Upstarts think big

Duo add distrib to growing portfolio

This article was updated at 10:00 p.m.

In news that surprised the indie world Tuesday, distributor ThinkFilm was sold to L.A. entrepreneur David Bergstein, who owns U.K.-based foreign sales agent and film financing company Capitol Films.

Bergstein said the company would become a division of Capco, the holding company he and construction mogul Ron Tutor own equally. “Our plan ultimately is to build a worldwide distribution company,” Bergstein told Daily Variety.

Founded in part by former Lionsgate exec Jeff Sackman, ThinkFilm recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. It’s had a number of arthouse hits, including docs “Born Into Brothels” and “Spellbound”; it has “Shortbus” and “Half Nelson” out in theaters.

Bergstein’s plans for ThinkFilm include upping the number of titles on its distribution slate by as much as 30% and increasing the number of pre-buys, especially in the mid-budget range. Distrib also will be able to spend more on P&A, he said.

Capitol and Think will be two divisions in the same firm, Bergstein said.

Financial details of the deal were not provided, though Bergstein said the “value of the library was greater than the cost of the acquisition.” ThinkFilm has a library of 300 titles.

Move marks the entrepreneur’s first foray into any type of North American distribution, but it likely won’t be the last. Bergstein said over the next nine months he would be looking at making other buys in U.S. distribution in homevid and new media, but not on the theatrical side.

Company does aim to enter the theatrical distrib biz in the U.K. and other overseas territories.

All execs at the Toronto- and New York-based distrib will remain with the company in their current positions, including ThinkFilm topper Sackman.

But Bergstein told Daily Variety that over the next year, he sees the company morphing into a New York- and L.A.-based firm, with the Toronto office focusing on Canadian distribution exclusively.

Sackman, he said, would oversee operations by traveling between the two U.S. coasts.

To some in the indie film world, the match is an unusual one: Think has been known as a prowler of the fest circuit for arthouse hits, while Bergstein is known mainly for his involvement in libraries, film financing and, more recently with Capitol, the foreign sales biz.

But Bergstein said he sees the two companies as complementary. Combining them, he said, gives a U.S. distribution arm to Capitol’s foreign rights biz.

At the same time, by offering the option of foreign sales, it allows ThinkFilm to make more global pre-buys.

“ThinkFilm will be able to do a lot of things they couldn’t do when they only had one territory,” he said.

Bergstein cautioned that because of the difference in the size of pictures, not all Capitol Films would be distribbed in the U.S. by Think and not all rights to Think pickups would be sold by Capitol overseas.

Sackman, whose company had been making small inroads at increasing its foreign biz, downplayed the extent to which budgets would grow under the new regime. But he did acknowledge there would be more films on the slate. “We pay for value, and now we can pay for more value,” he said.

ThinkFilm has been looking for buyers for several months and also was seeking venture capital as an alternative form of financing. Sackman and Bergstein noted the difficulty of running a distributor without a ready source of funding; indeed, since Think began five years ago, it has financed its operations primarily through revenues from its distribution business.

Bergstein and Tutor bought Capitol Films earlier this year and have continued the firm’s aggressive pace of foreign sales as well as financed pics such as “Lucky Number Slevin.” Capitol has been a player on the foreign sales scene, peddling pics including “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Stormbreaker” to a large number of markets.

Company controls libraries for Franchise Pictures and Mobius Pictures.

It holds rights to the Sidney Lumet-helmed “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” which does not yet have U.S. distribution. Bergstein said it’s too early to say whether that pic would go onto the ThinkFilm slate.

(Tamsen Tillson in Toronto contributed to this report.)

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