AUSTIN – My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Passion of the Christ are two of the most financially successful independent films of all time. Wedding grossed more than $300 million worldwide, while Passion earned an astounding $600 million.
Those two films have two things in common. They were both thought to be difficult to distribute (Wedding needed an older audience to buy tickets while Passion needed a religious one). And Bob Berney figured out ways to make them work.
Until Warner Bros. closed it this fall, Berney ran Picturehouse, the indie studio responsible for Pan’s Labyrinth. But before he got into the distribution business, he built the Inwood Theatre in Dallas in 1984 and ran it until 1989.
“I literally helped build it as I was one of the carpenters,” Berney told me after the panel.
He credits his success as a distributor with his time spent as an exhibitor at the Inwood. Before other theaters jumped on the idea, the Inwood was the only theater in town that had a bar. That communal space for people to hang out in and discuss what they had seen helped Berney fine tune his sense of what audiences like.
“We really had a relationship with the audience and could ask them what they wanted to see, and it worked similarly to how Netflix [recommendations] works now,” he said.
Since Picturehouse closed, he’s been doing some consulting and working on other projects. But he says he ultimately wants to come back to independent film distribution. Watch for something on that front in the next few months, he says.