Bob Berney is to leave his post as senior vice president, marketing and distribution, at IFC Films and join Newmarket Capital Group as a partner in and president of its formal start-up theatrical distribution company which will be based in New York. Newmarket has dipped its toe into US distribution before, self-releasing its own production Memento to great success last year under Berney's aegis and then teaming with Berney and IFC to distribute Donnie Darko.
Meanwhile Jonathan Sehring , the president of IFC Entertainment, the company which encompasses IFC Films as well as IFC Productions, told Screen this week that he is fully committed to continuing IFC Films' distribution activities sans Berney.
While a shock to the independent world, at least the news anticipates the creation of a new outlet for films since Newmarket plans to produce, co-produce and acquire eight to ten films each year. "There is clearly a market for intelligent, independent films," said Newmarket president Will Tyrer. "We left some time between Memento and now, but we were in no rush. After a success like that, you think you know the secrets of life, but you don't. Now we intend to build as we grow." Memento grossed a staggering $25.4m in North America.
Berney said yesterday that it was a difficult decision to leave IFC Films, especially since the company is the king of the independents this year under his management. Acquisition Y Tu Mama Tambien has so far grossed $13.5m, while My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which IFC is releasing theatrically on behalf of its producers Gold Circle Films and Playtone, which are co-financing P&A costs with IFC, is the season's biggest surprise hit. To date it has taken $30.8m and is still going strong in the marketplace. "I am glad that we've had the success we had and that the company has been set up well," he said yesterday. "The Newmarket job is more of a partnership for me and it's just a great opportunity I can't turn down."
That distribution success has thrilled Bravo Networks, the parent group of IFC Entertainment, which had never entered the risky theatrical game before. Its strategy of cross-promoting IFC acquisitions such as Y Tu Mama Tambien on its cable channels IFC (Independent Film Channel) and Bravo, in its theatres and in its IFC Rant magazine has clearly paid off, bringing new awareness to the IFC brand and profits to the bottom line.
However, Berney is known to have been disappointed that he wasn't given the resources to compete in the bidding for two of IFC Productions' hottest properties Tadpole and Monsoon Wedding. Instead those went to Miramax and USA Films respectively.
Berney is a distribution veteran with years of experience behind him, most notably the stand-alone releases of Happiness for producers Good Machine when October Films was barred from releasing it by parent company Universal Pictures and Memento which he released when - bizarrely in retrospect - all others passed on it.
Newmarket gives him the challenge of creating his own distribution mechanism with none of the bureaucratic trappings a large corporation like Bravo Networks entails ' but also none of the the synergies it offered. It also gives him a piece of the financial action at a time when his personal prestige is at a premium. He was recently named "it" indpendent distributor by weekly consumer magazine Entertainment Weekly, giving him the kind of public recognition usually reserved for the likes of Harvey Weinstein.
IFC Films, meanwhile, has already started putting out feelers for a replacement. "Our parent company is very bullish about this business," said Sehring, "and we are looking to replace Bob who will leave after the release of The Chateau on Aug 9." Sehring pointed to the accomplished team in place at IFC Films ' including Rob Schwartz (vice president, marketing, distribution and administration), Greg Forston (vice president, sales), Sarah Lash (director, acquisitions) and Nevette Previd (director, marketing) ' and said that he would now take a greater role in the division than in the past. It was Lash, says Sehring, who first identified Y Tu Mama.
After The Chateau, upcoming films to be released by IFC include Austin Chick's XX/XY (Feb 2003), Rose Troche's The Safety Of Objects (March 2003), Jordon Melamed's Manic (April 2003), Kristian Levring's The Intended (May 2003), Catherine Breillat's Sex Is Comedy (June 2003) and John Sayles' Casa De Los Babys (Aug 2003). That last film was ironically the first to be produced by IFC Productions to which IFC Films was attached as distributor from the outset.
Natural synergies exist between IFC and MGM which owns a 20% equity interest in Bravo and IFC, and already handles domestic video distribution of IFC Films product. MGM's specialty division United Artists run by Bingham Ray in New York would be an obvious partner for IFC, although Sehring would only say that he is looking to talk to everyone.
Newmarket, run by the enterprising former entertainment bankers Tyrer and Chris Ball, has been discreetly engaged in US video distribution for some time through its Saturn Home Entertainment arm which will now handle video distribution on Berney's theatrical product where rights are available. Tyrer said it was committed to theatrical distribution "as long as there is a market for this type of film."
Founded in 1994, Newmarket has a unique business model as a producer, co-producer and third party film financier. Under its film financing arm, it has been involved with over 75 films including The Usual Suspects and Topsy Turvy. On the production side, its credits include Memento, The Mexican, Cruel Intentions and The Skulls.
Tyrer said that it would plan to produce and co-produce movies which Berney would then distribute, eventually reaching a 50/50 balance with acquisitions. In the case of films financed by Newmarket, producers would have the right to place the film elsewhere. Newmarket has close relationships with producers such as Neal Moritz, Lawrence Bender and Barnaby Thompson.
Berney says he hopes he will work closely with Newmarket's production side. "It's great to have a balance of production and acquisition," he said. Meanwhile, with one as yet unannounced film set for release in October, his task at hand is to build a theatrical distribution infrastructure in New York ' just one year after he did exactly that for IFC. "It's back to square one," he joked.