Tag Archives: Fine Line

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 from the Sundance Art House Convergence

Below is the video of the keynote speech I gave this past January at the Art House Convergence, an annual event that brings together many of the independent art houses from all over the U.S. and with some representation from the rest of the world. I used the opportunity to give a kind of personal history lesson about the distribution and marketing of indie films, and to draw some lessons for the world we currently live in. A big thank you to Russ Collins of the Michigan Theater for giving me the opportunity to speak, and to Doug Tirola and his team at 4th Row Films for recording it.

These video originally appeared on Thompson on Hollywood, part of the Indiewire network.

PART 1: Don Rugoff and Unplanned Beginnings

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Let River Rest in Peace

It was a Sunday morning, and I was making breakfast for the kids, sipping on a cup of coffee and flipping the french toast. The home phone rang (this was before everyone had a cell phone) and it was Nik Powell, the British producer.

It was surprising to hear from Nik on a weekend, even though we were in the process of working on a film together. I rested the phone on my shoulder and continued making breakfast. The conversation went something like this…

NIK
Are you sitting down?

ME
Nope. What’s up?

NIK
River’s dead.

ME
You’re kidding.

NIK
No.

Nik filled me in on the horrible details. River Phoenix, one of the stars of the film “Dark Blood,” which Nik was producing and my company, Fine Line, had co-financed, had died of a drug overdose. (more…)

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Marty Zeidman – A Small Tribute

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. (more…)

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Memories on the 15th Anniversary of Hoop Dreams

Hoop DreamsFifteen years. Hard to believe.

“Hoop Dreams” is such an important milestone in my life that absorbing the fact that it has been fifteen years since its release makes me feel very old. There are many proud parents of this film, not the least of whom  are its subjects, who allowed their lives to be laid bare on the screen; the three filmmakers, who devoted a big chunk of their lives to creating something that they had no idea would ever lead to anything; and the various funders who enabled them to keep going. Then there are John Iltis, Dave Sikich, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I like to think that I have a claim to a piece of that parentage, as well.

My “Hoop Dreams” connection began at Sundance. Liz Manne, who was my marketing chief at Fine Line, told me that she loved the film. She added the caveat that she was dubious about its commerciality, but that I ought to check out at least the first half hour. About an hour into the film, I ducked out to cancel a meeting, and ran back in to see the rest of it. I was smitten. When it was over, I immediately expressed my interest, but the rumour on the streets was that the asking price was $1 million and that the filmmakers would not consider any cutting. That sounded like a dangerous combination. (more…)

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10 (9 actually) Responses to the Issues Brought Up at the “Indie Film Summit”

momaThanks to MOMA and indieWIRE, some 60 or so representatives of the “indie” film world got together yesterday to discuss the state of the business. A tip of the cap is due to Eugene Hernandez and Anne Thompson for their valiant attempt to reign in a group of outspoken, opinionated and polarized people arranged around a conference room that was clearly designed for far fewer active participants than were attending this particular event. The very existence of such an event, and the number of notable people who showed up, is both a testament to how hungry we are for this type of discussion, and a reason to be hopeful about the future of the business. In the course of a rambling two plus hours of talking, some deep arguments were addressed, some real insights were made and some of the attendees slipped into the kind of self-serving pitches that we hear on a million panels. But by the end of the day, I felt that all the real issues facing our business had at the very least been thrown on the table. My only frustration was that each of the many topics that came up deserved further exploration. Hopefully this can happen in a series of more focused discussions some time in the future.

One personal frustration was that the format didn’t allow me to get in my two cents on a number of points that I felt needed to be made. So, I’m going to use this space to do that very thing. At the beginning of the conference, Eugene asked that the particulars of who said what should be kept off the record in order to allow people to be as open as possible. I am going to respect that and deal only in the issues that were brought up without naming names. I am also going to take a piece of advice from Ted Hope and make this a list, which he says gets more hits than straight prose. So here goes… (more…)

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Altman Remembered

When word reached me this morning that Bob was gone, I was shocked. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. His health has been an issue (and a topic of discussion) for a very long time. Back when I was at Fine Line and we were working on the release of “Short Cuts,” Bob would come to office looking so thin, so gaunt; everyone commented on the fact that he looked liked he was on his deathbed. Bob laughed and said he’d been told by his doctor to go on a diet, and he was proud of how much weight he had lost. We all took him at his word, only to find out more than a decade later that he had had a heart transplant. Bob somehow seemed indestructible.

Bob at Ira's 40th birthday partyI have so many memories…so many feelings. I can’t set them all out here… but I feel the need to spill some of it while the feelings are fresh.

I first met Bob when I was just out of college. I took a trip to Los Angeles to try and find work, and someone recommended that I look up a guy named Mike Kaplan, who was the marketing person at Altman’s production company. The company was called Lion’s Gate, but was not related to the current company of that name. I got an appointment, and while waiting in the reception area, could see and hear Bob talking on the phone in his office. He was describing a film he’d just finished shooting in Canada…a film called “Quintet.” I couldn’t have been more thrilled as Altman was already one of my idols, and this was my first close encounter with someone of his stature. (more…)

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