Category Archives: Film


Columbia FilmToday is my last day as Chair of the Film Program at Columbia University.

It’s been a great four years and I’m very proud of our accomplishments over that time.

The end of my chairmanship should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The position is a rotating one among faculty, and Columbia has very strict term limits. I’ve also mentioned it numerous times (albeit off-handedly) in recent writings and speeches. I’m pleased that my colleague Maureen Ryan will be the next Chair. She is more than capable of taking up the mantle and bringing the program to the next level.

Meanwhile, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be back to concentrating on teaching rather than administrating, back to producing and consulting on marketing and distribution of indie films, and perhaps paying more attention to this blog.

Stepping back has already given me the opportunity to think about things with a clearer head, and I share with you now some words that were part of my speech at this year’s Columbia University Film Festival in both New York and Los Angeles.

In the last few years, we’ve seen enormous shifts in the technology of what we do, in the ways in which audiences consume what we create and in the general perception of the value of our work. Some people, given what they read in various publications, might draw the conclusion that we’re heading toward a day when 12-year-olds with iPhones will be born with all the necessary skills to create works of art. Other reports would indicate that theatrical movie-going is dead and that TV has supplanted the movies as the main art form of the 21st century.


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In Defense of Twitter Reviews

This past week, I’ve been watching as various pundits and publications have been debating the pros and cons of Twitter reviews of movies. I’m more than a disinterested bystander, since I’ve been tweeting reviews of films for more than four years–at festivals, after watching screeners at home, and after seeing films at a commercial theatrical venue.

Movie TweeviewsAdditionally, many of you may not know that I run a web site called Movie Tweeviews, which is a curated stream of Twitter reviews. When I first started the site four years ago, I just thought it would be fun to pull together quick responses to films in real time, but I wasn’t interested in the mass public. I wanted to limit the stream to people whose opinions I respected. So, I invited some critics, exhibitors, distributors and filmmakers to contribute. These days, the stream is mostly me, but occasionally there are other voices on the site.

The debate about Twitter reviews began after an expression of distress by Cannes Film Festival head Thierry Fremaux. His beef is with the instant judgment that these reviews bring upon a film, which can easily poison its festival launch. The prime example was how quickly Gus Van Sant’s film was skewered on Twitter within minutes of the lights coming up at the Palais this year. (more…)

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Guest Blog: Tori Baker on Exhibitor/Distributor Price Fixing

CinemaConFor those of us who follow the politics of theatrical distribution in the United States, the recent controversy about Disney’s required terms for showing “The Avengers” struck a chord. The dynamics between exhibitors and distributors have always been fraught, and this is only the most recent example. John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), has publicly pushed back at Disney’s latest demands, but as Tori Baker of the Salt Lake Film Society points out, this is an issue that affects all exhibitors, not just the big chains. Her open letter to the art house community on this subject is reprinted (with her permission) below.

I have just returned from CinemaCon a few weeks ago and I am astounded by the volume and “billions” talked about at every corner of that event, from studios, from executives, and from those operating the larger chain for-profit cinemas.  At one point someone used a great classic film as an example of something “lame” and proudly touted an action super-hero movie as “awesome.”

While the mission driven art house cinemas are not exactly playing on the same playing field, the issue of price fixing, as pointed out by John Fithian in his response to Disney, is a valid concern for us as well.  Unfortunately for all exhibitors, the reality is that if ANY studio changes their terms or makes other demands, the entire food chain of studios, mini-majors and indies end up following their lead. It reaches the independent film world very quickly.


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My Columbia Graduation “Speech”

columbia speechAt the Columbia School of the Arts Graduation Ceremony every year, the Chairs of the four programs (Film, Theatre, Writing and Visual Arts) get the opportunity to make some short remarks prior to handing out the diplomas to their students. This tradition has developed into a good-natured competition.

After doing a rather traditional speech my first year as Chair of the Film Program, I found myself being jealous of the other Chairs, as they were able to organically incorporate their disciplines into their speeches. The Chair of Writing delivered something quite poetic, the Chair of Theater was very theatrical, and the Chair of Visual Arts worked with props to make a do something, well, visual. I felt left out.

Over that summer, I got the idea to make a film that would be my speech, and I recruited a group of students to work with me on it over the next academic year. They did a fantastic job and only made one creative mistake…which was casting me in the lead.

The video we made was a hit at graduation that year, and I decided to keep using it since the audience would be different each year. That was also the reason I never posted it anywhere…until now. Since this was my last year as Chair, I now feel like I can share it with the world.

There are many inside jokes in it, so don’t be surprised if some of it doesn’t quite make sense. Also, you should know that the video ends with me entering Miller Theater, which is where the ceremony takes place. When it goes to black, you have to picture at that moment, a spotlight hits the podium on stage and there I am.

So here here is my graduation “speech” for all to see.

I would like to thank the many students and alums who collaborated on the film, especially the Producer, Rachel Brenna; the Director, Jennifer Gerber; and the writers, Nicole DiMasi, Michael Piech and Keola Racela. And thanks to the members of the faculty and staff who were brave enough to participate. This was very much a collaborative effort, and an example of why collaboration is at the center of what we do in the school.

You can comment after the break… (more…)

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The Good & the Bad of 2014 in the Movies

10 Best ListEvery year I get an email from Indiewire inviting me to submit my 10 best list for inclusion in its survey of industry-types. And every year I miss the deadline because I feel like I haven’t seen enough of the films yet. But as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I’ve been assiduously plowing through as many of the films released this past year as possible, which, when added to those I’ve seen at the various festivals I attend, now add up to enough to feel I can share my list with a clear conscience. It’s also my chance to offer up my thoughts in slightly more than 140 characters.

I must add that this list is alphabetical even though I could easily have ranked them, because as a voting member of the Academy, BAFTA and the PGA, I am sworn to secrecy about my actual votes. So without giving anything away, here are my top 10 films of 2014.


This film is a case of profundity created through simplicity. Linklater’s 12-year stunt pays off by adding a level of subtext that deepens the experience. As we watch the actors age on screen, the film has a documentary-like impact that make us feel our own passage through time, and as such makes the film far more moving than its simple plot would have earned in a more traditional narrative. I would put it in the category of being more “special” than truly great, but it’s an amazing achievement.


When I saw this film at Cannes last year, I was completely smitten. I was recommending it to everyone I saw, describing it as “Scenes From A Marriage” meets “The Shining.” From the opening images of the film, the mood is portentous and unsettled, and from there it veers from surprising turn to even more surprising turn, from near tragedy to a sort of droll Scandinavian comedy. Beneath it all, it’s a touching portrait of how sometimes the people we are closest with are the ones we know the least. (more…)

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Michael Hausman and Milos Forman – The Dream Collaboration

A few years ago, as part of the Columbia University Film Festival, we had an event honoring the longtime collaboration of Producer Michael Hausman and Director Milos Forman. Forman was the first Chair of the Columbia MFA Program, and Hausman has been teaching at the school since the very beginning. In a way, their collaboration is emblematic of the way films are made at Columbia, where producers and directors are creative partners. In keeping with that spirit, a group of students led by Director/Producer Mike De Caro and Co-Producer Jennifer Gerber, decided to capture the event and edit it into a short film.


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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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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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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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“Making Waves” at the Berlinale

For those of you who have commented that film schools need more training in marketing and distribution, take a look at this video about a program that I helped to create with Ben Gibson of the London Film School. “Making Waves” took place at the Berlin Film Festival this past February. Several Columbia students participated along with students from  The London Film SchoolLa Fémis (Paris), the dffb (Berlin), ESCAC (Barcelona) and the UNATC (Romania). The students worked in international teams and were assigned a film from the Berlin Market and a territory. It was enormously successful and we hope the program continues in future years. Check it out below… Comments after the break… (more…)

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