Kit Parker Films @40 Part 5 – Orion Pictures
Posted February 13, 2012on:
We had high hopes for this constellation…
In the early 1990s Orion Pictures declared bankruptcy. Soon after, I negotiated a deal with Orion’s head of distribution, the late Jay Peckos, a personable who granted me theatrical distribution rights to the entire Orion film library, including Orion Classics, Filmways , and what they referred to as the Samuel Goldwyn “Trust” movies” (produced by the Senior Goldwyn, including “The Best Days of Their Lives” and “Guys and Dolls.”) Orion also had a distribution deal with Alexander Korda’s London Films (“The Thief of Bagdad”, “Things to Come,” etc.) I thought I had another breakthrough with a major studio.
Orion Pictures was founded in 1978 by the former top brass of United Artists. Using their considerable clout, they signed class “A” talent like Francis Ford Coppola, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen and many others. But Orion turned out to be an up-and-down company, with some genuine hits like “Amadeus,” “Silence of the Lambs,” and “Platoon,” and “Dances with Wolves,” but a lot of also-rans. Orion Classics was a subsidiary, and for a time was the de rigueur specialty distributor of its day, releasing films like “Ran,” and “Babette’s Feast.”
But, by the late 1980s Orion was in big trouble. Billy Crystal said it best at the 1992 Academy Awards ceremony, “’Awakenings’” is a film about people coming out of a coma; ‘Reversal of Fortune” is about someone going into a coma; and ‘Dances with Wolves’ was made by a studio in a coma.”
Included in the Orion library was Filmways, Inc., a failing minor-league studio acquired largely to obtain its television library (“Mr. Ed,” and Cagney and Lacey” to name but two), and the 500 title American International Pictures library, which Filmways purchased in 1976 from AIP’s co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff. (Arkoff later told me it was the worst decision of his life.)
Jay Peckos gave me a printout of the entire Orion library, looked like a phone book. Despite the sheer volume of titles, my customers pretty much took a “who cares” attitude, and the performance of the Orion library was only lackluster. The Goldwyn and AIP libraries, turned out to be useless because it was too difficult to obtain prints on them.
Our one and only Orion hit was a festival of 33 movies coined “Blaxploitation, Baby!” by the maestro of revival film exhibitors, Bruce Goldstein, programmer of New York’s Film Forum theatre. Most of the films came from us; titles such as “Shaft!” and “Superfly,” but the most notable were the ones owned by Orion which were originally produced by American International Pictures, especially Pam Grier hits like, “Foxy Brown,” and “Coffy,” to which we were able to strike new prints. The series was a big success and played around the country.
In my previous blog I spoke about how studios would occasionally take pictures back from me in order to release them in-house to promote forthcoming home video releases. Fortunately, Orion never took anything back, and frankly their home video division really didn’t know one old AIP movie from another, but when they saw the big publicity our series generated all across the country, they immediately put those titles out on VHS, and made a lot of money…with zero marketing costs.