Teuton shingle antes in early

SquareOne looks ahead to bigger slates, more involvement

BERLIN — It’s been 10 years since Munich-based SquareOne Entertainment came on the scene, and the distributor, which has backed films including “White Noise,” “Bride and Prejudice” and “StreetDance 3D,” is celebrating with its biggest slate ever. But for those watching the company, founder and prexy Al Munteanu says you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“We expect 2013 to be even bigger,” he says.

Launched in 2002, in the midst of the Neuer Markt meltdown and the insolvency of German giant Kirch Media, SquareOne grew out of Munteanu’s previous company, New Legend, which was buried amid the collapse of the tech and media stock market. In fact, that’s how his current company got its name.

“We were about to go public, then suddenly the market crashed,” Munteanu recalls. “We dismantled the company and I decided to go back to square one.”

The company initially focused on licensing mainstream movies for the German-speaking home entertainment and TV market, but later began to acquire more and more theatrical projects, such as 2005’s “White Noise,” starring Michael Keaton, which was picked up by Universal, followed by “Bride and Prejudice” and “The Descent” franchise, distributed by Universum Film, a subsidiary of RTL Group.

The relationship with Universum evolved in 2010, when SquareOne became an active partner, and the two jointly released the box office hit “StreetDance 3D.” The two companies now have an exclusive distribution pact, with Universum handling booking and billing, and SquareOne responsible for marketing.

SquareOne’s releases this year include British comedy “The Inbetweeners Movie”; “50/50,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen; “Act of Valor”; “StreetDance 2”; shark thriller “Bait 3D”; John Cusack-starrer “The Raven”; French hit “Les Infidels” (The Players), starring Jean Dujardin; and “House at the End of the Street,” with Jennifer Lawrence.

“Ninety percent of what we buy, we prebuy on paper, because Germany is such a competitive market,” Munteanu says. “Then we own the rights, and bring it into our joint venture with Universum.” The SquareOne topper adds that compared with Italy, Spain or Japan, the German market is still strong when it comes to financing independent movies.

Next year the company plans to release 12 films, including Karl Urban and Wentworth Miller thriller “Loft”; Bradley Cooper starrer “Hit & Run”; “Welcome to the Punch,” with James McAvoy and Mark Strong; Robert Redford drama “All Is Lost”; and dance pic “Cobu 3D.”

SquareOne also takes equity positions in films and is heavily involved in the development process, Munteanu says. The company is co-producing “StreetDance Juniors,” the third film in the franchise, with London-based Vertigo Films, and is producing and will distribute the upcoming remakes of Jerry Lewis comedies “The Bellboy,” “Cinderfella” and “The Family Jewels.” It’s also in development with Danish filmmaker Shaun Rana on the sci-fi project “Warren Lich.”

“We’re upping our game when it comes to acquiring projects early or shaping them,” says Munteanu, adding that the strategy is partly aimed at being able to determine a project’s proper release platform. Germany’s theatrical market is difficult, he says, while home entertainment remains vigorous.

“The video market is healthy, VOD is not as significant yet as it is in other territories, the TV market is not extraordinary but solid, and the theatrical market, frankly, is a complete crap shoot,” Munteanu says.

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