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Bankrupt Shooting Gallery Has Several Films Stuck in Video Pipeline

5 Oct, 2001 By: Joan Villa

Bankrupt independent film company Shooting Gallery, which developed critically praised and award-winning projects such as Sling Blade, You Can Count on Me, Croupier and Judy Berlin, still has films in the pipeline that haven’t made their way to independent retailers.

While studios picked up the better-known titles for video release — Sling Blade went to Buena Vista and You Can Count on Me was released through Paramount — a dozen or more are licensed to Blockbuster Inc. and its exclusive distribution arm, DEJ Productions. Only half of those have made it to the chain’s new release wall, with no decision yet on when or if they’ll also be released to other video retailers through traditional distribution, the company says.

Blockbuster sponsored the second and third Shooting Gallery film series last year with Loews Cineplex that gave the films both a theatrical run and a video venue. Blockbuster still owns the VHS rental rights to 12, and six have already been in stores: Titanic Town, Human Resources, Barenaked in America, One, Non-Stop and the critically praised Iranian-language A Time for Drunken Horses, perhaps the best known of the series.

“No decision has been made as to what the next steps are,” explains a Blockbuster spokeswoman. The company has also not determined when the third wave of six titles will be carried in store, she adds.

Last spring, Shooting Gallery licensed its first six-title film series to Hollywood Video for an exclusive VHS rental window. Those movies —including the Mike Hodges’ thriller Croupier, the Japanese film Adrenaline Drive and India’s Such A Long Journey — were also given to online DVD rental service Netflix for a 90-day exclusive window as part of a three-way licensing deal with Image Entertainment. Image has since released five on DVD and VHS — the latest was Judy Berlin, featuring "The Sopranos" co-star Edie Falco, Sept. 11. However, Image has not set Croupier for a video release and it does not have any rights to the second and third series.

“We’ve got Croupier on our schedule but it does not have a street date,” confirms an Image spokesman.

However, the Croupier DVD is still renting on Netflix to the tune of some 30,000 turns, according to Ted Sarandos, v.p. of content acquisition. Due to that success and Sarandos’s belief Netflix can bring an audience to more obscure foreign titles such as Drunken Horses, he was in the process of negotiating for Shooting Gallery’s second series. That deal, however, never materialized after Shooting Gallery merged with Canadian Internet company Itemus and Itemus filed for bankruptcy this summer, he says.

Although Sarandos believes American independent film is “waning” in part due to a lack of quality, he contends that Netflix’s system of matching customers’ likes and dislikes and suggesting new rental choices allows it to capitalize on what he calls a “renewed” consumer interest in foreign films.

“This audience is alive and well but they are spread all over the country with no particular concentrations outside of a handful of major markets,” he asserts.

The Image spokesman agrees. “The Shooting Gallery name had recognition among film audiences,” he says.

Philadelphia and Manhattan are two such markets where eclectic film has thrived and retailer TLA Video picks up most independent titles for the chain’s six stores. Rental buyer David Bleiler says he bought Judy Berlin from Image and would purchase select Shooting Gallery films such as Drunken Horses and Croupier if and when they become available.

“We’ve had a lot of people ask for the titles, especially Croupier,” Bleiler notes. However, he says he’s in a quandary about supporting Shooting Gallery because of the firm’s exclusive contracts with the big chains.

“I’ve been torn,” he explains. “On the one hand I want to boycott because the company made exclusive agreements. On the other hand I don’t want to do a disservice to my customers who have already had to wait a year for a film they want to see.”

He says he’ll be relieved if the last two film series are not available. Then, he adds, “It’s a decision I don’t have to make.”

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