For Rigel Entertainment, getting into the feature film business was a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" proposition, says founder, president and CEO John Laing.
After 15 years as a backer, producer and worldwide distributor of TV programming, including the Robocop and Pacific Blue series, Laing felt Rigel could gain an edge by expanding into the theatrical arena. But actually making the move took work, investment and a bit of self-promotion.
"The harder thing is to be taken seriously," says UK-born Laing, who started his career in the TV distribution departments of Warner Bros and Orion Pictures (a mini-studio named after the constellation whose biggest star is, of course, Rigel). "We spent some money promoting our ability to sell through and to attend festivals and get films into competition, and I think the selections we made last year made a very effective impression."
The company's Sharon Stone and Timothy Hutton drama, When A Man Falls In The Forest, which Rigel co-financed and sold internationally, was in competition at last year's Berlin festival but is going straight to DVD in the US through Screen Media Films.
Stuart Gordon's horror thriller Stuck, though, was sold at last November's American Film Market to ThinkFilm for North American theatrical and to Constantin for Germany. Starring Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea and Russell Hornsby, the $4m film, which Rigel co-financed with Jay Firestone's Amicus and is selling internationally, has real theatrical potential, Laing believes. Screenings are "like a team sport", he says. "Everyone in the audience is reacting, cheering or whatever."
The Rigel chief is equally optimistic about Free Style, his company's biggest project yet. The $8m motocross-themed family drama, now in post-production, stars High School Musical's Corbin Bleu. Rigel fully financed the project and is handling worldwide sales and Laing is hoping Bleu's teen fan base will be mobilised by an internet-based marketing drive. Several theatrical distributors have made approaches about acquiring the film, he reports.
Rigel's expansion has been made possible by the accumulation of a significant catalogue of rights to mostly syndicated and cable TV series and movies.
"We've grown a lot in the last two years," Laing says. "Finally all these rights pooled into a library that we were able to capitalise."
The next step for the company, Laing hints, could be a move into the US video distribution business. Having the "backstop" of assured domestic DVD distribution "is the only way we can compete", he says. "We'll be able to buy world rights. We can take what I would call bigger smaller gambles on films."