Get Rich Quick

Friday, September 6 2013
Get Rich Quick

Outrageous claims and the film and video industry go hand in hand. Any journalist, or retailer, for that matter, even if they’ve only been in the business will have heard a few specious statements, about how a distributor is going to change the face of the business.

But the announcement of the partnership between UK independent production outfit Richwater Films and the British arm of US-owned distributor Anchor Bay deserves the bold pronouncements made by the companies in their joint statement this week.

From where we’re sitting, it does indeed seem like a “watershed” moment.

The deal, as outlined by Richwater and Anchor Bay, will see the pair working together to develop, finance and produce up to four films a year. Anchor Bay will release the films – the first, We Still Kill The Old Way – will shoot early next year for release sometime later in 2014. Anchor Bay will release in the UK, with a sales agent overseeing sales for the rest of the world.

It’s in addition to a couple of Richwater titles already picked up by Anchor Bay – the Danny Dyer starrer Vendetta is currently building a bit of a buzz, while Assassin, with a resurgent Dyer appearing alongside Spandau Ballet brothers Gary And Martin Kemp, has already garnered plenty of column inches, merely on the announcement of the first on-screen pairing of the two since The Krays – and isn’t exclusive, other Richwater titles such as the forthcoming Top Dog, due from Universal next year, can go elsewhere.

But why is it so important? What makes this such a groundbreaking partnership? We’ve spoken to Jonathan Sothcott, Richwater’s own top dog, and Anchor Bay’s director of acquisitions Rod Smith. Both are industry veterans, even though Sothcott is only a mere 33-years-old – almost the length of time Smith has been in the business, if you take in his lengthy stretch at HMV. Both are equally enthusiastic about the deal and it’s easy to see why it works so well for both parties.

From Anchor Bay’s perspective, it’s an easy idea to get behind. With so many bad films available at markets, and only a handful of decent ones, which most UK distributors are all chasing, why not invest in productions that you can own forever?

As the Smith notes: “A lot of films at markets, 99 per cent, are really bad films or unsuitable for the UK. The other one per cent, everyone is after them.

“If you can create your own content and reverse engineer for the UK, you can own that in perpetuity.”

Where the deal really does work is in making DVD, Blu-ray and assorted digital sales chief among concerns when putting films together. Instead of trying to shoehorn a film that’s already been made into a genre that is working on supermarket or HMV shelves, or online or on the proliferating vod services, it is making films for those retailers. Rather than being creative with the elements and coming up with a new, sellable design after the film is completed, the films are going into production with the eventual DVD sleeve at the forefront of the production’s mind.

Both Sothcott and Smith, pals through the industry before they started working together, talk about “reverse engineering” and each explains it in similar ways.

“We’ll start with the title,” says Smith. “We’ll hand the title to an artist, who’ll draw a one-sheet, we’ll give it to the screenplay writer and say ‘write this’.

“Filmmakers and purists might be spinning in their graves, but we look at the product on the shelf and work it back to the film,” he continues. “Rather than create something and then try and make it fit a genre, we’re doing it the other way.”

Sothcott concurs: “The way a script works for me is if I can see the poster in my head. If I don’t how to sell it, if I can’t market it, it doesn’t work.”

And it’s the same for the consumers too. As Smith says: “Now, in the supermarkets and online people don’t read the synopsis, they make snap decisions.”

Revenge flick Vendetta was the catalyst that inspired the deal, even if it does fall outside the deal.

“I’ve made the first genuinely decent film of my career with Vendetta,” laughs Sothcott, somewhat modestly. “It’s a proper action movie made on a low budget but with good actors and a talented filmmaker. We’ve made a film people want to see.”

“With Vendetta, there’s a flag that goes in the ground,” says Smith. “It sets the bar, and each film after that will raise the bar. It’s very commercial.”

Assassin follows on from this, it again stars Danny Dyer; both sides in the party are keen to rehabilitate him and tap into the side of the actor who’s sold some 8 million DVDs, rather than the one who’s drawn negative publicity. “Danny gives the performance of his life in Vendetta,” says Sothcott.

“There are a lot of negative connotations about Danny Dyer,” adds Smith. “But he’s done Pinter, he’s been in BAFTA award-winning TV shows, and he’s sold 8 million films, one in 10 UK homes own a Danny Dyer film. People forget that. We don’t judge Michael Caine by The Swarm.”

And then there’s the first fruits of the new deal itself, We Still Kill The Old Way. “It came from a newspaper article on Bruce Reynolds’ funeral,” says Smith.

He and Anchor Bay UK supremo Colin Lomax came up with the premise – what happens to gangsters when they get old – and they were away. “I spoke to Jonathan, he got it straight away. We spoke to Dougie [Brimson, the scriptwriter], he got it straight away. It’s a simple premise.”

It sets out the stall of the Anchor Bay and Richwater product, as Smith notes, there are four main topics that sell on DVD anyway (crime, action, war, fighting): “We’re not going to make a film about a single mother on a housing estate. We’re making DTV titles: men buy them, women buy them for their men. There’s a recipe for making these films. You need to understand the rules and restrictions of direct to DVD. Most theatrical films lose money, we’re never going to release something because we want to go to a premiere.

“I don’t want to see a laurel on anything we do. We want to make commercial films that resonate with the British public. We want films with strong artwork and strong trailers. We’re feeding supermarket shelves, HMV shelves, Sky Box Office, iTunes.”

Further down the line, you might even find buyers and retailers helping shape the production. As Smith says: “It’s a two-way street. If a supermarket says our customers have been screaming out for something, if it fits our criteria, we can look at adapting something.”

Understanding what the supermarkets and other retailers need, as well as the eventual consumers too, is a key element. Both have a good grasp of each other’s business – Smith understands production, Sothcott says, and Smith equally notes that Sothcott, a regular Raygun reader, knows about the video industry.

And it’s this close collaboration between the film production and home entertainment industries that makes it such a key deal. Seeing as most of the profit for a film comes from home entertainment, why don’t the two sit down together more and more? “The home entertainment business and filmmaking community should be working hand in hand,” concludes Smith.

Both also finish by stressing that quality is still hugely important, they’re keen to point out that the output will not be cheap and nasty. As Sothcott himself concludes: “Although this is a fantastic deal, it’s not a quick conveyor belt. Every single one of these has to perform.”

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