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Distrib exec’s latest Phase borders on rebirth

CEO launching Canadian tour of 'Red State'

For CEO Berry Meyerowitz, distrib Phase 4 reps the fourth stage of his outfit’s sometimes tumultuous 15-year history, and his first attempt at becoming a player in the specialty theatrical distribution arena.

On Aug. 15, Meyerowitz is launching a five-city, cross-Canadian tour of the neo-horror film “Red State,” featuring live Q&As with helmer Kevin Smith in the mode of the film’s recent U.S. roadshow. He’s also plotting what looks to be his biggest U.S. theatrical release to date: the Ellen Barkin-toplined Sundance pickup “Another Happy Day,” due this fall.

Phase 4 boasts ancillary arms on both sides of the border, allowing Meyerowitz and acquisitions head Larry Greenberg to be opportunistic when only U.S. or Canadian rights are available. “I think we’re the only studio out there — major or independent — with that kind of flexibility, and a strong enough distribution operation in both territories to do that,” he says.

Phase 4 is building on recent day-and-date efforts such as “Brotherhood” and “Vidal Sassoon: The Movie” by forming a team to expand its VOD and digital initiatives, and offers an a la carte service placing films with the many VOD and digital outlets with which it has direct relationships.

Toronto native Meyerowitz launched his career at startup distrib Telegenic Entertainment in 1996. After some film and Internet marketing stints, he mortgaged his home and scraped enough money together fromfriends, family and contacts to buy Telegenic (renamed KaBoom! Entertainment) in 2003.

He had his first taste of entrepreneurial success with their family homevideo fare, prompting vet Canadian outfit Peace Arch Entertainment Group to snap up the operation in 2006 and name him head of its home entertainment arm. Within a year, the company had raised C$33 million ($34 million) to buy a U.S.-based DVD distrib and Toronto production studio.

But five months later, CEO Gary Howsam was arrested on federal bank fraud charges stemming from a period before he joined the company. “That’s not the best thing to happen to a company that finances movies,” Meyerowitz notes wryly. (Charges against Howsam were dismissed in 2009.)

A deal to merge Peach Arch Entertainment Group and ContentFilm’s U.S. home entertainment units under Meyerowitz’s management went through, but otherwise things looked bleak. “I was part of this entity, yet had nothing to do with anything that had gone wrong,” he recalls. “Our division was really the only profitable (one), so we were funding most of the company’s overhead, yet not paying our suppliers, producers, etc. on time, which was really difficult for me.”

Meyerowitz offered to essentially buy back the company’s U.S. and Canadian distribution business, and in April 2009, he launched what was figuratively and literally Phase 4 of the Telegenic-KaBoom!-Peace Arch Home Entertainment evolution. “It took a couple years to get rid of some liabilities and clean up our balance sheet, but now we’re in great shape and thrilled to be in this position after a very messy situation,” he says.

Though its latest efforts have mainly moved toward theatrical releasing (“Valentino”) and pre-buying features (the Steve Austin vehicle “Knockout” and the MMA-themed “Breaking Point”), Phase 4’s future may end up focusing on the smallscreen.

“We’re establishing a division to develop television series,” he says. , hinting at an upcoming partnership with two other experienced entities to “exploit the shows on a worldwide basis.” If the venture takes off, Meyerowitz may have a Phase 5 in store.

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