Icon Distribution UK sets sights on AFM; will add acquisitions executive; Demonic among likely first releases.

The announcement of Jerome Booth’s acquisition of Icon Film Distribution brings to a close long-running speculation about potential investors for the well-known outfit, which ceased distribution in the UK in late 2011.

Ian Dawson, the long-standing Icon exec who has today been named CEO of IFD, told ScreenDaily that Booth only recently voiced interest.

“We have been talking to them for a relatively short period of time,” said Dawson. “But Jerome has a significant passion for this area so the timing was fortuitous.”

Booth, an economist and former head of research at asset management company Ashmore Group, placed 425th on the Sunday Times 2013 Richlist with an estimated wealth of £189m.

He set up New Sparta in June but, according to Icon, has been busily building a portfolio of film and media companies, including production company New Sparta Films, which recently invested in The Silent Storm, starring Damian Lewis and Andrea Riseborough.

Gap in the market

“We see this as a huge opportunity at a time when consolidation between larger independents has created a real gap in the middle of the market,” continued Dawson.

In recent years, the UK landscape has witnessed eOne’s acquisition of Momentum, the cessation of Revolver’s UK activities and struggles from a handful of home entertainment outfits.

Acquisition plans

AFM will mark the IFD’s renewed foray into acquisitions, with CEO Dawson and head of theatrical Zak Brilliant at the helm. Agent and producer meetings will be top of their agenda but acquisitions are also on the cards.

“We will be looking for commercially driven films which have a clear audience and projects we have a passion for,” said Dawson. “We see a gap in the £2-4m box office market, but we’ll also continue to add smaller films that have a potential to break out.”

Dawson confirmed that the outfit will look to add an acquisitions executive in the coming months and will also lock down a W1 London base.

New releases

As for a release timetable, the company’s tie up with Lionsgate UK, which has recently released You’re Next, Bachelorette and Only God Forgives for Icon, will continue until the release of Postman Pat in May 2014.

“They have been a great partner for us,” said Dawson of Lionsgate. “We are open to a dialogue about future releases if there are ways to work together.”

Following the release of Postman Pat, Icon is already lining up a slate of new titles. Dawson said: “We have a couple of projects which will come onto our slate. The biggest of those at the moment is probably the James Wan thriller Demonic, starring Maria Bello.”

Dawson confirmed that the distributor will not have an automatic route to the big-budget films produced by Len Blavatnik’s AI Film such as Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Elton John biopic Rocketman and Sherlock Holmes mystery Trick of the Mind, but will compete for those films with other UK indies and studios.

He explained: “We have a great relationship with AI. We will look at their projects where we see an opportunity for the UK market.”

Icon-backed US box office hit Lee Daniels’ The Butler is expected to be released through TWC’s deal with Entertainment.

Icon’s previous catalogue included critical hits Man on Wire and A Single Man as well as box office hits Paranormal Activity and crowd-pleasers such as What Women Want.

The company raked in UK box office takings of $26.8m (2009) and $26.3m (2010) but then saw a reversal of fortunes in 2011.

Dawson hopes to achieve a similar range of product this go-around and added: “We would hope to be able to cover both bases. A Paranormal Activity would be consistent with our new model but we’d also love to have a Man on Wire or La Vie En Rose.”

Distribution focus

While some distributors are channelling more resource toward production and development, Dawson said Icon will focus on distribution for now.

He added: “We have no immediate production plans within the business but, as previously, would hope to work closely with producers at an early stage wherever possible - especially on UK originated material.”

The company won’t be returning to the international sales business either. In February of this year, Exclusive Media acquired international sales rights to more than 200 of Icon’s back catalogue, including What Women Want, Project Nim, Mean Streets and Coriolanus.