By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 30, 2010 at 4:49AM
Ever since Bob Berney abruptly left fledgling distribution company Apparition pre-Cannes, CEO Bill Pohlad has been trying to figure out how to go forward. He gave Berney's Sundance acquisition Welcome to the Rileys back to Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group, which pacted with Goldwyn to release. Wednesday Pohlad confirmed that he is shutting down the New York office and cutting staff by more than half, from 27 to 15. Individual severance meetings are ongoing today. The company is proceeding on "an immediate needs basis," said spokesperson Mara Buxbaum, who didn't rule out future hires.
As previously reported, Pohlad has also brought in ex-Lionsgate president Tom Ortenberg to consult on how Apparition should proceed as a distrib; the indie vet will take immediate charge of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Outstanding movies still in theaters include The Runaways and The Square. The Tree of Life is the only mission for Apparition going forward. (River Road's upcoming thriller Fair Game will be released by Summit.)
“Over the last few weeks, circumstances have forced us to rethink the direction and operations of the company, and regrettably this has resulted in layoffs impacting our staff and changes for our colleagues,” stated Pohlad. “Still, we very much believe in the mission set forth with Apparition, and welcome Tom Ortenberg’s expertise and consultation in the coming weeks and months. In addition, he will be a valuable asset for us on preparing to bring The Tree of Life to audiences.”
There is still debate about when Malick will be ready to deliver River Road's The Tree of Life, which Pohlad produced with Sarah Green. Apparition describes the film starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as a "mystical epic" about a family coming to terms with loss. While Venice hopes to debut the film, there have been no promises made. And Apparition has no firm release plan; Ortenberg will be taking lead on that strategy. An end-of-year opening is the target.
Meanwhile, Berney is expected to join producer Graham King's new distribution company. King has the same issues as Pohlad: How to guarantee release for his slate of pictures in a severely contracting North American market.