Vince McMahon: WWE is rethinking film strategy

After shepherding the production of eight films, WWE Studios chief Mike Pavone has called it quits.

The exec is ankling the company to “pursue other opportunities,” according to a corporate filing. He had headed up the film division since 2009, after replacing former Village Roadshow exec Michael Lake.

Departure follows remarks this week by WWE topper Vince McMahon that the company was looking to rethink its film strategy after recent releases have struggled to find an audience.

Company is narrowing down a list of candidates to replace Pavone.

The Samuel Goldwyn Co. has been distribbing WWE’s slate since the company began self-financing its pics in early 2010, after partnering with Fox and Lionsgate in the past.

Its most recent release, the drama “That’s What I Am,” starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, earned just $6,400 from 10 theaters in three days at the box office.

Next up is the comedy “Inside Out,” which bows Sept. 9 and stars Triple H, Parker Posey and Michael Rapaport, to be followed by “Family Reunion,” “Bending the Rules” and “Barricade.” It’s also already released “Legendary,” “Knucklehead” and Stephen Herek comedy “The Chaperone,” all shot in Louisiana.

WWE gives its pics limited theatrical releases in certain markets, using them as promo pushes for launches across homevideo platforms shortly thereafter. Walmart, the company’s primary retail partner, has been giving the films prominent displays and shelf space.

The pics WWE produced didn’t star its wrestlers but featured them in smaller co-starring roles opposite more established thesps such as Harris, Patricia Clarkson, Danny Glover, Mark Feuerstein, Dennis Farina, Jamie Kennedy and Eric McCormack.

Although WWE Studios generated $4.3 million during the last three months, “I Am What I Am” wound up losing $3.3 million during the second quarter.

Moving forward, WWE is looking to pair up with other production partners for films. It also wants to lower the production budgets on future releases, which currently hover around the $5 million mark.

In May, WWE paired up with Pathe U.K. on the horror film “No One Lives,” which stars Luke Evans (“The Three Musketeers,” “Immortals”). Ryuhei Kitamura (“Midnight Meat Train”) is directing.

Leaning more toward genre fare may be part of WWE’s playbook after Pavone’s slate of mostly feel-good dramas and family fare didn’t appeal to the company’s fanbase.

The film division generated $400,000 in profit last year through previous releases and Pavone’s first titles.

WWE is hoping to turn to its own films to use as programming on the WWE Network, a TV channel the company hopes to launch within the next 12-18 months.

Company has also been digitizing its vast library of footage, which consists of 100,000 hours, as programming to adapt for the new network when it launches.

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