Strand Releasing

What is Strand Releasing?
Strand is an independent entertainment company specializing in the distribution of quality, review-, and festival-driven motion pictures.

Who is Strand?
Jon Gerrans and Marcus Hu, co-presidents; Gail Blumenthal, V.P. distribution; Rajeev Malhotra, manager, sales and booking; Giovana Driussi, director of acquisitions; and Victor Syrmis, co-president, Strand/New Oz Productions.

Total number of employees at Strand:
Eight full-time (and countless individual per-project participants).

How, when, and why did Strand come into being?
We started at the Strand Theater in San Francisco—then owned by co-founding partner Mike Thomas (who departed three years ago), Marcus Hu, and me [Jon Gerrans]—with a foolish dream that this would be easy.

Unofficial motto or driving philosophy behind Strand:
If we don’t enjoy it (“it” being the film, the people involved), we don’t do it. We’re wonderfully selfish in that way.

What would people be most surprised to learn about Strand or its founders and/or key staff?
Perhaps the breadth of what we actually do. We release 10-15 pictures a year, operate a full-service video line, do broadcast licensing, and this year produced/co-produced three pictures from a full development slate with some very talented filmmakers.

How many works are in your collection?
I haven’t counted lately. It’s somewhere between 130-150.

Is there such a thing as a “Strand” film?
John Waters described Strand Releasing as “the Grove Press of distribution,” which was pretty cool, and why I’m recycling his quote. Hopefully a Strand film is one you would like to see, because you definitely are not going to see a studio distributing it.

What types of works do you distribute?
We try not to let the format, content, genre, or style dictate our decision (the audience does). Mostly we handle feature length, 35mm motion pictures, but we have successfully packaged short films (Boy’s Life and Boy’s Life 2) We distribute a lot of gay-themed pictures. Half of our slate is foreign language—from which country, it does not matter. We also have done a half-dozen re-releases.

Best known title in Strand’s collection:
Tough question and it could also get me in a lot of trouble, but the obvious, although I don’t hear the title associated with Strand very often, would be the re-release of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. More realistically though, Andre Techine’s Wild Reeds, Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, and the shorts compilation Boy’s Life.

Other films and filmmakers you distribute:
Gregg Araki’s Totally F***ed Up, Jon Jost’s All the Vermeers in New York, John Maybury’s Love is the Devil, Alison Maclean’s Crush and Contempt, Brian Sloan’s I Think I Do, and Benoit Jaquot’s A Single Girl.

What drives you to acquire the films you do?
It always comes down to a couple of basic points: do we like the film; would we be proud to be associated with it; do we believe it will receive a generally positive critical reception; is there a marketing angle which we feel we could successfully exploit; and last but not least, the nasty part, do we believe it can generate enough interest to refill the coffers?

Is Strand also involved in co-production or co-financing of works?
Strand has a separate company to produce films called Strand/New Oz Productions (a partnership with Victor Syrmis’ New Oz Films). The idea is to produce films that can either be sold or distributed by Strand Releasing. This year we produced or co-produced three films including Psycho Beach Party, a co-production with Red Horse films, directed by Robert Lee King (whose short film The Disco Years we distributed as one of the Boy’s Life films), based on Charles Busch’s off-Broadway play. We were also involved in the production of Australian director Paul Cox’s Innocence and Chiam Bianco’s Split. We have been associated with seven other productions including Gregg Araki’s The Living End (producer) and Brian Sloan’s I Think I Do (executive producer).
What’s your basic approach to releasing a title?
Define the audience, gauge the potential commercial interest, create a campaign to match, determine the appropriate theater, then fight to get it.

Where do Strand titles generally show?
You don’t catch our titles at the shopping mall. Thank God for the Landmark theater chain, Laemmle Theaters, the Quad in New York, and the independent arthouses across the country. On a successful release, we will play in over 100 of these theaters in 100 different cities (although it can take 12 months to do so).

Where do you find your titles and how should filmmakers approach you for consideration?
Most of our films come from film festival screenings— Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto—where we more often get the first exposure. Unfortunately it takes three to six months before the sales agent acknowledges that Miramax has “officially” passed, along with Miramax $$$$, and our offer is finally accepted. We often work with producers/directors at the earlier stages, and prefer to do so. Approach us through your lawyer, agent, mutual friend, or the Internet, but please, no coldcalls.

Range of production budgets of titles in your collection:
From Frisk at $20,000, to others at $10 million. It really doesn’t matter what the budget is to us (that’s the investors’ headache). We treat the film based on what we believe it will do commercially, rather than what it costs to get there.

Biggest change at Strand in recent years:
I can finally afford a really soft chair with a high back, which gave me the posture to co-produce three titles this year.

Most important issue facing Strand today:
Besides staying in business, it is finding a better way to bridge the gap between studio-owned independents and companies like ourselves. This is not easy.

Where will Strand be 10 years from now?
Besides finally replacing my 10-year-old chair, hopefully we will be doing the same thing, on a larger scale, and working directly with the filmmakers we admire.

You knew Strand Releasing had made it as a company when . . .
our bank called up and asked if we would like a line of credit. Actually, it took five years before we were able to quit our temp jobs and work full-time at what we love.

Best distribution experience you’ve had lately:
Nothing feels better than acquiring a picture that nobody else wanted and making it a success. Marcus Hu had pursued Ferzan Ozpetek’s Italian/Turkish production Steam: The Turkish Bath for over a year before the rights were finally secured. The picture has grossed close to $1 million over the past 12 months, receiving very favorable reviews, strong exhibition support, and big fat smiles from everyone at Strand.

Other companies you admire and why:
We’ve acquired a number of pictures from both Good Machine and Killer Films, both companies which we greatly admire (the Grove Press of producers). Zeitgeist, Kino, New Yorker, and Cowboy are some distributors, who, like Strand, do what they do because they love it.

The best film you’ve seen lately was . . .
The other day our office took a field trip to watch Being John Malkovich. I couldn’t stop laughing and the following day at work we were quoting lines.

The difference between Strand and other distributors of independent films is . . .
probably the volume. We may release similar titles, but our staff is slightly larger, which allows us to distribute (all the way through broadcast) and produce more titles per year than other “similar” companies.

If you could give independent filmmakers only one bit of advice it would be to . . .
please, please be ORIGINAL. You can’t imagine how many films we screen that say exactly the same thing the previous year’s independent “hit” said.

Upcoming titles to watch for:
We’re currently negotiating on four titles. Of course keep an eye out for Psycho Beach Party, the satire on the 60s beach movie involving a split personality surfer-wannabe named Chicklet, which stars Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Matt Keeslar, Nicholas Brendon, and Kathleen Robertson, and written by Charles Busch from his stage play. Also Gough Lewis’ documentary Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, Coky Giedroyc’s Stella Does Tricks, from the U.K., and John S. Curran’s Praise, from Australia, to name a few.

The future of independent film distribution in this country is one in which . . .
we’re going to need the so-called “new media” to help breathe additional monetary life back into the business. Too many of us are struggling and giving up, which equates to fewer choices for filmmakers. The studio independents cannot financially justify the smaller films and the maverick distributors are not surviving on box-office revenue alone. With video revenue evaporating and broadcast revenue minimal, the future for the second-tier distributors lies in, I believe, the future of the new media.

If you weren’t distributing films, what would you be doing?
Selling popcorn at a movie theater.

Famous last words:
“Would you like butter with your popcorn?”

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.