The year 1994 was the year Concorde joined the major leagues.
Up to then, TM’s theatrical distrib arm had struggled along with the great mass of small distribs, living off low-profile pics sold mainly to TV with the occasional big-name catch from an American indie. But in 1994, two names came to Concorde – Castle Rock/Turner and Veronika Morawetz.
“When I arrived,” says managing director Morawetz, “everything was terrible, nothing worked, and we were having one flop after the other. But I told myself: ‘Starting with “Nell,” things will be different.’ ”
Though Concorde had a huge hit in 1991 with the Kevin Costner starrer “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (5 million admissions), only two other pics (the original French “Three Men and a Cradle” and “Carmen”) had crossed the 2 million tix barrier. The company wasn’t failing, but it also wasn’t a name exhibs were overeager to hear.
Morawetz may have had a less gloomy take on Concorde if she had come from a small indie distrib, but TM topper Herbert Kloiber lured her away from powerful Warners Germany, where she had worked for years as sales manager.
After running a cinema in Salzburg for 15 years, Morawetz joined WB in Munich in 1990. There, she learned everything about distribution from topper Kurt Silberschneider.
“I was in charge of the multiplexes when they were starting up,” recalls Morawetz. “I helped them figure out the mechanics of the operation until it finally turned into a (smooth-running) machine.”
Kloiber approached her early last year about managing Concorde, and she joined the company in April ’94. “I wanted to test what I’d learned at Warners. It was something completely different from what I’d been doing up to then.”
Early this year, when Warners Germany moved, Concorde took over its premises. Morawetz now occupies Silberschneider’s old office.
When Morawetz signed on at Concorde, she already knew what was to be announced a month later at Cannes – that Concorde would enter into a co-venture with Castle Rock/Turner to distribute all their films in Germany. This meant a steady stream of high-profile American films that could compete with the U.S. majors’ product that often ties up German theaters.
Morawetz says the situation is getting no easier as the U.S. majors start grabbing indie product as well. “American distributors are now trying to get everything they can, including potential German hits.
“Buena Vista – working with Scotia – even bought (the tele-film) ‘Talk of the Town’ from ZDF. That’s too bad, as I’m sure we and other indies could have marketed the film just as well. BV did the same thing with Doris Dorrie’s ‘Nobody Loves Me.’ They’re trying hard to put the booming German market in their pocket.”
She estimates that the Castle Rock arrangement (under which Concorde distribs for a set percentage) means “a kind of security” for the TM-owned org. “Castle Rock always had good films and has a good lineup now. There are only a few of theirs we don’t have, like ‘American President,’ which will be released by a major and Turner’s New Line productions.”
” ‘Forget Paris,’ ” she adds, “will be the big test for us: We’re releasing 118 prints and have done a lot of marketing on it.” (By the first weekend in early September, the pic had drawn 115,000 admissions, considered good but not spectacular by observers.)
Concorde’s turnaround started in January this year, when Turner’s “Andre” was a modest hit. Later, the first Castle Rock title, “Nell,” grabbed 2.1 million admissions, placing it immediately in Concorde’s all-time top three.
As a result, so far this year the distrib ranks as Germany’s second-biggest indie, following on the heels of three majors (Buena Vista, UIP and Warners) and indie Scotia (which has a tie-in with Buena Vista).
Morawetz says she plans to buy 15 to 20 films a year, compared with a previous eight to 13. In the first half of ’95, Concorde had already acquired seven Castle Rock/Turner films, plus 11 others, including “Dolores Claiborne,” “Home for the Holidays” and “Run of the Country.”
For TM, Concorde is more than just a distrib. “It’s much more important for us in acquiring rights than in exploiting them,” says TM sales chief Philip von Alvensleben. “Distribution itself is like rolling dice. No distributor can stand on its own merits; it needs TV. But in the larger context, Concorde is an important element.”
Especially for packaging.
Says von Alvensleben,” ‘Nell’ hit 2.1 million admissions, which is very good for Germany. You need three to five ‘Nells’ each year to move your other products…. They open the door to selling products you weren’t able to move before.”
Adds Morawetz, “Within the TM group, we’re very important in influencing the success of video and TV exploitation. If a film does well in theaters, it also does well on video and TV.”
Unlike small arthouse distribs that survive selling pix after theatrical release to video and TV, Concorde is solely a theatrical distrib, with other TM divisions taking care of ancillary rights.
“I see that as liberating,” says Morawetz, “as I can concentrate on distribution.”
“A lot of theater owners didn’t believe in some of the films we had,” continues Morawetz, “but the success of ‘Nell’ and ‘Before Sunrise’ surprised them. Now we’re a company they like to take calls from.”