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January 15, 1999 2:00 AM
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Construction Village, Part II: A Mini-Plex Plays the Multi-Plex Game

Game

By Mark J. Huisman




[In this 2-part article, Mark J. Huisman investigates the expansion of
New York City arthouse, Cinema Village into a three-screen mini-plex,
and how director Catherine Gund and distributor Sande Zeig found their
film, "Hallelujah: Ron Athey, A Story of Deliverance" caught amidst
renovation chaos. In Part I, which ran in yesterday's indieWIRE,
Huisman followed the film's repeated opening delays due to unfinished
renovations, their subsequent financial losses, and theater manager Ed
Arentz's attempts to cover-up the problems.]


The construction debacles, however, concern Artistic License's Zeig less
than what happened to "Hallelujah" three days after it finally opened.
On Monday, December 13, citing low box office receipts, Arentz told Zeig
and Gund that "Hallelujah's" run would end that Thursday. Despite the
construction, they were not being offered a hold-over. Zeig and Gund
were infuriated, and both believe Arentz made the decision before
"Hallelujah" even opened.


If "Hallelujah" did not perform well enough to be held over, that poor
performance stems in no small part from the fact the film did not
receive a full week's run. Due to ongoing construction in the two new
theaters, the film had only two screenings daily, not the usual four or
five. Such a reduced schedule would significantly lessen any film's
earning potential, regardless of the circumstances.


"Hallelujah" had a total of sixteen screenings in seven days (two
screenings per day plus two midnight shows Arentz added as a goodwill
gesture) and grossed $2,205. Considering that patrons to the two
opening night screenings did not pay, the practical total of screenings
is fourteen, making the average gross per screening $157.50. Had
"Hallelujah" screened a more normal schedule, it might have done much
better. Based on that average, four bows daily for six days would have
produced $3,780.00; five bows daily for six days would have produced
$4,725.00. Both figures would have been entirely respectable grosses
given the construction, listings and review misses and the near complete
absence of paid advertising. Zeig even laments that they didn't know
about the midnight screenings, which can actually be an asset for the
right film.


"In New York, you need to advertise midnight screenings," she says. "We
couldn't maximize that potential audience because we didn't know it
would be an option. But we wouldn't even have needed them if we'd been
given full days."


"Everything Arentz did to us damaged us," says director Gund. "The last
delay happened so unexpectedly that our reviews had already come out.
Even worse, the listings were all over the place. The same issue of the
Voice that published a review listed Cinema Village as ‘Theater closed
for renovation.' Ed never bothered to have those listings changed. He
didn't even advertise that the theater was opening."


"There was an audience for this film," Gund continues. "Ron's fan base
alone would have filled the theater for two days. We cooperated with Ed
at every waking turn. And he didn't give us a chance. It's unreal that
‘run' counts as a week."


"I wouldn't have had a problem just with the theater being in disrepair
if we had been held over," Zeig says. "Ed opened us in a theater that
wasn't ready to be occupied by the public. OK. We cleaned his theater
and bought drinks for his customers. OK. But he made a commitment to
another film without telling me. He knew way before Monday that was
happening. Ed made my run into a one-week lock without negotiating that
deal point. And that is not OK. I should have advertised as a one-week
exclusive. That's a valuable tool. Ed Arentz irreparably damaged the
New York opening of ‘Hallelujah.' This is the worst experience I've had
in ten years of distribution."


At last, one other distributor agrees. Ken Eisen of Shadow Releasing
was scheduled to open a film in mid-November, the French language "Port
Djema." It was pushed as often as "Hallelujah," resulting in similar
review and listings chaos. The film finally opened at Cinema Village on
January 1, two months late. "The delays were certainly damaging," says
Eisen. "We did worse than we would have if our reviews in the Voice and
Time Out were timely. But our only timely review was a mixed New York
Times piece."


Fox Lorber's release of "The Emperor's Shadow," however, somehow managed
to escape all the chaos experienced by the films surrounding it on
Cinema Village's calendar. If Arentz were simply pushing each and every
film in succession, Shadow should have opened after "Port Djema," which
was not the case. In addition, Shadow was the first film since the
theater re-opened to actually have its listings actually match its
opening date.


The New York Times Arts & Leisure section, for example, had incorrect
listings under its "Opening this Week" film banner on both November 30
and December 6. But on December 13, The Times listed "The Emperor's
Shadow" as opening the following Friday, the 18th, which was correct.
(Subsequent Times listings were also correct, including a December 27
listing for "Port Djema's" January 1 debut.) That Shadow was only
listed once at exactly the right time suggests that both the booking and
the listing were confirmed long before Arentz pushed "Hallelujah" out.


In fact, had Zeig's office subscribed to early delivery of Arts &
Leisure, which is available every Wednesday to film companies by
subscription, she might have been tipped off about her film's future.
She would have received the December 14 Arts & Leisure (which contained
the Friday opening notice for "The Emperor's Shadow") on December 9, two
full days before "Hallelujah" even opened.


The biggest confirmation of Zeig's belief that Arentz misled her came
not from printed material, but from a Fox Lorber employee, who spoke on
condition of anonymity and revealed their film's opening date had long
been confirmed. "December 18 was the only opening date we had ever been
given," the person said. "I don't recall the exact date we received the
booking, but it was weeks earlier."


Regardless of what one believes about this unfortunate situation, the
experience Zeig and Gund had with Arentz at Cinema Village is part and
parcel for an industry practice governed not by contracts but by verbal
agreements and personal relationships. While most of the individuals
interviewed for this article (with the notable exceptions of Zeig and
Gund) expressed confidence about their future relationships with Cinema
Village, at least one filmmaker was nervous enough to demand anonymity
to express some reservations.


"Ed's behavior looks exactly like the way the big companies, like
Miramax and Sony Classics, treat multiplex owners," said the director,
who has a film on Cinema Village's upcoming calendar. "You either show
their films when they want, or you don't get them. And smaller,
deserving films that already get trampled by big marketing budgets get
trampled yet again by exhibitors who are afraid to buck those demands.
Except here, the theater is doing the trampling."


The filmmaker expressed hope that Cinema Village's two new theaters
would indeed prove new venues for everything from 16mm features and
documentaries to filmmakers who are self-distributing. But he did have
a familiar concern. "There are so few new screens being built. And
this situation makes one wonder who's really going to be able to access
those new screens -- the usual suspects or really independent
filmmakers?"




Letter to the Editor: Response to Cinema Village Article


Dear Editor:


I would like to deposit my two cents into your coverage of Ed Arentz and
Cinema Village. I would appreciate if this letter could be shared with your
IndieWIRE readers.


Let me begin by saying that I do not know Sande Zeig, nor am I aware of the
specific circumstances surrounding the delayed opening of "Hallelujah."
However, I am working with distributors whose films were planned for screening
at Cinema Village but became delayed due to the construction work at the
theater. However, none of the distributors whom I represent encountered
anything described in the Mark J. Huisman article. Ed Arentz has been a
complete professional in helping our distributors in rescheduling their
opening dates, and none of my distributors have expressed any bitterness or
regrets in working with him and his theater. Indeed, the Ed Arentz whom I
deal with bears absolutely no resemblance to the Ed Arentz in your article.


I have worked with all of the art house theater managers and programmers in
New York and Ed Arentz is, hands down, the best in the business. Other
theaters have cancelled openings without rescheduling the films, or have
postponed films a few days prior to the announced premiere, or have "helped"
in the marketing of the films with such utter incompetence that it boggles the
mind. One theater, now defunct, was actually shut down by the fire department
four days prior to the opening of a client's film! The only theater where I
have never had any of these disasters is Cinema Village. Ed Arentz and his
staff have been friendly, courteous, honest and insightful in all regards to
the presentation of my clients' films. I truly wish there were more people
like Ed in this business, for he brings an edge of class and dignity which is
sadly missing in Mr. Huisman's text and Ms. Zeig's commentary.


Thank you.


Phil Hall

Open City Communications




Village Voice Clarifies Reasons for Pulling Huisman's Cinema Village
Piece


In Mark J. Huisman's article about the difficulties that Catherine Gund
faced during her premiere at New York's Cinema Village, the writer
indicated that the piece was "pulled" by The Village Voice (the article
was first assigned to Huisman as a 200-word news item for the Voice).
In his two part indieWIRE piece, Huisman infered that the article
was yanked as a result of an angry call made by Cinema Village
manager Ed Arentz to the Voice. This week, Village Voice Film
Editor Abby Nolan told indieWIRE the article was not pulled, but
that Huisman himself withdrew it.


Nolan says that for "fact-checking and fairness purporses," the Voice
decided to wait on publication until the details of the article were
fleshed out. "The article was more complicated and we would need
another week to deal with it," she maintained. Nolan says the
fact that the indieWIRE version of the article was published nearly
a month later and over 2,000 words were added testifies to the
truth of her claims that the piece needed additional work. [Anthony Kaufman]


>> RELATED ARTICLES @ indieWIRE.com:

+ BIZ: Construction Village, Part I: Debris and Debacle

http://www.indiewire.com/biz/biz_990114_ConstructionVil.html

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