Social media and viral marketing the way to go

PARIS — Wild Bunch Distribution has succeeding in cutting through the release clutter in Gaul’s crowded market with an eclectic slate and new-media marketing savvy.

The Paris-based international sales shingle launched its distribution arm in 2005 after buying out French production shingle Pan-Europeenne. Two years later, the company launched Wild Bunch Distribution (WBD) with more staff and a larger lineup, including some WB and Pan Europeenne titles, as well as third-party pickups.

Today, the company ranks among Gaul’s top six distributors, along with Pathe, StudioCanal, EuropaCorp, SND and Gaumont.

The man running the show at WBD is Jean-Philippe Tirel, who joined Wild Bunch in 2005 after working at Universal Video and StudioCanal Video.

Tirel brings a deep enthusiasm for American independant cinema and edgy director-driven pics to Wild Bunch. He’s increased the shingle’s acquisitions of foreign genre films and commercial auteur fare.

James Gray’s “Two Lovers,” for instance, grossed more in France than anywhere else. His follow-up, “We Own the Night ” took $7.13 million, making France its second biggest theatrical market outside of the U.S. Meanwhile, it’s helped push “The King’s Speech” to a $26.68 million haul in Gaul, the third best score for the film after the U.S. and the U.K.

Tirel’s closest ally is Jerome Rougier, a young marketing enthusiast Tirel has worked with previously over the past 10 years at Universal and StudioCanal; at Wild Bunch, Rougier also handles foreign pic acquisitions.

“The concentration of so many distributors in France has created a widely competitive environment: Prices of mainstream American indies, for instance, tend to get blown out of proportion because a bunch of us often want the same film,” Tirel says. “But we have the advantage of being very selective and auteur-friendly, and more importantly, we’ve proven we knew how to market these films.”

This year, Wild Bunch is handling 15 pics, five more than in previous years, with the same acquisition budget.

After hitting the jackpot with “Paranormal Activity” in 2009, Tirel and Rougier started looking for more high-concept, low-budget genre hits.

Last year, it rolled out “Pirhana 3D,” which grossed a healthy $5.8 million, and more recently it acquired “Insidious,” set for a June 15 release; and Sundance screener “Tucker and Dale,” targeted for later this year.

To promote these films, WBD has been relying heavily on viral marketing and has developed a robust presence on the Web, notably on social networks and film forums.

“For a couple years, we’ve shifted our P&A investments toward the Web, because it allows us to better target potential audiences and niches,” says Tirel, adding that he hired a team of young geeks to build creative viral marketing campaigns.

For instance, “Piranha 3D,” presented in many territories as a classic horror movie, was marketed by WBD as a “Jaws” meets “American Pie” using the tagline “Sea, Sex and Blood.”

Tirel has also placed a larger emphasis on world cinema, with the recent pickups of Paolo Virzi’s 1970’s set “La prima cosa bella,” “Michel Placido’s “Vallanzasca” and Kike Maillo’s Spanish-lingo sci-fi pic “Eva.”

“World cinema has a growing appeal in France,” Tirel points out. Indeed, foreign films’ French box office market share climbed from 12.9% to 18.2% over the past 12 months.

When it comes to French films, WBD works with a few high-profile producers, including Fidelite, Rectangle Prods. and LGM, handling a small number of films with strong casts, whether from up-and-coming directors or more seasoned helmers.

As for Gallic comedies, the country’s most popular genre, Tirel says he likes them concept-driven. The shingle will roll out “Low Cost,” directed Maurice Barthelemy, in June; and Laurent Tirard’s follow-up to “Little Nicholas,” “Asterix and Obelix: God Save Brittania,” another in the hit franchise but this time in 3D, slated for 2012.

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