B.O. bombs, dismal direct-to-vid market causes revamp

Trimark Pictures, which has seen an exodus of top-level execs in recent weeks, announced Tuesday that it would lay off 15% of its remaining staff, effectively immediately.

While the company did not specify the exact number of pink slips it had issued, approximately 14 employees are believed to have been let go. The layoffs spanned all areas of the company and included people in positions ranging from assistant to senior VP, according to insiders.

The Santa Monica-based indie said it now plans to limit its activities to three areas: acquisition and distribution of specialized theatrical films; production and distribution of genre films for TV and homevid; and exploitation of its 520-title library, in the sell-through, DVD and TV markets.

The downsizing was “based on a strategic review of the company’s theatrical operations in fiscal 1998,” according to a written statement released late Tuesday.

“Rather than have a gradual reduction of overhead, the company decided to be proactive and deal with all the layoffs at once so the remaining personnel can be focused on the future and implementing the new business plan,” a company spokesman said.

Company chairman Mark Amin has actively been seeking a buyer or strategic partner for Trimark for more than two years. But discussions with several companies, including Artisan and Lakeshore, did not bear fruit.

On Monday, Trimark stock closed at 2.63, down from a high of 6 earlier this year. (No trades were recorded Tuesday.) The company is scheduled for a hearing on Oct. 16 to determine whether it can maintain listing on the NASDAQ National Market. It now appears likely the company will be delisted by NASDAQ.

Trimark’s bottom line has suffered in recent years due to a series of commercial missteps, coupled with the dire market conditions that have made life difficult for all indies.

The company’s modest success in the specialized arena, including “Eve’s Bayou,” “Chinese Box” and “Kama Sutra” have not been enough to offset such costly wide-release flops as “Star Kid,” “Meet Wally Sparks” and “Sprung.”

At the same time, demand for direct-to-video titles, long a reliable source of income for Trimark, has been drastically reduced over the past decade. The recent move towards direct revenue sharing deals with major retailers threatens to further erode video revenue for indies.

On the foreign front, international appetite for independent product has been dampened by competition from local producers and the major studios. More recently, economic crises in Asia and Latin America also have cut into foreign sales.

Over the past six weeks, three key execs — CFO James Keegan, exec VP of international Sergio Aguero and senior VP of specialized theatrical Ray Price — have left Trimark for greener pastures.

Keegan joined Artisan Entertainment; Aguero is now running the Endeavor agency’s newly formed independent film division; and Price has joined Cary Woods’ Independent Pictures.

In April, senior VP of domestic theatrical distribution Roger Lewin left Trimark and is now heading a Warner Bros.’ new classics distribution division.

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