Industry veterans Amanda Sherwin, Mike Messina and Seth Needle are teaming up to launch Blue Harbor Entertainment, a new distribution, marketing and consulting company. The news comes as the American Film Market kicks off this week in Santa Monica where the executives will be on the ground looking for partners. Blue Harbor is looking to distribute 10 to 15 feature film releases per year, as well as provide advisory services to third parties. The trio are currently negotiating multiple deals.
“Blue Harbor provides an alternative path for filmmakers — the opportunity to hire their distributor, and work with them, collaboratively and transparently, to bring their films to audiences,” said Needle. “Whether that’s something they decide once they have a completed picture, during the packaging stage or somewhere in between, we are here to help them craft a strategy for success.”
Blue Harbor Entertainment says it will offer marketing and distribution services, overseeing a movie’s rollout across theatrical, home entertainment and digital streaming platforms, as well as arranging its television deals. In return it will charge a service fee. The goal is to help filmmakers find a better way to self-distribute their movies. Every year, several movies hit the festival circuit looking to sell themselves to a distributor, but the reality is that many fail to secure a deal in a timely fashion or have to settle for an arrangement that isn’t terribly profitable.
“There’s been a lot of consolidation in the distribution space and that means fewer deals,” says Needle. “And the ones being offered aren’t that favorable. Something has to be wildly successful for most filmmakers to see any upside.”
Needle noted that many distribution deals tie up the rights to a movie for 25 to 30 years, where as Blue Harbor will only come on for a few years.
“A lot of these films deserve to get out there and they were having a tough time doing it,” says Sherwin.
The company expects to begin releasing films in early 2024.
“A lot of filmmakers are frustrated, and they’re like, ‘There’s got to be another option,’” says Messina. “And that’s what we provide. It won’t be an option for everybody, but for many filmmakers it’s a really compelling solution to the challenges that we’ve seen in the market.”
Sherwin, Messina and Needle have together worked on hundreds of releases. The trio most recently served in top executive roles at Screen Media. Their recent successes include Rod Lurie’s critically acclaimed feature film “The Outpost,” which hit the top spot on several VOD platforms after its 2020 release; the Nicolas Cage thriller “Willy’s Wonderland”; and the award-winning documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
“We were able to establish a lot of filmmaker relationships and this allows us to work more closely with this talent,” says Sherwin.
Sherwin most recently served as senior VP of marketing at Screen Media running the campaigns for more than 20 releases annually. Prior to that role, Sherwin consulted for PBS Distribution and managed theatrical service provider Paladin, overseeing the releases on an array of films from the hit “What We Do in the Shadows” to the Oscar-nominated documentary “For Sama.” Sherwin began her career at CFP, a precursor to Lionsgate, where she later assumed the role of Vice President of Marketing. She then went on to help start ThinkFilm, where she served as SVP of marketing and distribution.
Messina has worked in independent film for more than 25 years. In his recent role as exec VP of distribution at Screen Media, he oversaw the distribution, marketing, and sales of more than 100 movies. Previously, Messina spearheaded independent film distribution and acquisitions at Starz and managed global streaming sales of Starz Original Series, including “Spartacus” and “Power.” He was also a senior executive at New Amsterdam Entertainment, where his producing credits included “Dawn of the Dead.”
Needle previously served as exec VP of global acquisitions and co-productions at Screen Media for the past 12 years. During his tenure, he was responsible for high-profile acquisitions like “The Outpost,” Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” and “Stephen King’s A Good Marriage,” which King penned himself. He also established strategic business relationships with Focus Features, Starz, Roadside Attractions, and more. In addition, Needle oversaw all content licensing for the company’s streaming platforms that included Crackle, Popcornflix, and Redbox. Prior to Screen Media, Needle worked in the acquisitions department at Lionsgate and in the research department at Marketcast.