XYZ Films Launches U.S. Distribution Company With Ex-Neon Exec James Shapiro

The indie genre label will launch with 'Something In the Dirt' from 'Synchronic' directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.

Indie genre specialist XYZ Films is getting into the distribution game, launching a U.S. operation and bringing on board former Drafthouse Films and Neon executive James Emanuel Shapiro.

The domestic operation — which Shaprio will run as executive vp of U.S. distribution — will launch with Something in the Dirt, the latest feature from directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, which is billed as a return to their DYI indie origins seen in features like Resolution (2012) and Spring (2014). Produced by their longtime producer David Lawson under their Rustic Films production company banner, Something in the Dirt is currently in post. The feature marks the fifth collaboration with XYZ. More recently, Benson and Moorhead have seen mainstream success with sci-fi thriller Synchronic (2019) starring Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan, which hit #1 on its Netflix debut. The duo is currently shooting Marvel series Moon Knight for Disney+.

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Shapiro, who said coming on board XYZ Film was “a dream come true” called Something in the Dirt the perfect film to launch the new division.

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“Justin, Aaron, and Dave were incredible to work with during the Drafthouse Films release of Spring and I’ve loved each film they’ve done since,” he said. “Something in the Dirt is smart, inventive, and very entertaining. I hope we can distribute every film they do going forward.”

XYZ said their U.S. company will focus on the kind of auteur-driven genre films the group is known for. Since Nate Bolotin, Nick Spicer, and Aram Tertzakian founded XYZ in 2008, the company has delivered such cult hits as Gareth Evans’ The Raid, Panos Cosmatos’ Nicolas Cage revenge thriller Mandy, and Joe Penna’s sci-fi feature Stowaway starring Anna Kendrick and Toni Collette, another top hit on Netflix.

“We specialize in a certain kind of film, and we know that audience inside out,” said XYZ CEO Spicer, and partner Bolotin. “We now have the ability to be a true studio to our filmmakers, all the way through release. James has been distributing elevated, indie genre films for twenty years and knows how to reach that audience better than anyone.”

A 20-year veteran of the indie film scene, Shapiro has worked on the Oscar awards campaigns on such films as Bullhead (2011), The Act of Killing (2012), and I, Tonya (2017). The former COO of Drafthouse Films and Neon, he’s also familiar with the genre festival circuit, having worked with both the Fantastic Fest and Beyond Fest.

Shapiro will report to XYZ Films’ CEO Spicer and XYZ Films’ Partner Bolotin and will work alongside president of international sales and distribution Tatyana Joffe on global releases from XYZ’s slate.

“With traditional distribution models rapidly shifting, we need to quickly adapt to the demands of our international partners and their audience,” said Joffe. “Having control of the windowing, and working collectively with our key international partners to create marketing campaigns will greatly contribute to our global release strategy in capturing broader audience, which will ultimately ensure better performance worldwide.”

A production, sales and — most recently — management group, XYZ Films greatly boosted its financing capabilities in 2019 when it raised $100 million together with Finland-based venture capital firm IPR.VC to fund a slate of independent genre films.

The company said the U.S. division would be a boutique operation and wouldn’t release every film that XYZ finances or produces.

XYZ announced its U.S. distribution company as Cannes Virtual Film Market kicked off Monday. Among the new titles on XYZ’s Cannes slate are the Cambodian sci-fi feature Karmalink, which XYZ is selling for North America, with Scandinavian outfit LevelK handling for the rest of the world.