“A Woman Under The Influence” and the Beginnings of a Career

John Cassavetes is commonly referred to as the Godfather of Independent Film. While independent filmmakers existed from the moment the medium was invented, Cassavetes pioneered the inside/outside model that became more common in later years—that model being, he made money by working within the Hollywood system and then used his own money to make films that experimented with form and catered to a more discerning audience.

By the time he had made “A Woman Under the Influence,” Cassavetes decided that he would go one step further and distribute his own films. He created a company called Faces International, and hired a small team of young, ambitious cinephiles to get the film out to audiences.One of the brilliant ideas that emerged was to have a series of high profile screenings on college campuses, and to have the talent available to make appearances at these screenings. At the time, I was a senior at Northwestern University and chairman of the A&O Board (Activities and Organizations). In that capacity, I got a phone call from Blaine Novak, one of the Faces International employees, who convinced me to host the “Midwest Premiere” of the film on the Northwestern campus. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of my lifelong career.

I booked Cahn Auditorium, a 1000-seat venue normally used for concerts and theatre productions. We created a poster that made it look more like a live event than a movie screening. And of course, we promoted the fact that Cassavetes and Peter Falk would be there in person. We hung the posters all over campus and sent out press releases–not only to the university press, but also to the Chicago press. On campus, it was big news to say that we had the “Midwest Premiere” of the film.

The auditorium was packed and the film went over like gangbusters. Cassavetes and Falk got a standing ovation and stayed around for an extended Q&A, which I moderated. The event was a huge success–and I had just had my first semi-professional film marketing experience.

When I graduated and moved to New York, one of the first calls I made was to Blaine Novak, who was still at Faces International and recommended me for a non-theatrical sales job at a company called Cinema 5. I got the job; the rest is a story for another day.

Aside from its influence on my career, “A Woman Under the Influence” is a movie that anyone interested in independent film must see. You’ll get a rare chance to see it on the big screen on Friday, September 14, at Columbia’s Lenfest Center for the Arts. I’ll be doing a Q&A after the screening with Jeff Lipsky, a long-time marketer, distributor, and now writer and director, who also worked at Faces International at the time the film was distributed. Tickets are available at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe/10320561.

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