Fostering The Revolution of indie film distribution

At the age of 35, Lawrence Meistrich has made a name for himself in an industry that might seem almost impossible to bust into. Even at such a young age, Meistrich has managed to become involved in more than 100 films, music videos and commercials, though most might remember the man for his Academy Award winning film, Sling Blade, as well as You Can Count On Me, which was nominated for an Oscar. Industry folk, however, see Meistrich in a different light-this is the same filmmaker who challenged the industry with his control over the award-winning studio and production company, Shooting Gallery.

Recently, he announced the start of his new film distribution company, Film Movement, which, it seems may contribute to revolutionizing the way the public views independent films. The indie world needs a top strong-hand to excavate the best projects among the hundreds submitted every year and this producer may be one of them.

Life & Art caught up the Larry Meistrich to discuss his new company and how he might change the way independent films are distributed.

L&A: How are you today?

LM: Good. Good weekend this weekend, huh? What was it… 40 to 27? You guys are gonna win the championship this year.

L&A: I hope so! So, your new company might revolutionize the film industry as a whole…

LM: Well, we hope so. Basically what we’re doing is marrying film distribution works in windows (meaning each medium that you traditionally see). Theatrical is usually the first window, then pay-cable, then video rental, then basic cable, you know, and it goes on down the line. And then usually the last window is sell-through: where you buy the movie at Wallmart. That’s how it traditionally works, right? Part of the problem with that existing infrastructure is that good independent films don’t play theatrically in most parts of the country. And what’s happened is the motion picture industry has become an opening weekend business. You know, you read all about how much they’re gonna do opening weekend. Harry Potter for example, the second one, is coming out on 10,000 screens against Lord of the Rings, which is coming out on like 8,000 screens. That’s half the screens in the United States, roughly. So every small film or quality art film in that 30-day period is gonna be pushed out. And the independent film has to compete on a marketing side with a film that’s gonna spend, like Harry Potter, between $50-80 million promoting the movie.

L&A: So indies don’t really get a chance.

LM: Indies have no chance. So what we said is we’re gonna do two things: we’re gonna make independent film and art films and films that play Cannes and Sundance available to everybody everywhere in the United States and Canada. And we’re gonna take the theatrical window and we’re gonna marry it with the sell-through window by creating a subscription-based service. You know, kinda like Oprah’s Book of the Month Club. So in the big cities, like Miami, L.A., New York, we’ll open the movies in the movie theatres. But it’s economically never viable for these type of films to go into the suburbs or the rural areas or, you know, Northern Florida, Arkansas, Alabama-places where there’s not an enormous population to draw from. So we’re gonna create this subscription service. For example, our first film opens on Dec. 13th in theatres in five cities. But we also ship the DVD to all the subscribers on Dec. 10th.

L&A: And what’s the name of the movie?

LM: It’s called El Bola. So really what that means is that everybody everywhere is getting a first-run film at the same time. If you happen to be a subscriber who lives in a market where we’re playing theatrically, we will buy your movie ticket so you don’t pay twice.

L&A: What do artists feel about this process that you have chosen to implement? As filmmakers, some might feel that their films should only be seen initially on the silver screen.

LM: Sure, and I agree. There’s two answers to that question. Most filmmakers, 99.9 percent of them, aren’t playing past a city like Miami. Whatever, pick Mainland, Florida. Most independent films don’t roll into Mainland, Florida; therefore, if you’re a consumer in Mainland, your choices are limited to what you can see. My argument to filmmakers, and it’s been successful so far, is I’m gonna put you in a theatrical context where you have a chance for success. I’m gonna tell you up front, I’m gonna play in Miami, but I’m not playing in Mainland. But don’t you want the people in Mainland who have an interest in this to be able to participate in your film?

L&A: Of course, definitely.

LM: That’s where the marriage occurs.

L&A: So you know what type of audience wants to see your film.

LM: Exactly, they subscribe. So, as a filmmaker, I’ve just broadened your audience out to every city and town in the United States. With a very successful film that I released, we played 100 markets. You know, unless you’re making Harry Potter, you don’t have that option. You can want it all you want, but in reality what happens to most films is they play one weekend, and they didn’t put up big enough numbers, so they’re gone and then they go into the distribution cycle with not very much media attention. Our process elongates that because we’re not an opening-weekend business. We’re a monthly subscriber business, so people can participate in your title any time along the chain.

L&A: So what does the mainstream industry think about you focusing on independent films?

LM: I’m sure some people will love it and some will be pissed off, people who’s business we generally affect. I don’t think because someone lives in Mainland, Florida that they’re dumb or aren’t sophisticated, or they have no interest in anything besides Spiderman or I-Spy.

L&A: Well, it sounds like your plan might help indie films.

LM: We put filmmakers on a straight gross, so it’s an incredible financial deal. If your film is successful, it’s tremendously more profitable in our scenario, and all the filmmakers are marketing for each other. You can always market to new people who subscribe. You can say, “Well, if you liked this title, you should check out El Bola.” Blah, blah, blah. So there’s ways to keep the shelf lives of the projects very long.

Meistrich will lecture this Monday, Nov. 4th at the Cosford Cinema at 5 p.m. sharp.

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