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Berlin: Global Road Sets Off on Journey as Next Mini Studio

Built from the merger of North American distributor Open Road Films and sales and finance firm IM Global, Tang Media Partners’ new indie studio Global Road Entertainment is touting $1 billion of upcoming production spend. That makes it the biggest newcomer this week at the Berlin Film Festival and European Film Market.

Aiming to be a well-rounded, studio-level player within a couple of years, the company is already being styled as a reincarnation of Summit Entertainment, the genre film company that is now part of Lionsgate.

“Summit 2.0 would probably be the time I was there,” says Rob Friedman, the former head of Summit, and co-chairman of Lionsgate, who is now set as chairman and CEO of Global Road. “But I’d settle for being described as Summit 3.0.”

A closed-door presentation was held in Berlin on Thursday with major buyers and partners. With little in the way of new product to sell, Global Road’s meetings in Berlin are likely to be skewed toward strategy, partnerships and finance.

That’s where the Summit analogy comes in helpful. Providing studio-level content with bankable stars to the indie sales market made Summit a go-to player for several years. Numerous territory distributors did well by hitching themselves as long-term buyers of Summit titles. On Friedman’s watch, Summit also established itself as a theatrical distributor in North America.

“By 2020, we aim to be doing 15-20 wide release movies per year in the U.S. and Canada, of which 8 or 9 are developed internally,” Friedman told Variety. Production budgets are pegged in the $20 million-$100 million range. At the Berlin meeting, Friedman told distributors that the planned production spend would add up to $1 billion over the coming three years.  “Those productions will also fuel the international sales platform.”

The company’s foreign sales axis is headed by London-based Rodolphe Buet, president of international. He previously headed sales for France’s Studiocanal, and joined TMP and Global Road in October last year. In addition to projects hatched within Global Road’s own pipeline, Buet will acquire third-party titles to help scale up the sales business.

At a time when many other companies are deeply worried by the ongoing changes in the film biz — studio mergers, plateauing theatrical B.O. and the challenge to distribution models posed by streaming giants — Friedman and Buet display a defiant and resolutely upbeat vision, in which “consolidation is our friend.”

Friedman says that offering a stream of high-quality movies from a source other than the Hollywood majors should make Global Road an attractive partner for cinema chains. Exhibition and distribution sectors have to help each other, Friedman says. And the North American sector, although slowing, remains a substantial market with $11 billion in gross revenue annually.

Some clarity may be emerging. “The streaming services are settling down, and are not really making movies for theatrical,” Friedman says.

A continuation of the television production business started under IM Global also appears to be on the cards, and represents a further anchor in a changing entertainment environment. “What I love about the TV business today is the exact opposite of how it was a few years ago,” said Friedman. “The cross-pollination relationship between film and (long-format) TV allows talent and ideas to flow back and forth much more easily.”

An early example of that kind of relationship was the recently announced deal between Global Road and New Nation Networks, the company controlled by Reginald Hudlin (“The Boondocks,” “The Bernie Mac Show”) and Byron Philips.

Another was the pickup of British-made documentary “Avenging Evil.” Co-produced with Caravan, it spotlights a group of Holocaust survivors who vowed to kill 6 million Germans in revenge for the death of a similar number of Jews by the Nazis.

At the time IM Global was acquired by Donald Tang’s TMP in mid-2016, the company hatched a relationship and TV production fund with Chinese social media and games giant Tencent, which is also a minority shareholder in TMP.

Buet’s international sales and finance business expects to increase production volume to perhaps eight or nine titles per year. That will be achieved by adding to output deals and building on existing production relationships in China and Latin America. In total, the sales slate could approach 20 films per year.

Offices in London and Beijing will have dual acquisition and distribution support functions. However, Apsara, a rights acquisitions and Asia-region distribution venture hatched by ousted IM Global founder Stuart Ford, and operated through Beijing, is not part of the new team’s plans.

Building the new Global Road has involved numerous high-profile personnel changes. Ford left in August last year, while Open Road boss Tom Ortenberg followed in November. The company hired former STX Entertainment marketing chief Jack Pan as president of theatrical marketing. Former Warner Bros. exec Lynn Harris joined as president of worldwide production. IM Global exec John Zois, continuing as head of worldwide acquisitions, is in Berlin. Another key hire, Richie Fay, president of domestic distribution, did not make the Berlin trip.

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