Ira Deutchman: Movie Producer, Distributor, Exhibitor, Columbia University Professor and Cubs Fan

by Sydney Levine
October 29, 2010 3:30 AM
3 Comments
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By guest blogger, Peter Belsito

To begin, Ira is a special friend of ours, personally and in the business. In the late 1980s when my partner Sydney Levine was buying films for the huge L.A. company Lorimar and then for Republic Pictures, she had hit the glass ceiling careerwise – as many women executives do in film. She then began thinking of a new direction and idea – FilmFinders. This new company would do all the tracking that film buyers, sellers and programmers all over the world had to do regularly, a tedious task repeated many times. Her brainstorm was to put it on a computer database – which then was a new idea – and to sell current film tracking reports in various formats to the industry. She discussed this with Ira then and subsequently I remember the day an envelope from him arrived in the mail. Inside was a 3 inch floppy disk (remember those?) with a post it note on it – ‘try this’. It was a Q&A database and the rest is history. Sydney made FilmFinders into a film industry standard worldwide and managed it successfully for 21 years until she sold it recently to IMDb / Amazon.
Thank you Ira for getting us started!

Ira Deutchman

We're starting Ira's extensive profile with the most recent development, Emerging Pictures, which he started in 2002 with Barry Rebo and Giovanni Cozzi.

Emerging Pictures is now the largest all-digital Specialty Film and Alternate Content theater network in the United States.

Emerging has a network of arts institutions, media arts centers and independent art house theaters, tied together through digital technology – enabling them to cost effectively exhibit art films, documentaries, foreign language films, independent cinema and cultural programming.

The Emerging Cinemas Network currently consists of over 100 venues and is rapidly growing.
__________

PB - So what’s the main problem in our cinema today?

ID – As always the business is in transition. The question is Where to? What’s the potential now? Who knows … Right? ….

The basic problem is how to get product, i.e. cinema, to audiences.

Also – I do not like the term ‘indie’ because it is so broad as to be meaningless. I prefer to describe the type of cinema we are discussing as ‘specialized films’, which means they ARE NOT geared to a mainstream audience.

So I see the main problem today as sustainability. If budgets keep going down, like they are presently, how do we sustain the careers of interesting, important filmmakers who make meaningful if sometimes difficult and artistic films like John Sayles and Steven Soderberg?

How can these filmmakers work and make a living?

So my goal now is to create a long term sustainable infrastructure to return money to these types of filmmakers.

Oh yes, and I must mention that I am not there just yet.

The biggest enemy today in our business are inflated business expectations from the ‘studio mentality’.

What’s good today is that there is clear ground now ahead for new models of distribution and many opportunities. International films often disregard the U.S. and stick to their own infrastructures (government, EU, Media support) but not here. In a sense the US indies are orphans.

That brief lottery mentality of the big dollar Sundance days is gone. The real challenge we have now in the US is getting people to pay for content.

Then we need to move to, to encourage a new wave, a new age of artisanal meaningful filmmaking. Filmmakers must have the freedom to do art or whatever they want to do without financial dependence. So we can get rid of the life and death mentality for each film we make we must build this new distribution structure.

PB - What about the problems of women in the film business today?

ID – I personally have a big history of hiring and mentoring women. To mention a few – Liz Manne, Gillian Armstrong, Nancy Savoca, Maggie Greenwald. I’m proud of them and the associations I’ve had with them. (Don't forget me! - Sydney)

There’s an overriding male dominated esthetic, mentality in the industry. For example, look at all the male critics. When women tap into new uncharted areas of content or style in filmmaking they never get the benefit of the doubt, they are treated differently.

Below is Ira's filmic bio.

Ira’s formative years were spent in Chicago, and even though his family moved often, he considers it his hometown. He went to Northwestern University and studied film.

While a college student , Ira organized the Midwest premiere of A Woman Under the Influence for Director John Cassavetes.


Cassavetes was a major actor and also known for making ‘artsy’, difficult, indie films and pioneering new release modes, so his films were the perfect model for DIY distribution schemes then and even to this day. This film and the work Ira did on getting it out pioneered the subsequent college releases of art films and it led Ira to his first job at Cinema 5 in New York.

To build his career in the film business, he then moved to NYC and he worked at Cinema 5 (per Ira, ‘the Miramax of its day’). Don Rugoff ran it and was a visionary In terms of releasing foreign language films in the U.S. In the late ‘60s, Rugoff had released Z by Costa Gavras, which went on to win the Oscar, and was the model for all subsequent releases.

Z by Costa Gavras

There, at Cinema 5, Ira worked on the releases of:

Swept Away (Lina Wertmuller)
Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmuller)
Harlan County (Barbara Koppel) USA (Oscar, best docu)
Pumping Iron (docu, Schwarzneggar’s first film)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Scenes From A Marriage (Bergman)

The mold was ‘trying to make foreign language films less foreign’. First subtitled versions would go out, and then they would go into a much wider release in an impeccably produced dubbed version, all of which were done by a woman by the name of Paulette Rubenstein.

This was Ira’s first real job. He started in non theatrical sales, then theatrical marketing, then acquisitions. He lasted 2 ½ years and left in 1978. It was a tough job and Don was known as a difficult, if brilliant, boss.

Ira still wanted to make films and he had a script he co-wrote and then tried to sell, a ‘dumb comedy’ about street marijuana joint sellers.

His next job was a short part time stint with Films Inc., the biggest non theatrical distribution company at that time. He set up their theatrical division with Polish Director Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout and worked with a new young employee there by the name of Tom Bernard (now long time co head of Sony Pictures Classics).

He was still trying to make it as a film writer but then the studio United Artists called ….

He was hired to write the catalogue for UA’s non theatrical division, to write synopses of all of their films. As he was doing this, he was approached about working for UA Classics, a new division of United Artists that was spun off from the non-theatrical division to distribute first run foreign language films which for the most part had been produced by UA’s foreign division.

Ira was hired to do the marketing and Tom Bernard did the sales. Their first film was Truffaut’s The Last Metro. Their biggest hit was Diva by director Jean-Jacques Beineix, the success of which caused all the major studios to then set up classics divisions. Ira left there in 1982.

Ira then went to a start up, Cinecom, founded by John Ives and Amir Malin, and it had the same mandate as UA Classics, i.e., successful foreign films. The problem was that they didn’t have the resources to out-bid all the majors’ classics divisions, so they began to look at U.S. indies. (Around this time, the success of John Sayles’ first film, The Return of the Secaucus Seven led distributors to begin to look more closely at U.S. titles.)

The first acquisition was Starstruck by Gillian Armstrong. Then they took Robert Altman’s comeback film with Cher, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, the first film of Peter Newman. Cinecom handled theatrical rights and some of the home video. These above two titles were released the same week to terrible reviews. However, the Altman was a big hit in L.A. (New York was bad) and the company was off and rolling.

These next films all did well for them:

John Sayles’ ‘The Brother From Another Planet’
Greg Nava, Anna Thomas’ ‘El Norte’
Talking heads’ concert film ‘Stop Making Sense’ by Jonathan Demme
‘A Room With A View’ by Merchant / Ivory

This last title proved to be a very big hit for them and they controlled all North American rights. It was nominated for 8 Oscars and won 2.

Ira left in 1987 after some differing views with Amir.

He then worked freelance consulting and producer repping, working on the following films, among others:

‘Sex Lies and Videotape’
‘To Sleep With Anger’
‘Metropolitan’

This last title was sold to New Line Cinema immediately following the Sundance Film Festival. That led to Ira being hired at New Line in December of 1989, to set up and run a new specialized film division, getting New Line back into the smaller film business from which they had started. That division became Fine Line Features. Fine Line was part of ‘a second wave of new high profile indie companies’.
Fine Line’s first films were:

‘An Angel At My Table’ by Jane Campion
‘Trust’ by Hal Hartley

This was a good start and Ira ran the company from 1989 to 1995. Among the many films acquired by Ira during that time were:
‘The Player’ and ‘Short Cuts’ by Robert Altman
‘My Own Private Idaho’ by Gus Van Sant

‘Hoop Dreams’, a feature documentary, which at the time was the most successful non-musical documentary in history.

When Ira exited Fine Line he had a production deal and began again working as a producer. None were done at New Line however, all were indie produced. Among these were:

‘Kiss Me Guido’
‘All I Want To Do’
‘54’ for Miramax

During the next few years, while producing, Ira came to the conclusion that no existing U.S. distribution company was being creative, interested or resourceful enough to reach the niche audiences he had made his career on. He headed back toward distribution by joining an on line distribution and production company called StudioNext. The company produced shorts for web distribution and tried to support filmmakers in the early days of digital feature production.

Filmography Ira Deutchman

Producer
The Speed of Life (2007), directed by Ed Radtke
• World Premiere, Venice Film Festival, Special Jury Prize
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Beauty Remains (2006), directed by Ann Hu, released in the U.S. by Emerging Pictures, in China by China Film Group and Shanghai Film Group.
• World Premiere: Beijing and Shanghai, China

Relative Evil (Ball in the House) (2002), directed by Tanya Wexler
• World Premiere, Toronto Film Festival
• Official Selection, Los Angeles Film Festival
• Florida Film Festival
• Boston Film Festival
• D.C. Independent Film Festival

Interstate 60 (2002), directed by Bob Gale, released worldwide by Fireworks Pictures
• Moscow Film Festival
• St. Louis International Film Festival
• Hollywood Film Festival
• Paris Film Festival

Way Past Cool (2000), directed by Adam Davidson
• Grand Jury Prize: Best Feature Film, San Francisco Black Film Festival
• Hawaii Film Festival
• Newark Black Film Festival

All I Wanna Do (1999), directed by Sarah Kernochan, released in the U.S. by Miramax Films, on DVD by Disney Home Video, released worldwide by Alliance Atlantis

54 (1998), directed by Mark Christopher, released worldwide by Miramax Films
• Deauville Film Festival, France

Kiss Me, Guido (1997), directed by Tony Vitale, released in the U.S. by Paramount Pictures, released worldwide by Capitol Films
• World Premiere: Sundance Film Festival
• The New Festival: the New York Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
• Outfest: Los Angeles Gay Film Festival
• San Francisco Gay Film Festival

Executive Producer
For Real (2008), directed by Sona Jain
• World Premiere, MIAAC (Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council) Film Festival

Brothel (2007), directed by Amy Waddell
• World Premiere, Sedona Film Festival

Red Doors (2005), directed by Georgia Lee, theatrically released by Emerging Pictures, released on DVD by Warner Home Video
• World Premiere: Tribeca Film Festival

The Game of Their Lives (2005), directed by David Anspaugh, theatrically released by IFC Films

The Lucky Ones (2003), directed by Loren-Paul Caplin
• World Premiere: Tribeca Film Festival

Twelve (2001), directed by Daniel Noah
• World Premiere: Austin Film Festival

Center of the World (2001), directed by Wayne Wang, released by Artisan Entertainment

Lulu On the Bridge (1998), directed by Paul Auster, released in the U.S. by Trimark Pictures, released worldwide by Capitol Films
• World Premiere: Cannes Film Festival

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), directed by Alan Rudolph, released in the U.S. by Fine Line Features, released worldwide by Miramax Films
• World Premiere: Cannes Film Festival
• National Society of Film Critics Award: Best Actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh

The Ballad of Little Jo (1993), directed by Maggie Greenwald, released in the U.S. by Fine Line Features, released worldwide by Polygram Entertainment
• World Premiere: Toronto Film Festival
• Nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards

Waterland (1992), directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, released in the U.S. by Fine Line Features, released worldwide by Pandora Films
• World Premiere: Toronto Film Festival

Straight Out of Brooklyn (1991), directed by Matty Rich, released worldwide by The Samuel Goldwyn Co.
• World Premiere: Sundance Film Festival
• Sundance Film Festival: Special Jury Prize

Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989), directed by Paul Bartel, released worldwide by Cinecom

Miles From Home (1988), directed by Gary Sinise, released in the U.S. by Cinecom, released worldwide by J & M Film Sales
• World Premiere, Cannes Film Festival

Other Producer Credits
Associate Producer
Honeydripper (2007) directed by John Sayles
• World Premiere, Toronto Film Festival
• San Sebastian Film Festival
• Opening Night, Independent Film Week
• Top 10 Independent Films: National Board of Review
• Best Independent Film: NAACP Image Awards

Some of My Best Friends (2001)

Consulting Producer CBS TV series, based on the film Kiss Me, Guido
Associate Producer Matewan (1987), directed by John Sayles, released worldwide by Cinecom
• World Premiere: Director’s Fortnight, Cannes Film Festival

Co-Executive Producer Swimming to Cambodia (1987), directed by Jonathan Demme, released worldwide by Cinecom
• World Premiere: Deauville Film Festival
• Nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards

Acting Independent’s Day (1998)
• as himself

From his resume:

Ira Deutchman has been making, marketing and distributing films since 1975, having worked on over 150 films including some of the most successful independent films of all time. He was one of the founders of Cinecom and later created Fine Line Features—two companies that were created from scratch and in their respective times, helped define the independent film business.
Currently Deutchman is Managing Partner of Emerging Pictures, a New York-based digital exhibition company. He is also a Professor of Professional Practice in the Graduate Film Division of the School of the Arts at Columbia University, where he is the head of the Producing Program.

Among the over 60 films he acquired and released at Fine Line were Jane Campion’s “An Angel at My Table,” Gus van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Night on Earth,” Robert Altman’s “The Player” and “Short Cuts,” Roman Polanski’s “Bitter Moon” and “Death and the Maiden,” Alan Rudolph’s “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle,” Mike Leigh’s “Naked,” and the award-winning “Hoop Dreams,” until recently the highest grossing non-music documentary in history.

Prior to Fine Line, as President of The Deutchman Company, he provided marketing consulting services for such films as Steven Soderbergh’s “sex, lies, and videotape” for Miramax, Charles Burnett’s “To Sleep With Anger” for The Samuel Goldwyn Company and Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan” for New Line Cinema.

Previously, Deutchman was one of the founding partners and President of Marketing and Distribution for Cinecom Entertainment Group, the film distribution company known for such diverse releases as Merchant/Ivory’s “A Room with a View,” Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense,” Gregory Nava’s “El Norte” and John Sayles’ “The Brother From Another Planet.”
While at United Artists Classics, Films Incorporated and Cinema 5 Ltd., highlights included Lina Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties” and “Swept Away,” Barbara Koppel’s “Harlan County, USA,” Jean-Jacques Beineix’s “Diva,” and Francois Truffaut’s “The Last Metro.” While still in college, he organized and marketed the midwest premiere of John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence.”
His screen credits include Associate Producer of John Sayles’ “Matewan“ and his most recent film “Honeydripper;” Executive Producer of Jonathan Demme’s “Swimming to Cambodia,” Gary Sinise’s “Miles From Home,” Paul Bartel’s “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills,” Matty Rich’s “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” Stephen Gyllenhaal’s “Waterland,” Maggie Greenwald’s “The Ballad of Little Jo,” Alan Rudolph’s “Mrs. Parker & the Vicious Circle,” Paul Auster’s “Lulu On the Bridge,” Wayne Wang’s “Center of the World,” Daniel Noah’s “Twelve,” Anthony Jaswinski’s “Killing Time,” Loren-Paul Caplin’s “The Lucky Ones,” Amy Wadell’s “Brothel” and Georgia Lee’s “Red Doors;” and Co-Producer of David Anspaugh’s “The Game of Their Lives.” Deutchman was the Producer of Tony Vitale’s “Kiss Me, Guido,” Sarah Kernochan’s “All I Wanna Do,” Mark Christopher’s “54,” Adam Davidson’s “Way Past Cool,” Bob Gale’s “Interstate 60,” Tanya Wexler’s “Relative Evil,” Ann Hu’s “Beauty Remains” and Ed Radtke’s “Speed of Life.”
He was also Consulting Producer on the CBS sitcom “Some of My Best Friends.”
He is a graduate of Northwestern University, with a major in film.

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3 Comments

  • Anna Thomas | October 31, 2010 3:15 AMReply

    Such a nice profile of Ira! Well deserved. He has been a real champion in the American independent film movement, and I will always remember how smart and visionary he was in planning the release and the campaign for El Norte. It was a pleasure to work with him -- and an education.

  • Jürgen Boden | October 30, 2010 4:40 AMReply

    Great infos about an important player in an otherwise rather opaque (at least for me) industry. Many thanks!

  • J. Todd Harris | October 30, 2010 3:24 AMReply

    Thank god for people like Ira. I'm rooting for him to bring about sanity and profitability to the specialized film world. Thanks for this piece.

    - Todd

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