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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 sincerely hope WarnerBros. changes their minds on the limited release of "RocknRolla". I have enjoyed Guy Ritchie films in the past and own two on DVD. I think it is a gross underestimation on their part to assume Americans don't appreciate English humor. The world is becoming more global, get with the program Warner Bros.

Finally, someone has explained WB's ambivalence as it relates to RnR! I don't like it. But I understand it. Thank you for the information!

I am disappointed that this movie won't get a wider release. I was really looking forward to seeing a movie that is considered "British". I for one would rather see a smart, quick-witted, exciting movie that makes you think rather than some of the clichéd films that other studios keep inundating us with. The fact is, thinking that you won't make money by implying that we Americans are not able to understand or appreciate the film is pretty insulting. A LOT of people are going to want to see this movie... Warner Bro., you DO make more money from a $9 cinema ticket than a $3 blockbuster rental fee, yes?

THIS FILM HAS TO BE IN ALL CITIES. WE THE FANS WANT TO SEE IT PLEASE.

I was dismayed to read the news yesterday that RocknRolla may not get a wide distribution in North America. I've been following this movie from the very beginning and gotten very excited about seeing it. The panel at ComicCon was one of the best there. The actors are very enthusiastic about their roles in the Guy Ritchie movie and about working with Guy. I watched Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels because of Guy Ritchie. Gerard Butler alone will bring in hordes of viewers who will see the film multiple times. I know I will! Remember a fillm a couple of years ago called 300? The buzz and momentum has already started for RocknRolla, please seize that and give this film a wide release.

Thank you.

I’m from Brazil. I’d like to see Rocknrolla in my country in the same occasion that it will be in the USA and England. With great actors including Gerard Butler and Guy Richie as the director, this movie will be a big success. I can’t wait to see it. Thank you.

Yes, bailey, we want this movie in Ohio!!! Being a fellow Ohio resident I'm with you on that...LOL

It's seems that WB is underestimating the US audience when it comes to non-US movies. Why do they think that a clever English movie would fail? "The Bank Job" did pretty good, didn't it? Or how about "Hot Fuzz"? And neither one did have quite the stellar cast RockNRolla has. Gerard Butler alone makes this movie worth to watch... not to mention two times Oscar nominated Tom Wilkinson and all the other popular actors in the cast. WB obviously has some trust into Guy Ritchie since he will direct their big budget project Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. I doubt that one will get limited distribution! So I really don't understand WB's argument about RockNRolla.... That would be the ideal vehicle to get Guy Ritchie's name out there with an US audience, so he'll be known as a talented director and not just Mr. Madonna.

The early reviews for the movies are good, the cast is extremely talented, so why not give it a wider release?

I was very dismayed to read this news yesterday about RocknRolla not getting a wide release from Warner's. I have been following this movie from the beginning and I believe the fans of Gerard Butler, Guy Ritchie and the rest of the cast would be so disappointed not to be able to see it in their local theaters. I would have to travel very far to see a film which has 'limited release'. We watch 'too British' films here, in fact, most of the time I would prefer to see those rather than the so-called inane blockbusters we get all the time. How about something new and fresh? I'm sure the fans of Gerard Butler alone will bring much revenue and will go to see the movie more than once. I know I will! The momentum was started at ComicCon, please keep it going!

Thank you!

Sounds like this is also exactly whats happening with bryan singer's "Trick 'r Treat". Now there is a movie i would have liked to have seen. hope someone pics it up...

RocknRolla ~ many, many people are anticipating this film. There is solid anticipation in that theater goers are eager to see a humorous film in these tough economic times... not some film similar to what they already see on their TV tubes. RocknRolla has excellent actors, including 300 star Gerard Butler, who by the way has a huge fan base that continues to grow, and it is a film by Guy Richie who did Snatch. Americans are eager to see this film based on their previous film experience with Snatch ~ a wild, enjoyable, fun ride! Concern about the “Englishness” of this film? Ridiculous. In a global world and with many Americans aged 20, 30. or 40 something we are quite comfortable with English humor, thoroughly enjoy it, and have been for years with the likes of Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, BlackAdder, Are You Being Served?, and yes, even Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy. The many aspects that RocknRolla has ~ excellent actors, humor, intrigue, twists and turns ~ theater goers do not wish to miss out on. Many Americans are looking forward to seeing RocknRolla. The loss would be greatly disappointing for many if they are not able to see this film on the big screen ~ wide release. We don't want to miss out, and I do not think WB will either.

 
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