Some great things have come from sharks – Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, Steven Spielberg’s career, and “Sharknado,” to name a few. Showbiz mogul Byron Allen used one to launch his theatrical distribution company, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.
“I’ve studied all the release models, genres, and movies, and I’ve noticed that a shark movie that comes out in the summer never fails,” Allen said. So, less than a year after his company bought veterinary distributor Freestyle Releasing in 2015, he walked the beach to his neighbor in Malibu, Bob Weinstein, after hearing that “47 meters down” from Dimension was struggling to be freed, and went to kill him.
“I said, ‘If I [offer] $ 3 million, are we done? ‘ Next thing I know is he calls and says, “You know that movie you bought me on the beach? There are 10,000 units of DVDs on trucks heading for the stores. video all over America. ‘ “
Allen wired the payment, stopped just-in-time deliveries, sat on it for a year, and ended up with one of the highest-grossing indies of 2017: “47 Meters Down” debuted in June 2017 and grossed $ 44.3 million, with Allen sharing his $ 30 million P&A spend with a partner for a healthy profit.
It was a good start for Allen and ESMP President Mark Borde, who sold Freestyle to Allen and stayed on board for three years before leaving in November. Another Freestyle veteran, ESMP Acquisitions Manager Chris Charalambous, remains with a Century City-based team of 20.
The theatrical waters proved to be more choppy for later versions of ESMP, however. “Hostiles” and “Chappaquiddick”, more expensive films picked up after this shark flick, grossed $ 29.8 million and $ 17.4 million, respectively, at the domestic box office, while “Friend Request” and “The Hurricane Heist” were both considerably inferior, bubbly with audiences and critics.
And ESMP’s latest release, “Replicas,” grossed $ 2.5 million nationally in 2,329 theaters on its opening weekend, a particularly poor start for star Keanu Reeves in a wide release.
But Allen isn’t fazed by the difficult theatrical climate for independents. He believes moderate-budget movies can fetch $ 30-60 million at the domestic box office when backed by meaningful marketing campaigns. After decades in Hollywood, he has a good regard for the risks involved – and an appreciation of the sums involved, from initial marketing costs to domestic market revenues.
“What you need to understand is that Hollywood is a casino and you will probably lose all your money. [P&A] money, ”Allen says. “You have to look at that $ 15 million like you’re putting it on crappy tables and you’ll never see it again.” People may not show up for this movie.
In the case of “Hostiles,” a $ 50 million western starring Christian Bale, Allen invested $ 30 million in P&A plus a substantial minimum guarantee for US rights. The film grossed $ 29.8 million at the domestic box office, and it was only for beginners. “A little secret that people never talk about is that those movies that make between $ 15 and $ 40, maybe $ 50 million at the box office, tend to over-index on home media because they have a lot branded and people didn’t. I don’t have time to see them, ”Allen says. “Hostiles” was one of those films that performed very well on home media. “
And “Chappaquiddick,” Ted Kennedy’s bio-pickup from ESMP “was terrific,” he says. “We spent a little over $ 16 million – not a lot of money – telling people to go see him. I was able to cut millions of dollars in the advertising budget because CNN and Fox News were going crazy talking about the movie.
Allen plans to mitigate risk by bringing in production partners and forging new alliances, including the sales and distribution arm Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures Intl. it launched in partnership with FilmNation. “Our goal is to compete with the biggest film studios on the market,” he says, with 18 to 24 annual releases on 2,500 to 4,000 screens each.
The company is looking for “very commercial, very broad family movies” that are G, PG, or PG-13, “and we really want a solid plate of comedy.” He is also looking for more prestigious “Hostiles” dishes. Upcoming releases include the animated “Arctic Bugs”, the sequel to “47 Meters Down” subtitled “Uncaged” and “Boss Level”, a sci-fi thriller starring Frank Grillo, Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson .
“People are going to be very surprised at how aggressive we will be in 2019 and beyond, as we have spent the last three years aligning acquisition, production, financing and P&A partners,” said Allen, who plans to announce more hires in the next six months.
“We ‘ve de-risked it significantly, which allows us to make a larger investment and bring more films to the market.”
Another revenue generator: although focused on acquisitions, ESMP has retained the Freestyle Releasing label for its service offerings, whereby producers retain the rights and pay a distribution royalty.
And the parent company also recently secured $ 500 million in credit facilities to use in Allen’s feature films and bread and butter division: its TV shows and 24-hour HD TV networks that also offer future windows for his films.
“When we believe enough in something, we do it ourselves,” he says. ” It was not my intention. I just found out that it was cheaper to put in the money myself than talking to 50 flakes.
“Our goal is to have 10% of the global box office over the next three years,” Allen said.
Considering Allen’s success in other areas of showbiz, his plans to produce his own list of eight feature films with budgets of up to $ 100 million doesn’t seem so far-fetched. But how it will succeed where many others have failed in the shark infested waters of Hollywood remains to be seen.