Gate-Keeper: CineEurope celebrates Patrick Wachsberger's achievements at Lionsgate and Summit

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Cinemas Features

Highly regarded man-about-the-industry Patrick Wachsberger reaches a new summit and passes through a new gate as the 2018 recipient of CineEurope’s prestigious “International Distributor of the Year” Award.

The Paris-born, L.A.-based executive, who arrived in the States in 1977, just wrapped six triumphant years as co-chairman of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, with oversight in acquisition, production and distribution worldwide. His reputation and accomplishments, especially in the areas of international sales and distribution, are unmatched. Under his watch and working alongside co-chair Erik Feig, he helped lead Lionsgate to generate nearly $10 billion in global box-office grosses.

Wachsberger moved from Paris to Los Angeles in 1977 and was immediately brought onboard J&M, the film-sales company, where he worked for many years. In the 1980s he was a mainstay at Odyssey Entertainment, where he helped set up such art-house hits as Bille August’s Oscar-winning Pelle the Conqueror. He also jumped into producing, working with such greats as Sidney Lumet and Irwin Winkler. He then joined the new Summit Entertainment, a company started by industry legends Arnon Milchan, Bernd Eichinger and Andy Vanja. In 1993, when they left, Wachsberger took over the company as chief and majority shareholder.

At Summit, which Lionsgate bought in 2012 and is now a Lionsgate subsidiary, he led the company to become one of the premier independent filmed entertainment studios worldwide, a feat powered by Summit’s blockbuster Twilight saga franchise and the indie smash The Hurt Locker, a dual Oscar winner for both Best Picture and Best Director.

In 2012, when Lionsgate bought the company for $412 million, he reached another summit. Under Wachsberger, Lionsgate had a stunning five-year run due largely to the crowd-pleasing family drama sensation Wonder; the global box-office phenomenon La La Land, winner of six Oscars; double Oscar winner Hacksaw Ridge; the blockbuster Hunger Games, John Wick and Now You See Me franchises; and participation in the indie surprise The Big Sick (in partnership with Amazon Studios).

Wachsberger also led Lionsgate’s global build-out of a distribution infrastructure encompassing nearly 20 output deals in major territories, including the successful 50/50 IDC joint venture in Latin America and Lionsgate’s flourishing self-distribution operations in the U.K., China and India.

Selling to overseas territories and doing output deals began at J&M. He went on to help Peter Guber with such deals at both Mandalay and Paramount, then at Summit when it was just starting up. Output deals continue, “but changes like the collapse of the home-video business and foreign TV deals always have impact.”

He notes, “I’ve always wanted movies that work both domestically and internationally, but you may see something whose strong potential may just be domestic or just international.” He cites Lionsgate’s upcoming Uncle Drew, which “will do well domestically.” Another example is Lionsgate’s surprising smash Wonder, which “worked well domestically and moved in most other places. It was huge in Italy, good in Germany, but was soft in the U.K. and died in France. Part of the trick also is finding the right dates.”

Wachsberger has also notched countless production credits on films like Tom Cruise’s Vanilla Sky and the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie hit Mr. & Mrs. Smith and smaller gems like the Harvey Keitel starrer Bad Lieutenant.

Now, after just having been lionized at a big Lionsgate farewell party at Cannes (he’ll be working with Lionsgate on some future TV projects), Wachsberger embarks on a summer holiday, a much-deserved break.

Come fall, a new gate opens with Wachsberger’s return to Los Angeles, where he will build a new, still-unnamed company. “We’ll continue in production, distribution and sales and be based in L.A. but have also have a London office, because at Summit we had one from the very beginning and that worked out very well.”

But he’s ready for what he calls “the quickly moving sea change we’re in.” TV and licensing will play a role in his new business, but his main focus will be movies for theatres—“three a year instead of feeding the beast with 12 movies a year!”

He observes, “I believe there is still so much opportunity for the big screen, but there are also the Netflixes and Apples to consider. But so many audiences still want to go into those big, dark rooms with people they know or don’t and share that experience, so different from at home.”

Asked about any recipes for a movie’s success, Wachsberger is quick to answer: “Storytelling, which goes back to ancient times and the many who gathered around campfires.” Smaller films he’s handled like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Memento and Requiem for a Dream didn’t have stars or big budgets, “but they had great storytelling and they worked! This still holds true.”

Wachsberger continues to be a big fan of theatres. “They are doing great all over, are being built and renovated so much better and everyone is upgrading—big and small operations—whether in London’s Leicester Square or in the middle of China. The quality is always improving and it pays off.”