Forward thinker

Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps talks about the challenges of launching a global distribution entity.

Former United International Pictures president and chief operating officer Andrew Cripps has a very no-nonsense explanation of his new title as president of Paramount Pictures International: "(We are) being very simple with our titles. I am the president, and the buck stops here." The Hollywood Reporter's London bureau chief Stuart Kemp spoke recently with the straight-shooting executive about how his new company will be organized going forward.

The Hollywood Reporter: What is the first release under the new banner?
Andrew Cripps: Strictly speaking, the first purely Paramount Pictures release across our offices will be "Dreamgirls." I am extremely pleased our first movie is that one because I think it is a fantastic film, and we know it will be a challenge. The original source story did not travel into markets overseas. But (due to the film's strong critical acclaim) toward the end of last year, we feel strongly that we will be able to build good boxoffice from that and hopefully on the back of (the film's) Golden Globe notices, (possible) Academy Award nominations and BAFTA buzz.

THR: Will there be a day-and-date release across each territory, or will you roll it out separately?
Cripps: "Dreamgirls" will begin its international rollout in Australia and New Zealand on Jan. 18 and then everywhere else in late January, early February. I am just delighted that our first full release is such a prestige movie and hopefully will rollout on the back of some (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) attention.

THR: You've brought on board UIP veteran Roger Pollock as executive vp international distribution and operations and secured the return to the U.K. of UIP Australia marketing director Jon Anderson to be executive vp international marketing. Were those two key to your management plans?
Cripps: Those two guys were essential. I certainly felt that filling those two roles was of the utmost importance to the new look of the company. I was delighted to secure Roger and Jon for Paramount Pictures International.

THR: How does the management work?
Cripps: I have four executive vps reporting into me. In addition to Roger and Jon, I also have Michael O'Sullivan, who takes up the role of executive vp finance and administration, and Philip Solomons, (general counsel and) executive vp legal and business affairs. Solomons also is (deeply involved with) Paramount Home Entertainment, which is an indication of how closely the synergies in the Paramount stable are working. As we set up the new company here (in London), it is a period of transition in the sense that PPI is a brand-new organization, so a number of us will have to spend a lot of time in Los Angeles with our studio counterparts to ensure everything becomes as integrated as possible.

THR: Of the local offices in Australia, Brazil, France, Mexico, New Zealand and the U.K. -- and the outpost in Dublin -- are there territories you are targeting in the initial stages to be the engines for the new business?
Cripps: The truth is that the U.K. will end up being the biggest territory for UIP in 2006, and we are forecasting that the U.K. will be the biggest for Paramount Pictures International during 2007. The U.K. is an immensely important territory for us and historically always was for UIP; that is not going to change for Paramount.

THR: Before the breakup, UIP used to cover Benelux, Germany, Italy, Russia and Spain for releases from Paramount and DreamWorks. What is PPI's international plans for those territories?
Cripps: Our (PPI) timeline here is over the next two years, we want to have distribution operations up and running. There are no plans to open anything in 2007, but the planning will begin in earnest during that year. By 2008 and 2009, I envision we will have local Paramount Pictures offices up and running in those territories. The good news is that all those territories are in Europe and therefore on our doorstep; that provides us with an advantage, and at least they aren't in the far-flung corners of the world.

THR: Growing up in Japan for the first part of your life, that territory was always a very personal and important one in your business life at UIP. Do you have plans for that territory in your new role?
Cripps: At the moment, Japan is part of the ongoing UIP structure going forward, and it is a very, very important, complicated, pressurized and high-cost territory to operate in. It is difficult to ensure your films are properly released, which is why the established UIP machine will remain in place. For Paramount, it is important to note that for two of our films -- "World Trade Center" and "Mission: Impossible 3" -- Japan was the single most-successful market for those titles around the world.

THR: Will you look to ramp up PPI's local ties with filmmakers in the territories in which it is going it alone?
Cripps: Being part of UIP had its advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages stemmed from the sheer volume of product coming from the studios, which meant we couldn't develop ties with local filmmakers early. Historically, local links with filmmakers was an area Paramount was not really in. Paramount is in the process of reinventing itself under (chairman) Brad Grey. The co-production business is a place that Paramount hasn't been active in in recent times. It is a good and growing business and certainly one the studio wants to be in. We (at PPI) will be actively seeking filmmakers, and the territories we'll start with will be the ones we are in and want to look at immediately. So, in the U.K., France, Australia and New Zealand, Mexico and Brazil, we will be actively seeking filmmakers to work with.

THR: So, you won't just concentrate on running studio output into the territories and not get involved in sourcing local films for local territories?
Cripps: At the end of the day, we are a subsidiary of Paramount, and the product from that studio is and always will be our lifeblood. It is a balance between the two sources of movies, but we will be seeking partnerships.

THR: How important do you think the Internet, mobile phones and new-media marketing is to the international rollout of movies?
Cripps: It is undoubtedly one of the biggest growth areas in marketing. As a result, while it is not a position we had at UIP, PPI has created a role and brought someone into the marketing arm as director of new-media marketing. We've hired Heath Tyldesley from outside the film business to occupy that spot. The other thing we have done in setting up PPI is we have split media and promotions into two separate strands to reflect the growth in importance of new media. Given media inflation around the globe, it is very important to have a separate promotions department within marketing to source media partners and share costs (of campaigns).

THR: How many movies per annum will you be looking to handle from Paramount and DreamWorks?
Cripps: It is encouraging for us that Paramount is increasing the number of films and looking to acquire projects internationally. Firstly, there will be more projects coming from the studio, and secondly, we want to grow the business as a whole internationally by way of co-productions and acquisitions (for theatrical release) under the watchful eye of (Paramount Home Entertainment senior vp worldwide acquisitions) Ellen Pittleman. Acquisitions co-productions will be struck through total integration and coordination with Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment.

THR: Do the six territories have a ceiling on the number of releases on which they can offer decent boxoffice numbers?
Cripps: It varies from territory to territory and depends on the experience in the local offices and the market expectations there. But I think we would look to release between 24 and 30 titles each year, generally speaking. I think that in markets such as the U.K. and Australia, a local office should be able to handle toward the high end of that volume. Territories such as France might fall to the lower middle bracket of that range of titles. In the distribution arena, volume adds credibility and weight in your negotiations with exhibitors. There are only so many films that a marketing department can handle, and that is where the bottleneck can occur.

THR: UIP lasted 24 years, and you joined the company in June 1986. What was the reasoning for Paramount to go it alone after so many years?
Cripps: UIP obviously had some remarkable characteristics, and one of them was simply in how well it handled such a wide range of products internationally across so many different territories. But as I said, Paramount is now undergoing a transformation and as a studio will be growing market share and wants to be in charge of its own destiny.

THR: Any final thoughts on the new setup?
Cripps: I didn't just want to re-create UIP for Paramount internationally. The world is changing, and you have to adapt to your environment in business and the new ways of doing that business. I want to make sure exhibitors regard Paramount as a brand-new company operating in their territory. We'll use UIP expertise and know-how, but (PPI) is a new company starting from scratch, which is very exciting. We've got some great films coming out -- just looking at the summer with ("Shrek the Third") and "Transformers" already makes for exciting prospects.