Studio Report Card: Fox Searchlight

Searchlight mounts comeback on 'Monty'

HIGH POINTS: After a string of box office defeats for much of the year, in August Lindsay Law’s division found manna with the release of Peter Cattaneo’s $3.5 million “The Full Monty,” which rang up about $35million at the box office.

“Monty” became the most successful release of the Fox specialized banner since its inception in 1994, snapping Searchlight out of its slump and reminding the studio brass why they had created the specialized division in the first place. Moreover, “The Full Monty” is possibly the industry’s most profitable film of the year.

“We didn’t know it would reach the level it reached,” said Law. “But we saw signs at Sundance. Every time we screened it, the film got the same response. It became rote that they would respond with great enthusiasm. As producers and distributors, it’s what we work toward.”

Searchlight followed “Monty” with Ang Lee’s critically lauded drama “The Ice Storm,” which has undergone a slow and deliberate campaign after its launch at Cannes. Searchlight closed out the year with 19th-century-set love story “Oscar and Lucinda,” starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett for director Gillian Armstrong.

LOW POINTS: Searchlight’s first two-thirds of the year were dominated by such box office disappointments as the Jack Nicholson starrer “Blood and Wine,” Bille August’s “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” the Aussie romp “Love and Other Catastrophes” and Bruce Beresford’s “Paradise Road.”

Searchlight, which made its mark with the 1995 hit “The Brothers McMullen,” a Sundance pickup, had poor showings from acquisitions such as “Star Maps,” and pulled back from the often tumultuous business to concentrate on projects developed and produced internally. “The heart of our success this year (1997) has been projects we’ve developed,” Law said. He added, “We track acquisitions as aggressively as our competitors, but the business plan I have come up with is to develop internally — it is the only way to continue, and to control our growth.”

OUTLOOK FOR ’98: Law begins 1998 with his first full year as production head under his belt. Carried by the momentum generated by “The Full Monty,” Law is optimistic that the specialized division has caught its stride and will continue to pay its own way, releasing as many as 11 films this year.

Among the pics Searchlight has skedded for ’98 are Des McAnuff’s “Cousin Bette,” starring Jessica Lange and Elisabeth Shue; Tamara Jenkins’ Sundance Workshop project “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” starring Alan Arkin and Marisa Tomei; and Stanley Tucci’s “The Imposters” (aka “Ship of Fools”).

While the banner also will release at least two acquisitions this year, James Toback’s “Two Girls and a Guy” and “Shooting Fish,” Searchlight is focusing on its own star-laden, specialized fare, such as Michael Hoffman’s reworking of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Kevin Kline slated to star. The company also is expected to mount such pics as “All She Wanted” with Drew Barrymore attached to star; and “Simply Halston,” scheduled for an April start with Rupert Everett portraying the late fashion designer.

— Chris Petrikin

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