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Alcon now has Summit's problem: What's an indie to do after a mega-hit?

November 30, 2009 |  1:06 pm

Alcon Entertainment has the same luxury problem as Summit Entertainment: What to do with its box office bounty?

In an intriguing twist at a time when most of the major studios are cutting back on expenses and rethinking strategies, the top two spots at the box office for two weekends in a row have been taken by movies fully financed by relatively tiny independent studios.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and "The Blind Side" aren't only the top two movies, though. They're hugely successful pictures that will be profitable based on ticket sales alone, even before hitting DVD and other ancillary markets.

BLINDSIDE "New Moon," of course, is the second hit in Summit's "Twilight" big-screen series and has already got the less than 3-year old studio thinking about its future

But the success of "The Blind Side" has been a shocker. The movie cost only $35 million to produce and has already grossed more than $100 million domestically, with $200-million-plus now a certainty. It is the highest-grossing movie ever for 12-year-old Alcon, surpassing "Insomnia," and will become its most profitable, ahead of the low-cost family drama "My Dog Skip."

"This is the kind of thing that changes your business, obviously," Andrew Kosove, co-chief executive of Alcon, said Sunday morning.

He and partner Broderick Johnson started Alcon in 1997 with financial backing from FedEx chairman and founder Fred Smith, who has continued to fund the company for its entire existence, during which hits like "Insomnia" and "Skip" have been balanced by flops like "Chasing Liberty" and "16 Blocks."

"This is the story of a private individual who stayed with us when we had unsuccessful films and is now going to make a great deal of money, which is a nice thing to be able to say," said Kosove.

Alcon has traditionally pre-sold its movies to foreign distributors to raise capital -- often with the help of Summit and its predecessor company, ironically enough -- but didn't do so with "The Blind Side" since its plot revolves around the very American sport of football, deemed to be of little interest overseas. But audience reaction in the U.S. has been so strong that Warner Bros., which is distributing the movie worldwide, is now putting together plans for a foreign release.

Kosove said it likely will start in Germany and the United Kingdom, where Bullock is popular, with hopes of expanding further into Europe. While foreign grosses likely won't be nearly as strong as domestic, any money made overseas at this point will be pure profit.

Even after marketing expenses and Warners' distribution fee, Alcon is sure to clear well into the tens of millions, if not more, when all is said and done with "The Blind Side." There's no "Twilight"-like franchise in the real life story, of course, so the money won't be going back into a sequel. It could go into more ambitious productions, acquisitions, expansions into other media, or perhaps into a bank account for the type of rainy day that independents such as the Weinstein Co. and MGM have experienced lately.

"The very simple answer is this puts us in a very strong financial position," said Kosove. "The more complicated answer is, OK, if you're a small indie company and you have a big hit movie, what's the appropriate strategic maneuver to capitalize on that in the long term? We have to figure out how to be smart and not blow through the money."

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw in "The Blind Side." Credit: Ralph Nelson / Warner Bros.

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