BVI axing film sales division

'We are more acquirers of rights as opposed to sellers,' sez prez

SYDNEY — Disney’s Buena Vista Intl. has signaled its intention to cease laying off foreign rights to films as it remains highly active in buying Hollywood-produced and indigenous pictures.

The studio confirmed Monday its decision to shutter the 3-year-old Buena Vista Film Sales as it extended the duties of Anthony Marcoly, senior VP international theatrical distribution, to include oversight of Buena Vista Intl.’s acquisitions.

“We are more acquirers of rights as opposed to sellers,” Mark Zoradi, president of BVI and of Buena Vista Home Entertainment Intl., told Daily Variety.

The restructuring follows the departure in July of Jere Hausfater, exec VP of acquisitions and business affairs at BVFS and BVI, who joined producer-financier-distrib Intermedia.

Disney has just about fully drawn down a $200 million investment fund sourced from a consortium of banks and investors, which it used to nab foreign rights to such hits as “Air Force One,” “Face/Off” and “End of Days.”

Zoradi indicated that there are “early discussions” on creating a similar fund and that he is negotiating to acquire a number of films, which he declined to name.

Asked to explain the decision to close BVFS, Zoradi said, “It is not a strategy that fits with our business model going forward.”

He said all existing servicing agreements with producers such as Beacon Pictures would be honored.

The last three major titles handled by BVFS were the Kevin Costner starrer “13 Days,” cheerleading caper “Bring It On” and the Nicolas Cage topliner “Family Man,” all from Beacon. Zoradi says that trio is virtually fully sold.

It’s unclear whether Michael Dragotto, who has served as the film sales unit’s VP of sales since its inception, will stay with the studio.

“I am very fortunate to have in front of me several opportunities from outside the company as well as some opportunities inside the company,” Dragotto told Daily Variety. “I am evaluating and hope to make an announcement very soon.”

Marcoly, a 17-year Disney vet, will oversee a team that includes director of acquisitions Alicia Keyes and VP for business and legal affairs Jim Krauss.

Zoradi notes Marcoly has been “intricately involved” in the process of acquiring foreign rights to U.S. films for the past five years, providing a distribution analysis of each project.

Marcoly will continue to work closely with BVI’s European-based acquisition operation and with managers in other markets on local pickups.

To some outsiders, the creation of BVFS (which grew out of the ABC Distribution Co. after Disney and ABC merged) made little sense, for why would foreign buyers be willing to stump up good money for films that Disney itself didn’t want?

While it’s understood that overhead was low because it was administered as a unit of BVI, the film sales banner was burdened with some commercially difficult films in the past year or so.

Slate included Ron Shelton’s “Play It to the Bone,” Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam” and the Liam Neeson/Sandra Bullock starrer “Gun Shy.”