This past Sunday morning, was the memorial service for Marty Zeidman at the Landmark Sunshine Theater in Manhattan. For those of you who didn’t know Marty, he was a very well-liked and respected film distribution guy, who is commonly credited as having helped to bring independent films more into the mainstream.
Back when I was at Fine Line, I was increasingly frustrated by the fact that New Line distribution, which was handling Fine Line’s films, was sacrificing our product in order to placate their big chain customers. In other words, our films were booked into the wrong types of theaters so that New Line could get “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3” on the right screens. I finally convinced the powers that be that we should take distribution in house, and I put out the word out on the street that I was looking for someone to run it. Bert Manzari, then of Landmark Theaters, called me to suggest that I talk to Marty Zeidman, who had recently left Miramax. I told Bert that I didn’t think we could afford Marty, but he said, “You should talk to him.” I also brought up the fact that Marty lived in Los Angeles, and I had heard that he didn’t like New York very much, but Bert said, “You should talk to him.” So I called Marty and it turned out Bert was right. Within a matter of weeks, I had hired him, and he was moving to New York. (Inside joke: he was between wives at the time.)
Marty quickly became a key part of the organization, and the results from our films immediately began to improve. I had to explain to the staff why Marty always seemed to be out of the office and on the golf course. This was how you did business with the big guys–something us indies were not used to.
When we screened a film for possible acquisition, we would be debating the pros and cons among the staff. Who is the target audience? How big could the film be, and how much would it cost to market? Marty would just say, “I could book the shit out of that picture,” and that would seal the deal for me.
Soon after I left Fine Line, Marty, along with many others, was let go, and he moved back to Los Angeles. But he and I stayed in touch. Several times over the years we talked about working together again. The last time I saw him was just this past March at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. I was having lunch with some exhibitors, and Marty walked into the restaurant. When he saw me, he came over with a huge smile on his face, and gave me a big bear hug. This was Marty. He was one of the sweetest, most gregarious guys you could ever meet. And unlike many in this crazy business of ours, he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He lived life the way he wanted, with no excuses. He changed the independent film business. I’ll miss him.