LONDON — Momentum Pictures is on a roll.
A year after Alliance Atlantis relaunched its U.K. distrib with a new name, a new partner (Germany’s Kinowelt) and new management, Momentum is emerging as one of the smartest companies navigating Blighty’s choppy indie shoals.
No matter, it seems, that Kinowelt’s financial problems have so far prevented the German company from taking up the 50% stake in the distrib that it originally agreed to buy way back in August 1999.
Alliance is shouldering all the running costs pending the closure of the deal, with Kinowelt acting as de facto co-owner. The two companies jointly promised $25 million a year for acquisitions, but if the Germans ultimately fail to come up with their share, Alliance is willing to fund the entire commitment on its own.
The deep-pocketed Alliance clearly is delighted with the swift turnaround at its previously lackluster U.K. arm in the past year.
Momentum has doubled its staff under managing director David Kosse and quadrupled its sales to £8 million ($11.2 million), thanks to the box office success of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Rocky and Bullwinkle.”
Kosse, a hard-working and ambitious 38-year-old American who formerly was U.K. distribution chief for Universal and Polygram, is projecting another big revenue leap, to $32 million this year.
The company is strengthening its slate with an increasingly aggressive strategy of acquisitions and development. Latest pickups include the $22 million Al Pacino starrer “People I Know” and “Van Wilder: Party Liaison” from Myriad Pictures and hot Gallic-lingo pic “Amelie” from UGC.
Momentum has joined the Hollywood split-rights venture Escape Artists as an equity partner. It also in April announced a pre-buying alliance for British movies with Sky Pictures, the production arm of satcaster BSkyB.
These deals will bolster the regular flow of pics from Alliance and Artisan Entertainment, with which Momentum has an output deal. It also has started a relationship with Miramax Intl., picking up “Get Over It” and “Equilibrium.”
Momentum started life as arthouse distrib Electric Pictures, which Canadian giant Alliance bought in 1997, but then seemed unsure what to do with. The arrival of Kosse has injected some commercial savvy. Electric released only films it loved; for Momentum, deal-making and marketing come first, whether it’s a Gallic auteur pic or a Hollywood teen comedy.
Kosse was confident enough of his team’s crossover skills to open “O Brother, Where Art Thou” well ahead of its U.S. release. He was rewarded with a $4.5 million gross, more than double any previous Coen Bros. pic.
“Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” which opened day-and-date with the U.S., was profitable though disappointing at just under $4 million. And just to prove Momentum’s range, the low-budget Irish comedy “When Brendan Met Trudy” has grossed a blockbusting $1 million in Ireland alone.
But the hit that made everyone sit up and take notice was “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” On the back of a Stateside flop, dreadful reviews and complete British ignorance of the characters, Momentum raked in $6.2 million, a remarkable one-third of the U.S. gross.
These films all share one thing in common — none rolled into Blighty as a Stateside hit; Momentum opened them all from a standing start. “We think we can re-market and re-promote and work a film in this market, whether or not it had a good platform in America,” Kosse says.
The Sky deal will allow Momentum to play a more prominent role in U.K. filmmaking. Alliance has ended its first-look deals with local shingles Natural Nylon and Company Pictures, but is continuing to develop projects with them in tandem with Momentum, including NN’s “Marlowe” and Company’s Welsh cowboy movie “Booty.”
Company is producing Lynne Ramsey’s “Morvern Callar” for Alliance. The pic will be released by Momentum along with other Brit projects funded by Alliance, including Samuel L. Jackson starrer “The 51st State” and Neil Jordan’s “Double Down.”
Momentum also has its own development fund for selected Brit pics. It has hooked up with Summit Entertainment for a remake of Dutch hit “All Stars,” which Simon Shore will direct for Samuelson Prods.
DVD is proving a lucrative sideline. Momentum’s five-year deal for Kinowelt’s vast library of DVD rights already is bearing fruit, with “Reservoir Dogs” selling 100,000 units and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” set for a huge release later this year.
Kosse is taking a leaf from the Polygram playbook by investing in made-for-video comedy specials, such as the upcoming “Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned Live.”
Video and DVD accounts for about two-thirds of Momentum’s projected $32 million revenues for the current year.