Q&A with Larry Meistrich of Film Movement

What is Film Movement?
We’re a company that matches consumers with deserving filmmakers. We do this in two ways: through theatrical releases and by combining them with a subscription-based service so that people everywhere in the United States and ultimately Canada can get access to the same films as people in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles. For example our first film, El Bola, opened theatrically on December 10 and we shipped it to our members nationwide December 10 as well. If you’re in a city that we play theatrically and you’re a subscriber, we’ll buy your ticket. You go to the website and from the account page you can download a ticket. Even if you go to the theater you get the DVD as well.

Why was Film Movement created?
I don’t live in a city anymore and I have three kids, so for me it’s really hard to participate in the films that I want to participate in. They very rarely come to where I live. I wanted to create a platform for people who are educated, sophisticated, and culturally connected no matter where they live, as well as create a marketplace for filmmakers who’ll actually be able to make some money on their movies. I think the theatrical release platform model is finished, it’s too expensive. We’re leading with our subscription business and using our theatrical as a marketing initiative, which takes a lot of pressure off of the film and the filmmaker. We’ll play the movie for a year and a half—we don’t really care.

How did the subscription idea come up?
Well, I’m a member of the Academy, and two years ago I got a copy of Harry Potter when it was still in theaters, which caused quite a stir in my daughter’s first grade class. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to give everybody that kind of experience, but for good films?
We’ve also done something different in regards to the financial model for filmmakers. Everybody’s on a “true dollar one straight gross.” What that means is literally every time someone subscribes, filmmakers get paid.

How large is the subscription base at the moment?
We’re not giving out our numbers, but I can tell you we’re in over 725 cities and in forty-eight states, so filmmakers are getting true national exposure.

Other than the subscription, how else does Film Movement distinguish itself from other independent distributors?
Quality. There are no horror films. There are no hip-hop films. We’re actually trying to lead with our brand and then let the film support that brand. We’re trying to stand for something of substance or quality.

What types of films are you seeking?
We’re seeking award-winning, well-written, well-crafted, well-performed, well-produced independent cinema. It can be documentary. It can be feature. It can be foreign language. It just has to be good.

You guys are doing shorts, too?
Yes, each feature comes with a short.

How do you choose your films?
Our criteria for the films is they have to have been in one of the top seven film festivals (AFI, Berlin, Cannes, New York, Sundance, Toronto, Venice). So far, everything we’ve bought has won something in those film festivals. We have a panel of curators; Richard Peña from Lincoln Center, Christian Gaines from AFI, Nicole Guillemet, who used to be at Sundance [currently director of Miami International Film Festival], Nate Kohn [director, Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival]—really good professional curators. They have to sign off on the films. They are the best of the festival films. What we’re really doing is bringing Sundance to people’s houses as well as to people in the theater community.

How many films do you acquire per year?
We’re doing one a month. So it’s twelve per year. We’ve acquired the first nine, and we’ll probably round out the year here [in January] and start our next year at Cannes.

How do you work with a filmmaker in the distribution process?
The filmmaker is truly a partner. They’re a marketing partner, a financial partner; we’re really doing everything together: trailers, posters, campaigns. I’ll play films at film festivals after a theatrical run because I don’t really care what my box office numbers are. For example, El Bola, which technically had its opening in December, is opening theatrically in New Orleans, then it’s playing in a festival in February in San Diego and a bunch of other festivals. The more we’re getting a film out there, the more people know about it and about Film Movement. It really takes the pressure off of that opening weekend because very few films have the marketing dollars behind them to be able to open [big].

At what stage of postproduction should filmmakers approach you? Rough or final, which do you like to get?
So far we haven’t bought anything that wasn’t finished, but if something was a fine cut and was really good we would look at it.

What were the lessons you learned at the Shooting Gallery that you think will help make Film Movement a success?
I learned how to market a movie. I’m proud of what we did at Shooting Gallery, the business was very successful. I learned what consumers want and how to reach them. I think the business has changed in the last five to six years. When you have things coming out on eight and ten thousand screens, it really changes the market, because small distributors can’t get screens and can’t hold screens. It’s become a three-day execution. I don’t believe in that business model anymore, unless if you’re a studio; then it works.

What advice can you give to filmmakers who are looking for distribution?
I think filmmakers need to pay attention to marketing more. It’s one thing to make a movie, it’s another thing to know who’s going to see your film. Your job isn’t done once the film is in the can. Whether it’s the producer or the director, someone involved has to have an idea of where the film is going to go when it’s done. I think very few filmmakers pay attention to that.

About :

Jason Guerrasio was a staff writer for The Independent.