It was 26 years ago when the original Orion Pictures — known back then for winning more Academy Awards than any studio in town — filed for bankruptcy protection. Now MGM is re-launching the legacy brand as a stand-alone label and has named former Orion exec John Hegeman as president. The first release will come February 2, 2018 with the YA romancer Every Day directed by Michael Sucsy and starring Angourie Rice, Maria Bello and Debby Ryan.
Hegeman, who comes over from Blumhouse’s BH Tilt, plans to build out Orion’s own theatrical distribution, marketing and digital team and will be responsible “for the marketing and distribution of four to six modestly-budgeted films a year, across genres and platforms, both wide and limited releases for targeted audiences,” according to the studio. He will report to Jonathan Glickman, MGM’s President, Motion Picture Group.
The label, which will be fully supported financially by MGM, will be hiring distribution and marketing staff but employ a lower overhead than a traditional studio. And modestly budgeted films are said to be anywhere from $5 million up to the $15M-$20M range. But Orion’s business strategy is designed to be self-contained and full-service (production/marketing/distribution) with original fare.
“After working together, we saw first-hand John’s ingenuity in creating disruptive marketing campaigns with limited budgets. He is the ideal executive to lead Orion as he has proven that he can deftly craft strategies for releases, spanning all genres, to reach targeted audiences without the burden of high-cost traditional advertising,” said Glickman.
During his time at BH Tilt, Hegeman oversaw the wide release of Orion Pictures’ production of James Gunn’s horror thriller The Belko Experiment this past March. That film grossed $10.1M on what was said to be a $5M production (sans marketing and distribution costs). When the Orion name once again came onto the screen, audiences at the Toronto Film Festival last year cheered. That’s because the Orion name — despite its numerous flops — became a brand synonymous with quality films from Woody Allen to Oscar Best Pictures.
The launch and subsequent bankruptcy of the original Orion Pictures is truly a cautionary tale for any re-launch or start-up. It was began by a team out of the old United Artists in a joint venture with Warner Bros. Begun by Mike Medavoy, Arthur Krim, Eric Pleskow, Bill Bernstein and Bob Benjamin, the executives then started their own stand-alone, known for being filmmaker-friendly and allowing a hands-off approach creatively. They used their library from Filmways and AIP and syndication money from the first years of Saturday Night Live to help fund its marketing and distribution costs.
This time around, it’s MGM flipping the bill. The Orion of old — where Hegeman worked for about 10 years — pumped out many Best Picture wins with Miloš Forman’s Amadeus and Oliver Stone’s Platoon in the 1980s and then at the the end of its run it enjoyed two back-to-back Best Picture wins—Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves and Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs. The executives of the Orion of old strongly encouraged the vision of the filmmaker.
“Orion Pictures was founded as a home for innovative filmmakers with unique voices and stories to tell,” said Hegeman. “The new Orion Pictures will embrace that same principle and continue to release commercial entertainment that does not conform to any specific genre, platform or scope. I am excited to work together with Gary and Jon and for what lies ahead. ”
So, this first film from the label — Every Day — is based on David Levithan’s New York Times bestselling novel about a 16 year-old girl who falls in love with a spirit named “A,” a traveling soul who wakes each morning in a different body and lives a different life every day. The screenplay was written by Jesse Andrews (Me And Earl And The Dying Girl). It was produced by Likely Story and FilmWave.
Towards the end of its run when its major stockholder was the 77-year-old John Kluge and there was basically only a marketing and distribution framework left in place, Orion pumped out Robocop, Silence Of The Lambs and Dances With Wolves. However, during its full Orion run it also had hits in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Hoosiers and The Terminator (with Carolco).
The re-launching of Orion as a stand-alone comes right before the Toronto Film Festival which runs September 7-17. In making this announcement, MGM Chairman and CEO Gary Barber said, “We couldn’t think of a better time to revitalize this nostalgic brand and return to U.S. theatrical distribution utilizing this label, with John leading the marketing and distribution efforts.”
Hegeman served as president of BH Tilt, which uses socially and digitally driven campaigns to reach specific audience segments and target market its films. Hegeman spearheaded campaigns for such BH Tilt releases as Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno (grossed $7.1M on a $5M production budget), The Darkness (grossed $10.7M) and launched Lowriders with Telemundo; that made only $6.1M at the box office.
Prior to BH Tilt, Hegeman has held various executive positions including chief marketing officer for New Regency Productions, COO for Fox Atomic, and president of worldwide marketing for both Lionsgate and Artisan Entertainment.