New Kid on the Block: Fine Line's Mark Ordesky
by Tom Cunha
After months of reported staff turmoil and structural uncertainty, Fine
Line Features finally has its revamped team intact. Heading the new regime
is the recently appointed Mark Ordesky (replacing Ruth Vitale), who, in
addition to being appointed president, will still maintain responsibilities
as head of acquisitions and co-productions for the arthouse division of New
Line Cinema. Ordesky joined New Line in 1988 as a story editor in the
development department. Eventually growing dissatisfied with the
time-absorbing process of development, he shifted to acquisitions in 1991,
scouting product for both New Line and Fine Line. Having been intricately
involved in acquiring some of the company's most successful projects,
including "Rumble in the Bronx," (1996) and "Shine," (1996) Ordesky hopes
to continue to "produce and acquire the best independent films out there
and to return the pride, the prestige and the profit for us and for the
Other staff changes included the departures of executive VP Jonathan Weisgal
and executive VP of marketing Liz Manne as well the promotions of Marian
Koltai-Levine and Brian Caldwell (to co-senior VPs of marketing) and Juli
Goodwin (to VP of publicity).
Fine Line was formed in 1991, and has earned its prestigious reputation
with such critical highlights as "The Rapture" (1991), "My Own Private
Idaho," (1991), Robert Altman's "The Player," (1992) and "Short Cuts,"
(1993) as well as current releases "Deconstructing Harry" and "The Sweet
Hereafter." Their upcoming slate for 1998 includes "The Theory of Flight,"
which stars Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham-Carter, John Waters'
"Pecker," with Edward Furlong and Christina Ricci, "Passion in the Desert,"
which is based on a Balzac novella and "Legend of the Pianist on the
Ocean," with Tim Roth.
indieWIRE met with Ordesky at the Sundance Film Festival, just days after his new
appointment, to discuss his new position, the festival (which Fine Line
ultimately went home from empty-handed) and the business of film
indieWIRE: There's been a lot of talk that Fine Line will be gearing more
towards acquisitions. Is this true?
Mark Ordesky: No. It's an absolute impossibility to drive a distribution
slate through acquisitions. You'll have four films a year, if you're lucky.
We're going to be doing production and acquisition. What we're not going to
be doing, and this is where the confusion came from, is long term
speculative development. Meaning the long term development of novels,
plays, magazine articles. This is all fine and well, but it could take two
years to get something from a novel or a magazine article to get it in the
form of a script that you could take to a director or a producer or so on.
iW: Why doesn't long term development work for Fine Line?
Ordesky: I find [development] to be a kind of studio approach to
filmmaking. I find that independent films seem to be assembled a little
more at the early stages by the producers, totally separate of any
distributor or financier. And that usually these producers want to set the
tone and vibe of a project, at least a first or second draft of a script,
before they try to involve various potential distributors and financiers.
It's what I call progress to production as opposed to long term
development. My goal is that the term "development hell" never be applied
to Fine Line.
iW: Do you plan to run things differently?
Ordesky: I don't want to imply any kind of disrespect for regimes prior so
maybe the best way to say it is this: These organizations tend to take on
the natures of the people who are running them. The crew that we now have
in place at Fine Line are all young, very enthusiastic people. They are all
veterans of the independent film scene. They're all in their thirties, if
not their twenties in some cases, and it reflects a kind of energy and
freshness of approach. I'd like to focus on the areas where I feel more
comfortable, which is the independent film scene. That's maybe the key
iW: Do you think you're going to be picking up anything at Sundance?
Ordesky: Couldn't say for certain. I've seen a lot of terrific films up
here, but my job is to identify films for finance and distribution within
an economic reality so that our company can not only do a terrific job
producing or distributing these films, but also can return a profit to
ourselves and to the people who made the films. There's a handful of films
and scripts every year where you throw the rule book out the window.
"Shine" is an example. You see "Shine" and you don't crunch numbers. A film
that brilliant you just get, whatever it takes. Then there are films, good
films, terrific films, but films where you have to apply a certain degree
of analysis in your thinking and you say to yourself, "This is a terrific
film and we think we can do terrific business with it within a context."
And if we're going to operate within that context then that means we have
to look at what we have available to spend. Spend to acquire it or produce
it and then to market it.
iW: So do you feel like too much money is being spent on some of these films?
Ordesky: It's a subjective call. I believe that every single company that
paid these large amounts for these films believe, they believe, that
they're not paying too much and that everyone else is just not bidding
enough. Typically the marketplace will determine who paid too much and who
didn't bid enough. Certainly last year's Sundance slate, there's numerous
articles written about the relative lack of success of those films in the
marketplace theatrically in the time that followed. As much as I liked
these films, obviously I felt that the business that they were going to do
was beyond the level which we were comfortable bidding at. But I must
stress, it's a subjective game. When you work at other companies, you have
to respect that. I've done deals where people at other companies have said
to me, "You're a moron for spending X." I've been on the receiving end so I
don't want to be dishing it out because I certainly didn't appreciate
iW: What's the best advice anyone's ever given you?
Ordesky: The best advice I've ever been given was by Michael De Luca, who
is president of production for New Line. Back when I was director of
development for New Line and I was really not all that happy cause even
back then I really had an aversion to the long term development process. I
wanted to see development as a means to an end, not as a process unto
itself and I was frustrated. A job came open in the acquisitions department
at New Line and I went to De Luca and said, "I know that development is
supposed to be the thing that everyone aspires to do in L.A., but I'm
really unhappy." Back then, no one read about acquisitions on the front
page of the trades. Acquisitions was like this weird bastard stepchild of
Anyway, he looked at me and he said, "You should switch." I switched and
because I did there was "The Lawnmower Man," there was "Once Were
Warriors," there was "Shine," there was "Rumble in the Bronx." These are
all things that I was directly affiliated with and they never would have
come to me through the development process. They were either finished films
or they were scripts and productions that were not part of the development
universe, but more part of the independent production universe. All my
greatest triumphs have come from that world and that's why I love it. So
that was, definitely, without fail, the best advice I ever got.