New Players Enter the Picture

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In Focus

The June edition of Film Journal International includes an in-depth look at the new technologies being offered to movie theatres all over the globe. It is astounding how digital has made these different innovations possible. The pioneers of the theatrical business would think they were in a different universe if they entered one of today’s super-innovative megaplexes.

As impressed as this editor was with all of the new bells and whistles from Dolby, Christie, Barco, NEC and others, what jumped out at us was the tremendous diversity of content for the remainder of 2015 and 2016. The trailers and clips augur some huge successes, and the pre-summer season has already started out with a bang with Universal’s Furious 7 and Disney’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. We heard from Senator Chris Dodd, John Fithian and just about every studio head and exhibitor that 2015 will be the best year ever for the motion picture industry. Amen to that.

What also keeps this industry going through all its ups and downs and releases of major tentpoles are the smaller films, some artistic in nature and some just telling a good story without big effects, that are released by companies that have beaten the odds and been around for many years—companies like Fox Searchlight, Focus Features, Sony Pictures Classics, Relativity and Roadside Attractions. Now this list has expanded with newcomers STX Entertainment, Bleecker Street and Broad Green Pictures. These three companies have solid financial backing, some good content in the hopper, and major commitments to bulking up their staff.

STX was founded last year by film producer Robert Simonds and TPG managing partner Bill McGlashen with a mission to provide an alternative to mega-budget superhero movies. The studio plans to produce films in the $20 million to $80 million range with name actors. Its long-range goal is to release as many as 15 films annually, and the company has already signed talent like Matthew McConaughey, Julia Roberts, director Gary Ross and The Purge producer Jason Blum.

STX is backed by venture-capital company and co-founder TPG, Chinese private-equity firm Hony Capital, and investors Gigi Pritzker and Beau Wrigley, with additional film financing from China’s Huayi Brothers. The new company is aiming to spend as much as $1 billion annually on producing, marketing and self-distributing its films by 2017.

STX already has guaranteed release commitments from the country’s four largest exhibitors, and multi-year pacts with Showtime Networks and Universal Home Entertainment—deals that signal a potential major new studio,

Simonds and STX president Sophie Watts are also looking beyond theatrical releases to other arenas like TV, videogames and streaming. They appear to have the capital to achieve their goals and have put together an amazing team of talented executives including motion picture group chairman Adam Fogelson, motion picture group president Oren Aviv, and prominent distribution heads Kevin Grayson and Jim Amos.

Bleecker Street CEO Andrew Karpen is also taking his company into the big time with major appointments to his executive staff last September including Jack Foley as president of distribution and Myles Bender as president of marketing and creative services. Other hires include Tyler DiNapoli as president of marketing, media and research and Kent Sanderson as president of acquisitions and ancillary distribution.

In January, Karpen finalized a multi-year output deal with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, which will handle all marketing, sales and distribution services for the Blu-ray, DVD, electronic sell-through and VOD platforms of Bleecker Street films in the U.S. The deal commenced with the Al Pacino starrer Danny Collins, to be followed by Captain Fantastic starring Viggo Mortensen, Pawn Sacrifice with Tobey Maguire, and Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston.

Broad Green Pictures, founded by Gabriel and Daniel Hammond, recently announced their inaugural 2015 theatrical slate, which includes Eden, Learning to Drive, A Walk in the Woods (pairing Robert Redford and Nick Nolte) and 99 Homes (starring Andrew Garfield). The company will also release the next three films from acclaimed director Terrence Malick. Dylan Wiley, formerly of Entertainment One Films, was just named president of specialty releasing.

The industry is looking at a potential 25 more movies coming into the landscape annually. These are substantial numbers from substantial new enterprises. FJI wishes them well and is certain that the industry will welcome them with arms wide open.

Tracking New Technologies

As the industry left Las Vegas on April 24 after a very successful CinemaCon, the general feeling was that all was in good hands for the next two years. The delegates walked away from each studio presentation with a renewed enthusiasm for the industry they love.

One of the highlights of this year’s show was the number of new technologies on display for the delegates. The June issue of Film Journal International takes a look at this breakout year with a summary of select tech highlights by executive editor Kevin Lally.

Perhaps the most talked-about innovation was Dolby’s new High Dynamic Range technology, branded as Dolby Vision. The screening of Disney and Pixar’s new Inside Out was the first-ever screening of a feature film in the format.

Also making a big impression at the annual convention were the initiatives by Barco and Korea’s CJ Group to extend the picture viewing area beyond the screen at the front of the theatre and onto the side walls. Cinema Barco and CJ’s ScreenX technology excited the crowds. Immersive sound also played a major role at the convention, as nearly 1,550 screens have been installed or are committed to Dolby Atmos and Barco Auro technologies. Laser projectors were also touted to the delegates in the trade show and various suites.

One final trend at CinemaCon was a new emphasis on showmanship outside the auditorium and in the lobby where moviegoers first gather before entering the theatre; Christie and Barco showed off their Christie Experiential Networks and Barco’s Lobby Enchantment. We hope you find our coverage of these trends informative.