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YouTube Red Shifts Feature Strategy, Says It Will Release Susan Sarandon-Starring ‘Vulture Club’ in Theaters

Jenna Marotta

YouTube Red is taking a tentative step toward becoming more like Amazon Studios with the announcement of an in-house production that it says will see a theatrical release.

Directed by Iranian-American writer-director Maryam Keshavarz (“Circumstance”), “Vulture Club” stars Susan Sarandon as an ER nurse whose co-workers have no idea that her journalist son has been taken hostage by terrorists. The film also stars Julian Morris (“Pretty Little Liars”), Edie Falco, and Matt Bomer. Producers are J.C. Chandor, Anna Gerb, and Neal Dodson.

While YouTube Red announced that principal photography is complete, details on how it plans to release it in theaters are slim.

“We don’t have any news to report on a theatrical partner at this stage, a YouTube Red representative said. “Perhaps later once we identify a partner.”

This would represent a significant strategy shift for the streaming service. Last year, YouTube Red booked its own one-week runs for Barbara Kopple documentary “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous” in New York and Los Angeles before its February 8 streaming premiere. However, at the time the company dismissed the idea of making theatrical releases significant to the YouTube Red strategy. “Our distribution strategy for our original films and series is grounded on YouTube Red,” a company spokesperson told IndieWire in 2017.

YouTubeRed took its first steps toward theatrical distribution in January 2016 with a low-budget sci-fi title from Rooster Teeth, “Lazer Team,” which was financed through Indiegogo for a record-breaking $2.4 million. Released via the now-defunct Amplify Releasing, it grossed about $1.2 million in theaters. Its sequel, “Lazer Team 2,” made about $20,000 via crowdsourcing platform Tugg in its release last November.

However, the high-profile talent and serious subject of “Vulture Club” suggests a more robust approach, as does YouTube Red’s recent acquisition of the Oakland hip-hop drama “Bodied,” which was executive produced by Eminem and won the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

YouTube Red spent $3.5 million at TIFF 2017 on another acquisition intended for theatrical release, Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!”. However, the project was tainted after Morgan Spurlock resigned from his production company, Warrior Poets, in December after publishing a blog post that recounted having sex with a woman who “believed she’d been raped.” Spurlock’s former partners then pulled “Super Size Me 2” from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

“Vulture Club” was the nickname a group of friends gave themselves while covering the 2011 Libyan civil war. (“We usually convene only when the blood is flowing,” explained member Peter Bouckaert) The “informal brotherhood” also included photojournalist and Oscar-nominated documentarian Tim Hetherington (“Restrepo”), killed by shrapnel there when he was 40 years old.

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