Indie Vet Mark Urman: Even Little Movies Need Theatrical Releases

After announcing a partnership between his Paladin and the Toronto-based 108 Media, indie vet Mark Urman says streaming and VOD isn't the answer for independent films

The focus in independent film may increasingly be turning to streaming, video-on-demand and alternatives to theatrical distribution – but a week after announcing a new partnership with 108 Media, Paladin President Mark Urman insisted that even indies need theatrical.

"I'm certain that theatrical distribution is a business to be in," Urman said, whose partnership with 108 is designed to provide a full-service international company. "I'm living proof of it: For the last three years I have had good, steady business and generated a real amount of revenue by releasing films theatrically."

Stephen Lovekin/Getty ImagesBut Paladin's business has been in the U.S. theatrical market – hence the partnership with 108 Media, a Toronto-based company that specializes in worldwide sales, distribution and ownership of films, television and digital content.

"There's a lot of fragmentation in the business now, and a lot of films are being carved up into little pieces," the indie veteran Urman (left) told TheWrap this week.  

"It's become a case of 'this entity is doing this and that entity is doing that,' which can be very frustrating to filmmakers."

The partnership, he said, is designed to provide an alternative to fragmentation. "If a filmmaker is attracted to our vision for a movie, that is the vision that will be implemented in every single iteration as the film moves throughout the world."

Urman said he and 108 Media CEO Abhi Rastogi will be actively looking for films at the Toronto Film Festival next week, and offering filmmakers an expanded array of services based on the combined specialties of 108 Media and Paladin.

"It allows us to expand to an enormous degree what we are able to offer filmmakers, which should make people take us seriously as a buyer and a potential home for their movies," he said.

Urman formed Paladin three years ago after serving as co-founder and president of THINKFilm, and before that spending four years as co-president of Lionsgate Releasing. After about a year, he said, "It became clear that it could be very beneficial if I could team up with an entity that does something I don't do, and an entity that doesn't do what I do.  But it was very difficult to find a partner of the same scope and size.

My Brother the Devil"A lot of people are only interested in doing things that are big and can get bigger, and that's not what I want. 108 was similarly ambitious, and scaled in a way that I feel comfortable with."

For its part, 108 Media was interested because, Urman said, the company had found that when it purchased international rights to some films, the North American rights were available at "very advantageous terms."

Five films are currently part of the Paladin/108 alliance, including the indie drama and festival winner "My Brother the Devil" (which Urman said is "as good as any film I've worked on in the last seven or eight or 10 years"), the Kazakhstan-set historical epic "Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe" and the Korean animated film  "Leafie."

Also on the slate are two documentaries that premiered at this year's Slamdance, Todd Kellstein's "Buffalo Girls" and Alexandra Berger's "Danland."

The films will be released later this year and in early 2013.

"When you make an announcement that you're starting a company or a partnership, you can say, 'This is the kind of movie we want to acquire, and this is what we could do with Movie A and Movie B,'" Urman said. "But until you actually have product, it's all fictional.

"We're not saying, 'This is what we're going to do.' We have a handful of very good films that are beyond eclectic, and we're doing it."

And doing it, he said, will definitely include those theatrical bookings.

"I know as certainly as I know anything in this business that for many films – not all of them, but many of them – a theatrical presence is a critical component of establishing an identity. And there isn't an ancillary distributor worth his salt who won't tell you that they can get a lot more out of a film if it has had theatrical exposure.

"If you want to enter the world properly, you need that theatrical exposure."