Industry veteran Bob Berney joins Graham King’s new domestic distribution firm

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In a move that could boost the shrinking independent film market, producer Graham King has formed a new releasing company and hired industry veteran Bob Berney as president of theatrical distribution.

The domestic venture, named FilmDistrict, plans to acquire and release four to eight pictures a year for ‘wide’ release, meaning the films will be shown on more than 1,500 screens rather than a limited number like most art-house films.


Some of the movies will be released directly through FilmDistrict, and others will go through Sony Pictures Entertainment’s film labels TriStar and Triumph.

‘The market needs another smart distributor that can release pictures, given that the studios are making and releasing fewer movies than ever before,’ said Peter Schlessel, a former Sony executive whom King hired in June to head his production company GK Films and who will also be chief executive of FilmDistrict. The new deal does not affect GK Films’ existing three-year distribution deal with Sony.

FilmDistrict is expected to fill a void in the market created when several major studios -- Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. -- gave up releasing independent films through their now-defunct specialty labels and when smaller distributors went dark. FilmDistrict join the likes of other independent distributors such as Summit Entertainment and Lions Gate Entertainment, which compete alongside the major studios, in releasing mostly mainstream movies.

‘There are a lot of movies out there that need distribution,’ said King, ‘and there are producers who need to have guaranteed U.S. distribution before they get their financing so we can help them with that.’

Schlessel said he will work with Sony to decide which films will be distributed by that studio and which ones will be released through FilmDistrict. At this juncture, FilmDistrict has yet to identify its first release.

King’s partner in GK Films, Dallas-based oil and gas tycoon Tim Headington, will finance the overhead, marketing and distribution costs at FilmDistrict, which will have a staff of 25 to 30 people who will be based primarily in New York, with some in L.A. Schlessel, who will be a partner in the new operation along with King and Headington, wouldn’t disclose Headington’s financial commitment other than to say ‘it’s a considerable amount.’

King has been negotiating to bring in Berney ever since he abruptly left his job in May at Apparition, the releasing company he founded after Warner Bros. shuttered the specialty label Picturehouse that he helped launch. Last year, Apparition distributed King’s period drama ‘The Young Victoria.’

Berney is a veteran marketer and distributor whose campaigns helped make such moderately budgeted independent films as ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’ ‘Memento’ and ‘The Passion of the Christ’ into hits among mass audiences.

‘Theater owners are also going to be thrilled that there is a new company that has an aggressive marketing budget and wide releases,’ said Bernie, who earlier in his career owned a theater in Dallas.

King’s focus will continue to be making big-budget star vehicles at GK Films, which produced Warner Bros.’ current release ‘The Town,’ directed by and starring Ben Affleck, the 2006 Oscar winner ‘The Departed,’ Sony’s forthcoming Dec. 10 release ‘The Tourist,’ starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, and next year’s 3-D family film ‘Hugo Cabret,’ directed by Martin Scorsese.

Over the past year, King has been in the process of expanding GK Films, which he founded three years ago with Headington. Last year, the producer moved into the television business, recruiting former Lionsgate executive Craig Cegielski to head the newly formed GK TV.

-- Claudia Eller