BREAKING: MGM and Annapurna Pictures have branded a joint venture United Artists Releasing. The revived label will pool the distribution resources of Annapurna, MGM and Orion into a cohesive apparatus that will release films generated by all three, supplemented by select third party films. The hope is to create a more formidable company to rival the major studio tent poles that increasingly dominate the release calendar. The companies remain separate as does their production divisions.
The companies plan to release 10-14 films through the new distribution label, spanning tent pole sized films to prestige releases. The move comes exactly 100 years since United Artists was first formed by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. MGM and Annapurna have been operating under a U.S. theatrical distribution joint venture since December 2017, so the companies are well versed in each other’s businesses. Orion Pictures is being added to that mix. Annapurna’s Megan Ellison built a top notch distribution operation run by distribution head Erik Lomis and marketing chief David Kaminow, and the companies worked together in a previous joint venture on films like MGM’s Creed II and allowed MGM to handle the domestic distribution on Bond 25, the Cary Fukunaga-directed film that stars Daniel Craig and is set for release February 14, 2020. When that happens, it will be the first Bond film to be released under the UA logo in two decades.
Aside from Creed II, the films released through the joint venture included the Adam McKay-directed Best Picture nominee Vice, and the Barry Jenkins-directed If Beale Street Could Talk, latter two of which were produced by Annapurna.
Each partner went through changes last year. The MGM board ousted chairman Gary Barber (who encouraged a sale) and set a course to become a content creator. Some wondered if a sale will still be in the cards, but it was clear that MGM was being positioned to escalate its slate of films, and built its OTT service EPIX. Last July, the studio raised its debt cap, including a $1.7 billion credit facility over five years to free up production financing. Annapurna last October saw the exit of film president Chelsea Barnard, with Jennifer Lopez’s Hustlers project and Jay Roach’s Roger Ailes pic both leaving the Annapurna fold. Rumors abounded that some of the Annapurna films were too costly and that a new discipline would take hold. It will be welcome news to many in the community that this expansion of the joint venture agreement will keep Ellison and Annapurna firmly in the tastemaker space.
“We are excited to evolve our partnership and are honored to carry out projects under United Artists’ remarkable legacy established over the last 100 years,” said MGM Worldwide Motion Picture Group president Jonathan Glickman. “The United Artists brand is a natural fit, as our joint venture was founded around the same principle as its namesake: to help filmmakers maintain financial and artistic control over the marketing and distribution of their diverse slate of films. The venture’s forward-thinking strategic marketing and distribution team will continue to pursue that mission as we expand the partnership.”
Said Ellison in a statement: “I could not be more excited to have the opportunity to expand this releasing venture under the iconic banner that is United Artists. Annapurna was founded with a very similar intent as the original UA in 1919 – to provide a home for artists and their creations in hopes of moving our culture forward. With the major corporations continuing to consolidate, I believe it is important to have an independent option to provide a sanctuary where we can bring forth transparency, dedication, and fair treatment for all the films we have and will continue to love and service. Our team is comprised of not only the most talented executives in the business but also true lovers of film and to take on this initiative with MGM is as exciting as it is promising.”
The joint venture will be overseen by a Board of Directors that will be equal parts MGM and Annapurna. David Kaminow, President of Marketing and Erik Lomis, President of Distribution, and newly-appointed United Artists Releasing Chief Operating Officer Pam Kunath (who came from Sony Motion Pictures Group and Screen Gems) will manage the joint venture. Senior members of Annapurna’s theatrical releasing team will also join United Artists Releasing, including President of Publicity Adriene Bowles, President of Creative Advertising Michael Pavlic, and Executive Vice President and Head of Media Anne Yoo.
A new wrinkle in the MGM-Annapurna relationship is the theatrical distribution team from Orion Pictures led by Kevin Wilson, who will assume the role of General Sales Manager of United Artists Releasing. He will report to Lomis. United Artists Releasing will expand into a new office space centrally located between both MGM and Annapurna in West Hollywood. United Artists Releasing staff located in New York will continue to work out of Annapurna’s Soho offices.
United Artists Releasing’s 2019 slate includes the Sundance premiere Fighting with My Family that stars Dwayne Johnson, the Richard Linklater-directed Where’d You Go Bernadette, the LAIKA stop motion animated Missing Link, a reboot of the genre film Child’s Play, The Hustle, the Rebel Wilson-Anne Hathaway comedy that is a gender flipped version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Olivia Wilde-directed Booksmart, and the animated feature The Addams Family, featuring a voice cast that includes Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron and directed by Conrad Vernon.