Odeon operating independently

Operating as what Alliance Communications’ Robert Lantos calls a ‘parallel distribution track,’ Odeon Films (formerly Cineplex Odeon Films) hits the Toronto International Film Festival this year with new ownership in the form of a 75% equity stake held by Alliance.

The $5-million deal, brokered in late May at the behest of Industry Canada as part of the Sony Loews/Cineplex merger, gives Canadian distribution giant Alliance Releasing an autonomous `classics’ type of arm, while 25% of Odeon Films is now owned by a triumvirate of Canuck film training schools.

For Odeon president Bryan Gliserman, the deal offers his company a number of benefits, including better financing and the ability to acquire worldwide rights to films and to exploit those rights with Alliance’s international sales arm.

‘I’m happy to be part of an entity that intrinsically understands the opportunities that our activities hold,’ says Gliserman. ‘Working with Cineplex was great but we weren’t the core business.’

Gliserman also stresses that Odeon will be working autonomously from its ‘enlightened parent’ Alliance, but will share data on the information-driven Canadian distribution business.

‘If I were to look at acquisitions of Canadian or independent films worldwide, I would say we’re autonomous right now, and I think that speaks to what is most practical because we have competition in this marketplace, says Gliserman.

In fact, Gliserman says that in some cases Alliance will serve as acquisitions competition for Odeon. ‘We have a very experienced team as they do, but there have been lots of instances where I’ve made mistakes or they might make mistakes in terms of assessing what the value of a picture might be,’ he says.

‘From the standpoint of `Is this a good pickup?’ we might see something that speaks to us, where in other instances it might speak to them. And because we’re competing with other distributors, the point is we are looking at them as another entity that we are competing with.

‘If it weren’t Alliance it would be Behaviour, Motion or Red Sky or whomever.’

Known in the past as a big supporter of Canadian films and talent while holding service arrangements in Canada with Lions Gate Films, Savoy Pictures and PolyGram, Odeon is the Canadian distributor of the high-profile Rhombus Media productions The Red Violin and Last Night, which are enjoying warm praise at tiff.

Odeon also struck an output deal with u.s. mini-major October Films before the Alliance buy and continues to distribute Universal’s classics division films in Canada.

With the green light to acquire projects at all stages, Gliserman says Odeon could pick up a number of films at tiff this year (for anywhere between no advance and $500,000 for Canadian rights, according to Gliserman), although it’s most likely that Odeon will use the fest primarily to promote both its own and October’s releases playing the fest.

It also appears that tiff will be used by Odeon’s development head Marguerite Pigott to update and find new projects.

‘The nature of financing these days is so complicated that it requires early commitments,’ says Gliserman. ‘Acquiring world or North American rights is a high-risk, competitive business. We’re conscious of a few titles, but [tiff] is a chance to meet and discuss other projects that are not at the festival.’

At last year’s [tiff], Odeon handled Thom Fitzgerald’s festival hit The Hanging Garden – which sold to mgm – as well as Vincenzo Natali’s Cube – which sold to Trimark.

A true businessperson in perhaps the most `business’ part of show business, Gliserman seems to approach distribution from a rational angle.

‘I’m a pragmatist, and just a real simple businessman from the standpoint of the film has to make money, not only here to satisfy investors, but it has to work worldwide,’ he says, adding that Odeon is simply looking to give its shareholders a fair return on their investment that is hopefully higher than the going rate for a gic or other secure investment.

‘Any film that we get involved with we’re looking to take our money, put it down in the form of advances in some cases, and marketing dollars, and return on those dollars,’ he says.

And unlike its parent company whose name over the past few years has become well known to the public and industry alike, Gliserman says he wants Odeon Films to remain relatively inconspicuous.

‘We don’t put our name forward, we put our films forward.’