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Indie newbies fill distrib gap

American Film Market 2012

The world of indie financing has received a major validation in recent months as more distribution players enter the arena — such as Exclusive Releasing, 108 Media-Paladin and A24.

All figure to be active during the American Film Market, where 420 films will screen — including 76 world premieres. They are joining an array of relatively new distribution operations such as Open Road, FilmDistrict, LD Films and Millenium Entertainment. They are also sorting out the uncertain impact of Lionsgate having acquired Summit earlier this year.

While the six major studios focus most of their resources on mega-budget tentpoles, the indie sector seeks to fill the gap.

A24, which launched in August, has already acquired Charlie Sheen vehicle “Inside the Mind of Charlie Swan” and Sally Potter’s coming-of-age drama “Ginger & Rosa,” with plans to release the latter on a qualifying run for Oscars.

108 Media-Paladin, formed this year to bring together 108’s foreign sales expertise and Paladin’s experience in specialty releasing, acquired two high-profile titles during the Toronto Int’l Film Festival: Michele Gondry’s “The We and I” and Deepa Mehta’s “Midnight’s Children.”

“We’re able to approach films on a unified basis and not be hidebound to a particular strategy,” Paladin topper Mark Urman notes. “There’s no magic formula. You have to know what a film is — and what it isn’t.”

And Exclusive Releasing — an arm of rising indie player Exclusive Media — will be looking to get its release slate up and running at AFM.

“We’ll be looking for acquisitions at AFM and focusing on quality rather than volume,” says Exclusive Releasing’s Matt Brodlie. “I think filmmakers have been excited to have a new buyer.”

Exclusive Media announced the launch of Exclusive Releasing on Sept. 6, the first day of Toronto. Three weeks later, it acquired a minority stake in two-year-old Millennium Entertainment, giving it access to Millennium’s home entertainment distribution systems and providing for selected Exclusive Media titles going through Millennium.

Exclusive Releasing plans to theatrically distribute three or four wide and platform releases per year; it also plans to acquire films for accelerated-window and VOD release along with developing and acquiring “alternative content,” such as concert films and music documentaries.

While Hollywood majors cling to their tentpoles, indies have seized an opportunity to reinvent their business model as a key destination for moderately priced projects: Exclusive Media titles include Ron Howard’s Formula 1 drama “Rush,” adult-skewing political drama “Ides of March,” the PG-13 chiller “The Woman in Black” and the upcoming “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” all with Cross Creek Pictures; David Ayer’s “End of Watch” with Emmett/Furla; thriller “Snitch” with Participant; John Carney’s comedy “Can a Song Save Your Life?” and the Cameron Diaz action-laffer “Agent: Century 21.”

At this point, Exclusive is on track to produce four to six films annually in the $5 million to $60 million budget range. Exclusive execs point to Bob Shaye and his work developing of New Line as their inspiration.

The indie sector is also taking advantage of the growing consumer acceptance of video on demand and streaming options.

Michael Benaroya, whose “Margin Call” scored major success theatrically and with VOD, noted that the financial thriller generated seven bonus payments — each for 100,000 streams on VOD — along with two bonuses for eclipsing $3 million and $5 million at the box office for Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.

“I think ‘Margin Call’ has been emulated to a significant degree along with ‘Melancholia’ in the past year,” he notes. “It’s taken the negative out of day and date VOD releasing, which had been considered a bit of a blight. But it’s really just a strategic maneuver to get the film out to as large an audience as possible.”

Charles Cohen, whose three-year-old Cohen Media Group specializes in releasing prestige and foreign-language titles, agrees.

“Digital has become a significant part of our revenues because home audiences can now see specialty films on something far better than a computer screen with great sound,” Cohen asserts. “I’d like to think that independent film distribution is alive and well. Otherwise a lot of fine films never see the light of day — and older audiences want to see those films instead of the studio films.”

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