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Big Air Studios Wants to be Newest Mini Major

The new company plans to produce, acquire and distribute films — and help independent producers sell their movies

Big Air has a big idea.

“We’re creating a mini-major studio,” the company’s CEO, Michael Arrieta, told TheWrap Wednesday.

Arrieta, former EVP of Digital at Sony Pictures, plans to produce, acquire and distribute movies – and to provide distribution, marketing and other services for independent filmmakers.

The company sees an opportunity in the millions of new screens that can show movies. Arrieta said there are about 150 million such screens out there, including 30 million Xboxes, 30 million PlayStations, 12 million internet-connected televisions and millions upon millions of iPads, smartphones and computers.

“The company is really a digitally focused organization, so we’re looking at genres that are attractive to a more digitally savvy consumer.”

That means Big Air will focus on comedy and light action.

His audience is “media enthusiasts who are tech-savvy.”

So he’ll make “movies that can be made for a price that satisfy the audience,” Arietta said. “We’re not playing in the hundred million dollar special effects game. We’ll leave that to the major studios – they do an amazing job with that, and it requires an incredible amount of capital. That part of the market is already well covered.”

Arietta started the company with partners Mark Sternberg, who produced the 2008 “Mirrors” and executive produced the 1999 “October Sky,” video production business Crosscreek Entertainment founder Bill Patterson, former Sony SVP technology Joe Arancio, former Sony VP digital programming Michael Stradford and Boom! Studios cofounder Andrew Cosby.

The company has nine full-time employees and “we’re constantly adding staff,” Arietta said.

The plan is to release a dozen movies a year.

“We believe we’ll have a monthly release that we get behind in a large way that we’ve either produced or acquired.”

Its first release, set for May, is “My Suicide,” a teen coming-of-age romantic dramedy written and directed by David Lee Miller and the winner of a dozen awards, including the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival Crystal Bear award.

“We’re really proud of that film, but it requires a different level of care to take it out to market,” Arrieta said. “It’s a relatively small film for a studio and it requires a disproportionate amount of care to maximize, to get all the value out of it. That’s why it doesn’t necessarily fit a traditional Hollywood studio release.”

Big Air will release it in movie theaters, on pay television, on DVD, on subscription services. “Literally every way a film could possibly be exploited.”

On top of that, he figures the company will work with hundreds of independent filmmakers through its “self-publishing platform.”

“That will source, we believe, hundreds of films every year that are looking for distribution,” he said.

That part of the company will have an automated platform that lets filmmakers build websites that market and sell movies.

It also will offer Crosscreek’s postproduction capabilities.

“It’s a high-end postproduction shop, so we can do everything from create trailers to … color-correct a film and finish it.

“Then we take that film and we prepare it for distribution and we support it.”

He said it “is really the first time anyone has put forth a truly complete, major studio-quality distribution system with a particular emphasis on enabling the masses of independent film.”

Arrieta said the company’s business is likely to be about 20 percent self-produced content, 30 percent acquired and 50 percent “an enablement platform for filmmakers looking for distribution in this marketplace.”

It’ll be more than digital distribution.

Big Air plans to place films in movie theaters.

“I’m an entertainment strategist at the core, and I look at the complete picture,” Arrieta said. “We will never get away from a theater experience because of the social element – the interactions that the theater can bring. We don’t hold movie premieres with everybody sitting and staring at an iPHone. There’s a reason for the communal aspect of the moviegoing experience.”