US cable giantHBO and its film production arm HBO Films have formed a new London-basedinternational sales and distribution outfit HBO Films London under theatricalsales veterans Penny Wolf and Rosa Bosch. Wolf and Bosch will be co-managingdirectors of the new division which will continue a theatrical sales push intoall territories for HBO Films-produced features.
The move comesin a year during which HBO has revised its strategy on theatrical distributionboth in the domestic market and internationally. Under HBO Films presidentColin Callender, the network made its first US theatrical deal last year,teaming with Newmarket Films to distribute Real Women Have Curves which grossed over $5m. It also pactedin February with AOL Time Warner stablemate Fine Line Features to handletheatrical distribution on American Splendor which won the grand jury prize at thisyear's Sundance Film Festival.
Thecompany's previous policy was that all HBO Films-produced movies wouldpremiere in North America on HBO channels, and while it has always attempted tosell its films to theatrical buyers overseas through HBO Enterprises, they inturn have been reluctant to commit to titles which will never be released intheatres in the domestic market.
At Cannes lastyear, Callender launched an offensive in international sales, announcing thesale of Richard Loncraine's My House In Umbria to Momentum Pictures in the UK and claimingthat foreign buyers were becoming more aware of HBO's launch campaigns forits movies in the US. "We spend a lot of money in the area ofp&a," he said, "which is more than you can say for the manyfilms which are sold in foreign under the guise of getting a US theatricalrelease but which never do."
Ironically itwas the international response to Real Women which helped change his mind aboutdomestic theatrical. Among the numerous buyers to whom HBO Enterprises sold thefilm at Cannes were Mosaic Entertainment and Optimum Releasing in the UK, BIMDistribuzione in Italy, Gussi in Mexico, ABC Distribution in Benelux andMonopole Pathe in Switzerland. Many of those buyers, despite their enthusiasmfor the film, still said that a US theatrical release was needed to help theirown prospects.
"In the past, we resisted selling our films todistributors, but this provides us with a real opportunity to release the movieunder the HBO Films banner, and thereby extend the HBO brand into thetheatrical marketplace," said Callender following the deal with Newmarket.
Yesterday, following theannouncement of the appointment of Wolf and Bosch, Callender again appearedbullish on theatrical opportunities. "The international marketplace ischanging rapidly, and we wanted to do business overseas in a completelydifferent way," he said in a statement. "The HBO Films movie slateis broad and eclectic, and we are increasingly attracting filmmakers who have areal profile internationally. Penny and Rosa bring a unique combination ofexperience to HBO, which will enable us to handle the sales and marketing ofour films in an innovative and non-traditional way."
Among the firstfilms which they will likely be handling are American Splendor itself which stars Paul Giamatti andHope Davis, My House In Umbria which stars Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall and Ronnie Barker, Normal, which was world premiered at theSundance Film Festival and stars Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson, suffragettedrama Iron Jawed Angelswith Hilary Swank and Anjelica Huston, and Bruce Beresford' AndStarring Pancho Villa As Himself with Antonio Banderas and Kirk Douglas. The six-hour miniseries AngelsIn America directed byMike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson willcontinue to be sold by HBO Enterprises as a TV event.
"We havebeen observing the impressive development of HBO Films for some time now, andwe look forward to achieving the widest potential for the films and filmmakersin the international arena," said Wolf and Bosch in a joint statement.
"We areextremely fortunate to have with us two of the most talented and imaginativesales executives in today's international film market," added SteveScheffer, president, HBO Film Programming, Video & Enterprises."Their expertise and their elite standing in the theatrical communitywill greatly enhance the international distribution of HBO Films."
Wolf was mostrecently head of sales for Granada Film where she came from her position asvice president of international sales at Capitol Films. She has held previoussales positions at Senator Film International, Vestron, VCL and IAC Film Salesand worked on the sales of such titles as Gosford Park, Ghost World, TheHouse Of Mirth and DancingAt Lughnasa.
Bosch was deputyhead of programming at the National Film Theatre and deputy director of theLondon Film Festival for eight years before entering the world of productionand financing of such titles as Buena Vista Social Club, Calle 54, Lost InLa Mancha and TheDevil's Backbone.She was also partnered in the production and sales outfit Tequila Gang withGuillermo Del Toro, Laura Esquivel, Bertha Navarro and Alejandra Moreno Toscanoand maintains a nonactive role in the company following her appointment at HBOFilms.
HBO Films was founded on themerger of HBO NYC Productions and HBO Pictures in 1999. Since then it hasproduced award-winning films by Billy Crystal (61*), MiraNair (Hysterical Blindness),Richard Loncraine (The Gathering Storm), Gillies McKinnon (The Last Of The Blonde Bombshells), Frank Pierson (Conspiracy), Norman Jewison (Dinner With Friends) and Agnieszka Holland (Shot In The Heart).