Kit Parker Films @40 – Part 7
Posted May 6, 2012on:
I saw my first DVD and knew it was all over…
The former Kit Parker Films building in Sand City,CA
Kit Parker Films continued humming along throughout the 1990s. Videotape shut down most of the non-theatrical distributors, but we held steady because the majority of our customers demanded the clarity that film provided…and from day one we were Ninja about print quality. The acquisition of the “The Classic Collection” (a joint venture between Films Incorporated and Janus Films) helped, because this added many international classics to our library. But by that time, our theatrical division was our mainstay…However, starting in 1997, we started losing our studio contracts…not because they weren’t happy with our work, it was…corporate politics.
We had just completed a successful revival of classic 1970s blaxploitation movies called “Blaxploitation, Baby,” that helped Orion sell tens of thousands of VHS tapes of the individual movies. Then we got the word that MGM/UA bought Orion Pictures, and they wanted their own “classics” division, which meant taking all of the prints back from us. In addition, they placed someone in charge who knew nothing about classics distribution.
The writing was on the wall…
In the mid-1980s some very savvy executives took over and turned the floundering Republic Pictures into a very successful Home Video company. However, in 1994, Aaron Spelling purchased the company, and Republic’s former brain trust left, and a new regime was put in charge who wasn’t in the league of the former management. (An exception was a lawyer by the name of Margie Pacacha, who was both smart and decent…someone destined for much bigger things.) We grew concerned because KPF had the entire Republic library on an exclusive basis for both theatrical and non-theatrical use. I knew from experience that when a successful company changes hands it often meant trouble for me, and we certainly didn’t want to lose evergreen titles like “High Noon,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Johnny Guitar.” Fortunately life moved along on a fairly even keel (we had released a very successful compilation of Max Fleischer cartoons, called “Betty Boop Confidential”). Then in 1999 Viacom (Paramount) bought Spelling Entertainment, and it was all over for us. As with MGM/UA, the studio decided they’d distribute the films themselves, so we sent all of the films to Paramount, and once again the library was under the control of a studio’s so-called classic division.
Right on the heels of that loss, we took our final blow. I went to Warner Bros. to meet with distribution executive Jeff Goldstein to hopefully make a deal to acquire theatrical rights to “The Wizard of Oz,” which had been recently restored and had a brief theatrical run after which there were hundreds of unused prints I could certainly put to good use. Warner Bros. was by far my most important client, and Jeff told me that everyone at Warner Bros. Distribution, knew I was doing a great job, but they had to take their pictures back. I was never told straight-up, but it was whispered by others in the company that the decision was political; by then WB had acquired Ted Turner’s library of classics, which included all of the pre-1986 MGM, and pre-1948 Warner Bros. titles, as well, and no one wanted to take the chance of getting on Ted Turner’s bad side for fear he would go to Warner’s CEO and say, “Why is someone else distributing my films, when we have our own distribution company?”
Of course, the logical answer would have been that not only would they have made much more money with me doing it with no effort whatsoever on their part. Jeff made it clear that even if I distributed their films for free, they still would have taken them back. Once again, a studio hired someone with no experience to handle their classics. Jeff was a good guy, as were Barry Reardon and Dan Fellman above him.…they even bought the bookings I had already taken…something they were under no obligation to do. The Warner Bros. people were always good to me.
However, I was reeling after that disappointment, and although we were still profitable, I was wondering what I would be doing for the years to come. It was not a good feeling.
Then I got a call from Peter Becker of Janus Films/The Criterion Collection, who asked me to reissue the restored version of “Gimme Shelter,” originally released in 1970. Their goal was to generate publicity for Criterion’s subsequent DVD release of the classic rock movie…a job all of us at KPF were well equipped to do. (We had worked with them earlier on “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “The Last Wave,” to good success.)
I declined, as by then I was tired of all of the work that went into distributing a multi-city reissue. But, Peter, and my long-time friend at Janus, Jonathan Turell, persisted…so it was one more reissue for Kit Parker Films! Janus Films, I might add, was and is the epitome of class. Becker and Turell were happy with the job we did on distribution/marketing because it generated ink in major city, and national press. After my work was done, a package arrived with a note in it, “Thank you. Peter.” It was a DVD player…the first I’d ever seen. I tried it out that night…took one look at the beautiful image, and had mixed emotions because I knew film would be dead in a few years, and that was sad for a life-long “film guy,” but the quality of the DVD suggested that maybe there was something in it for me to pursue.
The next day, 29 years after forming my company, I announced the closing of our film distribution business…it took a year to wrap things up because we had to honor all of the future bookings. It was heartbreaking to see the KPF team go, but it was time to reinvent myself…