In the worst of times, Darwinian forces are winnowing out the weak. Companies like Marco Weber's Senator Entertainment that were making their mark at Sundance in January are no longer able to meet their commitments in June. Mark Urman went from the frying pan at David Bergstein's beleaguered ThinkFilm into the fire at Senator as president, moving from NY to LA--and back again. Weber, a hybrid filmmaker-businessman who bought out German company Senator's U.S. arm three years ago, assembled a production slate of six films with the intention of building a distribution company. To that end, he hired away Urman as Bergstein's empire was crumbling under financial strain.
Weber scored a deal with Sony Worldwide to release his slate on DVD and pay and free TV, on the strength of the films Weber had lined up: the horror thriller Clock Tower, based on a vidgame; two genre thrillers from Gregor Jordan, Unthinkable, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Sundance premiere The Informers, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Mickey Rourke, which flopped in April release; the long on-the-shelf family drama Fireflies in the Garden, starring Julia Roberts, scheduled for summer release; and the acquisitions Public Enemy Number One, a French gangster pic starring Vincent Cassel; and another long-finished horror film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which had been picked up, then dropped, by another struggling indie, The Weinstein Co. Senator also acquired indie Pierce Brosnan drama The Greatest after Sundance. UPDATE: Producers Don Murphy and Susan Montford withdrew their film Splice, starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley and produced by Guillermo del Toro, two months ago when signs became unfavorable, sources said.
Weber pre-sells some territories on each title overseas via different sales companies. Sundance acquisition Brooklyn's Finest, an operatic New York cop tragedy directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle, Richard Gere and Wesley Snipes, also appealed to Sony, which approved and bought into the deal as the seventh film on the Senator slate. Fuqua was re-editing the picture for a fall release on Senator's dime. But with Senator looking for distribution partners and unlikely to stay in the prohibitive release game, many of these titles are going to be up for grabs. UPDATE: Screen reports on where the films are going to go.
The Seattle International Film Festival had to scramble at the last minute when Senator's two-part Public Enemy Number One was pulled. The lab wouldn't let go of the print. Not a good sign, if other pictures are also in hock.
One would hope that distribution veteran Urman had learned a few things along the way; he spun himself out of his Senator contract nine months in. This time he protected himself from twisting in the wind. If there wasn't enough P & A money raised to back a bonafide distribution effort, then he was out. There wasn't.