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DAILY NEWS: What's Next For The Shooting Gallery? Questions Linger After Emotional Friday at TSG

DAILY NEWS: What's Next For The Shooting Gallery? Questions Linger After Emotional Friday at TSG



by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE


(indieWIRE/06.25.01) -- The Shooting Gallery (TSG), which was acquired by
Itemus, Inc. in a deal that closed just two months ago, appears to be at a
critical stage. On Friday afternoon, an emotional Larry Meistrich, Shooting
Gallery Founder and CEO, met with his entire staff to discuss a situation
that publicly unraveled last week. Without enough money to pay employees
beginning today (Monday), all staffers were essentially given their walking
papers. Yet, it's the unofficial nature of the announcement that has many
wondering what will happen next.


"We are not laid off, but it looks bad," one staffer told indieWIRE shortly
after the meeting. "They told everyone (all divisions) that they cannot pay
us (for the) next pay period. Shooting Gallery is basically telling us to
clean out our desks and not come in on Monday, unless we want to."


Word of the Shooting Gallery situation spread quickly via telephone calls
and email over the weekend, as executives and staffers tried to make sense
of the situation. Itemus representatives and top Shooting Gallery executives
did not return calls or emails seeking comment on the situation. Those who
did discuss Friday's developments did so only on the condition of anonymity.
Employees who spoke with indieWIRE indicated that they are immediately
pursuing other options outside the company. But many are expected to appear
at the office today, if only to pack up.


According to numerous people who attended the 3 p.m. gathering in the TSG
conference room, Meistrich was initially too consumed with emotion to speak.
Returning a few moments later, Meistrich -- unable to discuss the situation
in detail for legal reasons -- reiterated that employees are not officially
being let go, but staffers were told specifically that there is no guarantee
that those who show up for work today will be paid. The stunned group of as
many as 50 employees -- including those from the company's Gun For Hire
production division -- sat quietly during the gathering; others cried as
Meistrich spoke.


Just last week, Itemus Inc. -- a young Internet consulting company --
announced that it was seeking to raise at least $10 million by the end of
September and indicated that it would likely need to cover a $10 million
Shooting Gallery debt. It added that the financial situation at TSG had
"deteriorated substantially." Itemus admitted that there was "no guarantee
of a successful outcome" given the current state of the market. Reuters
reported that Itemus stock was down 42 percent on the news, or 94 percent
off of its annual high.


"They didn't officially close the door," a staffer told indieWIRE. "What was
told to us by Larry Meistrich (was), 'There's no money to pay anybody next
week, you should clean out your desks, but we're going to try whatever we
can to keep it going.'"


Even on Wednesday of last week, company representatives were putting a
positive face on The Shooting Gallery's financial situation. While a company
spokesperson confirmed that its Shooting Gallery Film Series had been
canceled for the fall season, the rep indicated that a spring series was in
the cards and that Meistrich was "still pursuing other options regarding the
film company."


In its announcement last week, Itemus said that it was "considering all
options in regard to its Shooting Gallery investment." A decision was
expected shortly according to the statement.


All eyes will be on Itemus this week. The company will have to address the
fate of Shooting Gallery and it is facing its own internal challenges.
Itemus Chairman and major stockholder Don Tapscott announced his
resignation on Thursday, amidst the departure of two other board members
last week as Itemus announced its financial difficulties and its stock price
dropped. Since transforming itself into an Internet company from a
gold-mining outfit, Itemus made a $45 million deal for Name Inc. in May of
last year and a $22 million deal for Digital 4Sight in December. Compaq
Canada
, another shareholder, invested $10 million in Itemus at the end of
last year. The Shooting Gallery deal was announced in November and closed in
April of this year.


Larry Meistrich formed The Shooting Gallery in 1990 as the Film Commune, an
outfit for New York's independent filmmakers housed in a downtown loft
space. "No one was getting paid," early Shooting Gallery employee Brandon
Rosser
told The Independent Film & Video Monthly in a June 1998 profile of
TSG. "But everyone had the right attitude and was willing to do whatever it
took. And we had a little bit of luck." Meistrich and TSG grew rapidly,
added numerous divisions and have produced, among other films, Nick Gomez'
"Laws of Gravity," Billy Bob Thorton's "Sling Blade," Bob Gosse's "Niagara, Niagara," Hal Hartley's "Henry Fool," Laurence Fishburne's "Once in the Life," Kenneth Lonergan's "You Can Count on Me," and "Julie Johnson."


"Technically we are not laid off, but they don't have money to pay us," a
longtime staffer summarized and reiterated for indieWIRE. "The company is
ending just like it started." [Eugene Hernandez]

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