Friday, 12 September 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1178: Orion's Comeback!

MGM has quietly let slip that they're reviving Orion Pictures with the sequel/remake to The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a 1976 film that was loosely based on the Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946.

Now Orion's been moribund for quite some time, so you might need a history lesson, now pay attention, because it gets a little complicated.

It all began with United Artists and American International Pictures.

In the 1970s United Artists had become such a major player in Hollywood it was bought by the financial giant TransAmerica Corporation. UA had even taken over the distribution duties for the majorly downsized MGM Pictures.

UA had become so successful, that the people who owned it, financial giant TransAmerica, felt they didn't need the people who were so successful running it anymore, and that they could get cheaper, more corporate compliant, replacements.

Meanwhile, down the street, the last founder of American International Pictures, Samuel Z. Arkoff was looking to retire. So he sold his company AIP to…

...Filmways, a media company that enjoyed a lot of success making television.

By the late 1970s TransAmerica had successfully nudged out the top people at UA. Not content to sit on their laurels they started the first iteration of Orion Pictures Company, but didn't have distribution, so they inked a distribution deal with Warner Brothers.

By the 1980s the situation had changed.

UA was sinking fast thanks to an overpriced Western called Heaven's Gate, and it was taken over by distribution client MGM to form MGM/UA.

Also in trouble was Filmways. A string of comparatively pricey flops, and failed investments by its parent company had hurt them badly. The guys at Orion Pictures sold the films they made with Warner Brothers to Warner Brothers, got some investors together, bought Filmways and it was reborn as…

Orion Pictures Releasing

Now Orion didn't have the immense success the founders had known at United Artists. Where UA had many home runs Orion would score singles and doubles at best, strike out at worst.

It was a rough time to be the plucky little guy of the movie business who made edgy, daring small scale films like the ones that were hits in the 1970s. The major studios were having a renaissance thanks to the rise of the big budget blockbuster franchise, and the edgy, daring, smaller films that dominated the box office of the 1970s had fallen mostly out of fashion with audiences.
Orion's founders either retired, or moved on to other jobs at other companies, and the company changed hands being purchased by TV and radio station owner Metromedia.

Orion's fortunes floundered into the 1990s, despite the success of some films like The Silence Of The Lambs. Eventually Orion declared bankruptcy, and Metromedia then sold it to…


Yep, the company whose financial problems had caused it to sign a distribution deal with UA, which convinced TransAmerica that they didn't need UA's managers and sparked their ouster and the creation of Orion Pictures now owned Orion Pictures and its film library, which also includes the AIP/Filmways library.

But the saga hasn't ended yet.

MGM had money trouble, lots of money troubles, which led to Sony/Columbia becoming its biggest shareholder, and then its distributor.

So, MGM, which is now in the position Orion was when it started, it restarting Orion.

Which I actually think is a good idea.

MGM is a brand that's really good at selling old movies, but it doesn't own it's "Golden Age" classics anymore, they belong to Warner Brothers, and the brand struggles to sell new movies outside of the James Bond franchise. Meanwhile Orion is a brand that doesn't have that sort of baggage.

Even at its peak in the 1980s, only hard-core movie buffs really paid attention to it. New moviegoers, like Millennials probably have no idea what it is, or where it came from, and it has the ring of a completely new company without the sort of inane focus group/market research concocted name like the super-lame Fox Atomic.

I wish the new Orion good luck. I missed it when it went belly up, and hope that they can find a successful niche in the fractured media landscape we see today.

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