Graham King Launches New Indie Studio, FilmDistrict

“The Departed” producer taps distribution and marketing executives Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney to help run his new venture

Graham King is launching his own independent film studio.

The producer of Oscar-winning hits such as “The Departed” and "Aviator" is partnering with his current business partners Tim Headington and Peter Schlessel to form FilmDistrict, the partners announced on Monday.

The new company will acquire, distribute, produce and finance films. Plans are to release between four and eight films theatrically each year.

“"With something like this, it's all about the team. This is a personality driven business, and the good thing is that we have all known each other for a long time and we have established a nice comfort level," King told TheWrap. 

The first film from the company will be released in spring 2011, Schlessel told TheWrap.

King has been paving the groundwork for the announcement over the past several months, when he began snapping up top distribution and marketing executives from various studios to joing him at GK Films.

To this end, the company brought in marketing and distribution guru Bob Berney after he abruptly resigned from Apparition on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival last spring. In addition to his tenure at the now defunct Apparition, Berney founded and operated the indepenent distribution companies Picturehouse, Newmarket Films and IFC Films

Berney will serve as president of theatrical distribution reporting to Schlessel, who will, in addition to his responsibilities at GK Films, serve as CEO of FilmDistrict.

Headington will provide the studio's financing, as he has on previous King productions. King declined to say how much capital FilmDistrict had raised.

"The business and the films we produce will drive the capital needs, so it would be premature to say. We have enough to launch a deal like this though," King told TheWrap.

Like Ryan Kavanaugh and Relativity's acquistion of Overture and streaming deal with Netflix this summer, the FilmDistrict announcement comes at a time when studios are focusing on tentpole releases to the detriment of mid-budget films that indie studios used to make. This realignment would seem to leave an opening for a company like FilmDistrict, but the three producers said that they weren't looking to fill a budgetary niche.

"We won't be defined by budget or genre. Our decision will be whether we can push these films out in a big way commercially," Schlessel told TheWrap. 

He added that the company will be more interested in acquiring movies than they will be in developing and producing the films.

Importantly, the company has already lined up a video-distribution platform — a key element in launching an independent studio — through its partnership with Sony. Sony will handle home entertainment and television distribution for all of FilmDistrict's movies.

In addition, a handful of FilmDistrict films will be released through Sony Pictures Entertainment’s TriStar and Triumph labels, though King told TheWrap that most would be distributed independently.

FilmDistrict also will provide consulting services to Sony’s theatrical and acquisition business.

The close relationship with Sony is not surprising. After all, Schlessel came to GK Films in June after spending 21 years at Sony. As Sony’s President of Worldwide Affairs, Schlessel brought GK Films under the Sony umbrella. Under that pact, GK Films finances movies and Sony provides global distribution.

"There is an ease of working together that is different than it would be at any other studio," Schlessel told TheWrap. "From our relationship with Sony though GK, I think we will all be working hand in glove together. We know what they want, so there' a big trust factor."

Bahman Naraghi, COO of GK Films, negotiated the deal with Stefan Litt, Executive Vice President and CFO of Sony Pictures’ motion picture group.

Among its slate of films, GK Films has produced movies such as the current Ben Affleck hit “The Town” and the upcoming “The Tourist” with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo Cabret.”