Q&A with Tom Quinn of Samuel Goldwyn Films

When and why was Samuel Goldwyn Films created?

In the late 1970’s, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. created the Samuel Goldwyn Company, which then later became Samuel Goldwyn Films. He and our president, Meyer Gottlieb, [have] been working together since they created the first incarnation of the Samuel Goldwyn Company. We’re looking to produce films anywhere between $5–10 million, and the flip side to that is, we’re also acquiring films that range from foreign language to English language. Those can be films that we produce, much like "Tortilla Soup", or they can be acquisitions, much like "Raising Victor Vargas.

The mission of Samuel Goldwyn Films is . . .

To produce and acquire films for the US market.

How do you differ from MGM?

We have nothing to do with them. At one time, MGM created a specialty division called Goldwyn Film that had nothing to do with us. The only other relationship is that Sam’s father was the first president, so the "G" in MGM is actually related to the family.

Tell me your affiliation with Fireworks Pictures and Stratosphere Entertainment.

We created a distribution partnership, IDP Distribution, with Fireworks and Stratosphere, two other companies that acquire films. We all acquire and fill the pipeline of IDP [and] sometimes we acquire together. It was basically a much more economical way to have a competitive distribution arm.

What types of films do you seek?

A whole variety. What I’m looking for pretty much runs the gamut of what you will find in specialized film. I think the majority of film that I look for, and Sam is looking for, can pretty much be traced back to his entire slate of films since the early eighties. That encompasses films as far ranging as Sid & Nancy to The Madness of King George. I think our slate now pretty much shows the scope of what we can do, between stuff like The Man from Elysian Fields to Ingmar Bergman’s Faithless to Raising Victor Vargas. We have not done a documentary in some time, but we are certainly looking to find something [we can market theatrically]. Everything that we buy is theatrical. We do not buy for straight-to-video, and we only buy for the US.

Explain what you mean by specialized film.

There are a lot of different types of films that I think qualify as specialized films. One common denominator of what I call specialized film is any release that is six hundred prints or under. That’s really the only common denominator.

Where and how do you find them?

We track the world quite competitively. We will do Cannes, Sundance, Toronto. We’ll also do London screenings when they happen. But on top of that, I will also go to Paris, Guadalajara, Hong Kong. It’s a lot of travel during the year. If you can’t necessarily have a staff to cover the entire world by virtue of pure labor, I think you will have to go out and make relationships that matter so that you are fairly considered with the other distributors. That’s what we try to do. We try to build strong relationships because we are definitely an aggressive buyer, but we’re not a volume buyer. On the flip side, the one thing I’m most proud of is that per film, IDP has had an incredible average, and has done far better than other specialized distributors at some of the major [studios].

How many films do you acquire per year?

About eight films per year, but that number could go up. Honestly, it’s not a quota, and the beauty is if we see something we like, we want to buy it.

How do you work with the filmmakers when preparing their films for release?

It’s an open-door policy. You have so many people you can call to get something done. You can call me. You can call our head of distribution. You can call our head of publicity. You can call Sam. You can call our president, Meyer. It may be too open-door policy, but I feel that’s the kind of place Sam wants to provide to the filmmakers. We want them to be happy with the release. We want them to be involved. Honestly, we don’t want to buy movies where the filmmaker is not going to be involved, because we feel they know the film as well as we do, if not better.

How should filmmakers approach you with their projects?

At any level. If it’s the right project, we’ll pull the trigger. But since we don’t have a quota to fill, it’s very much in line with our taste, and we will not compromise that.

What advice can you give filmmakers seeking distribution?

There are certain signs that spell success: It’s being at the right festival, being in the right section, having the right materials, having the right word-of-mouth before the movie ever gets screened. Making the movie is, unfortunately, half the process. The other half is marketing it. [In] marketing [a film] to an audience, you have to be just as precise, just as passionate, and just as involved. Don’t think that you can turn it over to any random producer rep or a sales agent and just sit back and go on to your next movie. You’ve really got to pay attention, because there’s a lot you can do.

What are some issues Samuel Goldwyn Films faces as an independent distributor at the present time?

Twenty-five plus [specialized] films released in December, all high-quality films from studios. About Schmidt, one of greatest specialized films ever, is really a $5 million indie film, and that is competition. Punch-Drunk Love, one of the most expensive art films I’ve ever seen, is amazing. You’ve just got to be very smart, you have to be very aggressive, and you’ve got to make the right choices. And I would say that so far we have been pretty successful.

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Jason Guerrasio was a staff writer for The Independent.