Revolver aims for early acquisitions

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LONDON -- Received wisdom in the U.K. distribution sector is that if you secure a theatrical hit, the riches should follow from exploiting the release on such ancillaries as broadcasting deals and the potentially lucrative rental and sell-through DVD market.

But for the comparatively fresh-faced sector entrant Revolver Entertainment, theatrical distribution was a strategic move following its success as a start-up in "specialist" home entertainment releases in 1997.

Now U.K. independent distributor Revolver is firing on all cylinders after just a handful of years of activity in the theatrical market.

The company began cautiously by targeting finished product for theatrical acquisition purposes rather than script prebuys.

"At the time of us thinking about trying theatrical releasing, there was a certain amount of testing the water, so it made much more sense (for us to buy) a finished film for it -- something already judged to have been good enough to have been made," Revolver Entertainment managing director Justin Marciano says.

Now after just three years in business, Revolver is upping the ante, and Marciano says the team quickly came to realize that it needed to get involved with film projects at a much earlier stage.

"By March 2006, we all realized that we needed to get in (the acquisition) game far earlier. Nearly half the films we now buy for theatrical release we buy before they are completed," Marciano says.

He cites Italian Russian roulette gangster flick "13" (Tzameti), which is being remade in Hollywood. "We snapped up that picture from a 15-minute promo reel," he says. That promo reel wasn't even at a film market but was being shown to select buyers during MIP TV in Cannes in March 2005.

For Revolver, every movie it takes on as a distributor has to be a labor of love, Marciano insists.

A relaxed and soft-spoken executive, he says the whole company's outlook depends on everyone on the small team believing in the picture.

"We consider ourselves to be boutique in our approach to releasing films. But at the same time we are very commercially minded," he says, at pains to avoid any suggestion his company won't try and make money for the films in question.

The strategy is paying off, if recent history is any indication.

Revolver has taken in more than £1 million ($2 million) at the boxoffice in the U.K. with the French cop drama "Tell No One," directed by Guillaume Canet, after six weeks in release.

The boutique distributor opened Canet's movie on 55 screens across the U.K. before widening to 67 screens after five weeks.

Marciano says the slow-burn approach has helped disprove the long-standing belief in the U.K. that a movie has to be pulled quickly after release as there is no time for a movie to find its audience.

"To have broken £1 million with a foreign-language title is testimony to the fact that not only do British audiences want alternative choices to Hollywood summer blockbusters, it serves as a reminder that you can still build a film in the U.K.," Marciano says.

"We loved and fought to distribute this film in the U.K. from the very first screening," he says of "Tell No One." And that was before it made him money at the boxoffice.

Revolver is holding its own among well-healed foreign-language distributor players in the U.K. market including Warner Bros. Pictures, Pathe Distribution, Momentum Pictures and Icon Entertainment.

While those names may be beating Revolver's grand totals, industry observers note they have all splashed a lot more cash to do so.

And for the first six months of 2007, according to Nielsen EDI market share stats, Revolver outgunned fellow U.K. indie players including Verve Pictures, Tartan Distribution, Artificial Eye, The Works U.K. Distribution and Soda Pictures.

Perhaps surprisingly the company has no plans to rapidly expand.

"We are looking to do 12 films a year, max. I believe there is a right distributor for every kind of film and we are very careful in the movies we pick and the pictures that pick us," Marciano says.

He freely admits that volume is an important factor in obtaining market share, but despite its handpicked approach, the company has forced its way into the reckoning anyway.

Revolver also recently secured a handful of awards from the British Video Assn. for its marketing initiatives in film, a first for the company.

The indie beat out opposition campaigns from well-funded stables including 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures Releasing to the plaudits. No one was more amazed than Marciano.
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