"The challenge," says Clark Woods, president of domestic theatrical distribution at MGM, "is that each of the producers comes with fully financed films and, in most cases, fully financed p&a arrangements, so they have a vested interest in what we're doing. Trying to balance all those things is somewhat difficult."
Woods, a distribution veteran who arrived at the new MGM in February 2006 after 25 years at Paramount, is referring to the fact the studio is principally a marketing and distribution mechanism for independent producers with which it has partnership agreements - namely The Weinstein Company (TWC) and sister company Dimension Films, Lakeshore Entertainment and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. Then there are independent acquisitions made by MGM itself such as Rescue Dawn and Wedding Daze and big-budget MGM productions such as Rocky Balboa or the United Artists slate, which kicks off with Robert Redford's Lions For Lambs with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep.
"In a traditional Hollywood studio set-up, the production group would be balancing delivery based on the needs of the organisation as a whole, and the distribution group is more influential in keeping an ongoing product line. But here, sometimes the films come in a rush and sometimes there are no movies."
So far in 2007, MGM has been quiet, releasing only Lakeshore's Blood And Chocolate in January and TWC's Hannibal Rising in February. That will change next month as a steady stream of pictures hits the market to the end of the year.
There has already been plenty of movement. TWC's The Nanny Diaries moved from April to September to accommodate a Venice launch and some reshoots, while Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn shifted from March to the July 4 weekend. "We think that's a great time to match the themes of the movie with the patriotic nature of the weekend," says Woods. "There's a lot of room to slide in the middle. On the back of the blockbusters, two or three movies gross $12m any given weekend. This offers us windows of opportunity."
Woods readily admits that 2006 was not a spectacular year for MGM, with the notable exception of the company's own Rocky Balboa, which took $70m in the domestic market. "We grossed about $211m last year and it's not too bad to go from zero to that," he says. "In 2007 we are trying to do higher quality titles and be more successful at it."
As to whether the producers are satisfied with the MGM system, Woods says the company has to "take care of all their needs. If we don't, they wouldn't come back. We have to show them that we care."
MGM 2007 LINE-UP (DATES CORRECT AT APRIL 17)
May 4 The Flying Scotsman (MGM acquisition)
May 11 Home Of The Brave (Millennium Films)
May 11 The Ex (TWC)
June 1 Mr Brooks (Element Films)
June 29 Death At A Funeral (SKE)
July 6 Rescue Dawn (MGM acquisition)
July 13 1408 (TWC/Dimension)
Aug 3 Charlie Bartlett (SKE)
Aug 17 Fan Boys (TWC)
Aug 17 Wedding Daze (MGM acquisition)
Aug 24 The Last Legion (TWC)
Aug 31 Halloween (TWC/Dimension)
Sept 7 The Nanny Diaries (TWC)
Sept 14 The Feast Of Love (Lakeshore)
Sept 21 Virgin Territory (TWC)
Oct 19 Pathology (Lakeshore)
Nov 9 Lions For Lambs (United Artists)
Nov 16 Elegy aka The Dying Animal (Lakeshore)
Nov 23 The Mist (TWC/Dimension)
TBC Lars And The Real Girl (SKE)