UPDATE: The rumors keep flying about where Bob Berney will land. Deadline has already posted Team Harvey’s denial that the ex-Apparitions chief is headed to the Weinsteins. At least not yet. (Berney Exit Blindsides Apparition) Now the latest chatter is that Berney will rejoin Newmarket to reassemble the glory team behind The Passion Of The Christ and Monster. On the surface, this would make sense because the distribution company has been quietly buying up films. But I just spoke to Newmarket’s Chris Ball who said, “I have great admiration for Bob. But this rumor is unfounded.”

bob berney bill pohladThough Bill Pohlad canceled this week’s film festival travel plans of the Apparition team, I hear Bob Berney is Cannes-bound anyway. And, so far at least, he’s not commenting on the reason for his abrupt exit from the company. So speculation is rampant on why this partnership hit the rocks. After talking with seasoned indie watchers, I’ll venture it has a lot to do with the fact that the distribution company never got the capital necessary to realize the aspirations of Pohlad and Berney. The original intention was to line up 3 principal investors to put up $25 million each and run their specialty films through Apparition. Berney would make other acquisitions and build a slate. After all, Bob embodied the spirit of specialty filmmakers who were excited to see a new distributor on the horizon run by a seasoned executive for such winners as The Passion of the Christ and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

While names of potential partners circulated — like The Blind Side financier/producer Alcon Entertainment — no one else materialized. So Pohlad launched the company alone, with an initial investment around $30 million. Berney put together a good sales team, and Apparition launched with an ancillary output deal with Sony. But I’m told that was mainly for DVD.

The valuable cable component of the deal was very limited — perhaps four ‘put’ slots per year, and none for foreign films or documentaries. Sony wanted Apparition to use those slots for the pricey marquee specialty films that Pohlad financed, like the Terrence Malick-directed Tree of Life. Raising P&A became a struggle. All of these factors took away a lot of Berney’s autonomy as a buyer and it didn’t help that the early films didn’t perform, including Jan Campion’s Bright Star and The Runaways (the R rating of the latter kept out Kristen Stewart’s teen following). How could these factors not create tensions between Berney and Pohlad, but no one heard they were on the outs before Nikki and I got hold of Pohlad’s e-mail last night. Pohlad was clearly blindsided.

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