US distribution guru Bob Berney has finally revealed details of the new distribution company, Apparition, which he has founded with producer Bill Pohlad.
All theatrical work will be done in-house, but Apparition has struck an output deal with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group (SPWAG) for all domestic ancillary rights.
Dan Lange, Bill Thompson and John Lange will work in distribution at Apparition; Sara Rose in acquisitions; and Jeanne R. Berney, Kirk Iwanowski and Molly Albright in marketing.
Details of who else is financing the company aren’t being revealed, Pohlad said.
The company’s first two releases will be Jane Campion’s Bright Star (previously reported) and Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life (which Pohlad co-produced). Berney noted that the company will aim to work with seven or eight titles per year. “That’s a moving target, it has to be films we’re passionate about,” he said. “But that’s good product flow for exhibitor relationships, and I think that it’s reachable in this marketplace.”
The company will be “looking” in Toronto, but only buying if they are passionate about certain films. “It’s not like we’re going on a spending spree, but we would be in a position to acquire if something comes up that we love,” Berney told Screen.
Berney said Sony would be a “great partner” on ancillary, “and we’ll discuss ways we can work together more as we move forward.” Sony will handle VOD/digital releases of Apparition films, and Berney said that will be on a film-by-film basis, as determined by Sony.
Pohlad noted that the company will be linked in spirit but not practically to his production work at production company River Road Entertainment. “We’ve been looking at the distribution business for a long time, but it was important that the company be stand-alone and independent. I don’t want to force feed titles from one company to the other. We’re looking to build a company with Bob for the long term,” Pohlad explained to Screen. “Bob and I have similar tastes in film, but I may have projects that aren’t right for Apparition. On a formal basis, Bob is running the company and I won’t have a title.”
But Berney noted that Pohlad makes a great partner — “It seems like a natural thing, we’ve always talked about films, and I see it as a great discussion all the time about film.”
While the first two projects are English-language dramas, Berney said there are “no barriers” to what kind of genres the company would work with or what level of budgets. They will also acquire foreign-language and documentary projects when appropriate. “If we like a foreign-language film or a documentary, we’d want to work with one that could really break out. We’d want to make sure it could get a large audience.”
As previously reported, the company picked up Jane Campion’s Keats romance Bright Star ahead of its Cannes premiere, and that will mark Apparition’s first release on September 18. It will launch in eight markets before expanding to the top 40 US markets rather quickly, Berney said. Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish star as John Keats and his unlikely muse Fanny Brawne.
The company’s other planned release for the end of 2009 is Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain in the story of a family dealing with devastating loss. Pohlad co-produced the film with Sarah Green, Pitt, Dede Gardner and Grant Hill.
Berney, a longtime force in independent film distribution worked at companies including Picturehouse, Newmarket Films and IFC Films, spearheading releases of such hits as Pan’s Labyrinth, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Passion Of The Christ and Whale Rider.
Pohlad and his production company River Road Entertainment have credits including Brokeback Mountain, A Prairie Home Companion, Into The Wild and current documentary success Food, Inc. New productions include Doug Liman’s Fair Game starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts and Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways starring Twilight’s Kristen Stewart.
Despite the usual cries of woe from the independent sector, Berney said it was actually a good time to launch a new distribution outfit. “The quality films reaching the marketplace have actually done really well,” he said. “There has certainly been a shakeout [with some businesses and speciality arms closing] but it’s not because of difficult films. There still is a huge audience for independent film.”