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How The Orchard Became the Hot Film Distributor of 2015

When Paul Davidson of The Orchard boarded a plane for Park City last January, he knew he had to make a splash at the Sundance Film Festival. The company’s senior VP of film and television scooped up five buzzy titles in Utah, including the raunchy sex comedy “The Overnight,” starring Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott, which opens in selected cities on June 19. “It was a go big or go home scenario,” Davidson recalls.

The Overnight” will be a crucial test for one of the splashy new players in film acquisition. As attendance continues to drop, the indie business is a tricky one. Many titles are enthusiastically received at film festivals, only to be met with indifference by general audiences–just ask Paramount about Toronto’s “Top Five.” But if “The Overnight” succeeds, it could help position The Orchard for the long haul.

In just six months, the distributor has transformed from a company that few in Hollywood had heard of to a formidable buyer. Davidson and his team of 30 (based in New York and Los Angeles) have landed films at all of this year’s major festivals: SXSW (roadtrip drama “Lamb”), Tribeca (doc “Crocodile Gennadiy,” set in the Ukraine) and Cannes (“Louder Than Bombs,” beating out A24 and Magnolia for the Jesse Eisenberg picture). The Orchard doesn’t specialize in any one genre, but Davidson says, “When you look at the slate of movies we picked up, we don’t shy away from topics that are risque or tough to market. It sets our movies apart.”

The company was founded in 1997 as a music distribution and sales company, and had been releasing straight-to-VOD movie titles. But Davidson, who previously worked as an exec at Microsoft’s Xbox, came onboard a year ago to grow the movie arm. Even though The Orchard is fully owned by Sony Music, it operates independently from Sony Pictures and Sony Pictures Classics.

To help “The Overnight” stand out, The Orchard is injecting plenty of edge into the campaign. The red-band trailer already caused a stir online with its R-rated one-liners. The posters are more offbeat too. Instead of typical stills of the cast, one early promo featured the catchphrase “pucker up” against a black backdrop, a reference to a series of dirty portraits that become a running gag in the film. But the MPAA shot down another idea for a poster showing four naked bodies from the head down with pixelated genitalia.

The Orchard has already turned some of its collaborators into fans. “I told them personally that I’m ready to proselytize working with them because it’s been such a great experience,” says producer Naomi Scott (who is married to Adam Scott). Adds Joe Swanberg, whose “Digging for Fire” opens on Aug. 21: “We had a bunch of options. They seemed the most hungry to turn it into a successful release.”

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