Author Archives: Ira

In Memory of Richard Brick

The following are the remarks I made earlier today at the Memorial for Richard Brick, which was held at Columbia University.

Richard BrickI would like to share a few words about my colleague, my mentor and my friend, Richard Brick.

Some people are born with the exact personality traits for a specific vocation. Richard Brick was born a Producer. His long-time course at Columbia was titled “Pre-Production.” The central pedagogy was that the only way to avoid disasters was to anticipate them, and to have a Plan B, a plan C and so on. In other words, plan for the worst. It was not just a class to him, it was a philosophy of life. He lived his entire life in a constant state of Pre-Production.

My first encounter with Richard was in 1987, when I received a cold call from him, asking me if I would like to teach a course at Columbia. He was the newly installed Chair of the Film Program at the time, and he was sitting in on every class that was offered in the program to evaluate its effectiveness. He determined that the class in Marketing & Distribution wasn’t working and he wanted a quick fix. It was a perfect Richard Brick moment. See a problem, fix it. Never having taught before, I said yes, and thus, in one stroke, Richard had set me on the road to a teaching career that I never anticipated. (more…)

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Digimart 2006 Videos are Back

For those of you who are interested in the intersection between technology and storytelling, the Digimart 2006 videos, which were MIA for awhile, are back. Here is one of the panels on the “Future of Theatrical Exhibition,” in which I make an appearance. To see the rest of the videos from the 2006 conference, check out the Digimart Site. And you can check out my previous post about Digimart 2005.

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Watch My Movie from NOVAC

Here’s a cool video put together by the good folks at NOVAC in New Orleans. This is from a conference to years ago that they called “Watch My Movie,” and featured such notables as Gianna Chachere of the Hamptons International Film Festival, Andrew Mer of SnagFilms, Janine Saunders of the Workbook Project, Todd Sklar of Range Life Entertainment, Jolene Pinder of the New Orleans Film Society and Film Festival. Oh and yours truly.

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Kicking off Art House Convergence 2014

Just finished my kickoff speech at the 2014 Edition of the Art House Convergence. I’ve been asked to share the text, so here it is:

Is everybody ready to converge? Alright!

Last night I was asked by a number of you if today’s presentation would be a continuation of what I did last year, and the answer is no. One trip down memory lane is enough, and I feel like I got that out of my system.

But I am going to start out with a look backwards.

When I first started out in the Film Business, I learned a couple of very quick lessons that were in no way related to film, but were in every way related to business.

First, I learned that Business is dominated by people who are driven, sometimes myopic, and willing to do almost anything to succeed.

The second thing I learned is that the Film Business, specifically, is driven more by ego than by profit. After all, it has never been a predictable, scalable business in the traditional sense that allows for believable projections and charts with any sort of certainty. So who is drawn to such a business when far more money, far more predictably can be made elsewhere? The answer would be those people who somehow convince themselves that they know better than everyone else, or that they’ve come up with some kind of system to beat the odds. (more…)

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The Most Influential Indie Films of All Time, As Seen from 1996

John Cassavetes' "A Woman Under the Influence"I just stumbled across an old document on my computer, in which I was responding to a request from Filmmaker Magazine for a list of the “Top 10 American Indies.” The timestamp indicates that I wrote this in July of 1996, and I have no recollection of whether it actually ran in the magazine. However, I thought I would throw it up here and see if I can get a rise out of anyone.

I think the list holds up well, and the only film I would be tempted to add is “Pulp Fiction,” which I would characterize as the film that started the decline and eventual end to what we used to call American Independent Cinema.

For what it’s worth, here is the list. Feel free to comment with your own ideas.

These, in order, would be my choices for the top 10 most important (as in influential or breakthrough) American Independent Films:

1. “A Woman Under the Influence” While there are earlier, and arguably better Cassavetes films, this one is particularly significant in that Cassavetes mounted an ambitious and successful self-distribution effort, setting the stage for much of the independent distribution movement.  (more…)

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A Panel from 2005: My, How Things Have Changed!

DigimartIn 2005, I was invited to a conference in Montreal called Digimart, organized by Daniel Langlois and his team at Ex-Centris. It was a very early attempt to deal with the coming convergence of entertainment technologies, and they invited a star-studded array of speakers that represented the cutting edge of that time. I met many incredible people at the event, and even more the following year, when they invited many of us back for a second time. Some of the folks I met are now good friends and collaborators.

Recently it was pointed out to me that the videos of the conference sessions were no longer on line, so I contacted the good folks at La fondation Daniel Langlois, who are now trying to restore access to those videos. They’ve put back the sessions from the 2005 event, and are trying to locate the ones from 2006. Watching these videos, it’s incredible how far ahead of the curve many of the speakers were, and equally incredible how much has changed. You can find all the 2005 videos at the Digimart site. For a quick taste, below is the panel I was on, which was called, “More Digital Cinema Networks – Alternative & Independent Spaces.” I’ll post again if and when the 2006 videos reappear.

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Giving Day is back at Columbia. Can We Beat the Law School and Support Future Artists?

Columbia FilmFor the second year, Columbia University has designated a special day to help raise student support funds. They call it “Giving Day,” and all the various schools and programs are competing to get a share of matching funds from the University. This year it’s Wednesday, October 23rd.

Why should you care? It should come as no surprise that financing graduate school at a major university is an expensive proposition. But the students who come to Columbia are some of the brightest lights in a world that needs talented storytellers more than ever.

The results are clear. Our alums are working in just about every aspect of the film and television businesses in the U.S. and all over the world. It would be easy to shout out the names of our most famous alums, but that would miss the point. The point is that the skill and talent necessary to create great art is not necessarily linked to economic riches. This is a point that seems to be more accepted in other countries than here, where success seems to be inextricably linked to Hollywood. (more…)

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The Missing 5 Pages: A History of Fine Line

Those of you who have watched my Keynote at the Art House Convergence may not have have realized that in the interest of time, I ended up cutting out five pages of the planned speech–an entire decade of my experience founding and running Fine Line Features. Coincidentally, several months later I was asked to speak at the University of Michigan in a class entitled “New Line and New Hollywood Cinema,” taught by Professor Dan Herbert. Here is a video of my guest lecture, which fills in the missing piece of my Art House talk. Thanks to Professor Herbert for providing the tape, and to his class for what was a great session.


There is some interesting information in here about the politics of theatrical exhibition, and how that relates to the success of Sony Classics. Please comment and let us know your thoughts… (more…)

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Keynote at TIFF Filmmaker Bootcamp – 2013

The folks at the Toronto Film Festival have just posted my keynote from their annual Filmmaker Boot Camp, a sort of retreat where they prepare filmmakers for their experience at TIFF. This is the second time they’ve asked me to do this, and given that Toronto is one of my favorite festivals, I’m glad to be of service.

The information I presented is a summary of some presentations I’ve made in my classes at Columbia, and at various other events. It’s a quick overview of the current marketplace, followed by some specific strategies one might use to navigate a festival like Toronto, and to make the best of the experience. I hope those of you who couldn’t be there will find something useful in it.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. (more…)

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One Great Movie Can Change You

One of the great things they do at the Traverse City Film Festival is that every year they create these powerful, inspirational videos that are are riffs on the theme of that year’s festival. This year it was “One Great Movie Can Change You.” Check it out…

TCFF 2013: One Great Movie Can Change You from Traverse City Film Festival on Vimeo.

Oh, and yes, that was me at the beginning. You can comment after the break… (more…)

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