Following months of speculation, GK Films’ Graham King and Tim Headington have unveiled a new distribution, production and financing company FilmDistrict in association with GK Films president Peter Schlessel and new president of theatrical distribution Bob Berney.

FilmDistrict is a separate entity from GK Films and will theatrically distribute between four and eight wide commercial films a year, some of which will go through Sony’s TriStar and Triumph labels. The team was in Toronto chiefly to explore relationships and had not identified any potential acquisitions at time of writing.

The aim will be to produce, acquire and provide p&a funds for wide releases in the 1,500-2,000 print range for hefty independent fare on the scale of Red, Righteous Kill and TheTransporter. GK Films production London Boulevard, currently in post-production, may be an early candidate for distribution and it is understood an announcement on the initial slate is forthcoming.

Sony Pictures will take other distribution rights including home entertainment and select television rights. FilmDistrict will parlay its close ties with Steve Bersch and his senior team at the recently renamed Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions (SPWA) into a consulting role.

Schlessel has close relationships with SPWA president Bersch and the team from his 21-year tenure at Sony, when he served for a while as president of worldwide acquisitions. Berney enjoys close ties with SPWA from his days at Apparition when SPWA serviced ancillary platforms.

International distribution will be structured depending on the project and parties involved. If for example FilmDistrict acquires North American rights to a title and SPWA takes international, then Sony Pictures Releasing International would handle overseas distribution. Schlessel and Berney will also liaise closely with King’s international sales head Lisa Wilson.

FilmDistrict’s deal does not affect GK Films’ existing output arrangement with Sony.

Berney arrives following his abrupt departure on the eve of Cannes from Apparition, the company he set up last year with Bill Pohlad. He will report to Schlessel, who will also serve as FilmDistrict CEO.

“It has always been a goal of mine to be involved in all aspects of film-making and distribution,” King said. “I’ve known and worked with Peter for a long time and there is no one else I would rather take this step with. Bob Berney has a fantastic ability to connect with film-makers and he orchestrates very creative marketing campaigns. We’re thrilled to be working with Amy Pascal, Michael Lynton, Jeff Blake and everyone at Sony Pictures in this new venture.”  

“This is a great opportunity for GK Films and FilmDistrict to work with our friends at Sony Pictures in distribution and acquisitions to help keep Sony’s pipeline filled with commercial product,” Schlessel said. “It is a real honour to be asked by Michael, Amy, Jeff and Steve to continue my relationship with the studio and particularly its acquisition group.”

“For exhibitors there is a need for bigger, aggressively marketed wide rleas product because they have a really good capacity,” Bernay said. “Studios are doing fewer tentpole movies and [exhibitors] are going to be very welcome to this. There are so many producers out there who need a wide release home for their projects.”

“Peter Schlessel has one of the best eyes in the business for quality films, as evidenced by his role in bringing District 9 to us,” Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton said. “We will miss having Peter here at the studio, but we’re thrilled to be working with him in his new role at FilmDistrict.”

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Peter for most of my career and his ‘street smarts’ and creative mind have never ceased to impress me,” Sony Pictures  co-chairman Amy Pascal said. “Peter and Bob, along with Graham, will be great partners with us for years to come.”

GK Films COO Bahman Naraghi negotiated the deal with Stefan Litt, executive vice-president and CFO of Sony Pictures’ motion picture group. 

Schlessel will continue to function as president of GK Films, where he is involved in day-to-day company management. 

Berney founded and operated Newmarket Films, Picturehouse, IFC Films and Apparition and released Memento, La Vie En Rose, Pan’s Labryinth, The Young Victoria, The Passion Of The Christ, Monsterand My Big Fat Greek Wedding, among others. He has served as an independent distribution and marketing consultant and began his career in exhibition in Texas.

King continues to focus on producing films though GK Films, which he launched in May 2007 with business partner Headington. The company’s crime drama The Town opened through Warner Bros on September 17 and stands at a little under $50m after less than 11 days. Upcoming releases include The Touriststarring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp through Columbia Pictures on December 10.

The company is currently shooting the 3-D film Hugo Cabret, directed by Martin Scorsese, and is in post-production on The Rum Diary starring Depp and produced by Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil, as well as William Monahan’s London Boulevard starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley. GK Films recently announced several new projects including the untitled Freddie Mercury story to star Sacha Baron Cohen.