Lions Gate International has launched a sales initiative of the urban movies that its parent company produces in an effort to capitalise on the worldwide popularity of hip-hop and US black culture.
The company scored sales success with Dr Dre/Snoop Dogg vehicle The Wash, which grossed over $10m in the US through Lions Gate Films, selling to Metrodome in the UK among others, and is at AFM pushing State Property starring Jay-Z, Civil Brand which played at the Sundance Film Festival and Gang Tapes, which is the story of a 13 year-old boy who takes a camcorder into a gang in South Central LA.
And in development from Lions Gate are The Cookout, a comedy being produced with and starring Oscar nominee Queen Latifah, State Property 2 and The Game, a documentary that has just finished shooting about the rise to fame of young rappers off the street.
"Hip-hop and R&B are popular forms of music throughout the world and we are finding strong interest in these titles from territories like Japan and Germany beyond the English-speaking world," explained Elizabeth Kim, director of sales at Lions Gate International.
"The black American experience resonates in a lot of places." International buyers, says Kim, sometimes have access to soundtrack rights to the pictures and Lions Gate works with the US record labels to track overseas releases. In the case of State Property, Roc-A-Fella Records shipped the soundtrack to nine territories including Canada, Germany and Japan.
Lions Gate has sold State Property to specialised UK urban distributor MIA but Kim says that mainstream independent distributors are seeing the financial upside of urban pictures. "With urban films, there are two ways to go," explains Mike Paseornek, president of feature film productions at Lions Gate. "You go with a strong record industry cast with hip/hop connections or you go with an actor-dominated, story-driven film. There is increasing crossover in the domestic market because the hip/hop world sets trends in the culture here, but music is also an international hook."