“If you’re not innovative then you may as well go home,” says Revolver Entertainment’s CEO Justin Marciano.
It’s that kind of philosophy that has kept the U.K. independent distribution and production outfit thriving for the past 15 years in one of the most competitive marketplaces. Since its inception in 1997, Revolver has grown from a special interest home entertainment shingle to a fully-fledged production and distribution outfit capable of handling sizable theatrical releases.
Unafraid to take risks, Marciano started the company with just £1,000 ($1,616) of his own money and no distribution experience. Today, the company boasts an eight-figure turnover, a staff of 45 in the U.K. and 15 awards for marketing innovation.
In 2001, the company got its first big break in the home-entertainment sector after it acquired rights to Snoop Dogg-fronted porno “Doggystyle.” With the DVD market booming, Revolver enjoyed a period of homevideo success before venturing into the theatrical market in 2004 with surfing pic “Billabong Odyssey.” But it wasn’t until 2006’s gritty indie feature “Kidulthood” that Revolver became fully visible on the theatrical map.
“We were really looking for something to make our mark,” says Marciano, looking back on how the film, about alienated kids growing up in a gritty part of west London, provided just the right opportunity for the company. “It was a massive risk, especially when you consider that low-budget British films are not embraced with open arms by exhibition. We fought really hard to make it a 15 certificate (by arguing) that it was an important film for the youth market.”
A guerrilla campaign from Revolver’s strong inhouse PR and marketing teams propelled the pic to earn $850,000 at the U.K. box office, cementing Revolver as a young, hip distrib that wasn’t afraid to gamble on a low-budget Brit pic.
Revolver has also seen a raft of successes with foreign-language and nonfiction films, including such docus as Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “Super High Me.” In 2007, the distrib released Guillaume Canet’s French-language thriller “Tell No One,” which generated $2.7 million in Blighty, thanks to a savvy marketing push.
“We believed that if we had put French language in the campaign, a big chunk of our crossover audience wouldn’t have come,” says Marciano, whose innovative spirit has made the company a pioneer on multiple fronts in the British marketplace.
Revolver was the first U.K. distrib to attempt a multi-format day-and-date release pattern with the simultaneous bow of 2008 horror pic “Mum and Dad” in theaters, DVD and VOD. “Because no one had done that type of release before, it benefited from more coverage,” Marciano says.
Revolver also took a shot at releasing a live-action 3D feature before it was fashionable with 2007’s “U2 3D,” generating $1.4 million at the U.K. box office — nearly 6% of the film’s worldwide gross, thanks to what Marciano calls “an amazing opportunity to basically be first to market and have our name attached to that new technology.”
Further innovations include offering “Vinyan” as the U.K.’s inaugural live-streaming preem online and developing an app for all platforms to show “Anuvahood,” a film produced by Revolver’s inhouse Gunslinger label.
Most recently, the distrib launched social video platform “Find. Watch. Share,” which integrates viewing and sharing of Revolver’s library. Users are able to rent and gift pics using Facebook credits, while also linking to third parties such as iTunes, Amazon and Blinkbox.
“The challenge we’ve set ourselves over the last two years is how do we better deliver content that can be on any platform and how do we make or acquire more content,” he says.
One initiative has seen the distrib partner with Picturehouse Entertainment, the distribution arm of indie cinema chain City Screen, for certain acquisitions. Earlier this year, the duo acquired “The Imposter” and “Liberal Arts” at Sundance, as well as “Electrick Children” at Berlinale. This new joint venture, which Marciano describes as a “longterm partnership,” will see Revolver provide Picturehouse with a partner for physical DVD and digital while Picturehouse can offer up 60 of the best indie sites in the U.K.
“Revolver, like us, are very independent,” says Picturehouse programming and acquisitions director Clare Binns. “We both think outside of the box and we have a real flair for doing things differently.”
Going forward, Revolver will offer up its biggest theatrical release to date with “Ill Manors,” the directorial debut of singer and thesp Ben Drew, which it plans to release on 200-plus screens across the U.K. Described as an “urban musical” set on the streets of East London, the project came out of Film London’s microbudget scheme Microwave.
“A really interesting distribution company with a varied slate, Revolver have a track record for effectively guiding films to their audience,” says Film London chief exec Adrian Wootton, while Marciano says the film is a good fit “in terms of our background and our marketing.”
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