BREAKING: A new major independent film distributor has emerged, just in time for Toronto. Andrew Karpen, the longtime co-CEO of Focus Features, has unveiled Bleecker Street, a New York-based distribution company that has backing from 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava.
Karpen has long been a well regarded part of the independent film strata, but he left Focus last March. That was the final piece of a restructuring by Universal Pictures that began in October with the exit of CEO James Schamus, and saw the closing of the Focus Gotham office when the pieces of Peter Schlessel’s FilmDistrict were combined with Focus. Schlessel took the reins of that company and kept some key Focus executives like Jeb Brody, who has been running point on the label’s biggest film Fifty Shades Of Grey. Schlessel wanted to keep Karpen, but after initially running FilmDistrict with key execs Bob and Jeanne Berney on the opposite coast, Schlessel was determined to consolidate the Focus operations in Los Angeles. That was a deal breaker; Karpen has kids in school and was too entrenched on the East Coast to uproot. He stayed on to guide the Oscar-season release of Dallas Buyers Club, which garnered a Best Actor Oscar for Matthew McConaughey. Since then, Karpen has been looking to raise money to start a new company. The name of this one indicates he is reveling in having made the hard decision to stay put.
The change at Focus was a bombshell that happened right after last year’s Toronto Film Festival, where Karpen oversaw the winning bid for Jason Bateman’s directing debut Bad Words in heavy bidding. Many lamented the loss of a stalwart movie buyer, but Karpen has the backing and distribution experience to make a splash and emerge right in the pack of companies that include The Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Classics, Open Road, Lionsgate/Roadside and A24.
Karpen, who holds the CEO title, starts Bleecker with a plan to release three to five pictures next year. He gets started with several plum titles to release after making an output distribution deal with Shivani Rawat’s ShivHans Pictures. Bleecker Street will be responsible for U.S. distribution of three choice films: Danny Collins, the Dan Fogelman-directed pic starring Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale and Christopher Plummer; Captain Fantastic, the Matt Ross-directed film that stars Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Missi Pyle, and Steve Zahn; and Trumbo, the Jay Roach-directed film that stars Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, and Elle Fanning.
Karpen, who joined Focus in 2002, rose to president in 2006 and became co-CEO in 2012. He brings a strong track record that aside from Dallas Buyers Club includes the films Beginners, The Place Beyond The Pines, Moonrise Kingdom, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Kids Are All Right. Karpen will begin staffing up immediately. WME Global’s Graham Taylor and Liesl Copland brokered the deal for Bhargava.
“I’m looking forward to bringing the work of great filmmakers into the marketplace, and I couldn’t be more excited to be launching this new company in New York City,” said Karpen. “Bleecker Street will be well positioned to distribute films on a platform or national basis, whatever best suits each title.”
Said Rawat: “Based on Andrew’s previous success in distributing films, I look forward to working with him in handling our upcoming slate through his new venture.”