Criterion Celebrates Fabled Distributor Cinema 5

When my film, Searching for Mr. Rugoff was released in the theaters, the most common feedback I got was how astounding it was that one company released so many of the definitive films from what, in retrospect, looks like a golden age of art films. I had so many requests for a list of the films that I included one in the press kit and provided it to anyone who asked.

It is with that in mind that I am so very pleased that the Criterion Channel is showing twenty Cinema 5 titles in conjunction with the exclusive premiere of my film. The series starts on September 12.

This collection of films might as well be a syllabus for anyone interested in non-Hollywood cinema from the ’60s and ’70s, a particularly ripe period of pushing the limits of what could be shown in commercial movie theaters. Many of the films were controversial in their day, and probably would be today. It took an off-kilter sensibility like Rugoff’s to see commercial potential in them, and many of them failed at the box office. But looking back after all these years, the collection seems downright inspired. Continue reading “Criterion Celebrates Fabled Distributor Cinema 5”

The Warners Movie Dump: An Ominous Sign for the Streaming Biz?

The announcement last week that the newly combined Warner Bros. Discovery was planning to dump seven of its films, including one big budget female-driven DC Comics superhero film, has brought on a lot of angst and debate among those tracking the film business. The decision was both surprising in some ways, while being entirely predictable in others.

While there are plenty of examples of feature films that have been unceremoniously dumped by their studios because of lack of faith in commercial potential, or because of a regime change, historically these decisions were based on not wanting to throw good money after bad by spending the necessary marketing money for those films to reach an audience.

In the current media environment, one might have assumed that while such films might be denied a life in theaters, they certainly would provide adequate filler for a streaming service, if for no other reason than to give the appearance of having a wide selection of offerings. Just one quick look at the menus for any of these services would indicate that quantity rather than quality rules that business model. So why would Warners just dump these films, rather than relegating them to their HBO Max platform? Continue reading “The Warners Movie Dump: An Ominous Sign for the Streaming Biz?”

Seven Ways The New York Times Could Help Save Theatrical Moviegoing and Its Own Bottom Line

There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t read The New York Times. I fully admit to being one of those old-fashioned people who reads the news on paper; I flip through every page, skimming the articles, diving into whatever grabs my attention, and feeling like I’ve absorbed enough information to be up to date on our crazy world.

There also isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get pissed off at The Times for one reason or another. The insistence on presenting “both sides” of every issue, to the point of false equivalencies, is a particular source of anger. (Let’s not forget that it was The Times that broke the story of “Hillary’s emails” and continued to hammer it all the way to November.)

However, all told, The Times does a better job than most daily newspapers of at least trying to get things right. And in an environment in which newspapers around the world are under severe threat of extinction, I find it heartening That they have found a way to keep the paper alive while deftly navigating new business models to support it.

That said, what brings me to write comes less from my personal and political perspectives as a reader than my professional perspective as someone who lives in the world of movie marketing; more specifically someone who has spent their life trying to get audiences to see less commercial fare in movie theaters. The Times has always played an important role in that effort, but unfortunately in recent years, changes have been made that have created great obstacles to that effort. Continue reading “Seven Ways The New York Times Could Help Save Theatrical Moviegoing and Its Own Bottom Line”

Seth Willenson, Innovator and Good Guy

Seth Willenson, who died this week at the age of 74, was a good guy. I know that sounds like faint praise, but in a business that thrives on over-stuffed egos, it actually means a lot. He was also someone who loved movies, understood the structural ins and outs of a complicated and constantly changing landscape, and found success seeing opportunities where others didn’t. He was also a great judge of talent and mentored many a young aspiring film executive.

I first met Seth when I had just started in the business. I was a non-theatrical salesperson at Cinema 5, a small independent distribution company. Seth was the head of sales at Films Incorporated, which was the largest non-theatrical distributor at the time, and handled films from MGM, Paramount and 20th Century Fox, among others. For the uninitiated, “non-theatrical” meant renting 16mm prints of films to college film societies, public libraries and other such venues. It was a fairly large business at that time due to films having no other outlets after their theatrical runs. There was no such thing yet as home video, and television networks didn’t have that much movie programming. Continue reading “Seth Willenson, Innovator and Good Guy”

“Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #7: Lina Wertmuller Tells It Like It Is

Interviewing Lina Wertmuller in her apartment in Rome was one of the highlights of my life. But it was hardly an easy interview. First off, I don’t speak any Italian and she speaks very little English. We had an interpreter, but that only interrupted the flow of the conversation. And when I brought up subjects that I thought would be interesting or provocative, she would just blow me off. This clip is a perfect example of her contrarian spirit.

Comments after the break… Continue reading ““Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #7: Lina Wertmuller Tells It Like It Is”

“Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #6: John Goldstone, Producer of “Monty Python & the Holy Grail”

“Monty Python & the Holy Grail” was the biggest hit that Don Rugoff ever distributed. In this outtake from “Searching for Mr. Rugoff,” Producer John Goldstone talks about the origins of the film and the large role that rock and roll played in getting it financed.

Comments after the break… Continue reading ““Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #6: John Goldstone, Producer of “Monty Python & the Holy Grail””

“Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #4: Joanne Koch of Film at Lincoln Center

The “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” project began and hopefully will evolve as an oral history of art film history in the U.S. in the ’60s and ’70s. Interviews with many of the key people from that period were meant to serve two purposes–for possible use in the film, but also to capture the personal histories. The interview with Joanne Koch didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, but it contains many great stories of the period and most importantly captures one of the key figures in New York film history. This clip is just a taste.

Comments after the break… Continue reading ““Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #4: Joanne Koch of Film at Lincoln Center”

“Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #3: Costa-Gavras

Meeting Costa-Gavras was one of the real treats that came out of the making of “Searching for Mr. Rugoff.” The interview was arranged through Unifrance (thank you!) and was done in his apartment in Paris. I could tell that he was a bit suspicious of my intent at first, but when I explained what the film was about, he immediately brightened up. Don Rugoff was clearly a huge influence in his life and he told me wonderful stories, only a small portion of which made it into the film.

This particular outtake is about how after the success of “Z” he was offered to direct “The Godfather.” Instead, he ended up working with Rugoff again on “State of Siege,” another masterpiece.

Comments after the break… Continue reading ““Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #3: Costa-Gavras”

“Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #2: Robert Downey (RIP)

With news of the passing of Robert Downey today, it seemed appropriate to share a bit of the interview I did with him for “Searching for Mr. Rugoff.” There are lots of great moments with him in the film, but this particular one didn’t make it to the final cut. It’s a great example of how affable he was and what a great storyteller! I’m glad I had the chance to spend time with him.

Comments after the break… Continue reading ““Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Outtake #2: Robert Downey (RIP)”

Outtake from “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” #1: Roger Corman

The idea for a documentary of some sort had been rumbling around in my head for a long time. At first I thought it would simply be a way of capturing a bit of history by interviewing people that I knew were getting up in age and had great stories to tell about the early era of independent film distribution. 

It was 7 years ago this week that I heard Roger Corman was being honored at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival, an event that I have attended yearly for quite some time. It dawned on me that this was an opportunity to capture one of those interviews for my yet to be defined project. I reached out to Michael and asked if I could interview Roger at the festival. The resulting interview was just as informative and colorful as I had hoped, but as my project took shape, it turned out that Roger did not make the final cut. However, I decided that this interview, and the many others that followed, deserved to see the light of day as a sort of side project. My goal is to eventually create an online oral history about this particular period in the business.

In any case, below is a small portion of that interview.

Comments after the break… Continue reading “Outtake from “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” #1: Roger Corman”