Fewer U.K. Indie Distribs This Year

The recent demise of Enterprise Pictures and Medusa’s theatrical releasing division means that Cannes will play host to fewer indie distribs from the U.K. than last year.

Observers believe the shakeout in the U.K., which has been going since the end of the vid boom in the late-’80s, has now more or less come to an end. The remaining distribs, in both the mainstream and the art-house markets, are looking pretty healthy.

There are five leading commercial distribs in the U.K.: Guild, First Independent, Rank, Palace and Entertainment. They compete not only with each other but increasingly with the majors.

The focus of competition is almost exclusively on strong A titles, although Palace tends to pick “off-beat” product that appeals mostly to the educated youth market while Entertainment favors product that will perform strongly on cassette.

Guild, which had a big success last year with “Total Recall” and currently is cleaning up with “Dances With Wolves,” is not afraid to part with big bucks for top-line titles. Company chief Peter Alarik says that this policy will continue, but adds that mid-range fare will be avoided.

Per Alarik, tickets attached to “middle-of-the-road” product “do not reflect the realities of the market.” Exec believes the U.K. is becoming more polarized, with fewer pix taking an ever bigger share of the boxoffice. Risks associated with the rest are therefore greater.

Industry veteran Michael Myers, chief exec of First Independent, whose summer line up includes “Misery” and “City Slickers,” also says prices are “out of line” with the market. Exec quotes $4 million asking price for one forthcoming movie. He passed.

“The highest realistic price for the U.K. used to be about $2 million,” he says. “You have to have something very worthwhile to be asking that kind of money.”

Myers notes that a lot of high-priced deals in recent years were underwritten by pay-tv sales to BSB and Sky. With that element taken out of the equation prices have to fall, he says.

Myers, who needs 30 titles for video and 12 to 15 for theatrical release each year, says he has enough product to see him through the end of 1992.

“I’ll be taking a very relaxed approach at Cannes,” he says, adding that for him this year’s market will mainly be an opportunity to talk about projects that might be ready for delivery in 1993 or later.

Rank’s head of business affairs, George Helyer, quotes asking prices of $2.5 million for projects that have no cast attached. Exec blames the studios for “throwing money around” and paying over the odds for talent.

“Our biggest problem without a doubt is getting good movies,” he says. “Most of the good independent producers have first-look deals with the majors, which means that the best pictures go to them. Even the ones that do come our way may have already been seen by the studios.”

Rank, which is soon to release “The Silence Of The Lambs,” did well last year with “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and “Weekend At Bernie’s.” Company releases about 20 pix a year and, per Helyer, has about 30 titles in hand. Exec says Rank “will be looking and buying at Cannes, but selectively.”

“We have no preconceived notions of what we’re after,” he comments. “If the price is right, we’ll buy.”

Palace, currently handling “Tatie Danielle,” is arguably the most adventurous buyer for the U.K. market and has scored successes with titles that cross over from the art-house circuit. Company distributed “Wild At Heart” last year and recently had modest success with “The Grifters.”

Entertainment plays mainly to the downmarket action-pic public. But company has hit well-deserved pay dirt with “Highlander 2,” for which it ponied up substantial p&a.

On the specialist circuit Artificial Eye continues to shine, with latest release “Cyrano De Bergerac” still packing them in, proving that, with the right film, money can be made in the U.K. from even a small number of prints.

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