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CEO of Bleecker Street at Sundance Post-Weinstein and the future of independent films

Andrew Karpen makes his predictions for this year's market and reveals how to make film fans really go to theaters.

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When it comes to getting information about what movies are good in independent-owned movie theaters, Bleecker Street's executive director, Andrew Karpen, does not need to look for anything more than his 25-year-old wife, Pam Karpen. "She actually owns a four-screen movie theater in Bethel, Connecticut, and yes, she plays Bleecker Street movies," she laughs. "And no, I'm not involved in any of the negotiations on what the terms are." Still, information about what drives increasingly distracted audiences to a theater is useful when the former co-CEO of Focus Features is looking to buy a movie in a market like the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. This year marks the fourth year of Bleecker Street in Park City and the first in which all three of his avid sons skiers – two sons, 22 and 20, and one daughter, 17 – will join him.

Karpen, 51, founded the film's distributor in 2014 with the endorsement of 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava and named it with a nod to the old Focus headquarters at 65 Bleecker St. Now employing 21 people, the company has proven to be smart with its selections: the drone thriller Helen Mirren Eye in the Sky turned out to be one of the biggest launches of the 2016 art house, with $ 18.7 million in the box office of the United States. And after launching Steven Soderbergh Logan Lucky in 2017 ($ 27.8 million), Bleecker Street will launch the Soderbergh thriller Unsane starring The Crown & # 39; s Claire Foy, on March 23. That's one of the nine films she has on the cover for 2018 (compared to six last year), including two that will debut at Sundance, the star of Jon Hamm-Rosamund Pike Beirut and Alzheimer's disease led by Hilary Swank drama What they had .

Karpen, who lives in Weston, Connecticut, invited THR to his office in the NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan to talk about the status of the independent film in the era of streaming.

This year marks the first Sundance without Harvey Weinstein. How will the market vibrate change?

Over the past few years, I do not think The Weinstein Co. has acquired many Sundance titles, so I do not think they really have an impact on the market. . The biggest impact will continue to be the new buyers that have come in recent years. Companies like us, Netflix, Amazon, Annapurna.

Do you think it will be a buyers or sellers market this year?

It's really a movie-to-movie situation. It is the quality of the films and the determination of what will be traditionally released and that could go on alternative platforms.

Of last year's crop, only three movies made more than $ 4 million at the box office – The Big Sick Beatriz at Dinner and The Hero . Do you think there will be a market correction this year?

Buyers have different mandates and different justifications for what they buy and spend. There were a number of movies in the last two years that had great prices, and there were movies that were not so widely informed that they had smaller price tags. We will continue to see both, but little by little we have seen the number of movies with big and big price tags go down. We'll see what will continue this year.

What is the acquisition of the festival that I wish I had landed that escaped?

The first year at Sundance for Bleecker, I loved Brooklyn . And I worked with a lot of the people involved with that movie before in Focus. But it was very clear that I would go to a division of study specialties.

Explains the Bleecker Street model.

Our goal is to distribute interesting and entertaining films for a demanding and mainly theatrical audience. Most of our films follow a platform launch strategy, but we have made extensive releases. We did Logan Lucky wide, and we're doing another movie with Steven in March, Unsane .

With Logan Lucky you spent $ 20 million to market it and go to red state audiences. But it still ended up working better in the blue state, in the markets of big cities.

The great lesson of that film is, especially now when people have the opportunity to do much more with their time, first and mainstream audiences and then divide the subset among their main audience. Trying to make people who do not go to the movies change their habit is a much more difficult task.

Who do you see as your biggest competition?

Look, I think somehow, are not we all competitors?

You're probably not competing with, say, Saban Films for any movie. But I think you would be with Sony Pictures Classics, Focus, Roadside Attractions.

It's true. And we also want them to be successful because I think that the more people who go to the movies as a habit, the better it will be for everyone. [Convincing] someone who has not been to the cinema in nine months to go to the movies is twice as hard as convincing someone what movie to go to this week. So having other distributors out there launching similar types of movies for similar audiences is really a good thing.

How would you describe the status of the independent film now?

The good news is that there are more people watching independent films than ever before. The opportunity and avenues to watch independent films are greater, whether in a theater, on your computer, on your TV or on your phone. The hard part is that there is so much content out there that connecting the content with the audience and making them watch a movie, whether in a theater or streaming, is changing.

You worked on Amazon in The Lost City of Z Elvis & Nixon and Patterson . Will you partner again?

As I understand it, they will now make their own distribution. They were working with people like me and Roadside while they were rising. But you should ask them.

How would you describe the typical Bleecker Street movie?

I do not think there's a typical Bleecker Street movie. Raisins of Nostalgia opening in February, to Unsane in March, to Beirut in April, to Disobedience which is a film we picked up in Toronto , in April. They are all very different movies. The only thing I would say is that I think everyone has a central audience and, hopefully, we can not only reach the main audience, but we can expand beyond that.

Where do you see Bleecker Street for five years? from now?

Technically, the name of the company is Bleecker Street Media, and it was not Bleecker Street Films because as the market changes, would we ever enter television or digital or short-term content? That is to be determined. I think the key to Bleecker is finding attractive stories, interesting stories that we can take to an audience to enjoy. Some people will like some of our movies. Some people could not. But I'd like to think that when they watch a Bleecker movie, it's at least stimulating. What form it will take in the next five years, we will have to wait and see.


This story first appeared in the January 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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