‘The System’: The Avenue Acquires Thriller Starring Tyrese Gibson, Terrence Howard, Jeremy Piven & Lil Yachty

The Avenue has acquired North American rights to The System, a newly announced film starring Tyrese Gibson (Fast & Furious franchise), Terrence Howard (Crash), Jeremy Piven (Entourage), and Lil Yachty (Long Shot).

The action-thriller picked up by Highland Film Group’s domestic distribution arm centers on a former marine (Gibson) who is recruited by authorities to go undercover in a notoriously dangerous prison, following a drug bust. After discovering an underground fight ring, he has to fight to stay alive, and to take down the corrupt system.

Dallas Jackson (Netflix’s Thriller) wrote and directed the film, which was shot in Jackson, Mississippi.

Gibson produced it with Bryan Lord (Willy’s Wonderland) and Petr Jakl (Best Sellers). The project’s EPs are Martin J. Barab, Matthew Helderman, Luke Taylor, Grady Craig and Highland Film Group’s Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, JJ Caruth and Caleb Ward.

“Bryan Lord and Dallas Jackson have pulled together an incredible cast of household names that will take audiences on an edge of their seat ride,” said Caruth, who serves as President of Domestic Marketing and Distribution for The Avenue. “The System is just the kind of high quality, high octane film today’s audiences love and we are thrilled to be championing this exciting work at The Avenue.”

“What an exciting and surreal production making this very important genre movie!” added Jackson. “Such an amazing experience with my stellar cast of Tyrese, Jeremy, and Terrence along with the perfect partner in Highland Films. I think The System has a chance to not only shift the culture here in the states but entertain action fans around the world!”

Gibson is an actor and musician best known for his turn as Roman in Universal’s Fast & Furious franchise, and as Tech Sergeant Epps in Paramount and DreamWorks’ Transformers films. He will next be seen in Columbia Pictures’ Morbius. Additional credits include Columbia Pictures’ Baby Boy and the Fox series, Star. He is represented by Jim Osborne and Kris Heller at APA.

Howard is an Oscar and Golden Globe nominee who was most recently seen in Relativity Media’s Triumph, and starred in six seasons of Fox’s Empire, alongside three-time Emmy nominee Taraji P. Henson. On the film side, he’s also known for turns in Hustle & FlowSt. VincentLee Daniels’ The ButlerRed TailsCrash and more. Additional TV credits include Fox’s Wayward Pines and Law & Order: LA. He is repped by Mira Pak Howard at Universal Bridges.

Piven won three Emmy awards and two Golden Globe awards for his starring role as Ari Gold in HBO’s Entourage, and is also known on the TV side for his turn in PBS drama, Mr. Selfridge. The actor’s film credits include Grosse Pointe BlankBlack Hawk DownThe KingdomHeatOld SchoolRocknRollaSmokin’ Aces and Runaway Jury. He is repped by Tracy Christian at TCA Mgmt, Mark Holder at Wonder Street and attorney Patti Felker.

Lil Yachty is a Grammy-nominated rapper who starred in MTV’s comedy How High 2 and played himself in Lionsgate’s Long Shot, appearing in the comedy alongside Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. He is with J.R. Ringer at ICM Partners and Quality Control’s Brian Sher.

Caruth and Ward, The Avenue’s VP of Acquisitions, negotiated the acquisition deal with producer Bryan Lord at SkullCrusher Films.

By Matt Grobar, Deadline

Why some US sales agents are getting into direct distribution

Faced with collapsing windows and an expanding array of digital releasing options, sales agents are moving into US distribution to better serve their filmmaker partners.

Unlike mini-majors Lionsgate, Miramax and STX, whose distribution and sales arms have co-existed for years, companies such as XYZ Films and Highland Film Group developed their sales, production and finance operations first. They see US distribution as complementary and a way to offer a full suite of services.

In June, XYZ Films announced it had hired former Drafthouse Films and Neon COO James Shapiro to head its new US distribution division. The company run by Nate Bolotin, Nick Spicer and Aram Tertzakian launched 13 years ago as a production entity and built a reputation for championing elevated international genre fare like Gareth Evans’ The Raid, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, and Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. The trio grew their sales business and recently moved into financing through a $100m production fund established with Finland’s IPR.VC. US distribution was the logical next step.

“As we’ve evolved with the needs of our filmmakers, distribution has always been on the roadmap,” says Bolotin. “We wanted a closer relationship with our filmmakers in a way that would allow us to deliver their movies to the consumer in the most efficient way possible. To be there from development through to distribution was always the goal.”

The expansion comes as the pandemic and the rise of streamers have accelerated the collapse of theatrical windows in the US to the point where the exclusive runway has been cut by almost 50% in the past 18 months, from 75 days to 45. Being able to move fast on a US release has become more important than ever. As XYZ Films’ president of international sales and distribution Tatyana Joffe says: “Having control of the windowing, and working collectively with our key international partners to create marketing campaigns, will greatly contribute to our global release strategy in capturing broader audiences, which will ultimately ensure better performance worldwide.”

With the two divisions working hand-in-glove, Bolotin says the company will be able to weigh up the benefits of multi-territory acquisitions and global acquisitions more efficiently, and craft exclusive theatrical, day-and-date and straight-to-digital releases on in-house and third-party titles. The first film to go will be Something In The Dirt, which is in post and expected to debut in 2022.

Arthouse genre sales agent Yellow Veil Pictures has also opened a US distribution shop and will kick off with the release of Frida Kempff’s Swedish genre title Knocking, followed by Mattie Do’s Laotian title The Long Walk. Co-founder Joe Yanick says the expansion is a natural progression for the bicoastal company, which launched in 2018. Releases will be handled on a case-by-case basis. “We can set all dating to be the most optimal for worldwide partners,” he says. “It gives us immediate insight into where things need to go, how fast things need to move.”

Highland Film Group launched The Avenue, headed by JJ Caruth, in September 2020 and recently opened Pierce Brosnan heist thriller Misfits in US cinemas, followed by TVoD rollout several days later. Highland’s international partners are releasing the film around the same time. “We saw that shift in consumer behaviour [with] people looking for content at home,” says Caruth. “The value of Highland having a domestic distributor for our international partners is that I can provide them with a full suite of marketing assets. We can really be a full-service partner.”

Patrick Ewald, CEO of Epic Pictures, expanded from sales, production and financing into US distribution in 2013 and has released films such as The Wave. Ewald says a day-and-date release with the US works well in English-speaking territories and notes being able to co-ordinate territory releases can mitigate piracy in regions such as Latin America.

“For films we produce, if it makes sense for us to do a deal with a US or a multi-territory distributor, we will sell it,” notes Ewald. “If not, then we know we can distribute ourselves. There’s a benefit to that — as we’re investing in more content, it’s an insurance policy to know that if we don’t get the number we need, we can still release it ourselves and recover some of that investment.”

By Jeremy Kay, ScreenDaily