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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 wonder what does " too English"mean to Warner Bros?And there aren't too many good films around worth seeing. Just market the film it will make you a lot of money Warner Bros.

It isn’t hard for me to decide which movie I’d buy a ticket to. I usually check the movie line-up and if there’s someone I like, I usually go for it. If not, I simply wait until the DVD’s out or it’s on cable TV. Stretching the limits of superficiality, I don’t even read the plot summaries. So, as an informed, aware, conscientious member of the audience… I suck.

However, I must admit this time around the issue has become a tad personal to me.
It’d be cool if every single movie could take a shot at greatness, but if your interests as an artist or as a moviegoer clash with those of a studio, so be it. What’s the problem with a film being too “national?” Do we not believe in diversity?

However, sometimes in Hollywood’s well-oiled machine, sacrifices are to be made to honor Mammon. I saw Snatch. One of my dear friends recommended it to me and I had a blast. Granted; there were times I had to readjust my listening to the rich, exotic inflections of our transatlantic counterparts (Brad Pitt’s thick brogue included), even to the peculiar humor and challenging timing, but it was educational.

Guy Ritchie and the entire cast of RockNRolla have an interesting way to say that whatever it is that makes us human has not changed throughout all these years of so-called progress, and that with every step we take toward improvement, only Heaven knows how many more we have taken toward our own debacle, both individual and collectively .

There are ladies and gentlemen out there whose views and feelings on cinema carve each and every one of their cells. In this case, it is for those whose ability to look at the world in the face arises from the magic of a silver screen that I care the most. To make a long story short, I think RockNrolla looks like an awesome film and it deserves a better share, simply because it is as crude, exaggerate and unexpected as life itself.

After reading the LA Times article I was very disappointed to hear of Warner Bros thoughts on the backing (or lack thereof) on Rocknrolla. Did we not read recently that it played out very well at ComicCon? As stated above, you have the momentum going, (the con patron crowd is huge), and while not for everyone, that genre of film usually has a nice niche and carries a good following. It also doesn't say much for the future of smaller independent type films, which is very sad. I would honestly prefer to see those type of films than the repetitive and predictable offerings that constantly hit the screen. They show some originality and thought with their scripts and storylines. As for the "english" element, I have to say, those brits usually crank out some pretty good quality material . I much prefer seeing some of the 'imports' as a rule compared to all the nonsense I see playing at the theaters as of late. Some friends of mine were at the show last week and we sat through 8 previews of garbage and turned to eachother wondering who on earth decided people would want to see such nonsense? Needless to say the upcoming selections the next few months in movieland looked pretty dim. Rocknrolla however, was unfortunately not in the previews, ( HOW COME??), but from what I have seen via the published trailors, it looks to be a good film. The cast alone is outstanding enough to bring in the crowds. Agreed, you won't see the capacity mobs of this recent fabulous DARK KNIGHT offering, but few films offer that mega hit type of draw. ( and even that doesn't mean it's particularly good, it may just be due to a PG rating bringing in a wider market). I think its a shame Hollywood is going simply for the supposed big names, assembly line, cookie cutter, big buck remakes as of late instead of taking a chance on QUALITY of content and something a bit UNIQUE. I would really like to see this in wide release. From previewing the other bleak choices we have in store for us this fall, the competition doesn't look too daunting. I think the public interest in this film may suprise you. Thanks ...

Come on Warner Brothers. This film would do well in all markets. Give it its due!
British films offer such a variety different from the ordinary American fare. With Richie's
talent and a cast headlined with Gerard Butler and Tom Wilkinson how could it lose!

How could this happen? I was so looking forward to seeing Rocknrolla. The trailer was so could Warner Bros not follow through with wide release of this film. I love British films, but never really thought of it as that. Just thought of it as finally something different than most films I get to see on the big screen. Guy Ritchie rocks, Gerard Butler rocks and the rest of the cast is fantastic! How could the buzz about this film be so loud and left to fizzle. So not fair to moviegoers who should have the choice to see Rocknrolla.

I am a very big fan of Guy Ritchie, and I feel it is a very big mistake to NOT back his latest project. I know he has had some problems with his recent movies, but RocknRolla is a movie that harkens back to his heyday. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are two movies that I rent all the time! I love Guy Ritchie’s take on London’s underbelly. Having lived in the United Kingdom for a few years, I know how things have changed over there, and from what I have seen of the trailer of this movie, I know it shows how those changes are affecting life in London. I was very excited to see this movie, but since the LA Times article has been posted, I am heartbroken that I (who lives in rural Virginia) may not get the chance to see this movie. Sirs, with all due respect, I am sorely disappointed.

thank you,
Marian Bailey

Wow, thanks Mr. Horn! You just clarified why Warner Brothers foists such a stream of cinematic drivel on US audiences! 'RockNRolla' is supposed be Guy Ritchie's best work in years, but you don't want to spend money on publicity for a wide release. Naturally, you would prefer to spend your marketing time and bucks on sequels like 'Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2' or such gems as '10,000 B.C.' or 'Fool's Gold'. Maybe if your studio would back fun, exciting movies like 'RockNRolla', this Nebraskan might spend some dollars on more WB films!

Come on, you've got a terrifc cast led by Gerard Butler, Ludacris and Tom Wilkinson in RNR and something other than a mindless formula script. Give US audiences a chance to see this one in wide release. Bet it makes more money than 'Fool's Gold' did for you if you do.

How wonderful that Warner Bros. is so all-knowing that they have judged RockNRolla as
"too English" for those of us on the other side of the pond! And here I thought I was mature enough (at 62) to judge for myself what films I would or wouldn't like to see.

They have pretty much guaranteed that those of us here in Jacksonville, FL won't get to see Guy's great movie. And to miss out on seeing our adorable Gerry playing that zany character......

Guess I'll just have to go sit in my rocking chair and see what's on TV.

I, and many of my friends and co-workers are fans of Gerard Butler's works. It's time Hollywood noticed his fan base and started releasing his movies here! I appears that movie distributors have no idea on who's hot and who's not.

How wonderful that Warner Bros. has judged RockNRolla as "too English" for those of us on the other side of the pond. And here I thought I was mature enough (at 62) to decide what movies I wanted to see.

Their decision has pretty much insured that those of us here in Jacksonville, FL won't get to see Guy's great movie. And to miss out on seeing our adorable Gerry playing One-Two....

Guess I'll just shuffle over to my RockNChair and watch Law & Order reruns.

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