Canada’s leading entertainment company, Entertainment One, is launching into the specialised US theatrical market with a new division, eOne Films North America through an expansion of its Los Angeles-based eOne Films US.

LA-based Dylan Wiley [pictured] has been appointed VP, Theatrical Marketing and Distribution, eOne Films US, which comes under the new eOne Films North America division. Dylan is the former New Line Cinema director of marketing and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy brand manager.

“This restructuring is a direct result of eOne’s increasing global ability to leverage opportunities to enhance our primary business operations in core territories,” Patrice Theroux, President Filmed Entertainment, eOne, told ScreenDaily.

Core territories include North America, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the Benelux.

“Theatrical distribution enhances our ability to secure rights to premium independent films, and there is significant growth opportunity in the US,” Toronto-based Theroux continued. “We’ve done some limited theatrical releases in the US [such as Love Ranch starring Helen Mirren], so we’re growing what’s in place as part of our supply and build strategy.”

eOne Films US will release 12-15 features annually starting in 2012.

A six percent-plus increase in its Canadian box office from less than 1% market share in 2007 to an estimated 8-9% in 2011 has also fuelled the expansion, according to Montreal-based David Reckziegel, who has been promoted to President, eOne Films North America (from his previous post of co-president eOne Films Canada).

“That’s a dramatic growth,” Reckziegel told Screen. “eOne is the number one or number two independent distributor in all of our territories, but we haven’t been as aggressive in the US, so we’re turning our sites to the largest entertainment market in the world to capitalize on a great opportunity to build our US business further by expanding into a more structured and very focused theatrical strategy. We’re integrating what we’re doing in the US with our global strategy, of ‘buy and build’.”

Bryan Gliserman has been promoted to President as part of the restructuring. Toronto-based Gliserman told Screen that eOne’s Canadian box office share has gone from C$32.6 million in 2008 (when he joined the company) to $66.3 million in calendar 2010.

“Halfway through this year we’re sitting at $32 million, and with this line-up,” he says pointing to a stellar fall slate of independent pictures, “We’re comfortable with predicting significant growth this year as well.” The fall line-up includes: Shark Night 3D, Dream House, Killer Elite, 50/50, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1.

Gliserman said eOne Films Canada is launching 22 films at TIFF, including David Cronenberg’s, A Dangerous Method, starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley. The North American premiere gala will take place on the first Saturday night of the festival at Roy Thompson Hall.

However, “this is an integration story,” says Reckziegel, not just a TIFF tale. eOne already has a solid US infrastructure with “50 people on the film side and “close to 150 people when you count the people working in the warehouse in New York,” he explained, pointing to the company’s physical home entertainment operations (of DVDs and CDs for example) as proof. “But because we haven’t really focused on theatrical in the US, people aren’t as aware of our US operation, but it makes money.”

eOne’s US digital business is “the largest independent music distributor in the US,” according to Reckziegel. “Because of that background, we’re very early in the digital game on the film side because we already had a contract on the music side. We were already an aggregator for iTunes in the US, for example.”

Actually, increased ancillary revenues is a key motivator in the eOne expansion stateside.

““Theatrical distribution can enhance the value of a film for ancillary markets,” Reckziegel continued. “It has a quality branding factor and it makes a film stand out from other movies. So if it is good enough to justify a theatrical release, investing more in P&A means you’ll get additional revenues from theatrical; you’ll also drive the ancillary markets to get higher revenues there. A film has higher value whether in VOD, S-VOD or PayTV if it’s been released theatrically. That’s how the math is meant to work.”

A third factor in the expansion has to do with fewer US independent distributors as competition.

“eOne Films US fills a nice gap for commercial independent films in the American market,” Wiley told Screen, noting the US shingle will primarily focus on three types of pictures:

  • Commercial genre films targeted at male youth (such as Centurion)
  • upscale arthouse and foreign pictures (such as Oscar contenders Incendies or Animal Kingdom, as well as the current Whistleblower) and
  • feature documentaries “with break-out potential” (such as The September Issue), are the type of gems eOne is looking to release in the US.

“Everything about us is ‘target, target, target’! We want to put the movie in the hands of the audience that is pre-disposed to want it,” said Wiley, noting he still lives by the motto “Prudent Aggression” which he learned at New Line Cinema in its glory days.

“We’re looking for one-quadrant movies that have a dedicated single audience segment which is well-defined,” Wiley added. “We can expand from there. Being a very well funded company, we have the opportunity to take it out bigger when it warrants.”

As such, eOne Films North America will be shopping for specialty gems at TIFF. “It’s our first market so we’ll be educating people this festival, and telling our story, but we’d hopefully like to come away with a couple of quality films,” said Reckziegel, who said he is “very excited to have someone like Dylan on board”.

“We went after a young guy with his whole career in front of him; someone comfortable with the digital world and someone who has a comfort level with genre films,” Reckziegel explained of choosing the new VP marketing and distribution. “He’s practical and will tell it how it is, but he’s also creative in his way of doing things. As a new player, you have to be even more nimble than the others to find your piece of the pie. And Dylan comes from New Line, which was perhaps the best training ground in the US.”