The Weinstein Co. Eyeing Bankruptcy

Embattled independent studio The Weinstein Co. is set to file for bankruptcy protection after a planned $500 million sale to an investor group fell through.

The Feb. 25 announcement – disclosed by TWC’s board of directors – follows months of turmoil that saw co-founder Harvey Weinstein fired from the company last October after myriad complaints of sexual misconduct – behavior that helped spawn the nationwide #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

With a content legacy that has generated 341 Academy Award nominations, 81 Oscars and 12 Emmy nominations for TV productions, TWC generated significant interest throughout Hollywood. The company includes TWC Home Entertainment, which launched in 2005.

Last November, Maria Contreras-Sweet, former head of the Small Business Administration under President Obama, together with billionaire investor Ron Burkle, placed a $275 million offer for TWC, which included assumption of $225 million in debt. Contreras-Sweet sought to have TWC led by female management, in addition to the establishment of a victims’ fund.

Then on Feb. 11, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against New York-based TWC, Harvey Weinstein and Bob Weinstein, alleging violations of civil rights, human rights and business laws.

Schneiderman questioned components of the deal, including actual existence of a victims’ fund and alleged tone-deaf response to sexual harassment complaints from COO David Glasser, who was fired by the board on Feb. 16.

With the deal collapsed, TWC board issued a statement critical of the bid and bidders. Specifically, the board lamented failed fiscal guarantees that it said would have helped sustain the studio during the sale process.

“While we deeply regret that your actions have led to this unfortunate outcome for our employees, our creditors and any victims, we will now pursue the board’s only viable option to maximize the company’s remaining value: An orderly bankruptcy process,” said the board.

How events impact home entertainment remains to be seen. TWC licensed retail distribution to Genius Products, then sold them to Vivendi Entertainment in 2009 following the former’s bankruptcy. In 2010, TWC inked retail distribution with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which then moved to Anchor Bay Entertainment (and Starz Distribution) in 2011.

Lionsgate assumed the rights following its $4.4 billion acquisition of Starz in 2016.

 

‘Wonder’ Debuts at No. 1 on Home Video Charts

Lionsgate topped the national home video sales charts the week ended Feb. 17 with Wonder, the acclaimed drama about a child with Treacher Collins syndrome — a genetic disorder characterized by deformities of the ears, eyes, cheekbones and chin — trying to fit in.

The film debuted at No. 1 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert sales chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, the film earned more than $131 million in U.S. theaters (and $292 million worldwide) on a budget of $20 million.

Universal Pictures’ A Bad Moms Christmas slipped to No. 2 on both charts its second week in stores, after having bowed at No. 1 the prior week.

The Sony Pictures’ firefighter drama Only the Brave slipped to No. 3 on the overall chart and No. 6 on the Blu-ray Disc sales chart after debuting in second and third place, respectively, the previous week.

Rounding out the top five on the combined chart were Lionsgate’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween at No. 4 and Warner’s horror hit It at No. 5, both unchanged from the prior week.

On the Blu-ray Disc sales chart, Warner’s animated Batman: Gotham by Gaslight finished the week at No. 3, down a notch from its debut the week before.

It and Warner’s Blade Runner 2049 finished the week at No. 4 and No. 5, switching places from the prior week.

Wonder generated 46% of its total unit sales from Blu-ray Disc.

The only other new release to make the top 20 on both charts was Sony Pictures’ Roman J. Israel, Esq., a legal drama starring  Denzel Washington as an autistic savant lawyer who loses his sheltered employment when his long-time boss suddenly dies. The film, with a box office take of just $12 million, debuted at No. 10 on the overall disc sales chart and No. 12 on the Blu-ray Disc sales chart.

Magnolia Pictures’ Blade of the Immortal debuted at No. 16 on the Blu-ray Disc sales chart.

Wonder also debuted at No. 1 on the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended Feb. 18, bumping A Bad Moms Christmas to No. 2.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. debuted at No. 3.

Rounding out the top five on the rental chart were Only the Brave at No. 4 and Warner’s Geostorm at No. 5.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 02-17-18
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 02-18-18
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 02-17-18
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 02-17-18
Sales Report for Week Ended 02-17-18

Lionsgate’s ‘The Commuter’ Comes Home in April

Lionsgate will release the action-thriller The Commuter on digital April 3 and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray April 17.

The Commuter stars Liam Neeson as a passenger on a commuter train who must fight his way through a deadly conspiracy. The film also stars The Conjuring duo of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, as well as Jonathan Banks (“Better Call Saul”), Elizabeth McGovern and Sam Neill.

Bonus materials include an “End of the Line” featurette and an “Off the Rails” featurette.

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.