Last month the The Sun and BT sponsored Fox UK’s re-release of British classic Chariots of Fire. Screen talked to Fox UK MD Cameron Saunders about the unusual model.

Last month, Fox UK re-released Hugh Hudson’s British classic Chariots of Fire to coincide with the London Olympics.

While on the face of it theatrical take has been relatively modest at £154,000 (downstream revenues were unlikely to be big - Fox reports 7,500 Blu-ray units sold to date), the studio’s outlay was substantially mitigated by corporate sponsorship from telecom giant BT and popular tabloid The Sun [in addition to P&A backing from the BFI].

Consultants Accenture have previously sponsored BFI re-releases, brand tie-ins have always been important for distributors and the likes of Sky have sponsored premieres, but this was a unique partnership for a major commercial distributor in the UK:

“We couldn’t have made this release work unless we found some interesting partnerships,” said Fox UK MD Cameron Saunders. “Normally when you have a theatrical re-release it’s a loss leader. You recoup via home entertainment. Or it’s a small release and it’s supported by the cinema. This was different. It was the first time we’ve worked on a film that was entirely contingent on our partners.”

The BFI were key to guaranteeing the film’s wide release — 149 prints at widest — but BT and The Sun were also significant partners from an early stage. Both stumped up cash contributions which went towards the film’s well-publicised UK premieres, off-shoot events, press advertising, and other publicity.

In return the two companies were allocated cinema tickets and ran promotions for their customers. And most importantly, the sponsorship offered both companies the chance at having their brands associated (again) with the Olympics.

The sponsorship of brand-relevant re-releases could be a new avenue for non-film businesses, says Saunders: “The question is whether we can we get brands more involved in film releases beyond a McDonald’s happy meal or branding snacks. Maybe there are five or six back catalogue films per year that brands can help promote. Brands have always engaged content but there are alternative models to be explored when it comes to smaller scale projects that don’t have a large financial pay off.”

Nick Varley, MD of re-release specialists Park Circus, agrees: “For the right film, this model could work. There can be a synergy. We are talking to potential partners about similar models for our late 2012 releases of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Lawrence of Arabia.”