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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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I have been highly anticipating RocknRolla since I first heard about it! A great mix of action and comedy...what could be better? And the casting is phenomenal! Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Jeremy Piven, Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba and the list goes on and on....this film, without a doubt, deserves a wider release! The fact that the film has mostly actors from the UK did not even cross my mind. As an American, I am a little bothered that WB thinks it's "Too English" for us. What is that supposed to mean?

"Very English," you say? Hmm... I'll buy that argument. Especially with movies like "Atonement" and "Harry Potter" and -- who's that James guy? You know, the dapper spy fellow? Oh, right! "James Bond" -- doing so poorly in the States.

Certainly WB has grown to appreciate the value of Gerard Butler based on his number of appearances in WB vehicles.

Give us "Yanks" some credit, WB! There's a demographic out here anxious to spend it's hard-earned gas money on something entertaining AND intelligent -- for a CHANGE!

I hope that Warner Bros. will reconsider their limited release of "RocknRolla". There are huge numbers of Guy Ritchie and Gerard Butler fans who have been looking forward to this film. The cast is amazing with Jeremy Priven, Thandie Newton, Tom Wilkinson, etc. and from what I have read it did great at ComicCon. When you have people anxiously waiting to see a film, it doesn't make sense to cut your nose off and not release to the greatest number of theaters.

I'm really disappointed to hear about the limited release of Rock 'n Rolla. I hope that Warner will reconsider their decision and set it for a wide release. There's been so much talk about this movie, I think people are looking forward to it. I believe it will get a much larger audience than they realize.

How in the world can a movie with Gerard Butler in it not be considered commercially viable. Has Warner Brothers forgotton how much money he helped make for them from
"300"? It would be a shame for Rock N Rolla not to open in more cities. There is already an internet buzz about the film, which is exactly what helped launch "300" to it's success.
Show the film and they will come!

As a fan of character driven stories and quirky comedy, I have really been looking forward to the upcoming Guy Ritchie film, RockNRolla. Now having seen the trailer and hearing some great buzz about the film, I was disappointed to read that this film may not receive a wide release. Please rethink this strategy and bring this film to more cities. A good portion of film fans enjoy other fare besides the big blockbusters, and this film has a lot going for it; with a great director, a solid script and a stellar cast that includes Tom Wilkenson and Gerard Butler. The bloggers and fanboys are already salivating over this one!

In Portland OR

I love British humor. I know he was just trying to be candid and there is truth to the "too much product out there," but I think Horn's saying it was "very English" makes Americans sound like they are too self absorbed or dumb to understand and appreciate anything that isn't home grown.

By those standards, half of the movies we consider "classics" today would never have been made. There has to be a place and a niche for non blockbuster type movies.

I hope Silver finds another willing source. I think the movie will do well if given half a chance. It's got a terrific cast.

Only 800 cities?

That is unfair.

We want it in Ohio.

Gerard Butler fans have been supporting WB for so long. And when 300, staring Gerard Butler came out we never stopped promoting it..And we are still talking about it to this day! And you know what a success that was!!
The cast for RockNRolla is amazing. My friends who went to ComicCon JUST to see the panel of stars and clip of RocknRolla have been raving about it. I have seen the trailer and have emailed it to all my friends & family. Please consider a wide release for RockRolla. We have seen so many Superhero movies this year. And though I do love a good superhero movie, It's time for a gangsta movie!

It would be a shame if Warner Bros. backed out of its total support of RocknRolla by limiting its release and publicity dollars. I was looking forward to finally seeing Jeremy Piven and Gerry Butler in the same film; and from the trailer, it appeared to be witty and humorous, not to mention downright exciting. I'd much rather see a film that acknowledges my intelligence rather than one that insults it.

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