King's FilmDistrict taps Bob Berney

Peter Schlessel also appointed CEO of company

Graham King and Tim Headington's GK Films is getting into the distribution business, hiring Bob Berney to serve as president of theatrical distribution of their new FilmDistrict.

Peter Schlessel, the former Sony exec who is now president of GK Films, will take on additional responsibilities as CEO of FilmDistrict, which will function as an acquisition, distribution, production and financing company with plans to release between four and eight wide commercial releases per year.

FilmDistrict will work closely with Sony, where King stuck a three-year output deal last October under which Sony releases at least two pictures per year that his GK Films finances and produces, such as the upcoming "The Tourist" and "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." "This is completely separate, though," King said of the new venture, designed by Schlessel, who resigned as Sony president of wordwide affairs in June to join GK Films. "The timing for this is great. There's a real need in the market for product. And this will be a full-service financing, production and distribution company."

King doesn't expect to tap any new sources of financing for the new unit, which will be part of his current financing partnership with Headington. "We felt quite a while ago that this was the right avenue for us to go down," King said.

FilmDistrict will be heavily involved in acquisitions, from pre-buys to finished films, with an eye toward picking up North American rights, and expects to start scouting projects at the upcoming American Film Market.

"We'll be able to put up P&A, distribution, production financing. So unless you're a producer who is lucky enough to have all those pieces in place, we can provide a real service," said Schlessel, who will also remain involved in the day-to-day operations of GK Films.

While FilmDistrict will release some of its movies itself, it will take other titles out through Sony's TriStar and Triumph labels, which Schessel has used in the past. Sony will also have home entertainment and TV rights.

FilmDistrict will also be working closely with Sony's worldwide theatrical and ancillary acquisition business run by Steve Bersch, president of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, and could well team up on acquisitions.

"They'll be an unfettered amount of back-and-forth. It all gives us room to maneuver," Schlessel said. "We'll be looking at each individual picture and deciding which is the best place to go with it.

Berney, who has been a free agent since he resigned from Apparition on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival in May, will be based in New York and report to Schlessel. He plans to build up a distribution and marketing staff of 25-30. "We'll be looking for pictures that we can market aggressively," he said. Instead of looking at art house fare, he will be concentrating on movies, whatever the size of the budget, that can reach a wider audience.

GK Films does have a couple of films, such as "The Rum Diary," starring Johnny Depp, and "London Boulevard," starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley, that it has not yet placed with a distributor. King said no decision has been made about them yet, but they could be among the first group of films that go out through FilmDistrict.

Bahman Naraghi, COO of GK Films, negotiated the deal with Stefan Litt, executive vp and CFO of Sony Pictures' motion picture group.