New film label is Autonomous for After Dark

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NEW YORK -- After Dark Films partners Courtney Solomon and Allan Zeman are launching Autonomous Films, a sister production/distribution label with a two-year, $55 million JPMorgan P&A credit facility.

Solomon has raised about 70% of the $50 million he will use to produce and acquire three to four mainstream films a year, most in the $5 million-$20 million range. Half of the production funds will come from private-equity funding (mostly from Hong Kong-based real estate financier Zeman) and half from international presales, subsidies and other sources. Solomon said the remainder of the financing will be finalized within the next few weeks.

Autonomous plans to put three films into production in first-quarter 2008, with one set for distribution in the fourth quarter and the second set for release during second-quarter 2009. Although the unannounced project deals are now being finalized, two of the planned films are broad comedies and one is an action caper film in the vein of "Ocean's Eleven." Solomon said a potential fourth feature would be in the $1 million-$3 million range.

The new label's output will be a part of Solomon's existing three-year deal signed in July 2006 with Lionsgate Films, which handles DVD, pay TV, other TV, PPV, VOD and, for some titles, theatrical distribution.

Two previously announced After Dark titles -- Goran Dukic's black comedy "Wristcutters: A Love Story," starring Patrick Fugit and Shannyn Sossamon, and Griffin Dunne's drama "Fierce People," starring Diane Lane and Donald Sutherland -- will be released under the Autonomous label in the next three months.

Autonomous marks Solomon's first move into feature production in addition to acquisitions and distribution. "It's the inverse of Miramax launching Dimension," he says. "It's more like Dimension launching Miramax."

Solomon has been the center of controversy this year, both for a proposed marketing campaign for "Wristcutters" (with signs showing acts of suicide with a circle and bar over them) and billboards of "Captivity" depicting star Elisha Cuthbert in a cage and being tortured. Solomon is quick to admit that graphic horror films are now suffering at the boxoffice as much as their characters (as indicated by low grosses for Lionsgate's "Hostel: Part II" and After Dark's "Captivity" and "Skinwalkers"), partly inspiring his move to launch less graphic and controversial fare.

He plans to continue acquiring one After Dark horror film a year for at least the next two years and to keep producing his annual "After Dark Horrorfest: 8 Films To Die For" film series, comprised of low-budget acquisitions released theatrically in 25 major markets. Solomon said the boxoffice downturn for horror films is "cyclical; horror had a big boom, and now there's a lull, but it will come back."

Law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld Llp. helped arrange the JPMorgan credit facility.

After Dark was born from writer-producer-director Solomon's "An American Haunting," which earned $16.5 million at the domestic boxoffice after its May 2006 release on more than 1,700 screens.
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