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Screen Media Comes of Age With New Parent Company, Splashy Deals

With a new parent company and a mandate to back bigger films with A-list casts, Screen Media is raising its profile. Historically, the company has been known for releasing genre titles that lacked visibility. Many of these made money, particularly when DVDs were a major business and in the early days of on-demand.

But that’s no longer the case. Over the past two years, Screen Media has worked on prestige fare such as “Bel Canto,” a well-reviewed drama with Oscar-winner Julianne Moore and Oscar-nominee Ken Watanabe, and Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” a fantasy adventure that stars Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce. It’s the kind of fare you’d expect from blue-chip indies like Sony Pictures Classics, and it hints at the changes afoot at the company.

“When I started it was a DVD business with a license to print money,” said David Fannon, president of Screen Media. “We needed to evolve.”

Fannon says the company, now in its 20th year, has been granted a fresh life after it was sold in 2017 to Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, a publicly traded company that recently made headlines with its acquisition of Crackle.

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“Chicken Soup was looking for us to really grow our revenue, grow our business,” said Fannon. “For a couple of years before that we were really acquiring small niche product. Some did well for us, but it wasn’t enough to move the needle.”

Now, the New York-based Screen Media is looking to release between 16 to 18 movies a year, many with top-shelf talent, and is hoping to establish a presence in Los Angeles.

“Screen’s had a volatile ride, but there’s a big difference between where we are versus where we were three years ago,” said Seth Needle, senior VP, worldwide acquisitions, at Screen Media.

The company has been busy at Cannes, announcing it had nabbed global rights to the sci-fi/horror anthology movie “Portals,” which features segments directed by genre veterans such as Eduardo Sanchez (“The Blair Witch Project”) and Liam O’Donnell (“Skyline”). And it’s still looking to make a few more deals before the festival closes. It also went into the festival having picked up rights to Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary feature “Memory: The Origins of Alien,” an exploration of the making of the Ridley Scott classic that will be released in conjunction with the film’s 40th anniversary. The company is partnering with Legion M, a company that allows fanboys and and fangirls to invest in content.

“It’s not really a volume play,” said Michael Messina, executive vice president of distribution. “We want to make sure every single release is handcrafted and we’re trying to build up our reputation for being able to release these movies with care.”

Of course, it’s tough out there for an independent studio. Other companies such as Broad Green or Relativity have marched into the space with grand ambitions only to close up shop in short order. Screen Media’s leaders say they’re aware the film business has a high rate of failure, but they also point to their longevity as a sign they have what it takes.

“We’re survivors,” said Fannon. “We’ve seen a lot of changes and we’ve kind of been ‘Steady Eddie’ throughout. You’ve seen a lot of flavor of the day come in and they make a big splash and two years later they’re nowhere to be found. We stick to our knitting.”

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