Industry rues the demise of eOne and salutes its legacy

‘Top End Wedding.’

The disappearance of eOne from the theatrical distribution landscape in Australia/New Zealand is being lamented by exhibitors, producers, former staffers and even rival distributors.

The demise of the distributor known for its sharp commercial tastes marks the end of an era dating back to 2002 with the founding of Hopscotch Films by Troy Lum, Frank Cox and Sandie Don.

Despite the parent company’s assurances, eOne’s exit almost certainly means there is one less avenue for Australian producers seeking finance and distribution.

Goalpost Pictures’ Rosemary Blight, who collaborated with the firm on Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires and Blair’s upcoming Top End Wedding, describes eOne’s withdrawal from the Australian market as a great loss.

“From the days of Hopscotch to transforming into eOne, Sandie Don, Troy Lum and their incredible team have bought passion and intelligence to the distribution landscape,” she tells IF.

“Australian cinema is still an important way to deliver our stories to an Australian audience, so losing eOne will make that a bit harder, but hopefully the talent that has been nurtured in the company will continue to support Australian cinema in other ways. I thank them all for their support, in particular, Sandie Don. What we will do without her?”

Like many in the industry, Transmission Films’ Andrew Mackie was shocked by the announcement that Universal Pictures International will take over the theatrical marketing and distribution of eOne’s releases in Australasia from April 1.

“There is a wealth of talent in that building; their track record speaks for itself. It’s a sad day, a terrible waste really, and ironic given the success of Green Book,” says Mackie.

Indeed eOne bows out on a high note with triple-Oscar winner Green Book grossing $12.7 million in eight weeks, On the Basis of Sex making $2.9 million and Stan & Ollie with $2.2 million. Around 40 staffers are believed to have lost their jobs; some have moved to other positions in the industry.

The handover beefs up Universal’s Australian slate with Top End Wedding opening on May 2, followed by Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach, Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth and the Roache-Turner brothers’ Nekrotronic. The distributor has added staff in sales, marketing and finance to cope with the expanded output.

Madman Entertainment MD Paul Wiegard says: “The crew at eOne/Hopscotch have been recognized as tastemakers and played an important role in nurturing screen culture and the development of audiences in Australia and NZ.

“It would seem the ANZ division was performing well. That said, the eOne group is a large corporate global enterprise with many competing priorities, so they may be seeking to simplify the business model in taking a more uniform approach.”

Don was elevated to MD in November 2017 after Troy Lum stepped up to become executive vice president of international productions. Lum departed eOne in November to focus on Hopscotch Features, his joint venture with writer John Collee and producer Andrew Mason, and was not replaced. Hopscotch Features has a first-look deal with eOne.

In January a spokesperson insisted that eOne plans to continue to work with Australian filmmakers to source, produce, finance and distribute local films through the new distribution arrangement.

However it is hard to see how this will work with no one on the ground in Oz apart from the Hopscotch Features connection.

Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner sees eOne’s demise as the latest example of the challenges facing independent film production and distribution.

“SPA has long advocated for reforms to permit greater flexibility to the distribution requirements currently linked to the offset for the benefit of the whole sector – from production through to exhibition, and will continue to present the case to all sides of politics to progress positive change,” Deaner says.

Hopscotch released producer Jamie Hilton’s first film, Claire McCarthy’s Waiting City, in 2009, and five years later eOne distributed Josh Lawson’s The Little Death.

“Both projects were from first time filmmakers who they took a risk on,” Hilton says. “We were just at the starting gates on a third project; it is a shame we won’t get to go on the journey again. While it is certainly no small loss that Australian filmmakers have one less door to knock on, Sandie, Troy, Jude Troy, Rachel Okine, Lucy Hill and other alumni have and will open other doors.

“The team have all forged major careers for themselves and Hopscotch is probably the real brand legacy, from an Australian perspective; no doubt we’ll see that light turn on again many times.”

Rachel Okine, who is now VP of acquisitions at STX International, says: “I truly believe Sandie Don and her team put together the most impactful and creative campaigns that I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

“The positioning, the branding, the leave-no-stone-unturned ethos and, of course, the selection of films themselves, are world class. As we all continue to think more laterally about the future of independent theatrical distribution, it will be exciting to see how this wealth of talent and experience will energise other areas of the industry.”

‘La La Land’.

Exhibitors are ruing the loss of one of their most consistent suppliers. “Hopscotch’s (and later eOne’s) distribution legacy would have to be one of the finest, bravest and most dynamic seen since the rise of the 1990s independent film movement,” says Cinema Nova general manager Kristian Connelly, who was a manager at Rivoli Cinemas when Hopscotch launched.

The following year Connelly joined Village Cinemas as a film programmer, recalling: “Hopscotch releases were amongst the most reliably successful in the art house space. The original Hopscotch neon card at the front of a feature was a sign that what was to come was something truly special.”

Connelly reeled off a long list of titles including Goodbye Lenin, 2046, Downfall, Mysterious Skin, Shortbus, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Lives Of Others, Caramel, Vicki Christina Barcelona, The Wrestler, Valentino: The Last Emperor, Catfish, The Kids Are Alright, Beginners, All This Mayhem, Pride, Amy, Spotlight, Eye In The Sky and La La Land.

Palace Cinemas CEO Benjamin Zeccola says: “The loss of Hopscotch/eOne’s positive culture and deft touch is saddening. Their contribution to the Australian film industry has been immense.”

Wallis Cinemas programming manager Sasha Close agrees: “From the very first title, the label cemented its self in the Australian cinema landscape as a brand dedicated to independent content. As a cinema programmer, I always had faith and confidence in their marketing and distribution of films. It is truly sad for independent cinema in Australia that eOne, in its own right, will disappear.”

Village Cinemas chief operating office Gino Munari observes: “They were terrific passionate people that cared about connecting their films with audiences. It’s sad for me and sad for the industry, with one less smart outfit to smartly and skillfully bring films to market. Their product, however, is in excellent hands with Universal.”

Studiocanal’s Greg Denning enjoyed a friendly rivalry with his counterparts at eOne. Both firms chased I Feel Pretty – eOne won – and Studiocanal was involved at an early stage in Palm Beach, which eOne then acquired.

“I think all of us indie distributors have been kindred spirits and wished each other well, as our mutual success (and competition) was good for a healthy industry,” Denning says.

“The saddest part of eOne’s decision to close the local office is that we will miss their team. They’re truly a fine bunch of people with a wealth of knowledge and experience, who are held in high regard within the industry both here and abroad. I sincerely hope these individuals are not lost to our industry as we are worse off without them.”

Connelly adds: “The shift from Hopscotch to eOne saw a change in the company’s output and approach, effectively allowing other players such as Transmission and Madman to occupy more of that territory. The closure is unlikely to see key films that would have been acquired by Hopscotch and eOne to not reach cinema screens; however the earlier films that the company so successfully turned into unlikely hits – if indeed those sorts of films are still being made – would now appear to be a totem of the past.

“I will forever fondly remember Hopscotch as they were not only formative to my own early successes, but the people, the parties and the approach to doing business were all first class.”

The company still has a presence in Oz/NZ with Martine Druelle-Ireland handling sales of eOne’s film and TV slate to pay TV, SVOD and free TV operators. Peppa Pig is its biggest cash cow, as it were.

View eOne’s top 20 titles at the box office from 2011 to 2019 here.