As any teenage vampire or US distribution executive will attest, the release of Twilight should be a watershed event for Summit Entertainment.

With audience buzz having risen to a crescendo in the run-up to the film's November 21 opening in North America and international markets including Mexico, Italy and Russia, the supernatural teen romance, based on the best-selling novel by Stephanie Meyer and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is on course to become by far the biggest grosser yet for the domestic theatrical distribution arm that production and international sales outfit Summit set up after its April 2007 relaunch.

And a big performance could be particularly significant for an operation like Summit, suggests Richie Fay, the company's president of domestic theatrical distribution.

'Any young distribution company is looking for that tentpole title to build their release schedule around,' says Fay, a domestic distribution veteran with 35 years' experience with US cinema chains and studios under his belt. 'And it looks like Twilight might be that for us.'

As expectations for the film have grown - the book and its three sequels have now sold 17 million copies, creating a huge online fan community and avid interest in the casting of young British actor Robert Pattinson (Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix) as secret vampire Edward Cullen - Summit's release plans have evolved accordingly.

In August, for example, when Warner Bros' Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince suddenly vacated its late-November release slot, Fay and his colleagues jumped at the chance to open Twilight - which had been set for a December 12 debut - six days before the start of the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

'We're a small company, we're very nimble and we react very quickly to change,' Fay asserts. 'All the people who needed to be involved in the decision (to bring the release forward) were in one room within 24 hours and discussed the pros and cons of making the move.'

The move led to increased demand for the film from exhibitors, Fay reports, so Summit committed to a 5,400-screen North American launch, almost twice as big as the launches given to most of the company's five previous domestic releases. And the film's p&a spend was raised to more than $30m, a major sum for an independent distributor.

Summit hopes the marketing push and wide release will attract not just the teenage girls who are the core readership of Meyer's books but also older women and younger males. And a multi-quadrant success with Twilight, Fay suggests, would stand Summit, which has secured rights to make sequels if the first film is a hit, in very good stead as it builds its domestic distribution presence.

'It's not just about Twilight,' Fay says, 'it's about upcoming releases.' A significant hit will increase the company's 'credibility within the industry. So when we talk to an exhibitor about a film next month or next year or two years from now they know we can deliver the goods.'

- See Twilight review, p20.