Industry politics are not always of interest to anybody not directly involved in the industry, but over the past year, a shake-up at Lionsgate has become not only the biggest horror story of 2008 but also one likely to extend into 2009 and beyond. How so? Two words: Joe Drake.
Drake is the guy Lionsgate brought in to oversee a transition away from the genre fare. Horror is how the label first began making money — and despite the business still being hugely profitable for them, Lionsgate is definitely getting out of the horror game. The way Drake has been doing this has been nothing short of brutal, the most public examples of his brutality coming in the form of Midnight Meat Train and Repo: The Genetic Opera.
For the uninitiated, Midnight Meat Train is the Vinnie Jones-starring adaptation of a short story by Clive Barker, the first English language film from Japan’s Ryuhei Kitamura. Anticipation was running high — Bloody Disgusting has a full 40 MMT articles in their archive — and according to industry insider Nikke Finke the movie’s trailer “tested higher than any film in Lionsgate history.” Fan buzz plus killer marketing materials — it’s a recipe for sure fire success, right? Nope. Lionsgate bumped the release date several times before releasing the film on only 100 dollar-theater screens with zero advertising to fulfill a contractual obligation before dumping it to DVD.
Repo? That would be Darren Lynn Bousman’s long-in-the-works horror musical. Like Midnight Meat Train it was a hugely anticipated movie — eight pages of search results at Dread Central — with a name cast, sharp marketing materials and a director with a loyal fan base. Considering that Bousman had previously made Lionsgate buckets of money directing three of the Saw films, you’d expect maybe a little bit of loyalty coming back the other way, but no. Lionsgate support was so low that Bousman ended up taking his own print on the road and personally organizing screenings because it was the only way audiences would ever have the chance to see it on screen.
So… two movies that should have been surefire bets, both dumped unceremoniously by the company that should have been minting money from them. Why? Joe Drake.
When Drake was brought in to replace former Lionsgate executive Peter Block, he followed the oldest regime-change game in the book: Make yourself look good by screwing over all of the old guy’s projects. Block approved MMT and Repo — plus other, similarly vanished Lionsgate projects like The Burrowers — and so Drake made sure they would fail thereby making his own projects look better by comparison. This isn’t about what’s good for the movies or even what’s good for Lionsgate, this is about what’s good for Joe Drake.
Stuff like this generally slides by unnoticed, but fans clued in this time when creators and filmmakers began to speak out publicly. Barker previously stated in this blog, “The movie is f—ing great, and it’s not right to stop horror fans who’ve been looking forward to seeing the picture from seeing it on the big screen.” He MTV that “This [MMT‘s dollar-theater release] is all about ego… There’s room for everything, you don’t have to sh-t on somebody else’s work to advance your own material… in the end the Joe Drakes of the world will disappear.”
Repo‘s Darren Bousman has had to be a little more polite about it — you don’t mess with an active exec if you want to keep working in Hollywood — but he’s pretty clear about things as well, saying bluntly that he took Repo on the road himself simply because he didn’t have any other choice. “We fought to get this into a few theaters and then a few more theaters and a few more theaters.”
The fans? They’re not real happy, either. “This is a really boneheaded move from the studio that released BRATZ on over 1500 screens and still thinks Dane Cook is the Next Big Thing.” Jack Burton; “God, I hate Lionsgate.” Jake; “It’s incredible that THIS is the treatment Clive is getting for his return to film. His adaptations have been some of the best horror in the last 2 decades. This is bulls–t.” Jarofsap.
But as frustrating as all of this is for fans, here’s the real kicker. Lionsgate doesn’t care. Letter writing campaigns for both movies yielded a whole lot of nothing and Drake’s plans to change the ‘Gate’s focus continue unabated. For the past several years now, Lionsgate has been the prime source for original — i.e. not remake — horror in North America and with them getting out of the game, and with reports of Dimension having money troubles growing louder, we’re looking at a huge power void growing in the horror market. Is North American horror dying, or will someone rise up to step into the gap? We’ll know more in 2009…Read More