) from his own screenplay and also stars Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi. “The Rum Diary” is produced by Infinitum Nihil, the production company headed by Depp and Christi Dembrowski, along with Graham King and Tim Headington. Anthony Rhulen and Robert Kravis also produce.

“The Rum Diary” tells the increasingly unhinged story of itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Depp). Tired of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, Kemp travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local San Juan newspaper run by the downtrodden editor Lotterman (Jenkins). Adopting the rum-soaked lifestyle of the late ‘50s version of Hemingway’s “The Lost Generation,” Paul soon becomes entangled with a very attractive American woman, Chenault (Heard) and her fiancée Sanderson (Eckhart), a businessman involved in shady property development deals. It is within this world that Kemp ultimately discovers his true voice as a writer and integrity as a man.

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Bob Berney’s First Pic At FilmDistrict: Shark Attack Pic ‘Soul Surfer’

Mike Fleming

NEW YORK, November 1, 2010 – SOUL SURFER is the true story of competitive teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again, inspiring millions worldwide through her sheer determination and unwavering faith. Coming to theaters nationwide on April 15, 2011, this exciting feature film stars Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, AnnaSophia Robb, and Carrie Underwood in her film debut. The cast also includes Lorraine Nicholson, Kevin Sorbo and Jeremy Sumpter.

The first film to be released under the new deal between FilmDistrict and Sony Pictures, SOUL SURFER will go out as a wide release via TriStar Pictures with a broad-based and integrated marketing campaign managed by FilmDistrict.

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Bob Berney Staffs New Shingle FilmDistrict

Mike Fleming

Hardly surprising, Bob Berney has brought together the team he worked with at Apparition to get started at FilmDistrict, the new shingle designed to generate pics that can play in 1500 to 2000 screen runs. The shingle was started by GK Films partners Graham King and Tim Headington and GK president Peter Schlessel. Here’s the release:

NEW YORK Oct. 12, 2010 The newly formed studio, FilmDistrict, a multi-faceted acquisitions, distribution, production and financing company, announced today its initial management team for theatrical operations.

“We’ve assembled a core team of industry pros to move us into the next wave of theatrical marketing and distribution,” says Bob Berney, President, Theatrical Distribution. “We look forward to working with our partners in exhibition to bring exciting films with creative campaigns into the marketplace.”

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Watch Out Summit And Lionsgate: Bob Berney Joins GK’s FilmDistrict Startup

Mike Fleming

Bob Berney has finally landed. He’s the new president of Theatrical Distribution for FilmDistrict, an upstart acquisition, distribution, production and financing company launched by GK Films partners Graham King and Tim Headington, and spearheaded by GK Films president Peter Schlessel.

Since … Read More »

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BREAKING: Fox Searchlight Buys Terrence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ And Sets 2011 Release

Mike Fleming

Fox Searchlight has acquired the Terrence Malick-directed The Tree of Life from Bill Pohlad’s River Road Entertainment. Though the film might be an awards season magnet with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn starring, the distributor is flush with those kinds of films already, and will release in 2011. At the Toronto International Film Festival, Searchlight will fete 127 Hours, Black Swan, Conviction and Never Let Me Go. Read More »

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Apparition Cuts Staff, Nears ‘Tree of Life’ Distribution Deal

Mike Fleming

In a pre-Toronto blow to the indie film community, Bill Pohlad’s Apparition has let go almost the entire staff that hadn’t been laid off in July. That means about 8 staffers have followed the original cut of about 15 staffers. … Read More »

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