Why Did Bob Berney Quit Apparition and Dump Bill Pohlad?

Berney seemed frustrated that Pohlad controlled the pursestrings; he’s looking for work, he says

Read full Cannes coverage at Report From Cannes  and WaxWord Cannes.

 In a festival with precious little excitement thus far up on screen (though you never do know when that will change), many in the indie world are dying to find out what led to the surprise exit of Bob Berney and his wife Jeanne from distributor Apparition on Tuesday, just two days ago. 

Anne Thompson buttonholed Berney at a Croisette apartment late on Wednesday, and though Berney said little about why he left, it seems clear that he felt his hands were tied by the pursestring decisions of his boss, Bill Pohlad. 

The final straw for Berney appears to be when Pohlad balked at an acquisition that Berney wanted to make out of the Tribeca Film festival, a film about Elliot Spitzer by documentarian Alex Gibney.  

She writes: 

"The movie that most tested the Pohlad/Berney partnership was music biopic The Runaways, which carried high expectations due to Twilight stars Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. In that case, after a splashy media launch at Sundance, Pohlad altered Berney’s distribution plans, drastically pulling the film back from a planned wide release to a more conservative platform. In fact, the movie played best inside the art-house niche with fans of the original 70s group, topping out at $3.5 million… At Tribeca, Berney explored buying Alex Gibney’s well-reviewed expose on Elliot Spitzer, which Pohlad saw at a buyer’s screening in LA. The day before Berney split from Apparition, Gibney got word that Apparition couldn’t buy the film. The straw that broke the camel’s back? Berney has no comment."

But one can hardly blame Pohlad for protecting his capital. Apparition has not had any hits in the past year, and The Runaways was not convincing enough even with the tweener hype at Sundance to suggest it merited a wide release. (Stewart was particularly desultory, not the energy required for playing the flame-throwing Joan Jett.) 

The distributor’s top moneymakers were "Young Victoria," which took in a respectable $13 million and garnered Oscar nominations, but was released through Sony Worldwide, and funny enough, "Boondock Saints II," which took in $10 million. The Jane Campion film that screened at last year’s Cannes, "Bright Star," was a disappointment at $4.5 million. 

Berney says he can’t comment because he’s in the process of extricating himself from the relationship. (Oddly, he says he has an exit clause after a year in his contract, but the company was only announced in August 2009.)  But he does say he’s looking for work. 

That, unfortunately, places him in much the same category of many other experienced hands in the independent world, looking how to square the circle between the cost of releasing quality film, and reaching wide enough audiences to make that a profitable endeavor.  

Read previous: Bob Berney Resigns From Apparition 

Read full Cannes coverage at Report From Cannes  and WaxWord Cannes.