Lionsgate’s Studio L Digital Content Arm Announces Slate

Lionsgate Feb. 22 announced the first slate of feature films from its digital content business branded Studio L.

The studio’s initial slate is scheduled for release this spring.

“Each project reflects Studio L’s focus on content targeting millennial audiences in partnership with leading brands and digital platforms as well as distinctive creative voices,” according to the studio’s press release.

Studio L EVP Seth Laderman runs Lionsgate’s digital studio content initiatives under the oversight of Lionsgate Television Group COO Laura Kennedy. Studio L develops, finances, produces and distributes premium and targeted feature film and episodic content, primarily in the digital space.

Due May 11 is the coming-of-age, female-driven drama The Honor List, starring Meghan Rienks (“Freakish,” “Mr. Student Body President”), Sasha Pieterse (“Pretty Little Liars,” Inherent Vice), Karrueche Tran (“Claws,” The Bay) and Arden Cho (“Teen Wolf”). It is the debut release of newly-launched Popsugar Films, the film unit of Popsugar, which generates more than 3 billion content views monthly.

Coming May 1 is the feature Most Likely to Murder, premiering at South by Southwest and starring Adam Pally (“Happy Endings,” “The Mindy Project”), Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”) in a home-for-the-holidays noir-comedy. The film’s production team of Dan Gregor and Doug Mand has written for the hit shows “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “How I Met Your Mother.”

In partnership with new media network Brat, Studio L will release the network’s first feature, Chicken Girls: The Movie, an extension of the popular YouTube sensation, which has generated nearly 100 million views. The title will be released later in the spring.

Other Studio L projects include a followup to the film Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland, based on the Lionsgate TV series; a series based on Lionsgate’s horror classic The Blair Witch Project; a series based on the Lionsgate comedy Waiting; and film production partnerships with BuzzFeed and The Onion.

“In today’s fast-changing media landscape, Lionsgate is committed to creating and distributing various types of content for next generation audiences with some of the most exciting creative voices and innovative partners in our industry,” said Laderman in a statement. “The projects announced today signal our commitment to finding stand-out material, incubating new talent, and delivering authentic storytelling. We will also continue to cultivate and foster fresh opportunities with existing Lionsgate properties, all built around Studio L’s low-risk, high-reward distribution model.”

Report: Two Lionsgate Executives Planning Exit

Two key movie executives at Lionsgate reportedly are looking to depart the studio/distributor as it seeks a possible third-party merger deal.

Erik Feig, co-president of the motion picture group, and Patrick Wachsberger, co-chairman of the motion picture group, are planning to leave – with Feig seeking to launch his own production company, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

Neither executive or Lionsgate is commenting on the report.

The executive moves come after Lionsgate co-chairman Michael Burns Jan. 24 made it known on CNBC the company was “very interested” to consolidate with a major media company.

Meanwhile, Feig is on a hot streak followed his involvement with Oscar nominee and box office hit, La La Land ($446 million) and this year’s feel-good sleeper, Wonder, which has generated more than $265 million at the box office.

Feig, who co-chaired the motion picture group with home entertainment executive Steve Beeks, until the latter’s departure late last year, reportedly seeks to focus on children’s programming.

Wachsberger joined Lionsgate following the acquisition of Summit Entertainment in 2012.

Lionsgate had 14 executives on the second-quarter call last November – a tally streamlined to six on the most-recent call.

 

 

‘Forever My Girl’ Due in April

The romance Forever My Girl, about a country music superstar who finds himself torn between his career and his one true love, will bow on digital April 10 and Blu-ray (plus  digital), DVD and On Demand April 24 from Lionsgate.

Based on the first book of the New York Times and USA Today best-selling series – The Beaumont, by Heidi McLaughlin – Forever My Girl earned $15.8 million at the box office and includes original songs from country music mega-producer Brett Boyett (TV’s “Nashville,” “Friday Night Lights”). Alex Roe and Jessica Rothe star.

The Forever My Girl Blu-ray and DVD will be available for the suggested retail price of $24.99 and $19.98, respectively.

A Tough Take on ‘Wonder’

The wonder of Wonder may be its ability to sidestep sentimentality.

A film about a boy with facial deformities entering junior high could be a genuine, gushy weeper.

“I was constantly worried about it being too sentimental because it’s such an emotional story,” said screenwriter/director Stephen Chbosky, noting he learned how to meter sentiment from previous project The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Perks producer John Malkovich said to him, “I love your script because it has real heart. Because it has real heart, you don’t need sentiment, so direct this movie like a guy from Pittsburgh. Always get the tough take.”

What does that mean?

“Tough take means where it’s not all sappy,” Chbosky said. “Do it where it’s a little bit where you’re fighting the emotions as much as you can.”

Skirting sentiment on Wonder, due Feb. 13 from Lionsgate on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, involved embracing subtlety, said Chbosky at an event in Los Angeles Feb. 11.

“It’s a really strange phenomenon that the more you pump the music and the more you’re pushing people to cry, the more I find, the less they’re going to,” he said.

A neutral stance is best, he said.

“You just make people love the characters,” he said. “It’s way of inviting the movie audience to be more like a book reader (the movie is based on a book), because book readers are in charge of their experience. Movie audiences are not and because of that you have to be extra respectful of the movie audience to put them in as much of the driver’s seat as possible.”

The music had to be subtle as well.

“We mixed the music so much lower than you would normally mix music in a film like this,” he said, adding composer Marcelo Zarvos used piano to elicit a childlike point of view and that he “didn’t pour on the strings.”

The film flew under the radar as well, between superhero blockbusters and the indie scene at the film festivals.

“It’s a lot more than you think it’s going to be,” the director said of the film. “In a larger sense, Wonder represents something that used to be fairly common, live-action films of quality designed for the entire family to unabashedly enjoy together. I mourn it. I miss them. We all know, as lovers of film, that the middle class of movies has certainly thinned out quite a bit, and you have the huge $200 million blockbuster and you also have maybe the small independent film. So what has happened is when you make the big blockbuster, there are certain things that it has to follow, and if you make the smaller film, they tend to go a little darker, a little bleaker, because they think that that’s the way that they’re going to get their audience. And I’m really interested in the middle, personally as a filmmaker. I don’t know why, just because you are making a film about children, why would it have to be of any less quality than a movie based on what some other person might consider to be a hard-hitting issue? They are all issues and they deserve equal time and aspirational art.”

In addition to an enthusiastic audience (the film grossed more than $285 million at the box office worldwide), Wonder’s plaudits include an Oscar nomination for makeup magician Arjen Tuiten, for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

“It’s the first time in film history, to my knowledge, where a 9-year-old has been in full prosthetics as a lead,” Tuiten said.

And that was no small feat. A child actor’s time on set is limited and every minute in makeup is a minute not on set.

“Normally, on a makeup of this type, when one is completely covered in prosthetics, you’re looking at three and a half hours at least, and because of the hours you can shoot with a minor, you can’t do that, so we got it down to 1 hour and 15 minutes, in the end,” he said.

It was trying for young actor Jacob Trembley, but “overall he was amazing,” Tuiten said.

“I don’t think any other 9-year-old could have done that.”

Also, having the prosthetics allowed the other actors, including veterans Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin and Julia Roberts, to react more realistically — rather than imagining computer generated effects.

Tuiten recalled Roberts saying, “It’s just so great to act off of that. If it’s just dots, what are you going to look at?”

Co-star Izabela Vidovic, who plays the lead’s older sister, has been so affected by the film that she has launched a website, www.Passionforcompassion.org, a nonprofit to promote awareness of craniofacial disorders and fund care.

“I think that the projects I’ve done have inspired me to create a voice for people out there who don’t have it,” she said.

In contrast to traditional notions of survival of the fittest and constant conflict, recently social scientists have found kindness in human society is a reward in itself — giving support to the themes in the film — noted Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., who spoke at the event.

“It brings more joy in some to give than to receive,” she said. “The brain registers kindness more like eating chocolate.”

Tyler Perry’s ‘Boo’ Sequel Scares Up No. 1 Disc Debut

Tyler Perry’s spooky comedy Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, distributed on home video by Lionsgate, debuted at 
No. 1 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert sales chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, the week ended Feb. 3.

Boo 2 earned $47.3 million at the domestic box office.

The top seller on the dedicated Blu-ray Disc chart, for the third week in a row, was Warner’s Blade Runner 2049, which topped the high-def market despite dropping to third overall after two weeks in the top spot. That’s because 60% of all Blade Runner 2049 sales were of the Blu-ray format, compared with 24% for Boo 2. As a result, Boo 2 came in at No. 2 on the Blu-ray chart.

Coming in at No. 2 overall and No. 3 on the Blu-ray chart was another Warner title, the horror film It.

Warner’s Geostorm dropped to No. 4 on both sales charts, followed by Lionsgate’s Jigsaw at No. 5.

On Media Play News‘ rental chart for the week ended Feb. 4, Geostorm came off its week-long holdback at Redbox kiosks to move into the top spot.

Blade Runner 2049, the top rental the week before, slipped to No. 2, while Boo 2 debuted at No. 3.

Rounding out the top five were It and Jigsaw.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 02-03-18
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 02-04-18
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 02-03-18
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 02-03-18
Sales Report for Week Ended 02-03-18

Lionsgate Renews Amazon Channels Partnership

Lionsgate has re-upped a multiyear distribution agreement with Amazon Channels affording the studio distributor’s over-the-top video platforms access to tens of millions of Prime members.

Lionsgate OTT ventures include Pantaya, Keven Hart’s Laugh Out Loud!, Pop, Tribeca Shortlist and Starz.

Speaking Feb. 8 on the fiscal call, CEO Jon Feltheimer said the renewal – which includes cross-promotion and revenue-sharing – underscores the importance of Amazon in the distribution of OTT product.

Amazon Channels is a collection of third-party OTT video services Prime members can subscribe to with one-click access. Amazon, for a fee or rev-share agreement, handles billing and other backend matters. Amazon Channels is now synced with Alexa, the ecommerce behemoth’s voice-activated software.

“We believe this agreement incentivizes both partners to continue growing their distribution significantly,” Feltheimer said.

‘The lines are blurring between film and television, and I think you can look for us to get closer to talent, which right now crosses between TV, film and games,” he said. “That’s where we’ll focus and the content will follow.”

Separately, Starz president Chris Albrecht said implementing a distribution agreement between Starz and Hulu’s live TV online TV service has taken longer than expected.

“We are on track to launch there in the next couple of months,” Albrecht said. “It has impacted the rate of growth we were projecting on our OTT platforms.”

Lionsgate Ups Q3 Home Entertainment Revenue

Lionsgate Feb. 8 reported third-quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2017) home entertainment revenue of $216.7 million, which was up 12.7% from revenue of $192.2 million during the previous-year period.

Home entertainment includes Lionsgate’s legacy studio and former Starz Distribution (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment) business.

Specifically, the studio generated $185.3 million from the sale of movies, up 11% from $167 million during the previous-year period. Sales of TV content declined 13.3% to $20.2 million.

Top-selling 2017 packaged media release, John Wick: Chapter 2, generated $29.2 million on sales of 1.67 million combined DVD/Blu-ray Disc units, according to The–Numbers.com. Data does not include 4K UHD Blu-ray and digital retail.

Media Networks reported revenue of $11.2 million, up from $1.9 million last year.

Overall, Media Networks revenue increased 6% to $382.9 million driven by higher over-the-top (OTT) revenue growth and revenue from worldwide digital media licensing arrangements, offset in part by subscriber losses at certain MVPD’s.

Theatrical revenue increased 14% to $539.1 million due to strong domestic box office of Wonder and continued international performance of La La Land and American Assassin. Segment profits of $54.3 million compared to $55.9 million in the prior year quarter.

Television production revenue of $227.3 million compared to $231.0 million in the prior-year quarter. Revenue was comparable to the prior year quarter as increased revenue from deliveries of television series were partially offset by a decrease in syndicated licensing revenue. Segment profits of $22.7 million compared to $27.5 million in the prior year quarter.

Lionsgate’s backlog – contracted future revenue on the licensing of film and television product not yet recorded – was $1.2 billion at Dec. 31, 2017.

‘Florida Project’ Tops Slate of Lionsgate Releases

Lionsgate Feb. 5 announced several upcoming home video releases, highlighted by the Feb. 20 Blu-ray Disc (plus Digital) and DVD release of the Oscar-nominated The Florida Project.

The critically hailed independent film stars Willem Dafoe, who received an Academy Award nod for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film focuses on a budget motel in Florida that is home to a group of people living on the poverty line, including a precocious 6-year-old.

The A.V. Club called the movie, directed by Sean Baker (Tangerine), “one of Willem Dafoe’s most moving performances”. Cast members also include Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite in breakout performances/ Co-written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch, The Florida Project Blu-ray and DVD will be available at the suggested retail price of $24.99 and $19.98, respectively.

Another critical hit, The Disaster Artist, arrives on Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital), DVD, and Digital HD March 13 from Lionsgate. Nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh, The Disaster Artist stars James Franco, along with Dave Franco, Emmy nominee Seth Rogen, Golden Globe nominee Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron and Megan Mullally.

The Disaster Artist’s extensive special features include audio commentary with director James Franco, Dave Franco, Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero, and more; a gag reel; as well as three featurettes. The Disaster Artist will be available on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD at $39.99 and $29.95, respectively.

Hellraiser: Judgment, the tenth installment of the “Hellraiser” horror franchise, arrives on Blu-ray ($21.99), DVD ($19.98) and Digital HD Feb. 13. The latest direct-to-video sequel tells the story of three detectives as they struggle to solve a horrifying murder, but instead find themselves thrust into the depths of Pinhead’s hellacious landscape. Extras included deleted scenes and a gag reel.

The action thriller Braven, with Jason Momoa, arrives on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and Digital on April 10. Already available On Demand, the film follows a father and son on a hunting trip that goes wrong, forcing them to defend their home and family. Discs carry a suggested retail price of $21.99 (Blu-ray Disc) and $19.98 (DVD).

Also coming April 10 is the Western Gone Are the Days, featuring Tom Berenger, Lance Henriksen, Meg Steedle and Danny Trejo. The film, about an aging gunman out to perform one last good deed, will be released in a Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital), DVD, and On Demand. The combo pack carries a suggested retail price $21.99 and the DVD is $19.98.

‘Wonder’ Due on Disc Feb. 13

Lionsgate will release the family film Wonder on Digital HD Jan. 30 and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Feb. 13.

Based on the best-selling book by R.J. Palacio, Wonder follows the story of the Pullman family, whose youngest child, Auggie, is a boy born with facial differences and struggles to earn acceptance from his peers at school.

The film, which earned more than $130 million at the domestic box office, stars Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin and Jacob Tremblay.

The home video release includes such extras as a five-part documentary, multiple featurettes, a music video, and an audio commentary with Palacio and director Stephen Chbosky. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray also features Dolby Vision high dynamic range.

The home video release is timed not just for Valentine’s Day, but also the book’s sixth anniversary, as well as National Random Acts of Kindness week (Feb. 11-17).

Vice Chairman: Lionsgate ‘Very Interested’ in Third-Party Merger

Lionsgate is shopping – itself.

With AT&T’s $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner in regulatory limbo, and Walt Disney’s $52.4 billion acquisition of select 21st Century Fox assets, including 20th Century Fox, pending, big media mergers are on the mind of Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate.

With a $7 billion market cap, Burns says Lionsgate is a “pint-sized bite” for potential suitors compared to “800-pound” gorillas like AT&T. Speaking on CNBC, Burns reiterated the usual “enhancing shareholder value” mantra driving publicly-traded companies like Lionsgate to acquire or be acquired.

Burns was quizzed about the likelihood of Lionsgate merging with Verizon, Comcast, Amazon or possible reunified Viacom/CBS.

He said merging with a telecom such as Verizon could be a big deal, provided the telecom decided what businesses it wants to be in. Burns was alluding to Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, who, on the fiscal call, said the telecom wasn’t looking at any M&A activity in the short-term.

Burns said he is very interested in the outcome of the DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit against the AT&T/Time Warner merger. The executive called Comcast’s $30 billion acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011 the deal of the century.

“Again, you have to show organic growth or you have to make acquisitions, like us, which would be a bolt-on acquisition for [Comcast],” Burns said.

He said Lionsgate is talking to other media companies “all the time to see if a deal makes sense.”

Merging with Amazon would seem realistic given the ecommerce behemoth’s 70 million Prime members and ongoing content deals between the two companies, including movies The Big Sick and Oscar winner Manchester by the Sea.

“We’re a customer of Amazon and we are doing a lot of business with them,” Burns said. “We think there is more and more to do with them.”

He said media companies, particularly in the tech space, have to decide whether they want to “build it” or “buy it” when determining how far ahead the competition is in the streaming and subscription business.

“We’re very interested in the consolidation space,” Burns said. “Obviously that’s very important to us.”