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Lionsgate U.K. at 10: Market-Savvy Distributor Turns Film Angel

At the end of its first decade, company plans to up its support for Brit pics

British movie distributor Lionsgate U.K., which was acquired by its Hollywood parent 10 years ago, has always prided itself on its independent and entrepreneurial spirit, and on its support for Brit filmmakers.

“We are passionate about British movies,” CEO Zygi Kamasa says.

The company had previously been known as Redbus Film Distribution, which was co-founded by Kamasa in 1998. An early success was “Bend It Like Beckham.” Recent investments have included “A Little Chaos” and “Brooklyn.” The company has an eclectic taste, embracing Rosamund Pike/David Tennant comedy “What We Did on Our Holiday” and kids’ animation film “Postman Pat: The Movie.”

Kamasa sees his relationship with producers as collaborative; Lionsgate U.K. contributes notes at script stage and market-tests films heavily during post-production. Paul Webster, who produced “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Hummingbird” and “Locke” with Lionsgate U.K.’s backing, says: “By being our local U.K. partner and coming in at the inception, Zygi and his team became part of the filmmaking process, always contributing a clear and supportive market-driven opinion as to the direction we should take.”

He adds: “Having a close working relationship with the distribution and marketing team at Lionsgate led us to make decisions based on their advice going in that helped improve the commercial prospects of the film.”

On “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” for example, Lionsgate U.K. paid around $1 million to reshoot the ending.
“Filmmaking is a process of collaboration and everybody involved can contribute to making it a success,” Kamasa says. “We have to be very active (as an investor) because we are at the front end — the consumer-facing end — and we see every month what consumer habits are, and are constantly doing consumer research.”

The British Film Institute Film Fund has worked with Lionsgate U.K. on several projects. The fund’s chief, Ben Roberts, calls the Lionsgate U.K. team “genuinely supportive of the ups and downs of independent film production in the U.K.”

“They are hand in hand with the other financiers on the creative side and they have a real belief that audiences want to see more original films from the U.K.,” Roberts says. “That confidence is really important.”
Lionsgate U.K. plans to invest in at least 25 Blighty films in the next four years, to back more bigger-budget pics, and to start investing in British TV drama series.

Two of its biggest feature film bets are “Eddie the Eagle,” which is produced by Matthew Vaughn and stars Hugh Jackman, and comedy-horror “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (pictured). Kamasa has high hopes for “Eddie,” which he believes will become a “landmark British movie,” and describes as “really emotionally powerful.”

“I know, because of the competitive nature of the marketplace, I have to have movies that stand out. So films like ‘Eddie the Eagle’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ — although they are a bigger financial gamble — will be able to put their head above the water and compete with films like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Fast and Furious.’”

LIONSGATE U.K.’S YEAR IN REVIEW
Top 10 B.O. pics released over the past 12 months (in millions)
Title Release date B.O.
1. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” Nov. 21, 2014 $47.90
2. “What We Did on Our Holiday” Sept. 26, 2014 $6.34
3. “The Expendables 3” Aug. 15, 2014 $6.03
4. “Testament of Youth” Jan. 16 $3.22
5. “The Gift” Aug. 7 $2.84
6. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” Aug. 22, 2014 $2.81
7. “A Little Chaos” April 17 $2.38
8. “A Royal Night Out” May 8 $2.26
9. “Absolutely Anything” Aug. 14 $2.20
10. “Love, Rosie” Oct. 24, 2014 $1.84

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