Independent film distributor The Orchard was on a roll. Then the Louis CK sex scandal exploded

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It was shaping up to be a banner year for The Orchard, the New York music distributor who two years ago turned to the unpredictable market for independent and foreign film distribution.

At the Cannes Film Festival in May, the company beat its competitors to acquire one of the competition’s main titles – “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”, the acclaimed French drama about the early days of AIDS activism that won the Grand Prix of the festival. , or second prize. Earlier this year, The Orchard landed an Oscar nomination for “Life, Animated,” the original autism and animation documentary he bought at Sundance.

Louis CK’s film “I Love You, Daddy” was supposed to add to the crop when the company picked it up at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival for an estimated $ 5 million. But allegations of sexual misconduct that engulfed the comedian-filmmaker this week effectively ended the deal, with Orchard deciding to drop the title just a week before its scheduled opening in theaters.

The Orchard declined to comment beyond a statement released Friday that the company “will not go ahead with the release of ‘I love you, dad’.” , directed, produced and featured in – will be sold to another distributor or if it will skip theaters altogether.

The fallout continued Friday night when FX Networks and FX Productions, two divisions of 21st Century Fox, announced they were ending their association with Louis CK on the four series they produce with him – “Better Things” and “Baskets”, both of which air on FX; “One Mississippi,” which is on Amazon; and the planned animated series “The Cops”, which was scheduled to air on TBS.

“He will no longer serve as an executive producer or receive compensation on any of the four shows,” FX said in a statement.

Five women accused Louis CK of sexual misconduct, including masturbating in front of them, in an article published Thursday by the New York Times. The comedian confirmed the incidents, which date back to 2002, in a statement released on Friday.

“These stories are true,” he said. “At the time, I thought to myself that what I was doing was right because I never showed a woman my [penis] without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, ask them to watch your [penis] is not a question. It is a difficult situation for them. The power I had over these women was that they admired me. And I have exercised this power irresponsibly.

For The Orchard, the scandal represents a major public relations setback, just as it reached its peak in the independent film industry. The store’s distributor had previously sent selections of the film for awards and posted marketing material, including trailers and advertisements. The film’s New York premiere was canceled on Thursday hours before the story broke.

Louis CK in a scene from his film “Je t’aime papa”. The film was dropped by its distributor, The Orchard, after five women accused the comedian-director of multiple acts of sexual misconduct.

(Toronto International Film Festival / TNS)

“I love you, daddy” follows a veteran television producer (Louis CK) who tries to stop a 68-year-old filmmaker (John Malkovich) from dating his teenage daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz). In one scene, a character played by actor Charlie Day mimics masturbation as he and Louis CK’s character discuss a female character. He also encourages the character of Louis CK to confront the character of Malkovich with rumors of sexual predation that tarnish the public image of the older man.

“I was as appalled as anyone to read the allegations made in The New York Times,” Day said in a statement to the LA Times. “I do not tolerate sexual misconduct and, in light of the allegations, I will no longer be promoting the film.”

Moretz withdrew from all film promotion two weeks ago “when she learned of many possible accusations,” her publicist told The Times.

The other cast members of “I Love You, Daddy,” which includes Rose Byrne, Edie Falco, Helen Hunt, Pamela Adlon and Malkovich, were not immediately available for comment.

Louis CK is the latest Hollywood figure to be shot dead by a sex scandal, after producer Harvey Weinstein, producer-director Brett Ratner and actor Kevin Spacey.

The more than 100 allegations against Weinstein – which range from harassment to rape – could have dire consequences for Weinstein Co., his independent film and television company which is currently seeking a financial lifeline to avoid possible bankruptcy.

The fallout from the Louis CK scandal is not expected to be fatal to the Orchard, although the company will likely have to absorb most, if not all, of its investment in the film if it cannot find another buyer. “In all likelihood they would write off the $ 5 million,” said Brian Kingman, managing director of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., an insurance and risk management company where he works with entertainment clients. .

While insurance policies exist to cover acts of moral turpitude that would render a project worthless, the company is unlikely to have purchased one for such a small movie, Kingman said.

Private company Orchard is expected to rebound thanks to the deep pockets of its owner, Sony Music Entertainment, who took full control of the company in 2015 after owning a 51% stake. Sony Music did not respond to a request for comment.

The Orchard was founded in 1997 by songwriter-producer Richard Gottehrer and digital music director Scott Cohen. The company has made money owning the release rights to more than 9 million tracks from independent record companies and artists through online services such as iTunes and Spotify.

Prior to launching into theatrical distribution two years ago, it entered theaters by digitally releasing independent sports, horror and obscure films, amassing a library of over 2,000 titles. Independent distributors typically rely on their libraries as well as the home video and streaming markets to generate the bulk of their revenue, with theatrical releases making up a small portion of their overall business.

In no time, The Orchard forged relationships with talented writers, including mumblecore veterans Mark and Jay Duplass, with whom the company signed a seven-film deal in 2015. It released two films by acclaimed Norwegian director Joachim Sort, including the unconventional thriller “Thelma,” which opened this weekend in New York City.

The Orchard has built a reputation for aggressive acquisition tactics and has also stripped the executive talents of its rivals, according to an industry insider.

The company’s biggest theatrical release to date was Taika Waititi’s film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” which grossed just over $ 5 million in the United States when it was released last year. Waititi directed this year’s Marvel superhero sequel “Thor: Ragnarok”.

Its acquisitions this year in Cannes and Toronto have helped elevate the orchard close to the best independent distributors in the world, including its corporate cousin Sony Pictures Classics, as well as A24 and Magnolia Pictures.

The Louis CK debacle will test the company’s resilience, but it is not the only independent distributor to experience a sex scandal related to one of its titles.

Fox Searchlight faced a publicity storm last year with “Birth of a Nation,” when rape allegations surfaced against star writer-director Nate Parker, who denied the charges. The film, which was acquired for $ 17.5 million at Sundance, hit theaters as planned but was a box office disappointment.

Summit Entertainment released Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” in 2010, while the filmmaker was still under house arrest in Switzerland, facing a US extradition request related to his 1977 statutory rape case. The film generated a respectable amount of $ 15.5 million nationally in limited release.

Times editors Ryan Faughnder and Amy Kaufman contributed to this report.

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