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DAILY NEWS: Estes and Rosenfelt Come Clean on Company Plans; Brand New Distributor, SearchParty, On

DAILY NEWS: Estes and Rosenfelt Come Clean on Company Plans; Brand New Distributor, SearchParty, On the Look Out for 100 Films a Year!



by Anthony Kaufman/indie/WIRE


(indieWIRE/01.10.01) -- "When most people are looking for a reason to say,
'No,' we're looking for a reason to say, 'Yes'," says Larry Estes, voicing
the unofficial motto of his new independent distribution company,
SearchParty Films, which has been operating secretly as early as last May.
Estes and fellow producer Scott Rosenfelt will serve as co-chairmen of the
new company, with Richard Abramowitz, formerly of Stratosphere, Unapix, and RKO Pictures Distribution, serving as the marketing and distribution head.


During the Sundance Film Festival next week, the company will announce eight
film acquisitions, and a "relationship" with noted author and "Smoke
Signals
" screenwriter Sherman Alexie, as a creative client. "Not only will
we help him produce the films that he's writing and even directing,"
explains Estes, "but we'll also be his representative and distributor, in
some cases." Estes and Rosenfelt produced "Smoke Signals" under the banner
of their first company, ShadowCatcher Entertainment.


The two veteran producers -- with credits as diverse as "Home Alone,"
"Mystic Pizza" and "The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human" -- decided to start a distribution company after another ShadowCatcher production, 1998's
"Getting to Know You" "missed the bar theatrically, even though it got
tremendous reviews," says Rosenfeld. "So we kind of just said, 'This is a
good time to start a new, fresh perspective on distribution.'"


According to Estes and Rosenfelt, this "fresh perspective" consists of
rejecting the notion that only movies that are "mass market-oriented and
appeal to a wide swath are worth putting out," notes Estes. "Forces are
pressuring out the smaller, off-beat films. We feel like someone has to
focus on helping films that are not obvious."


Estes and Rosenfelt indicate that the distribution model for the company
will be akin to what the Shooting Gallery Film Series accomplished, by
showcasing films in different markets at different times. "We may end up
putting as many as 15 or 20 out a year, but they won't be playing at lots of
cities at the same time," says Estes. "We're trying to find where they fit
and fit them, rather than dismiss them because they're not going to play in
12 cities at once." "We're not banking our entire financial model on whether
each individual film hits a certain number at the box office," adds Scott.


Commenting on the distribution model, Abramowitz, who was responsible for
putting out such titles as "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl" and "Hideous Kinky" for Stratosphere, indicates, "We're trying to find a way to help to create
an environment where these films can be seen, at least, initially. And if
the films meet with some kind of success theatrically, roll them out more
aggressively and make ancillary deals to get them seen."


When pressured about the fact that the market is already glutted with too
many films, Abramowitz responds, "It's easy to say that if you're not a
filmmaker whose film isn't getting released. The marketplace is brutal, it's
cluttered with films, but it makes me think of that line in 'Amadeus,' when
the Emperor tells Mozart, 'It's great, but there are too many notes.' And
Mozart says, 'Absolutely sir, just tell me which ones to remove.' Of course,
there are too many movies being made and released, but none of them are the
ones I'm involved with."


As to the number of films the company will acquire per year, SearchParty has
an impressive goal. "We actually want as many as we can get our hands on
that we feel are worthy of attention," explains Estes. "The plan calls for
as many as a 100 per year -- not all theatrical, of course -- but if you
look at all the media, we feel comfortable with 100 titles a year, which
means largely documentary features, largely foreign language features."
(Incidentally, Estes noted some of his foreign favorites, the kind of films
he feels are missing in the market today: Truffaut's "Day for Night,"
Fellini's "Amarcord," and Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala.") By collecting "an increasing number of these independent films," Estes says of SearchParty's
financial model, "they'll have the kind of group appeal of a studio library
and be more valuable as a group."


In addition to theatrical distribution, SearchParty will also serve as a
producer's rep, an ancillary sales company, a video and DVDs marketer, a
custom CD label for film soundtracks, and an online film marketing company.
Estes and Rosenfelt will be based in Seattle, while Abramowitz will carry
out his duties in New York and Kjehl Rasmussen, SearchParty's Head of
Business Affairs and Sales, is based in Los Angeles. [Anthony Kaufman]


[For more information, SearchParty's web site is at:
www.searchpartyfilms.com.]

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