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Roadside carves canny distrib niche

Company finds niche in the indie world

The ravages of fast food take their toll on most, but for indie distribution shingle Roadside Attractions it has proved to be a recipe for success.

The company, founded a little over a year ago by former UTA agent Howard Cohen and indie producer Eric d’Arbeloff (“Lovely & Amazing”), has already found its niche in the indie world by distribbing controversial and provocative fare that even the indie divisions of the studios often shy away from.

The distrib got up and running quickly in 2004 in part due to an infrastructure already in place with Samuel Goldwyn Films, where Cohen worked for seven years as an acquisitions exec before becoming an agent. Its first purchase was fest winner “Super Size Me” at Sundance last year, which it released in May.

Roadside is financed by private equity the partners raised from the high-tech industry. It operates as a separate financial entity to Goldwyn, and on pics the two companies acquire together, costs and revenues are split 50/50.

“We wanted to become a place for distributing films in the $1-$5 million range,” says d’Arbeloff. “The idea was to buy films whose upside potential is small enough that the studios generally don’t want to make a business out of it.”

In partnership with Goldwyn, the duo also released “What the Bleep Do We Know?!,” a brew of comedy and New Age science starring Marlee Matlin.

“Super Size Me” director Morgan Spurlock says he went with Roadside over other bidders for pic in Sundance due to execs’ passion for it. “This was the first movie I would be putting out, and I realized these guys would put as much into this as I would. Their confidence in the movie set the bar for their company.”

Both “Super Size Me” and “What the Bleep” became breakout hits in 2004, together grossing over $21 million domestically.

Separately from Goldwyn, shingle released the gay marriage doc “Tying the Knot,” which had a rougher time at the B.O.

The duo also acquired North American rights to Gabriele Muccino’s “Remember Me, My Love,” a bittersweet Italian drama. Releases for 2005 include “Walk on Water,” “The Boys and Girls of County Clare” and “D.E.B.S.”

In spite of their best efforts, the duo admit they slightly missed the mark with “Knot” even though its innovative marketing campaign included an Aug. 31 special screening for delegates of the Republican National Convention.

“We tried as hard as anybody to drum up controversy and support of this issue as we had a strong emotional connection to it,” says d’Arbeloff, who is Cohen’s life partner as well as business partner. “But the box office was not frankly where we would’ve liked it to be.”

Looking to branch out beyond strictly arthouse fare, the shingle will be looking for genre product as well as niche and ethnic-oriented fare with an aim of releasing about six titles per year.

“We are going to be at Sundance, and we’ll be there very hungrily to buy,” Cohen says.

The duo are upbeat about the future despite a tough marketplace full of well-heeled competitors. “I think we’re in a fantastic position because there will always be movies that, for whatever reason, they don’t make sense for a studio (to buy) — like ‘The Woodsman,’ ‘Super Size Me,’ ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ What we’re hoping is that we will be at least one of the distributors who is a top choice to distribute those movies that really have a shot in the marketplace.

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