In a long-awaited announcement, Polygram Filmed Entertainment president Michael Kuhn Friday unveiled PFE’s new U.S. motion picture releasing company, Polygram Filmed Entertainment Distribution, which willl be consolidated alongside Gramercy Pictures.
Andy Fogelson has been named president of the new unit. William Soady will serve as president of distribution and Peter Graves was named president of marketing.
The new banner officially commences this fall with a lineup of five pictures. The aim eventually is to release 10-12 pics per year produced by PFE’s various labels, including Gramercy, Island, Interscope, ITC, Propaganda, Working Title and Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures.
The move has long been the goal of the Dutch-owned company, led by Kuhn and Polygram CEO Alain Levy, who have weighed taking shortcuts, such as buying MGM or, more recently, Metromedia/Orion.
By setting up its own releasing apparatus, Polygram retrieves its motion pictures from the domestic pipelines of other studios, including Disney, Fox and Sony, and positions the Philips-owned global entertainment giant for a bid at major Hollywood studio status.
Now all that remains is to make hit movies.
“Polygram Films will be a cornerstone of our program to establish PFE as a major force in the global motion picture industry,” Kuhn said. “The motion picture business is financially viable only when managed as an integrated international business that fully leverages assets in all markets and media.”
Fogelson said the creation of Polygram Films is unlike the entry of other would-be studios, such as New World and the recently departed Savoy Pictures, into the perilous arena of domestic distribution.
Only three general-release distribs founded in the past half-century are still operating at full steam: TriStar, Miramax and New Line. And each of those has been taken under the wing of a major studio.
Not a start-up
“This is not a start-up anything,” Fogelson told Daily Variety. “This company has been in the business of making successful movies for some time.”
In fact, Polygram already is distributing its own films in several major territories around the world, including France, Australia and Canada.
The company has a 400-title film library and pulls in $900 million in yearly revenues from its film division, including theatrical, homevideo and TV licensing. Company sources insist that is more than enough financial strength to carry a full-scale domestic distribution division over any rough spots.
But it will take several years of sustained releases of 10-12 pics, with 1,000-plus playdates annually, for Polygram to be considered for a slot among the majors.
Nevertheless, the news should make exhibitors happy, ensuring a steady flow of films for ever-expanding multiplexes despite studio talk of cutting back production.
Gramercy Pictures, which has had hits like Oscar winners “Fargo” and “Dead Man Walking,” as well as “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” will continue under topper Russell Schwartz as an autonomous marketing/distribution entity, a Polygram spokesman emphasized, with some sharing of backroom operations.
Gramercy will be PFE’s specialty release label while Polygram Films handles the bigger pics, although Gramercy will retain a wide release capability.
‘Game’ goes first
Polygram Film’s first releases will be “The Game,” a thriller from helmer David Fincher, starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn; and “The Gingerbread Man,” directed by Robert Altman from an original John Grisham screenplay, toplining Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Daryl Hannah, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.
Releases for 1988 include:
“What Dreams May Come,” the Robin Williams-Cuba Gooding Jr. sci-fi pic from helmer Vincent Ward;
“The Borrowers,” based on the series of children’s books by Mary Norton, directed by Peter Hewitt and starring John Goodman;
“Barney’s Great Adventure” from Steve Gomer, starring the purple dinosaur from the TV kiddie show.
Domestic distrib work
Fogelson, whose own consulting firm AFA Co. has included such clients as Carolco Pictures, Nelson Entertainment and Le Studio Canal Plus, has been working on PFE’s domestic distrib strategy since 1995 (Daily Variety, July 20, 1995).
Graves joined Polygram as a marketing consultant in 1992. He has consulted for Mel Gibson’s Icon Prods. as well as Scott Free, New Regency and Douglas/Reuther. Previously, he was exec VP of worldwide marketing at Nelson Entertainment.
Soady jumped to Polygram from his three-year stint as president of Showscan Entertainment. He was previously head of domestic distribution for TriStar Pictures and, before that, distribution chief for Universal.