By the time TIFF rolled around, NEON was impressing the filmmakers of its first big play, I, Tonya, with a well-drawn presentation right after the movie’s festival premiere. They brought to their meeting the same Dove ice cream bars that Jeff Gillooly stocked in Tonya Harding’s refrigerator, his awkward attempt to make her feel valued.
The team had a clear idea how to exploit the black comedy of the film without disregarding its depiction of serious abuse, which had made the movie a hot potato. They also made it clear they saw Oscar potential, and pledged to campaign for Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Robbie went on to a nomination and Janney a win, and the slow rollout of the film through the Winter Olympics led to a $30 million domestic gross.
The stakes on I, Tonya were made clear to Quinn and his publicity veep Christina Zisa when they spent last Thanksgiving ice skating in Portland with Harding herself, and allayed her fears that her six-year-old son not feel the same level of shame that the skater did when she became scarred by the scandal that ended her skating career.
They followed I, Tonya in short order with the biggest splash of Sundance this year. After NEON’s partner on that movie, 30WEST, acquired a majority stake in the distributor—buying out China-based Sparkle Roll—the new partners set an eight-figure world rights acquisition of Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation, along with Joe and Anthony Russo’s AGBO. Quinn knew he had to have the film within its first five minutes. He was so into the socially-aware, Heathers-meets-A Clockwork Orange satire that he had to leave the theater for a moment to compose himself.
While NEON did well with Colossal, Assassination Nation is really its second opportunity after I, Tonya to make a big splash as it evolves into a 10-release annual schedule. The company has impressed with its clever marketing and distribution strategies, assembled by a brain-trust that includes Zisa, distribution executive veep Elissa Federoff, marketing and distribution senior veep Sumyi Antonson, and chief marketing officer Christian Parkes. As the industry shifts on its axis, NEON is proof that creative thinking and savvy decision-making remain the most solid of foundations.