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Reshuffled Focus Features Sets New Exec Lineup

By | Thursday November 7, 2013 @ 1:24pm PST
Mike Fleming

BREAKING: Peter Schlessel, who took over Focus Features after Universal swallowed his FilmDistrict label, has begun assimilating the staffs of those two companies for January’s company relaunch. This happens a day after the company formalized the widely expected news that Focus Features International would shutter. More of this mixing and matching will happen over the next few weeks, and we’ll get a sense of the final layoff count soon. For now, here’s who is staying:

· FilmDistrict’s Beth Lemberger will be EVP Business Affairs, joining Howard Meyers who is currently EVP Business Affairs, Production at Focus Features. Both executives will report to Schlessel. FilmDistrict’s Kevin Monroe will also serve as SVP Business Affairs for Focus reporting to Lemberger. Read More »

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Focus Features New York Office To Close

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: The news that Universal dropped another bombshell today and announced that James Schamus would leave as head of Focus Features has left everyone at that boutique label reeling. But it hits the company’s New York staff hardest: Several sources have told me that during the teleconferenced announcement that Focus would be overhauled with FilmDistrict head Peter Schlessel taking the reins, staff was told that the New York headquarters of Focus would be closed and that the operation would be based on the West Coast. New York headquarters houses nearly half the Focus operation, and 40-50 people work there. The employees range from distribution head Jack Foley to the company’s leaders Schamus and Andrew Karpen, and a slew of marketing and publicity and other support staff. There was no timetable given for the closure, but it is a blow for film in New York because, like Bruce Springsteen says in the song, “Foreman says these jobs are going boy, and they ain’t comin’ back.” Coupled with the big hit yesterday in which Paramount cut 110 employees, and it feels easy to be a bit depressed about this  business, which seems to be getting harder and harder. Some of those Focus staffers could be invited to relocate, but we essentially have two organizations merged into one, and there will be casualties.

Related: SHOCKER! Peter Schlessel Takes Over Focus Features

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SHOCKER! Peter Schlessel Takes Over Focus Features

Mike Fleming

BREAKING: Another shoe has dropped at Universal Pictures, as former top Sony exec Peter Schlessel has taken the reins of its prestige film label Focus Features in an effort to beef up the company’s output. James Schamus, the bow-tied erudite writer/producer who has run Focus, will leave to produce the 3D boxing movie that will be directed by his regular collaborator, Oscar winning Life Of Pi director Ang Lee. FilmDistrict, which was launched by Schlessel, Graham King and Tim Headington, will have its films absorbed into the new Focus Features. Focus has always had a strong executive team and a good record of profitability under Schamus and Andrew Karpen’s leadership–they won world rights for $6 million for one of Toronto’s most coveted films, the Jason Bateman-directed Bad Words–but it is too early to say what the new structure will be until Schlessel gets settled in January. He will report to Donna Langley, who became Universal Pictures chairman in the recent shakeup that left Adam Fogelson packing, and Jeff Shell in command at the studio with Ron Meyer becoming vice chairman of NBC Universal.

Related: Focus Features New York Office To Close

This is a big opportunity for Schlessel, by all accounts a nice guy but who is hardly a pushover. He was very instrumental in talent and other deals at Sony and has always been considered a sharp dealmaker who now gets even further involved on the creative side as Focus seeks to ramp up its output. Langley has been working quite closely with Focus after she emerged with the deal to make a film trilogy from the EL James blockbuster novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, which has been supervised by Jeb Brody. Deadline was first to reveal in August that Lee would make the epic look at such great boxing matches in the 60s and 70s, including the Thrilla In Manila bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It is a way for Lee to continue his transformative work in the 3D ring. Peter Morgan is writing the script for that film at Universal. Read More »

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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 of FilmDistrict properties with Open Road in the interim, but he clearly wants to put the label back as a distributor. Among his early releases were Drive and Insidious. Here’s the release on Schlessel’s first major hire:

Los Angeles, March 23, 2012…Christine Birch has joined FilmDistrict as the mini-major’s president of marketing as announced by Peter Schlessel, FilmDistrict’s CEO. Birch will oversee and orchestrate all aspects of FilmDistrict’s domestic feature film marketing activities including creative advertising, media, publicity, promotion, digital marketing and administration. She will report directly to Schlessel.

“We’re excited to have Christine join the FilmDistrict team,” said Schlessel. “She’s long been known as one of the industry’s most versatile marketing executives. With a varied background in marketing, creative advertising and market research, she is a multi-faceted player who can think strategically, and execute creatively for our slate.”

“I look forward to working with Peter, Adrian Alperovich, Lia Buman and everyone at FilmDistrict to build a marketing team that’s as aggressive and agile as today’s media landscape demands,” said Birch. “We live in a world where the ability to communicate ideas

Read More »

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FilmDistrict To Release 2012 Films Through Open Road And Sony

By | Tuesday December 6, 2011 @ 6:47pm PST
Mike Fleming

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.

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FilmDistrict And Sony Partner On ‘Evil Dead’ Remake

By | Wednesday November 30, 2011 @ 12:00pm PST
Mike Fleming

Culver City, CA (November 30, 2011) – Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions (SPWA) and FilmDistrict have partnered with Ghost House Pictures on a worldwide deal—excluding U.K. and France —for Sony Pictures to distribute the remake of Evil Dead. The announcement was made by Steven Bersch, SPWA President, and Peter Schlessel, CEO of FilmDistrict. Lia Buman, FilmDistrict’s EVP of Acquisitions, will oversee the project.

Original producing partners Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell (who also starred in the original franchise) and Sam Raimi will produce. Ghost House Pictures partners Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane will executive produce. Nicole Brown and J.R. Young will oversee the project for Ghost House.

Rob Tapert stated, “For 30 years, Sam, Bruce and I have been looking for the right home where we could return the deadites to the big screen. Amy Pascal and Jeff Blake at Sony and Peter Schlessel at FilmDistrict have always been incredible partners who share our passion for great storytelling as well as our obsession for scaring the pants off the audience. Together, we are looking forward to terrorizing a whole new generation.”

Added Schlessel, “I have been part of the extended Ghost House family for a long time. It’s fantastic to continue the relationship as we bring this classic horror film to a new generation of fans.”

“Sony Pictures has a fantastic history collaborating with both Ghost House and Film District and we couldn’t be more excited to continue working together

Read More »

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2011 Toronto: ‘Shame’ Will Start Dealmaking Flurry, But Buyers Wait To Be Blown Away

Mike Fleming

Last year’s Toronto Film Festival started slow for acquisitions, but finished with a flurry of modest distribution deals that served notice the specialty film business had finally pulled out of its nosedive. This year’s festival hasn’t started and already there are fireworks. Deadline broke news yesterday that Harvey Weinstein would start a VOD business, making the acquisitions market for fringe films more competitive; and last night, I heard that a bidding battle had already broken out for the Steve McQueen-directed Shame,  which should be sold by the time it screens Sunday. Fox Searchlight is the favorite, Sony Pictures Classics is in the mix and I’ve heard that The Weinstein Company is hovering. Bidding began right after its Telluride screening, and the mid-six figures thrown around yesterday will probably go higher. That’s huge, considering the movie is an unabashed NC-17, McQueen has final cut, and the sex-obsessed protagonist is unlikable. Oh, yeah, and the sellers want it released this year for Oscar consideration to capitalize on Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan’s Oscar-caliber performances.

Does this mean we’re in for a drunken buying frenzy? Hardly, buyers tell me. They are eager to see the films, but say there’s no title here that’s going to guarantee somebody will overpay. They are also mindful that many of last year’s deals turned out to be box office busts. More deals will be made than … 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 Peter Schlessel. Buman helped in the acquisiton of the FilmDistrict hit Insidious as well as Moon, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Machete and Hanna. Buman started her career at IBM before becoming a development exec for Schlessel at his consulting company before he brought her over to Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions.

“Lia is an established world class acquisitions executive who understands how to acquire and manage product in order to achieve success,” Alperovich said.

FilmDistrict’s Schlessel and Bob Berney have gotten off to a strong start with Insidious and Soul Surfer. They next release Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark on Aug. 26, the Ryan Gosling-starrer Drive on Sept. 16, the Johnny Depp-starrer The Rum Diary on Oct. 28, the Angelina Jolie-directed In the Land of Blood and Honey on Dec. 23, Playing the Field on March 9 and Lockout on April 13.

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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 an edge because Refn was pleased with the way FilmDistrict’s Bob Berney has set up the marketing for Drive. That film, which stars Gosling as a stunt driver who moonlights as the wheel man for a heist crew, played the Cannes Film Festival and drew raves. It will be released Sept. 16. Funded by Wild Bunch, Only God Forgives will shoot in late summer in Thailand, with Gosling playing a guy on the run from British police. He runs a Thai boxing club in Bangkok that is a front for a drug-smuggling operation. He winds up getting in the ring for a shot at redemption. Buyers this week read a script and started making offers this week. Gosling is next starring for his Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance in A Place Beyond the Pines and he’s also starring with Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Anthony Mackie in the Ruben Fleischer-directed Gangster Squad for Warner Bros. He’s also set to star for Refn in a remake of Logan’s Run at Warner Bros, where he’ll next be seen starring with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

It is another … Read More »

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Jennifer Lopez In Talks For ‘Parker’ And ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: There has been much speculation over whether Jennifer Lopez will return for another season as judge on American Idol. Adding to the intrigue: she is in talks to star in not one, but two feature films. I’m told that Lopez is in discussions to play the female lead opposite Jason Statham in Parker, the Taylor Hackford-directed action film adaptation of the Donald Westlake mystery novel series. Deadline revealed yesterday that the picture was acquired for U.S. distribution by FilmDistrict CEO Peter Schlessel. Statham will play Parker, a thief who follows a strict moral code, but a hard guy who’s willing to kill if crossed. That character was previously played by Mel Gibson in Payback and Lee Marvin in Point Blank. The hope is to hatch an action franchise. John J. McLaughlin wrote the script and Steve Chasman is producing with Kimmel, Hackford, Les Alexander and Jonathan Mitchell. Lopez plays the female lead, a character named Leslie, who gets involved with Parker as he executes a heist.

The film is being financed by Incentive Filmed Entertainment and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, and Sierra/Affinity’s Nick Meyer brokered that distribution deal and sold most worldwide territories at last month’s Cannes Film Festival. Production on the film begins in August.

At the same time, Lopez is also circling What To Expect When You’re Expecting, the Kirk Jones-directed Lionsgate film based on the bestselling how-to guide to preparing for childbirth. Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison … 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: FilmDistrict To Release Angelina Jolie’s ‘In The Land Of Blood And Honey’

Mike Fleming

Angelina Jolie’s much-discussed feature directing debut now has a title and a distributor. Graham King and his GK Films partner Tim Headington, who financed it, have placed it with their FilmDistrict shingle. FilmDistrict CEO Peter Schlessel will slot  In The Land Of Blood And Honey, the Bosnia-set drama that Jolie scripted, for a Dec. 23 release in the US. The film is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War in the 1990s and, according to a statement, “illustrates the consequences of the lack of political will to intervene in a society stricken with conflict. “The film is specific to the Bosnian War, but it’s also universal,” Jolie said in a statement. “I wanted to tell a story of how human relationships and behavior are deeply affected by living inside a war.” Said King: “Working with Angelina on this film and story has been a great collaboration and I am extremely proud of this film. The filmmaking is impeccable, and signals the arrival of a visceral and compelling storyteller.” Read More »

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CANNES: FilmDistrict Acquires U.S. Rights To Joe Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis Sci-Fi Action Film ‘Looper’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: A frenzied Saturday auction on the Croisette has ended with FilmDistrict in final negotiations for U.S. distribution rights to Looper, the Rian Johnson-directed science fiction film that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis. There were at least six bidders spanning major studios and independents, and it sounds like some serious upfront money was paid. But the intriguing part is that the deal orchestrated between CAA and FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel will likely end in FilmDistrict using an option with Sony Pictures, which would release and market the film through the TriStar label. That replicates the distribution structure of District 9, which Schlessel acquired while he was at Sony. The picture has a similarly brainy construct and is also reminiscent of the first Terminator.

Johnson wrote the script, about a contract killer who works for the mob of the future, and who kills victims  that are sent back in time 30 years, so there is no trace of the crime in the future. It’s a great gig, until the killer (Gordon-Levitt) recognizes that one of his targets (Willis) is a futuristic version of himself. Piper Perabo, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels also star. The film was financed by Endgame’s James Stern, who produced with Johnson’s partner Ram Bergman.

CAA still has to paper the deal, but that likely gives Sony and Amy Pascal its second release schedule addition in the last 24 hours. As Deadline revealed early Saturday, the studio acquired the David Frankel-directed Great Hope Springs with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell starring. 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.”

Read More »

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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 son. He returns to Virginia to win them back by coaching the kid’s soccer team, but that goal is imperiled by his wandering eye and the beautiful soccer moms that are all over the place. Jessica Biel, Judy Greer, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones also star, with Noah Lomax playing the son. Butler and Alan Siegel produce with Kevin Misher, Jonathan Mostow, Heidi Jo Markel and John Thompson. Robbie Fox wrote the script.

FilmDistrict, run by Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney to launch films that can play in wide release, came right out of the gate with the hit film Insidious.

“We are very pleased to have closed this deal with Peter Schlessel and FilmDistrict for Playing The Field and hope it will be the first of many to come. I am confident they will do a great job bringing this picture to market”, says Avi Lerner, Co-Chairman of Nu Image/Millennium Films.

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FilmDistrict Drives To First Big AFM Deal

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: In the first major deal of the American Film Market, FilmDistrict has acquired North American distribution rights to Drive, the Nicolas Winding Refn-directed adaptation of the James Sallis novel that stars Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver and is targeted for death after a heist goes wrong. Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks round out a strong cast. FilmDistrict was started by GK Films partners Graham King and Tim Headington and run by Peter Schlessel and veteran distribution exec Bob Berney. They hatched the company to generate or acquire films with strong casts that can play on between 1500 and 2000 screens. Drive certainly fits that bill. The film is about two weeks from wrapping and has a budget under $30 million despite shooting in Los Angeles. FilmDistrict will look to release in late summer or early fall, 2011. Michel Litvak’s Bold Films financed the picture with Odd Lot Entertainment ‘s Gigi Pritzker, Linda McDonough and Bill Lischak. Marc Platt is producing with Bold and Odd Lot. Several indie companies chased the film including Summit and Lionsgate, and WME Global’s Graham Taylor closed the deal. Read More »

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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.”

Read More »

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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 this has been months in the making, Berney’s destination isn’t surprising, but his mandate certainly is. The company will compete against the likes of Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate and CBS Films for moderately budgeted projects that have wide-release breakout potential. FilmDistrict will generate 4 to 8 pictures per year when it gets going. Since Berney’s background is specialty fare, the expectation was that he would put GK Films into that space.

FilmDistrict will target films that have the potential to play on between 1500 and 2000 screens. A good example is a GK-financed effort that might be one of FilmDistrict’s early projects: London Boulevard, the directorial debut of The Departed screenwriter William Monahan that stars Keira Knightley and Colin Farrell.

Given Schlessel’s long background at Sony Pictures Entertainment, it isn’t surprising that FilmDistrict will have a cozy relationship with SPE in its early stages, with a number of the releases expected to go through the studio’s TriStar or Triumph labels. GK Films separately has two distribution slots per year through SPE’s Columbia Pictures banner for its larger-budget fare. The GK-financed Johnny Depp-Angelina Jolie-starrer The Tourist and the Martin Scorsese 3D pic Hugo Cabret will fill Sony slots, as will the GK-financed movie about … Read More »

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