17 October 2008
Exclusive Films – A Short History
The announcement that HS Media [now Exclusive Media Group], Hammer's parent company, is to open a sales and distribution arm in the form of Exclusive Film Distribution has a precedent back in the earliest days of Hammer history. Robert Simpson, currently engaged on a doctoral research project on Exclusive at Trinity College Dublin, gives an introductory history to the original company…
The reactivation of Exclusive to serve as the sales and distribution arm of both Hammer and of sister company Spitfire Pictures (all under the umbrella of HS Media) should not come as any great surprise. The Hammer group has been involved in cinema exhibition and distribution since the very earliest days. Exclusive itself was originally an important and active part of the Hammer group, its demise in the mid-1960s the inevitable result of distribution deals with major Hollywood studios. Today film marketing and distribution, whilst still dominated by the majors, has diversified along with the rise of DVD and electronic means of distribution. The timing is perfect for Exclusive to awaken once more…
Exclusive Films Limited officially came into existence on 10 May 1935, headed by Will Hinds (founder of the original Hammer, and who lent his stage name Hammer to the company) and Enrique Carreras.
Spanish émigré Enrique Carreras arrived in the UK along with his wife and brother in 1907 and like Hinds was something of an entrepreneur. Both had dealings with theatrical exhibition before collaborating on Exclusive Films. Carreras had set up Blue Halls Limited in 1912 with his brother, to carry on business as cinema proprietors. In 1913 he hired out the Royal Albert Hall for two weeks to screen Quo Vadis to great success. By 1921 the Carreras brothers were able to sell their chain of cinemas for £27,000 (something like £7 million today), and take an option on a lease on the 2000 seat Theatre Royal Cinema in Manchester.
Will Hinds meanwhile was working as a jeweller (the family firm F. Hinds still exists today) and as a stage performer, notably as part of the variety double act “Hammer and Smith”. After completing the first Hammer film, The Public Life of Henry the Ninth in 1934, Hinds joined with Carreras at Hammer and with Exclusive.
Based out of offices in National House on Wardour Street, early in 1935 Exclusive bought their first two films Spilled Salt and Snow Hounds which they distributed across the independent cinema chain. For the next 30 years Exclusive would become best known as one of many small distributors operating in England. They would buy older features and give them a second run including the likes of comedy Topper, science fiction thriller Things to Come, and political drama Odd Man Out as well as the earliest Hammer films The Public Life of Henry the Ninth and Song of Freedom. In the days of the British quota Carreras and Hinds realised that they could make their own low-budget films for distribution through their own company and so maximise profits.
Exclusive built its reputation on the skills of Enrique Carreras and his fondly remembered chain of Blue Halls cinemas. In the days of the British quota allocation, Exclusive made much of its product’s ability to earn money for cinema operators and for them to fulfil their governmental quota obligation, their slogans “Profit With Exclusive” and “It’s British, It’s Exclusive!” leaving no uncertainty in the minds of renters. The distinctive Exclusive masthead of a sailing ship was a sign of quality and of assurance.
When Hammer temporarily folded during the war, Exclusive continued its expansion into film distribution, picking up reissues and the acquiring new products. In December 1943 Carreras announced the addition of (the short-lived) Key Films Distributors Ltd. and a new schedule in which Exclusive would also now produce its own pictures. A crucial moment which would determine the nature of the symbiotic relationship with a re-activated Hammer in 1947.
Hammer would gradually become the production arm of the company, producing low-budget films which Exclusive would then distribute. Exclusive would continue to co-finance productions with Hammer including hugely successful film versions of BBC radio programmes. Exclusive would handle the likes of cop serial Dick Barton, thriller The Man In Black, sci-fi drama Spaceways (which was credited as being filmed at “Exclusive Film Studios, Bray” and not the more familiar “Hammer Studios” moniker) and even comedy series Life with the Lyons.
It was a strategy which paid dividends for the Hammer group. The Exclusive/Hammer production of The Quatermass Xperiment would pave the way for the Hammer horror films we know today. As the sister company grew, it found success with horror and gained distribution deals with the US giants like Warner Bros, Universal and Columbia, and outgrew the elder Exclusive company. Exclusive continued with reissues and supplies of short documentary and dramas.
The company was gradually wound down during the 1960s, passing their property rights to Hammer. The company though would remain in existence until the 1980s when it was finally shut (still making a profit) by then Hammer chairman Roy Skeggs.
Robert Simpson is compiling a website on Exclusive based on his research. It can be accessed at www.exclusivefilms.co.uk