Blockbuster Entertainment, which has just added The Opportunists to its haul of Sundance festival pick-ups, now wants to extend its aggressive acquisition policy to include all English-language rights to independent films that can be branded internationally as video store exclusives.
The world's most extensive home entertainment rental chain, with approximately 6,900 outlets spanning the US and 26 other countries, Blockbuster caused a stir at this year's Sundance by agreeing to also underwrite the US theatrical release of films that it pursued during the festival.
In addition to Myles Connell's The Opportunists starring Christopher Walken and Cyndi Lauper, Blockbuster acquired both Valerie Breiman's comedy Love And Sex and Isaac Eaton's dark morality tale Shadow Hours. In each case, the deals included rich advances against revenues and a pledge of as much as $1m in prints and advertising commitments.
The first theatrical distributor to take advantage of Blockbuster's largesse has been Lions Gate Films, which beat out several other suitors including Fine Line Features, for the domestic theatrical distribution rights to Love And Sex.
According to Dean Wilson, chief merchandising officer worldwide for Blockbuster who oversaw an buying team at Sundance that watched more than 50 feature films, further festival acquisitions may well be concluded in the coming weeks. Since he started the initiative in January 1999, Wilson has snapped up more than 70 independent features, including festival films like Australia's Two Hands and star-driven market titles such as Curtain Call.
Now, as Blockbuster gears up for next week's American Film Market, Wilson says he is keen to take the innovative acquisitions scheme overseas as part of an overall policy of increasing the breadth of product across all its stores.
"We have already put 14 independent titles into our stores in Canada, which we consider part of our international network. Soon we will also start relaying product in markets such as the UK and Australia. We want to start slowly and focus initially on the English-language territories in which we operate. But eventually, I can envisage us extending our video exclusives programme to territories such as Mexico and Argentina," said Wilson in an interview.
Blockbuster is also dangling a tentative toe into film financing, agreeing to back a new film by Fred Williamson, a football player who turned actor-producer, in exchange for the exclusive video rights. "We are putting money upfront, but we will walk slowly or rather crawl before we run into film financing," stressed Wilson. "We have no long-term ambition to become a film producer or to read scripts. What we do best as a company is packaging and marketing the product, not making it."