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Lions Gate vets Think big with new shingle

Acquisitions, distrib co. to release 8-10 pix a year

Four months after ankling his position as president of Lions Gate Films, Jeff Sackman has thought up acquisitions and distribution-driven shingle ThinkFilm.

Sackman will serve as prexy and CEO and be based in Toronto, the company’s headquarters. Mark Urman, former Lions Gate co-head of acquisitions, marketing and distribution, will spearhead Think’s U.S. theatrical division from a Gotham office. Andy Meyers is on board to oversee Canadian distribution.

Sackman declined to comment on the specifics of his new company’s equity base, saying only that he was able to raise money from private sources in Canada, and that the company would seek to release roughly 8-10 pics per year, once the shingle gets up to speed by January. Company plans to grow to 20-25 staffers by the end of its first year of operation.

Evolving business

Beginning at the upcoming Toronto Intl. Film Festival, Think will kickstart its core business — acquisitions and distribution — but a long-term goal is to evolve into production as well.

“We’re trying to recapture an ethic, a spirit, a sensibility, a style,” Urman told Daily Variety. The exec had been instrumental in helping define Lions Gate with such films as “The Red Violin,” “Affliction” and “Gods and Monsters.”

“There seem to be fewer homes than ever for original and exciting independent films, and we intend to remedy that situation,” Sackman said. He did not rule out acquiring films and selling them to cable or homevid. “Anything that makes sense and makes dollars is worth pursuing”

“There’s been a lot of turmoil in the indie arena and a lot of the edgy indies have gotten too big.,” Urman said. “There’s a lot of room for a company that is expandable and contractible, to take movies as wide or as narrow as they need to go.”

Also joining the ThinkFilm ranks as veep of finance and operations is Mark Hirshberg, who had served as veep of Lions Gate’s Home Entertainment division. Randy Manis, former Lions Gate veep of acquisitions and business affairs, will take the same title at Think, and Tamara Shannon will be director of development and acquisitions. All three execs will be based in Toronto.

On July 26, Sackman acquired the assets of Blackwatch Releasing, which gives him the Canadian distribution rights to roughly 40 titles, including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “You Can Count on Me,” “Pollock” and “All About My Mother.”

ThinkFilm has already acquired “The Last Wedding,” directed by helmer Bruce Sweeney. Pic will be screened in an opening night gala presentation of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

Sackman is a 10-year vet of Lions Gate Films (and its precursor, Cinepix Film Properties), which he helped grow from an entity that did $6 million in revenues to one that achieved $125 million. He was responsible for all aspects of financing and operations of the company; structured and negotiated output arrangements with Universal Studios, HBO, and Bravo; and created and grew three U.S. video labels. He has exec produced nearly 30 films, including “Buffalo 66” and “American Psycho.”

Urman joined Sackman at Lions Gate in late 1997 as head of its U.S. Theatrical Releasing division. In three years, his pics garnered nine Academy Award noms, winning three Oscars. Before joining ThinkFilm, he served as exec producer on “Monster’s Ball,” a drama starring Billy Bob Thornton, slated for an end-of-year release.

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