Indies experiment with windows and new tech

LONDON — Blighty might be coming out of a summer that saw its highest cinema attendance since 1969, but these remain challenging times for U.K. indie distribs.

The marketplace — particularly in the arthouse space, where new entrants such as Artificial Eye co-founders Pam Engel and Robert Beeson’s New Wave Films and producer Chris Coen’s Halcyon have joined an already congested field — is proving increasingly difficult to penetrate.

It’s forcing many indie distribs to branch out and experiment with new technologies. Optimum Releasing, for example, is ramping up its production activities by remaking a number of titles from the library of its Gallic owner StudioCanal.

Similarly, Lionsgate U.K. is attempting to replicate the success of its Stateside parent by greenlighting four projects set to go into production in 2009, with a further eight to 10 projects in various stages of development. Pics include $15 million contempo sci-fi thriller “83,” which Brit multihyphenate Noel Clarke (“Kidulthood”) will write, direct and star in.

Distribs are also seeking to break down the traditional windows in their never-ending efforts to maximize revenues. U.K. distrib-exhib Curzon Artificial Eye has partnered with feevee Sky Movies to release pics simultaneously in theaters, on pay-per-view and on-demand. The two companies debuted their experiment in February with Teuton-Turkish helmer Fatih Akin’s “Edge of Heaven” and are repeating the experiment with Tilda Swinton-starrer “Julia” this December.

Rising indie distrib Revolver also caused something of a stir when it announced it would open helmer Steven Sheil’s low-budget horror pic “Mum and Dad” on all platforms Dec. 26. Pic will be released theatrically and be available via DVD, video-on-demand, electronic sell-through and rental on the same day.

It’s all indicative of the shifting sands that distribs are facing.

“In our first partnership with Sky on ‘Edge of Heaven,’ there was evidence to show that our simultaneous release did not have a marked effect on cinema admissions,” says Curzon Artificial Eye chief exec Philip Knatchbull. “In fact, it fulfilled a previously unrealized appetite for independent films amongst a wider public.”

While Hollywood studios occupy their customary places at the top of the market share charts, Nigel and Trevor Green’s shingle Entertainment still grabs the biggest slice of the indie distribs. It leads the pack so far this year with a B.O. cume of $96 million, buoyed largely by the stellar perf of “Sex and the City,” which raked in more than $45 million.

The performance of South Asian distribs in the U.K. continues to be a huge success story. The likes of UTV, Eros, Yash Raj and Studio 18 are all ranked in the top 20. Their performance is all the more remarkable given the generally limited P&A spend behind their releases.

2008 B.O.

$2.9 billion (through Sept. 4)

Top title

“Mamma Mia!” ($113.2 million)

Recent pickups

“Captain Abu Raed” (NeoClassics)

“Dean Spanley” (Icon)

“Genova” (Metrodome Releasing)

“Harry Browne” (Lionsgate)

“Mum and Dad” (Revolver)

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