It's a fascinating opportunity,' Zygi Kamasa says of his job as head of Lionsgate UK. He has the power (and financial backing) of a major US player while also having the autonomy to run the UK operation as a separate business. No wonder Kamasa has just signed a new three-year contract with the company.
'We are 100% owned by Lionsgate but they want to inspire us to be a standalone business. They want to incentivise us, within the parameters of our budgets, to be as ambitious and autonomous as we like,' Kamasa explains. 'Very few UK companies have that kind of autonomy.
The majors here are hubs of the US. We have total control of our own marketing, total control of our own budgets, total control of what we acquire.'
That hands-off approach from the US parent company is partly because of the success Kamasa and his team have had in recent years. Lionsgate bought Redbus Film Distribution in an estimated $35m deal in late 2005, rebranding it as Lionsgate UK in February 2006. Redbus, founded by CEO Simon Franks and managing director Kamasa, had been around since 1998 with hits including Bend It Like Beckham (Franks is now consulting for Lionsgate's international business).
Kamasa also has a voice in US greenlights and runs the Australian business (theatrical distribution is handled via Hoyts, home entertainment through Sony).
Of course, if Lionsgate UK were to have a string of flops, that autonomy would be curtailed. 'Thus far they've been terrific in supporting me, but of course we're making money for them,' says Kamasa (Lionsgate US is in a healthy financial position with $371m in cash assets and a new credit facility of $340m).
Lionsgate UK's box-office takings were about $41m (£22m) in 2007 (about double the takings of Redbus) and Kamasa expects to tally about $47m-$50m (£25m-£27m) in 2008, and has his sights on almost double that for $75m-$94m (£40m-£50m) or more for 2009. With New Line's output dried up for Entertainment, there should be ample opportunity for Lionsgate to rival that business.
'The ambition with the slate for next year, having invested so much, is to have three to four films that could do $19m (£10m),' he says.
If that goal sounds ambitious, the list of titles for 2009 makes it look very possible: Frank Miller's The Spirit; Crank 2: High Voltage starring Jason Statham; Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell (which Universal has for the US); and riskier titles such as Werner Herzog's reinvention of Bad Lieutenant.
Lionsgate UK benefits from a steady pipeline of releases from Lionsgate US (and its new partner Mandate Pictures) for 8-10 films per year and then acquires 6-8 more films independently.
'What we're trying to do is a slate with a diverse range of films. We need a real mix of comedy, horror, action, thrillers and also the arthouse titles,' Kamasa says.
One surprisingly successful launch earlier in 2008 was February release The Bank Job, which took the top spot at the UK box office and ran a tally of $8.4m (£4.5m).
'It was topical and people just thought it was a good old-fashioned romp,' Kamasa notes. 'And it's been a phenomenal success on DVD.'
That makes up for lacklustre releases of The Eye and The Forbidden Kingdom. 'It's all down to expectations,' Kamasa says. 'We've got a strong second half of '08.' Those include thriller Righteous Kill, Oliver Stone's W, romantic comedy My Best Friend's Girl and Saw V.
He has a 12-person theatrical team for the big releases and a two-person team devoted to speciality releases (such as The Lives Of Others, The Edge Of Love, I've Loved You So Long and James Gray's Two Lovers). 'The idea for those movies is to have a small division that's very profitable,' he notes of the speciality arm. 'We tend to acquire those titles as finished movies, it's too risky at script stage.'
Another area of growth is UK productions. Lionsgate UK has pledged to co-produce at least two UK films per year, with the first - Noel Clarke's sci-fi story 83 - likely to shoot in early 2009. Most are still at the development stage (see box below).
'Our involvement will take different forms,' explains Kamasa, a TV production veteran. 'Hopefully film-makers out there do see us as an asset. They're not just coming to us for our money, but for our involvement and our understanding of the marketplace.' Nick Manzi and Emma Berkofsky spearhead production and development for the company.
'I'm very much committed to growing the business through acquiring, and growing the business through production,' Kamasa says. He and his team will be in Toronto, but he notes that 'We've got a big slate for 2009, so the majority of acquisitions I will make in the next six months will be at script stage for our 2010 slate. Still, we're always interested in good movies.'