When Yojiro Takita’s Departures was named best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards ceremony on March 3 this year, there was a gasp of surprise from many. But four men sitting in the second mezzanine level of the Kodak Theatre were cheering with delight. For Paul Colichman, Stephen Jarchow, Mark Reinhart and Jonathon Aubry, the win was a major step forward in a new foreign-language initiative hatched at their company, Here Media, and its theatrical arm, Regent Releasing, early last year.
Regent Entertainment was founded by Colichman and Jarchow in 1995 as a theatrical releasing and production entity with a focus on gay and lesbian-themed films. The two formed here! Networks in 2002 as a 24-hour VoD service for the gay and lesbian audience, later adding print magazines and their online versions to the group. Now all falling under the soon-to-be-public company umbrella Here Media, the group derives its revenues from subscription, advertising and licensing revenues from content it both produces and acquires.
Regent Releasing originally specialised in gay films such as Shelter (US), Summer Storm (Germany) and No Regret (Korea) although not exclusively, also handling US indies such as Stephanie Daley.
But in early 2008, as Jarchow - who is chairman of Here and Regent - explains, the company saw an opportunity in world cinema. “The studios don’t do that any more,” he explains. “For us a film which does $2m-$3m is a success, but for them it doesn’t move the meter. At the same time, a lot of independents were closing down. For the first time we had a legitimate opportunity to acquire movies at prices we could justify versus revenues we could generate.”
Costs were not the only motivation for the company, since, says Jarchow, the gay audience which Here knows so well is “very attuned” to world cinema programming. “Gay and lesbian people represent one third of the audience that goes to foreign movies. They are three times more likely to go and see a foreign-language film.
“They are very diverse when it comes to taste and location of the movies and tend to be taste-makers much more than a straight audience.”
The group decided that a push into world cinema could increase revenues - which Jarchow posits at between $25m and $50m a year - at the company by 50% if effectively exploited across theatrical, DVD, broadband and TV platforms. “It’s very meaningful and profitable for us to do this,” he explains, “but for a studio, it’s not worth their while.”
For Reinhart, executive vice-president, acquisitions and entertainment, at Here and Regent, an international veteran who has spearheaded acquisitions for eight years, the move into world cinema started with an opportunity to buy two movies from Fortissimo Films - Service (Serbis) and Tokyo Sonata. “We had a p&a fund (from Merrill Lynch) and were looking for ways to expand out our profits,” he says. “This was a natural evolution, really. I know Fortissimo were attracted by our work with film-makers and our track record in marketing films in an effective way.”
Soon after closing the two Fortissimo films, Reinhart bought three more from the venerable sales agent - Tatia Rosenthal’s $9.99, Majid Majidi’s The Song Of Sparrows and Gyorgy Palfi’s Taxidermia. In November last year, the company was approached by Shochiku to buy Departures and Reinhart closed the deal in December. He is looking to buy two to three films in Cannes next month.
Regent Releasing president John Lambert oversees the division with Reinhart and handles booking and day-to-day operations, while Aubry is vice-president of marketing, hiring independent publicists in Los Angeles and New York on each title. New York-based marketing consultant Steven Raphael has been working with the company for over a year now. “We’re having no problem booking the theatres,” says Reinhart. “The indie film circuit loves good cinema. In marketing terms, we spend conservatively but we use a mix of media and are very targeted. We advertised Tokyo Sonata and will do Departures on Japanese TV stations, we hired Japanese and Iranian (for The Song Of Sparrows) consultants to help us reach their communities in the US, we take ads on National Public Radio. The idea is to hit pockets of intellectual culture within the niche.”
Indeed the company now defines itself as not just targeting gay and lesbian audiences but producing and distributing “niche content” for a sophisticated audience, of which the gay and lesbian clientele is a part.
The company has plans to release 15-20 world titles a year and build a brand with which upscale audiences will become familiar. “Theatrical is still important for these films,” says Reinhart. “It creates an awareness and a value you don’t get otherwise.” He adds that Tokyo Sonata opened with a powerful $14,258 screen average on the weekend beginning March 13 in some of the nation’s best-known arthouse theatres such as the Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center in New York.
Meanwhile, as a natural extension of the programme, the company has plans to create a world cinema VoD service which will initially be a part of the Here menu used principally by the gay and lesbian audience. Like IFC Films and Magnolia Pictures, Regent will debut its films simultaneously in theatres and on VoD.
“Our objective is to get these movies out there on as many platforms as possible,” says Jarchow. “Here Media is a cross-platform distribution company and our job is to earn subscription revenue from our subscribers and to sell advertising. Our goal is to make these films available not just for gay people but also to a broader sophisticated audience.”
Regent Worldwide Sales
|REGENT RELEASING WORLD CINEMA ACQUISITIONS, 2008-09|
|Film (Director)||Country||US release|
|Service (Brillante Mendoza)||Philippines||Jan 30, 2009|
|Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)||Japan||March 13, 2009|
|The Song of Sparrows (Majid Majidi)||Iran||April 3, 2009|
|Little Ashes (Paul Morrison)||UK||May 8, 2009|
|Departures (Yojiro Takita)||Japan||May 29, 2009|
|$9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal)||Australia||June 19, 2009|
|Shake Hands With The Devil (Roger Spottiswoode)||Canada||July 2009|
|Taxidermia (Gyorgy Palfi)||Hungary||Aug 2009|
|The Little Traitor (Lynn Roth)||Israel||Sept 2009|
|The Blue Tooth Virgin (Russell Brown)||US||Sept 2009|
|Eichmann (Robert Young)||UK||Oct 2009|
|Patrik, Age 1.5 (Ella Lemhagen)||Sweden||Autumn 2009|