On Movies: Local guys bucking DVD-biz trend

bootleg-dvd-trend-philadelphia-600
EDIE & THEA: A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT Produced & Directed by Susan Muska & Gréta Olafsdóttir PHOTO: Breaking Glass Pictures

It's been a wild week for Rich Wolff, Richard Ross, and their colleagues at Breaking Glass Pictures. The phones and computers in the film distributor's Old City offices have been buzzing with requests - from CNN, from the networks' news divisions - to use clips from Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement. That's because the subject of the prizewinning documentary, Edith Windsor, is the plaintiff in the historic challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act argued before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday.

Another Breaking Glass title, Laurence Anyways, had a sold-out screening March 17 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A Cannes Film Festival winner, the French-Canadian melodrama stars Melvil Poupaud as a male-to-female transsexual in a stormy relationship with a straight woman (Suzanne Clement). The film is set to open in June in theaters across the country.

Founded in 2009, Breaking Glass (yes, the name comes from the David Bowie song) has carved out a comfortable niche - make that niches - in the movie acquisition, distribution, and licensing world. Its inaugural release was The Band - a sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll tale from filmmaker Anna Brownfield. With more than 100 titles in their library, and three to five added every month, cofounders Wolff and Ross are seeing strong DVD and video sales - and overseeing the occasional theatrical run - for genre fare that runs the gamut from documentaries to thrillers, family features and animation, LGBT and horror. One title, Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, managed to meld at least two of those genres, although perhaps not with the success Wolff had hoped for.

"I thought it was so outrageous that everybody would come," he says of the 2010 release. "And it didn't happen, at least not in theaters. It wasn't enough for either crowd - the horror crowd found it too gay, and the gay crowd found it too grisly."

Wolff is a King of Prussia native with degrees from Temple University and the City University of Seattle - and a colorful CV that includes a turn at managing a Brazilian gold mine. One of the founding partners in Philadelphia's TLA Entertainment, Wolff left the company to start his own, teaming with Ross. The two are Breaking Glass' co-presidents. Wolff is CEO.

Sales in 2012, Wolff says, hit $2 million, up 70 percent from the previous year. And they hope to do better this year, with K-11 (directed by Jules Stewart, Kristen Stewart's mom) and Out in the Dark, an Israeli-Palestinian gay love story, set for an August theatrical release.

And while the DVD biz is on a downward trend industrywide, Breaking Glass has cemented deals with DVD distributor Redbox, enjoying particular success with 6 Degrees of Hell (starring Corey Feldman!); 5 Star Day (Jena Malone and Cam Gigandet); and After the Wizard, a family-friendly Wizard of Oz knockoff that garnered the company its first Dove Foundation "Family Approved" seal.

"The market for DVD sales is challenging, but certainly still viable," notes Breaking Glass' Ross. "Redbox and other kiosk companies have invigorated the rental market, and online e-tailers, as well as the brick-and-mortar big boxes, have kept the sell-through business alive as well. We all take an active role in acquisitions - product is plentiful, and you have to pursue every single title that makes sense for the company."

Not that Breaking Glass Pictures' product is the same thing as, say, Warner Bros. Pictures' product.

"These are not $50 million films," Wolff says. And that's fine by him. Scouting the festivals (Cannes, Sundance) and the international film marketplaces (AFI, Berlin) for low-price, high-potential properties, Wolff and Ross know what they want, and also know when to bide their time.

On their annual January jaunt to the Sundance Film Festival, a hotbed of hype where bidding wars can send prices beyond $6 million or $7 million for a film, Breaking Glass plays wait-and-see.

"We watch what hasn't been picked up the first week, and then for the two weeks after [the festival], if something hasn't been picked up, we know we have a good shot," he explains. Breaking Glass' main competition is from other mid-tier indie distributors - Oscilloscope, Phase 4 Films, Screen Media.

"Sometimes, we'll get lucky, and we'll get a film that a much larger company is looking at," he adds. "But we also get a tremendous amount of titles that come in here - submissions come in daily. I think today I got four titles. . . . People will call, they'll say can we submit? And we've been very lucky. We work with some sales agents who are continuously giving us product. . . .

"And we don't dither. If we like it, we move quickly. I can execute a contract in a day. . . . There's not time anymore to go in and say, Well, let's let this sit for three months while the lawyers try to define the word the in a sentence.

"Which does happen, if you let it."

 


Contact Steven Rea

at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.