Through his work in the Scottish exhibition sector, Nick Varley knew that putting classic films on screen had a number of obstacles. "If you want to do a good retrospective, you have to find a print that's worth screening. Programming was being compromised because of the state of prints and their availability."
In 2003, he teamed with John Letham to launch Glasgow-based distributor Park Circus to specialise in back-catalogue and repertory runs. Letham had also worked in exhibition and had a background in marketing and electronics and saw the potential for digital cinema.
"We saw a gap in the market commercially with classic films," Varley says. "It's a hell of a lot of work servicing cinemas with old films, managing rights and materials."
They started with a trial theatrical release for What Ever Happened To Baby Jane' Letham says: "It was a good test case because you couldn't buy it on DVD at the time."
From there, Park Circus took over the UK and international theatrical licensing for Granada International. "We were at the right place at the right time - they wanted to make more theatrical use of their library," Varley says.
Letham says the business "snowballed" from that deal, and Park Circus now manages theatrical rights to more than 7,000 films, including Brief Encounter, Casablanca, Last Tango In Paris, Taxi Driver and Withnail & I. It works with the libraries of Icon Entertainment International, Buena Vista International (UK), MGM/UA and others. Park Circus not only operates in the UK, but for a library like Granada, also serves as worldwide theatrical licensing representative. "For rights holders, it's about increasing revenues from libraries," Letham says.
There is some work to be done before slapping those films on screen. Varley notes: "We inherited some really terrible materials, prints that were 20-30 years old." The company works with rights holders to restore and digitise the films - something that benefits not only a theatrical run but can help DVD and TV sales as well.
Letham says DVD does not pose a threat to Park Circus' emphasis on theatrical reissues. "It's an added bonus. It's fresh eyes coming to a film that also want that big-screen experience; they may also own the DVD."
He adds: "DVDs are making people more film literate, so that might also drive them to see more films on the big screen."
Often Park Circus' releases are helped by the UK Film Council's Prints & Advertising Fund, which supports specialised releases.
Letham says the UK Film Council's Digital Screen Network is also key to Park Circus' business. "We're quite keen to be involved in that. It's very different for cinemas, it gives them so much more flexibility. They can play a film for a day or for a week."
A case in point is Park Circus' one-day showing of Goldfinger on 136 screens in July. "There is no way we could have done that on traditional 35mm prints," Letham says. The James Bond classic, part of the Summer of British Film series with the UK Film Council and BBC2, tallied more than $85,000 (£42,000) in one night.
Releases still to come this year are The Sound Of Music and All About Eve, followed by 2008 plans for The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps and another Bond film. There could be plans to resurrect the successful Summer of British Film again, if the partners wish to continue.
Park Circus is also working with Network for theatrical bookings of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Cannes title Flight Of The Red Balloon.
|PARK CIRCUS: TOP UK OPENINGS|
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