Pretty as a picture

HBO-New Line unit touts new strategy for indie fare

HBO’s Chris Albrecht and Colin Callender linked arms Friday with New Line’s Michael Lynne to announce Picturehouse, their new theatrical distribution company headed by president Bob Berney.

The joint venture has a slate of nine films, enough to keep it busy for the next year.

First release is Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days,” which bowed Friday in competition; the first production is “Fur,” Steve Shainberg’s Diane Arbus biopic that stars Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr.

The company has acquired Raymond De Felitta’s “The Thing About My Folks,” which stars Paul Reiser and Peter Falk, and Giddi Dar’s Hebrew-language “Ushpizin,” which bowed Stateside at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Other titles include docu “Rock School,” Michael Winterbottom’s “A Cock and Bull Story” (aka “Tristam Shandy”) and Ari Posin’s “The Chumscrubber,” which come from Berney’s prior slate at Newmarket Films, and HBO Films’ “The Notorious Bettie Page,” from Mary Harron, and Kenneth Branaugh’s “As You Like It,” as set in 19th century Japan.

PH plans to release eight to 10 titles each year and has begun operations with a staff of 33.

They include chief operating officer Robert Schwartz, most recently senior VP distribution and marketing at Newmarket; exec VPs of marketing Marian Koltai-Levine and Dennis O’Connor, who come from the now-defunct Fine Line Features and HBO, respectively; and senior VP acquisitions Sara Rose, who most recently worked at United Artists. They report to Berney.

Also from Newmarket are Bill Thompson and John Lange, who will serve as senior VPs and general sales managers. They report to Schwartz.

Berney reports to two men: HBO Films president Callender and New Line’s co-chairman/co-CEO Lynne.

Asked if there was a tiebreaker for the bifurcated reporting structure, Lynne said, “Bob’s the tiebreaker.”

Added Callender, “In the process of choosing (the name for) Picturehouse, we found a way to work together.”

The execs will also take a collaborative approach toward OK’ing the distrib’s titles.

“You’re looking at the greenlight team,” said Lynne, referring to the dais from which he and HBO chairman/CEO Albrecht, Callender and Berney addressed the press breakfast at the Majestic Hotel.

PH pics will come from the development teams at New Line and HBO Films as well as pickups and productions jointly funded by HBO and New Line.

The shingle will work with New Line Intl. on some films, like “Fur,” which Rolf Mittweg is now offering to international buyers.

Lynne added that Berney was also “empowered” to make buying decisions in circumstances where time was of the essence, such as markets and festivals.

Said Berney, “I feel no pressure to walk down the street and start buying everything.”

Callender said that PH would allow HBO Films to produce more movies that take on a theatrical life, but his division would also continue to make titles targeted for the HBO Network.

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