News from January 23, 2001

Loews Cineplex has announced plans to close almost one-fourth of its 2,965 screens in the coming months. So what does this have to do with independent and foreign film? Quite a lot.

For those of you who are unaware, in a previous life, I was a former movie theatre manager, and in the early 1990s I was one of the managers of the 13 screen Cineplex Odeon in Beverly Hills. When Cineplex first expanded outside their native Canada, this was their first ever American theatre. The Cineplex of days gone by was the champion of the indie and foreign movie, if only because those were the only films they could book at first. The Beverly Center Cineplex was the first to play Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” in 1983, as well as one of two theatres to open Terry Gilliam’s “Brazi”l in 1985. Cineplex also got into film production, helping to make Oliver Stone’s “Talk Radio” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” when no one else would. During my tenure with Cineplex, we played films like “Jurassic Park,” but we also played were the first to play Gregg Araki’s “The Living End”. We played “Terminator 2,” but we also played “Shaking The Tree,” “Guilty As Charged,” “Mississippi Masala,” “Where Angels Feared To Tread,” “Toto Le Hero,” “A Midnight Clear,” “The Favour The Watch and the Very Big Fish,” “The Waterdance,” “Adam’s Rib” (the 1992 Russian film), “Monster In The Box,” “Bed and Breakfast,” “Enchanted April,” “Gas Food Lodging,” “London Kills Me,” “Storyville,” “Bob Roberts,” “Light Sleeper,” “Johnny Stecchino,” “Flirting,” “Waterland,” “The Lover,” “Peter’s Friends,” “Volere Volare,” “Strictly Ballroom,” “El Mariachi,” “Stolen Children,” “Bodies Rest and Motion,” “Watch It,” “The Night We Never Met,” “Wide Sargasso Sea” and “Dazed and Confused,” just to name a few.

But, of course, Cineplex got greedy, much like the other exhibitors. In their quest to become the biggest, they lost their identity. First part-owned by Universal, they eventually were swallowed up by Sony. I can even tell you the last time I was in a Cineplex theatre from the top of my memory… when I saw “The Butcher Boy” at their Santa Monica complex three years ago. I stopped going to their theatres not because I held some long standing grudge against them, as I left on good terms to work for Landmark, but because the quality of their bookings and their presentation had fallen dramatically for several years. The print of Butcher Boy probably had not been shown more than a dozen times by the time I caught its opening Saturday night screening, yet it was already scratched and dirty.

For now, I’ll stick with the Landmark theatres in the Denver metro area. The theatres and employees have personality and the film selection is much better.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the potential SAG and WGA strikes, now that the writers and producers have begun a two week pre-negotiation talk period. The writers want more money from the ancillary markets and an abolishment of director’s “A Film By” credit. Who knows or really cares what the producers want. Most everyone is looking towards a long strike which could extend even longer if the DGA strikes in 2002.

This is good news for independent filmmakers.

Think about it… the studios have seen the grosses of films like “The Blair Witch Project.” The longer the strike continues, the more they are going to need product to keep their operations going. There are only so many older films like “The Exorcist” and “Star Wars” which can have successful saturation re-releases. There is a damn good chance that the 2002 American Film Market could usurp Sundance as the place to be and be seen if the strikes drag on.

The best company to profit from a protracted striker TROMA! If crap like “Left Behind” can get an 800+ screen opening next week when there is plenty of product yet to open, imagine how many screens our friends in New York can get for the next “Toxic Avenger” movie! Lloyd Kaufman can make a successful case that more people have seen Toxie movies than Kirk Cameron films. You think Kirk Cameron has ever had his own Sega game or collectable toy dollr

So if you haven’t done so already, start gearing up for that movie you’ve always wanted to make. This time next year, one of Harvey Weinstein’s foot soldiers might be waxing poetic to the Big Kahuna about your opus.

There is something scary when some of the big talk at Sundance is about a film produced by Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels. Yet the man who gave the world “The Ladies Man” and “Superstar” is getting early buzz for “Enigma,” the film he co-produced with his good buddy Mick Jagger. Despite having a cast that includes Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet and Jeremy Northam, a script written by Tom Stoppard and being directed by veteran filmmaker Michael Apted, “Enigma” is still without a distributor. The $20M film, about a group of British mathematicians who attempt to decode Nazi messages sent via their Enigma machines, was almost set up at Paramount several years ago. In their infinite wisdom, Paramount worried the film was too complicated and too expensive for their tastes… but hey, how bout them “Butabi Boysr” There is little doubt the film will go unseen by American theatre goers sometime later this year. Keep an eye out for it.

The buying flood gates have opened in Park City. Unaware that Michael Moore tried and failed miserably with a similar premise a few years ago, Fox Searchlight was the first to go “Happy, Texas” this season, outbidding Miramax by plunking down $3M for the wacky, irreverent “Super Troopers.” Superman John Sloss negotiated the sale for the filmmakers, making back the film’s budget plus a million extra on the spot. Buy that man a beer!

What the hell is going on herer First, someone gives Alicia Silverstone a production deal. Then Jennifer Love Hewitt and Christina Ricci get their own deals. Add another chapter to the “When Will They Learnr” book: They’ve given Reese Witherspoon not one but TWO opportunities to become the young perky female version of Don Simpson. First up, almost back to ashes Phoenix Pictures allowed Reese to get her grubby hands all over Dani Shapiro’s novel “Slow Motion,” where Mrs. Ryan Philippe gets to flex her acting chops as a young woman who reconnects with her Jewish heritage during a relationship with an older man. Now, upstart with a pseudo-hip name Catch 23 Productions has signed Reese on to star in and produce an adaptation of two of the stories from Melissa Banks’ The Girls’ Guide To Hunting and Fishing. The dramedy will meld the “The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Can Imagine” and “My Old Man” stories, where a young woman reconnects with her dying father during her travels in the New York publishing world.