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October 1, 1997 2:00 AM
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Cohen Discusses Plans For Stratosphere Entertainment

Cohen Discusses Plans For Stratosphere Entertainment

by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE


If reactions in the media are any indication, executives at indie distributors must feel at least somewhat threatened by the announcement late last week that financier Carl Ichan is investing $50 million to create Stratosphere Entertainment, a new distributor of independent films. Paul Cohen, the President and CEO of Stratosphere Entertainment, discussed the new company with indieWIRE yesterday.

Presumably commenting on the significant media attention generated by the company's formation, Cohen said, "I think the attention to the company is justified and wonderful, this is a major step."

One article which had some in the indie community buzzing yesterday was a Hollywood trade story quoting "film industry sources" who speculated that Ichan's investment may only be worth $2 million. When asked about the report, Cohen initially refused comment, then stated, "I am sorry about The Hollywood Reporter's new type of journalism. Carl has gone on the record that he is going to fund the company with $50 million -- that is my understanding." Other film executives have willingly gone on the record with comments about the new venture. Quoted in a follow-up New York Times article yesterday, Miramax Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein stated, "They all want to be me. But imitation, while the highest form of flattery, is also a recipe for failure."

Some articles have branded as failures the two companies where Paul Cohen gained now-valuable distribution experience -- Analysis Films and Aries Films Releasing. During his tenure at both companies, Cohen released numerous arthouse films, including, "Mephisto," "My Brilliant Career," "Caligula," "The Chosen," "The Icicle Theif," "My Twentieth Century," and "Bad Lieutenant." When asked about the lessons his experiences offer, Cohen related, "In the past I tried to grow companies," clarifying that he now believes, "as much attention has to be paid to the financial structure as to the films you acquire. If the company is not designed to follow that, you are in trouble."

Cohen is publicly prepared to assume the burden of proving skeptics wrong, revealing that the task of finding the company's first release is his own, he stated, "Initially the success of the company is on my shoulders. I am certainly going to lead." Cohen said that he is aggressively searching for Stratosphere's first release, explaining that he hopes to announce an acquisition soon, and plans to release the film in February or March of next year. Cohen offered that Stratosphere will only focus on theatrical distribution, leaving the ancillary markets to companies they form strategic alliances with, "There is no pressure," he concluded, "We just want to find the very best pictures we can."

Stratosphere plans to grow into a slate of no more than a dozen releases a year. The company will maintain headquarters in New York and plans to hire a staff of 8-10 people shortly.

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