Adam Lepzig is on the lookout for marching penguins or weeping camels. More to the point, the president of National Geographic Feature Films is looking to acquire films that he feels would be a good fit for the company.
"I’m here to see the filmmakers, meet people, and acquire a movie that might be right for us," he said.
National Geographic scored a major coup when, at the 2005 Sundance fest, it partnered with Warner Independent Pictures to acquire "March of the Penguins," a commercial and critical hit last year, grossing $77 million in the U.S.
Lepzig said he attends a few festivals each year, including Sundance, Toronto and Berlin. But when he goes to a festival, he’s there for business first and foremost.
"I’m very judicious about what I choose to go to," he said. "I don’t do the party thing. I’m here to work.
"There are three Sundances," he said. There are the cinephiles, the dealmakers, and the partygoers. It’s hard to do all three at the same time."
It’s not uncommon to leave a festival without buying a film, Lepzig said. But some of the company’s acquisitions at festivals have paid off handsomely.
At the 2003 Toronto Film Festival National Geographic partnered with ThinkFilm to distribute "The Story of the Weeping Camel," a tale of nomadic shepherds who enlist the help of a musician to mend familial relations between one of their camels and her newborn calf.
Lepzig said he was very pleased with the performance of "Weeping Camel," a Mongolian language film that grossed $1.7 million at the U.S. box office.
However, what "March of the Penguins" achieved was beyond all expectations. National Geographic hoped it would do as well as "Winged Migration," another excellent French bird doc that grossed $11 million.
"We believed it could reach a wide audience," he said. "But we were all stunned. You can never predict these things."