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October 20, 2005

Comments

Joe Swanberg

I think the "truly" independent model will involve doing away with a theatrical release all-together. Film festivals will have to serve as the theatrical release, and you will need to get as much coverage as possible at each Festival. I've been saying this for a while now, and soon I'm going to have to put my money where my mouth is, but I think the best example new indie filmmakers have to follow is that of indie musicians. Tour with your film, sell T-shirts and DVD copies, book alternative venues that don't traditially show films, bring your own speakers and screen and projector with you so you can control the presentation and make sure it looks and sounds good. Show the films in the basements of churches, at universities, at rock clubs, and charge $5 at the door. Use the internet to create a network of people in towns that don't have big Film Festivals and are hungry for alternative cinema. If the films are made cheap enough, you could start seeing a profit right away. It's not going to make anyone rich, but I think it can be self-sustaining. Theatrical release can make a big difference for future DVD sales, but for a certain section of under-the-radar films, going straight to DVD seems to be the best bet. WIth projectors as cheap as they are now, you can turn any space into a cinema for the night, and do "theatrical" that way.

Joe Swanberg

AJ, if "Truly Indie" was an option when you were getting ready to release Gigantic, would you have considered it over a traditional distributor, or do you see it as a last resort for films that can't get into theatres any other way?

Michael C.

Being somewhat connected to the theatres that play indie films in the Boston area, I can certainly attest to the comments concerning the horrible mishandling of Boston's Landmark Theatre in Kendall Square. While they have long been problematic for true arthouse theatres such as the Brattle Theatre and The Coolidge Corner Theatre, before Cuban (and the new regional manager) took over, you didn't feel all that bad about going there. Now I feel like I'm selling a little piece of my sould every time I walk through the doors. I have a friend who was a manager there until just recently. She ultimately quit on principle around a Union issue, but what I was hearing about the new owners and management was pretty scary. (Lots of things about the "stupid movies we play that nobody comes to see."

Anything Cuban is attached with that has to do with independent film I would be suspicious of. I will have to find out more about this Truly Indie.

Brian Clark

AJ - great musing blog piece. I sit somewhere between the "this is a great thing" and "this is nothing special" camps. My gut can't get past the fact that it is a $6,000 to $8,000 a screen indie producer expense in an environment where that would be a "top 10 indie" per-screen average for income. And that's assuming you could rely on TrulyIndie to do be 100% of the expense of that theatrical run.

Cuban's announcement has made alot of smaller distributors quite nervous though. The more self-distribution options the better, but do we know that this is really that new of a option (aside from the rather large number of theaters you could P&D to digitally?)

AJ Schnack

Joe & Michael, I expand on your comments and questions at length in the new blog piece.

Brian - first off, did we go to school together? And beyond that, am curious about what you've heard about the nervous reaction of these smaller distributors. What makes them nervous - having to compete for films? For screens?

ilovedlandmark

AJ-

I appreciate your critique of our site. We're always looking to improve it, and clearly, we have our work cut out for ourselves. You are the first person outside of Landmark to give us feedback, so I'd like to clarify a few things here, before we can work them into the website.

First of all, I am not a Landmark employee, either former or current. I'm just a long time resident of Boston, with a passion for indie films. I also don't consider our site to be an "anti-Mark Cuban site." I have nothing against Mark Cuban as relates to 2929, Magnolia, or HDnet films. But I believe that many of his ideas that might be beneficial for a film distributor are harmful for a film exhibitor. Keep in mind, that the majority of the issues we address on the site are responses to articles written about Mr. Cuban, or by comments from his own blog.

As for the auction, let me be clear: no one who writes for our site is condoning violence toward anyone, no matter what. We were trying to highlight an employee who was not fired immediately (which would, we believe, have been the appropriate action), but after several weeks, and without any investigation from HR. Some involved in the situation believe that the firing was retribution for the employee's involvement in a union attempt. As we weren't there, we can't say. We did, however, find it odd that Landmark sent the police after an ex-employee for trying to sell a shirt that they made him buy in the first place.

The reason for mentioning the Improper Bostonian award was to emphasize our belief that the Kendall wasn't broken, so it doesn't need to be fixed. Current (ex-AMC) management thinks that Kendall needs to change. The Improper award suggests that Bostonians disagree. Since Mr. Cuban often claims to give customers more than what they want, we thought he might want to hear what his customers actually think.

Our biggest concern with the Kendall specifically is the fact that the old, pre-Cuban management was pushed out to make way for management hired from AMC, who have had little positive to say about the Kendall as it is, its current clientele, or the current films it shows. The VP of operations at Landmark Theaters told several employees that the type of films that the Kendall shows just can't be marketed. This is why we're more than a little cynical about the effectiveness of Truly Indie.

We have yet to find an article or interview with Mark Cuban where he talks specifically about the future of independent film at Landmark. We have read several interviews where he mentions Monday night football. That worries us. If you (or anyone) can provide us with some evidence that proves we're wrong, please do so. We are simply a group of people who love to watch independent film in theatres. That's all. Mark Cuban hasn't given us very much hope that we'll be able to do that at Landmark for much longer.

Is it overdramatic to suggest that Mark Cuban will end the indie film experience, as we know it? Perhaps. But consider that, as the largest nationwide art house chain, Landmark can cut deals with distributors (and now filmmakers) that marginalize truly independent theatres. In fact, the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge points to Landmark's calendar series as one of the things that has the Brattle on the verge of closing. As a good businessman, Mark Cuban will no doubt leverage Landmark's reach to make as much money as possible, even if it purposefully, or inadvertently, puts "mom and pop" theatres out of business. This gives film lovers, and filmmakers, fewer theatrical exhibition opportunities.

Our call to action (boycotting not the films, but the concession stand) is for those who, after reading our site, agree that Mr. Cuban doesn't take art house exhibition as seriously as we do, and want to do something about it. Clearly, you don't feel as though we've proved our point. We will continue to work on it, and we hope you give us another chance to convince you.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

AJ Schnack

Dear Anonymous Boston Film Lover,

I appreciate your writing in to give more background information about your site and your views. As I wrote above in this follow-up post, I was unaware that Mark Cuban and the new Landmark were generating this sort of passion, and as I wrote in my third post on the subject today, I too am concerned for the Brattle and for independent mom and pop theatres generally.

I also noted your fellow Bostonian Michael Colford's comments (above) on the Kendall Square to point out that yours is apparently a widely-held view. As I know and trust Michael, I am certain that his description of the situation there is accurate. (By the way, anonymous, one certainly hopes you are a member of Chlotrudis, what with your passion for indie film.)

If I may critique, I just don't think the story of the punching, auctioning employee is that fascinating or helpful to your overall cause. I read "employee punched customer" and immediately my sympathy level for his cause was pretty much zero. Also, I know you don't like me calling yours an anti-Mark Cuban site, but really, you are www.markcubanhasnoclothes.com.

But once again, thanks for posting, for loving indie film/theatres and I hope you'll continue to post on this topic and others. I will continue to write about Truly Indie (and/or the Kendall Square situation) as I learn more.

Best,
AJ

mark cuban

Let me answer the questions directly. We made changes across Landmark because the previous management had run down the theaters in order to take out money for investors. Anyone who managed a Landmark was more than familiar with "ratchet down mode" that the previous CEO had installed. Basically it was more important to pay off, than to have straws and toilet paper.

In buying landmark, we began investing money in the chain. We havent done what we need to, but we continue to invest to make the experience as good as we possibly can make it.

Unfortunately, our way of managing certainly conflicted with some previous managers there. To some, the concept of selling the soundtrack to the movie you just watched , or a DVD from the same director was a bad thing. To me, offering the soundtrack of Enron and Life and Times of Henry Kissenger saved our customers the hassle of searching and searching to find it. They didnt think commerce should happen in a theater. We do. Will you find the latest Hulk DVD. No. Will you find DVDs and CDs that you would never have taken the time to search for. Yes. Our sales show that customers have found this a convenience.

As far as non film events at landmark. Are we going to run Monday Night Football ? Maybe in 2 markets where it would fit our demographics. Will we run specialty festivals and enable special events on our slow nights like we always have . Yes.

As far as my personal committment to independent film. You can look at the directors and producers we are working with at HDNet Films and see projects that would never have otherwise been made. I continue to catch shit for The War Within. It was a film no one else would do. I thought it was important. You can look at what I have been inolved with at IMDBhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0466665/

I dont feel the need to defend myself.

As far as truly indie. I love the give and take. There are some outstanding questions still to be answered because we havent answered them yet. This is a brand new program. The goal was to give filmakers control of their destiny and from the posts, it obviously has caught peoples attention.

what hasnt been mentioned is that it coincides with our further roll out with digital cinema. We waited this long so we could have projectors in major markets. To make truly indie work, we had to be able to get rid of blow up and print costs. It was such a considerable expense to unique, indie projects, that by eliminating it through digital distribution, we could make the project stronger.

I am readily accessible.

I didnt think I needed to do a blog entry on this topic. I guess maybe I do.

Mark Cuban
Mark@hd.net

Scot Colford

Hey, AJ. Thanks for all the posts you've dedicated to this frustrating, mysterious, and bizarre topic. I'm particularly enjoying Mr. Cuban's comments. He's also posted on the Chlotrudis blog at http://www.chlotrudis.org/mewsings/.

(But he doesn't feel the need to defend himself, I see.)

I'm still trying to comprehend the "maybe" thing he stated about Monday Night Football.

lauren

I just wanted to jump in for a second about the comment Mark made:

"Basically it was more important to pay off, than to have straws and toilet paper."

Perhaps other Landmarks didn't have straws and toilet paper under previous management, but the Kendall was well stocked with all necessities.

In fact, shortages did not become common until after the new management came in.

If you had stopped by the theater on Fourth of July weekend 2005, you would have found that we were out of butter, pretzels, brownies, ice cream, hot dogs, a few of the candies and had the wrong size straws (too small for large cups).

Do you know how annoyed customers get when you have to tell them you are out of butter?

This is a super picky matter, but the idea that past management would have allowed the kind of poor service (which is the norm now) to occur is ridiculous.

Stocking has gotten better, but skimping on staff hours is creating a whole new issue. They routinely have one staff member sell tickets and concessions and direct patrons to the theaters.

Do you think there will be a staff member to respond to a customer complaint? To keep someone from jumping into different theaters all day long? To properly clean theaters and restrooms?

Oh, and to any cutomers who sat in theaters 1,8,9 or 2 last Saturday night - I'm totally sorry about the mess. Three theaters got out at once and I was the only one cleaning, so I was a little rushed.

the mexican

the indie model is still somewhat relevant, but I'm not sure if it's going to flourish in the 21st century

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