Radius Co-Chiefs on VOD Strategy, 'Snowpiercer's' Critics and Toronto (Q&A)
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On July 18, Radius, the 3-year-old boutique arm of The Weinstein Co., became the first film distributor to release weekly video-on-demand grosses. Though other outlets occasionally have slipped out a flattering figure or two, Radius is aiming to make the practice standard, hoping to give movies with soft theatrical openings a more positive perception in the marketplace. Heading the New York-based operation are co-presidents Tom Quinn, 44, and Jason Janego, 42, both veterans of Magnolia Pictures, who are itching to modernize what they see as a stagnant industry. They're already making waves by releasing Bong Joon-ho's sci-fi epic Snowpiercer on VOD in July only two weeks after its theatrical opening (and taking in $2 million its first VOD weekend, a figure they claim is comparable to big studio on-demand releases). But there have been naysayers who question the Snowpiercer strategy — some theater owners claimed millions were left on the table by releasing it so early on VOD — as well as dismissive suggestions that Radius is a VOD-only outfit (despite successful theatrical releases like 20 Feet From Stardom).
But the duo, along with a staff of 10, are seeking to carve their niche with about 18 releases a year, a mix of hot-button docs like the food exposé Fed Up and upcoming dramas like Daniel Radcliffe's Horns. They estimate that they spend 120 days a year on the road, hitting the major festivals, but Quinn finds time for coffee runs with his 2½-year-old daughter and Janego manages to get in walks with his dog and an occasional pickup basketball game. They sat down with THR in their offices in downtown Manhattan, blocks from their former outpost in TWC's Tribeca building, to discuss the new economics of indie film, plans for the Toronto Film Festival and Harvey Weinstein's involvement in it all.
The perception is that Harvey and his brother Bob are involved in all of the decision-making on movies to buy. How much autonomy do you have?
Janego: We have a very high level of autonomy on a day‑to‑day basis. We're making decisions without any input. But when we have a question that we need to have them answer, they're always accessible.
Quinn: We have had disagreements. But the thing that Jason and I always come back to is these guys are our favorite distributors. We've been in rooms with both Bob and Harvey where they come up with an idea on the spot, execute the idea within five minutes of coming up with it by getting on the phone, and it's implemented. To be with Harvey and [COO] David Glasser at festivals, it's the most exciting thing just to see how they operate.
If you could do Snowpiercer over again, would you do anything differently?
Janego: Tom made some brilliant decisions as far as the release date going up against Transformers. A brilliant idea. Some of the stuff that we did as far as the cross-country tour promoting the film in some of the different markets that we thought were going to be very receptive to the film. … Great idea.
But with such positive reviews — 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — did you leave money on the table by releasing it so early on VOD?
Quinn: I can argue that we didn't. Listen, everybody else seems to know what should have happened. So, I'm going to go on record and say what I think could have happened. I think there are two movies in recent memory that fit the review profile almost exactly: Children of Men and Drive. Compare the numbers of what all three of those movies did in France. Drive grossed $13 million in France and Children of Men grossed $2.5 in France. Snowpiercer was $5 million. Snowpiercer's based on a French graphic novel. Historically, Bong Joon‑ho's ratio of what he grosses in France can be as much as 40 percent of what his films have grossed in the U.S. If we released Snowpiercer the way Drive and Children of Men were released in the U.S., we'd be in the red. So, could it have made $50 million? Absolutely. But this was the right way to go. Had there been more exhibitors willing to come on board, I think they would have seen some real success with the film in their theaters. Unfortunately, we were limited to a certain number of exhibitors that were able to play Snowpiercer.
Is it true you had to rent all of the AMC theater locations — about 100 — because AMC refused to show Snowpiercer otherwise?
Quinn: I cannot comment on it. It's the secret sauce to our evil plot.
OK, but could you speak broadly about the advantages and disadvantages of renting out theaters?
Quinn: The advantages are you keep 100 percent of the gross. So, if you play your cards right, it's actually a better scenario. But we're happy to work with theaters in any manner that they want to work with us as long as it makes sense.
If Weinstein and Radius are interested in a film, how do you decide which label pursues?
Quinn: Sometimes we do a film together, like Fed Up. But there's not a lot of overlap. I've never done a 2,500-print release. My expertise is multiplatform and movies that are released 600 prints and under.
How do you sell filmmakers on Radius if they are hoping for TWC and Harvey's full attention?
Quinn: If it's a movie that we're doing that we bought and Harvey's not involved, we just make it clear that we're running the release. If it's a movie that we buy together, we make it clear what we all want to do together. Harvey will say, "I'll work on this. You guys are going to do this." Like on the 20 Feet Oscar campaign. I'm not sure we would have been able to do it as successfully as we did without Harvey.
What prompted your decision to begin releasing VOD numbers?
Janego: For a long time, the studios were reluctant to have box-office numbers reported, and then they realized: "Wait a minute. There is this perception of success, and making these things public can actually be helpful." We continue to try to push the model and be more and more progressive with the way we release movies.
Quinn: It's just like a theatrical window, so why not record them together alongside our box office? It makes a statement: You need to start reporting this. How are we going to get to the place where people take this seriously unless it's reported alongside box office? On VOD, Snowpiercer is outperforming major studio movies that have grossed $100 million at the box office. That's important to know.
How do you know that if no one else is releasing figures?
Quinn: We have access to the top iTunes rankings, up to 200. Amazon is 100. Comcast, same. Time Warner, I think it's eight. Almost every platform has at least the top five. And once you crack the top five, you know exactly where you stack up against your competition. Every now and then there's an anomaly, like Snowpiercer. Bad Words (2014) was another. It only grossed $7 million theatrically, but it's performing in top 10 on these platforms. Everybody else [that has similar VOD rankings] is a $50 million or $100 million grossing movie.
What Radius releases haven't worked?
Quinn: I think The Details [starring Tobey Maguire] was a disaster for us. We probably underperformed by about 60 percent on our low end. I thought the movie was a fantastic dark comedy. Was it the wrong release date? [Details was released in November 2012, earning $64,000.] But back in my early days at Goldwyn and Magnolia, we felt we were lucky if we were batting .200 and we were hitting our projections … 20 percent of the time. [Radius'] multiplatform release and how we incorporate it and an additional revenue stream has a lot of possibilities. Our batting average is .800.
Cannes and Sundance were soft markets this past year, right?
Quinn: But we found an incredible discovery: David Robert Mitchell's It Follows. It's a horror movie.
What are you hoping for from Toronto?
Janego: Good weather. To be able to sleep. I'm kidding. You're hoping to find one or two films that make sense to add to the slate.
What's the best advice Harvey has given you?
Janego: When something needs to get done, you get on a plane and don't come home until it's done.
Quinn: Or, as has happened twice, you get off the plane. Something's happening, and your plane's about to take off, and they haven't closed that door. Get off the plane.