BREAKING: Bob and Jeanne Berney are leaving FilmDistrict, the company they helped form for GK Films in September, 2010. The distribution company run by Peter Schlessel is consolidating its operations to Los Angeles and the Berneys want to stay in New York. They will stay on until March 1 and see through the release of the upcoming Angelina Jolie-directed In The Land Of Blood and Honey. The division has done fine so far, starting with the hits Insidious and Soul Surfer, and most recently releasing Drive and the Johnny Depp-starrer The Rum Diary. No immediate word on who will run distribution and marketing for the division.
The exit is shocking, but not nearly as shocking as when they exited Apparition, which Bob Berney started in partnership with producer/financier Bill Pohlad. Berney stunned Pohlad by opting out of his deal in May, 2010, on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival. While Pohlad initially toyed with the idea of carrying on, staff was laid off and the business was over soon after.
Berney joined FilmDistrict as president of Theatrical Distribution, and the plan was to acquire and release four to eight films each year that could play in wide release. The division got started with the $1.5 million budget Insidious, which grossed $54 million domestic, followed by ,Soul Surfer, which grossed $44 million domestic. FilmDistrict followed with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which grossed $24 million domestic so far. The division most recently released the stylish Nicolas Winding Refn-directed Drive, which has so far grossed $34 million domestic. The division just opened The Rum Diary, a film that was financed by GK Films partners Graham King and Tim Headington, who do a lot of business with the film’s star, Johnny Depp. That film, with a $45 million budget, has grossed under $7 million heading into its second weekend.
The mix of Schlessel, an accomplished dealmaker who brought Sony films like District 9, and the marketing and distribution combo and the Berneys seemed a strong mix. Indeed, those pieces seemed to be working, but the early reaction in the distribution community is that this had been rumored for weeks, and perhaps the chemistry was off between Schlessel and the Berneys. For their part, FilmDistrict is attributing it all to consolidation, which seems hard to believe given Berney’s regard as a distributor of indie films. He’s overseen such releases as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Passion of the Christ, so he knows what he’s doing–even if he’s doing it from New York.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the good news in the independent film business over the last year,” Bob Berney said in a statement. “While I believe in the strategy of FilmDistrict, I remain committed to my roots and family in New York, where there is a vibrant film community. The team Jeanne and I assembled in New York and Chicago are second to none and we all are proud of the work we’ve done and the great successes we’ve had. I wish my colleagues at FilmDistrict good luck in the years to come.”
Said FilmDistrict CEO Schlessel: “This consolidation was necessary due to the inherent difficulties of having our production, acquisition and business divisions in Los Angeles with our distribution and marketing team in New York. We are very excited about next year’s slate of films.” He called the Berneys “an integral part of launching FilmDistrict.”