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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Warners' films: Movie overboard!

Guy Ritchie's upcoming gangster film, "RocknRolla," is due to be released by Warner Bros. in early October. So why was the film's producer, the inimitable Joel Silver, showing the film to executives at Lionsgate and Sony Pictures?Ritchie_2  According to my colleague John Horn, Silver said he was screening it for other studios to get their advice about marketing and release plans for the picture. You can imagine how tickled Warners' marketing staff must've been, hearing the news that the studio's top producer was out soliciting ideas about how to sell his picture from rival studios.

A more likely scenario is that Silver is looking for a new home for the movie; a top executive at one of the studios said it was clear Silver was looking for a buyer for the film. People who've seen the film say it's not bad at all. But as Warners goes through the arduous process of absorbing two dozen or so New Line films into its distribution system, the studio simply has too many movies to release, so it's starting to pick out the weak calves from the herd.

Sources say Warners has also been shopping around "Slumdog Millionaire," a Danny Boyle-directed drama about a kid from the slums of Mumbai who has an amazing run on an Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." The film, whose U.S. rights were acquired for $5 million by Warner Independent Pictures, is good enough to be accepted at this fall's Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals. But Warners is unsure of its commercial prospects. The film, originally slated for release Nov. 7, has now quietly been bumped to next year. Warners is also open to offers on a third film, "Pride and Glory," an Edward Norton and Colin Farrell-starring drama about NYPD officers made by New Line that was initially slated for release by New Line this spring but bumped from the schedule.

What's going on here? I went to Warners chief Alan Horn for some answers:

"RocknRolla" was financed by Silver's Dark Castle Entertainment, which has delivered a series of low-budget horror films to Warners, including "The Reaping" and "House of Wax." Silver's deal entitles his films to a 800-screen wide release, but Warners ultimately decides how much of a marketing spend it's willing to risk on the film. In the past, when Warners had concerns about a film's commercial prospects, it has tried a limited three-city release, supported with TV advertising, to gauge a film's reception in the marketplace. The results are rarely encouraging, which Silver knows all too well; Warners did a similar release in 2005 with the Shane Black-directed "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," a Silver-produced comedy thriller that got good reviews but never won a broader national release. It's no wonder a savvy producer like Silver would be approaching a studio like Lionsgate, which makes its living releasing edgy films like "RocknRolla."

Horn was honest about his assessment of the film. "I think it's a well-made picture, but while it's funny in spots, it's very English," he said. "I don't think it's broadly commercial. It feels like a film that deserves a spirited release, but not a wide one. Joel has an 800-screen deal, which we'll honor, but we might not be willing to spend the marketing money he wants us to."

Horn shrugged. "I guess I'm in a shocking state of equanimity," he said. "The filmmakers have every right to do what they think is best in support of their movies. But we have the right to do what's best for Warner Bros. Sometimes the pursuit of those interests results in a disagreement. For now, we're preparing to release the film in October, but I don't see it starting out on 800 screens. If Joel is thinking there is someone out there willing to spend twice as much money as we're willing to, I'm sure he will pursue that."

Boyle Horn acknowledged that the studio is also open to offers on Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire," but he said the studio isn't having a fire sale. "We're not going to give it away. If we can't find a buyer, then we'll put it out in a few markets--perhaps Chicago, New York and Toronto --and see if it works. I'm a big believer in letting the audience decide what it thinks. I like the movie. I just don't know how big the audience is for it."

Warners' overriding issue is that it simply is overloaded with pictures. As distribution chief Dan Fellman put it: "We're distributing more movies from September to the end of the year than most studios do in an entire year." Horn is trying to find the right number of pictures that the studio can handle without putting an unacceptable burden on its marketing and distribution staff. With New Line now slated to make six-or-so films a year, Warners will be cutting back on its releases so it would release no more than 25 or 26 films in a calendar year. It's a delicate balancing act, especially for a studio that is better built to release "Dark Knight" and "Harry Potter"-style blockbusters than small dramas or quirky comedies.

"I think having a new movie coming out every two weeks is plenty," Horn said. "Any more films than that and we're putting too big a strain on the system. It's just too crowded in the marketplace these days. I'd like for us to find a way to release movies like 'Slumdog Millionaire,' but we keep coming back to the same question--can we really do it justice?"

Warners is willing to try to find a happier home for some of its smaller-scale films. But with so many specialty divisions going out of business or in disarray, the list of happy homes is few and far between. A lot of good little movies are going to be packed off to the orphanage.

Photo of Guy Ritchie by Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times; Danny Boyle by Graham Barclay / For The Times

Comments () | Archives (75)

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Ever notice how much Warner Bros. and the other big studios resemble Detroit's big three auto makers? Pumping out gigantic, overpriced and underperforming products completely out of touch with the needs of the end users? Only a film maker with a death wish (or a large Bev.hills mortgage) would do business with Alan Horn and the other slimy lizards of Hollywood, inc.

I believe you need to re-check your facts. Pride and Glory is being released on 2200 screens. Warners is way behind the film, and it is a selection for the Toronto Intl Film Fest .

This is a true shame. My husband and I were looking forward to seeing this Guy Ritchie film in the theaters. We are huge fans of his as well as Jeremy Piven, Gerard Butler and Thandie Newton. Please considere widening the release of this film for those of us who would love to see it on the big screen!!!

Very distressing news about RocknRolla, I'm a big fan of those "Very English" movies and especially Guy Ritchie films. I would have thought the "buzz" around this film already would have secured it's wide release in the U.S.

I sure hope they will reconsider their strategy. Warner Bros. needs to know that American's can support and enjoy movies from "across the pond" especially ones that have such a great cast and genre appeal.

You would think that the success of "In Bruges" would show that many Americans are ready for what I consider.. superior British comedy!! I personally cannot wait for "RockNRolla". I'd rather go see a million British comedies than one Will Ferrell farce.

I hope that the movie moguls don't condemn "RockNRolla" to an early to DVD death by only giving it limited release. There are lots of us out there starved for some quality films!

Very sad news indeed for RockNRolla. As one of the privileged few who got to see the panel and teaser of the film at San Diego Comic Con last month, I can say the buzz produced by this film was very exciting. It was obvious by the exuberance of Guy Ritchie and the cast, that they'd all had a great time working together and making this film. They were excited by the end result and eager to share it with the audience. I'm a fan not only of Guy Ritchie's work, but those "very English" films Warner Brothers seems to think there is no audience for. Obviously no one at Warner's is reading the blogs I am. Early buzz on this film is very positive and it has a very excited and eager audience highly anticipating RockNRolla's release. Not only Guy Ritchie, but Jeremy Piven and Gerard Butler have huge fan followings. I think it would be a shame to not take advantage of this ready made audience and the great press this film is already generating.

It's a shame WB is so naive and out-of-touch with its audience. British programming is some of the most popular fare out there - TV and film - even here in the sticks where I live. And by the end of summer/post Labor Day even the most diehard blockbuster fan is sick of the sight of them and looking for something with more unique style and wit. RNR deserves a lot more support than they seem willing to give and if they're having "budget concerns" their lack of support for interesting smaller films could be why. Wake-up WB! Your audience is starving for more varied fare!

Gerard Butler fans want to see this movie in theaters, but so do fans of Jeremy Piven, Ludacris, Idris Elba, Guy Ritchie, Tom Wilkinson and Thandie Newton.

How it could possibly be considered not broadly commercial? Sure, Guy Ritchie has had a few bumps in the road since Lock Stock.. and Snatch, but that shouldn't negate the fact that this film has a stellar cast who carry a wide appeal to all different sorts of fans. We hear the film is side splitting funny to boot (thanks to a friend who saw an early preview). Americans can get behind an "English" film if given the chance. :D

I am very, very disappointed at this news. This is one movie I was looking forward to and hoped to see a wide release. I was at Comicon and saw the trailer there along with the terrific cast. The trailer was incredible and as a member of the 'global and diverse society' I didn't think it was 'too English' at all. I particularly enjoyed the chemistry between the cast members and Guy Ritchie. I hope Warner Bros will reconsider. GIVE ROCKNROLLA A CHANCE!!

Please give American audiences a chane to see RockNRolla. How will we ever get over the "too English" if we don't get a chance to see English movies set in contemporary time?
Give this fab cast and director a chance. The reaction in Hall H at Comic Con to the trailer was overwhelmingly postivie. Thanks!

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