HBO, New Line beat studio to deal

With niche divisions, as with comedy, it’s all about timing. The fast-moving HBO and New Line got the deal that Paramount was slowly trying so hard to seal.

Last week, HBO and New Line unveiled plans to create unite two stars of the specialty world, Newmarket Films prez-partner Bob Berney and HBO Films topper Colin Callender, in a deal for a new entity. Newmarket will be folded in to the new venture.

This is the same deal that was in the works at Par since last October, after Tom Freston‘s public proclamation that he would rejuvenate Par’s niche involvement.

Par wanted a Berney buyout, but Newmarket co-founders Chris Ball and William Tyrer wanted the company to be part of the package. Par finally relented, and while they were close to a deal, talks went on too long, due to personalities, money — and timing.

In the space of three weeks, Paramount went from steady suitor to baffled bystander.

While Par couldn’t close a deal with Ball and Tyrer, HBO and New Line forged a pact to spring Berney swiftly and under the radar.

Newmarket’s co-heads, known for driving hard deals, will keep their library of about 200 films as well as their film financing arm and the Newmarket brand name.

Free-spirited HBO has some of the best talent in its production ranks, such as indie films veep Maud Nadler. And after conquering the world of pay cable movies, Callender is ready to step onto a larger stage.

What the banner needs is a distrib whiz who can take offbeat pics and make them cross over, which has been Berney’s forte.

Berney, the exhib vet turned marketing whiz, has had a Midas touch with pics including “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Whale Rider.” But perhaps more importantly for HBO, he’s had successes with edgy, tough sells, including “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Memento,” “The Passion of the Christ” and “Monster,” a Newmarket acquisition that made nearly $35 million.

The move now makes Callender’s HBO and New Line leapfrog ahead of the pack, leaving Paramount and fellow TW shingle Warner Independent in the dust.

“It’s the most profitable end of the business right now, and the least risky,” says one top indie producer. “The companies will all continue to grow. But the question is whether they mutate into dysfunctional studio-like hydras or focus on their core identity, encouraging real films and real filmmakers.”

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