When broadcaster Sky and UK exhibitor Odeon joined forces in a 50-50 venture to create new distribution company, Odeon and Sky Filmworks, some eyebrows were raised. Why, observers asked, did the two companies want to venture into an overcrowded and overly competitive field such as theatrical distribution'
Six months after its creation, the practical running of the new outfit is becoming clearer. Odeon and Sky contribute in equal shares to the overhead of the new company, the acquisition of new films and the marketing costs. The venture is headed by Tony Miller, who has had stints in sales at J&M and in production as chief operating officer at Natural Nylon.
Details of the new outfit's first acquisition have just been announced. Filmworks' debut in UK cinemas will be Clayton Jacobson's Australian hit Kenny, a mockumentary about an employee of a company that rents out toilets for events. "It gives us an opportunity to do something a little different to announce ourselves," says Miller. A summer release is likely.
Odeon and Sky Filmworks came about through Miller's acquaintance with Odeon boss Rupert Gavin from his Natural Nylon days. "Rupert Gavin asked me about the potential for distribution at Odeon. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity. The UK market has been crying out for something a little different for some time."
Gavin and Miller mulled over potential partners, turning to Sophie Turner-Laing at Sky. "Sky didn't want to be a passive licencee but were very interested in joint venturing with Odeon for the entire concept."
The company aims to acquire six English-language films in its first year (foreign-language fare may follow). "They will be released theatrically through Odeon and, if successful, through other screens," Miller explains. "It's not an opportunity to earn our income just on DVD and Sky by getting a nominal theatrical release. The idea is to look for theatrical properties so that we have an opportunity of really successfully leveraging these films at the box office."
Miller (who is working out of offices at the Odeon Covent Garden) will not reveal how big his war chest is or what level of release most films will have - although he says he would like to see Filmworks movies go out on "a minimum of between 50 and 80 prints and take it from there".
He envisages that the new outfit will be running the gamut from studio-level product to independent fare, noting that Sky and Odeon's demographics are quite different. Miller has "considerable autonomy" when it comes to acquisitions, but is unlikely to buy titles unless both partners are fully behind them.
The company will not be involved in pre-buys, but will be interested in supporting UK films. Miller says: "First and foremost, we're looking for quality films that appeal to British audiences. I would hope that as many of those as possible would be British films."