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ISA of the Day: Shoreline Entertainment: A Discussion with Founder and Head Morris Ruskin

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by Peter Belsito
November 5, 2013 8:30 AM
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Shoreline Entertainment's '7 Boxex' (7 Cajas)

International Sales Agents are the core of the current international film market system – i.e., the buying and selling of films worldwide. Half of the approximately 450 worldwide ISAs are based in LA, the rest spread around the globe, but it matters little in a business sense where they are based. They gather together during the upcoming American Film Market November 6 in Santa Monica, California, in Berlin at the European Film Market February 6, 2014, and at the Cannes Marche in May as well as other events around the world to license rights to their films to distributors coming from every corner of the world. Their films also originate from every corner of the world.

Shoreline has been selling to the international film market since 1992. Morris Ruskin sat down last week for a chat with me here in LA. I sum up our discussion as follows, after I add that Morris’ friendship and professionalism (and good taste!), is in general one of the principal reasons we like this film business. When we travel, which is frequent, it is people like Morris who light up the distant locations for us and, while both of us are L.A. based, we often only see each other throughout the year at various film business related events in remote places such as Cannes, Berlin, Bahamas., etc.

Morris Ruskin was born in South Africa to anti-Apartheid parents. He left there, along with parents and three older sisters, at age 9, to move to Boston where his Dad went to Harvard Business School. Then they moved to Bermuda for 3 years. When Morris was 15 his mother attended graduate school at UCLA School of Theater. There he met Athol Fugard, the South African playwright about whom his mother did her dissertation.

Many years later, Morris Executive Produced Master Harold & the Boys and dedicated the movie to his mother. He fell in love with L.A. and the movies in high school in L.A. His best friend lured him into filmmaking through Super 8 films which they recreated --movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Blues Brothers. Attending UCLA he wrote screenplays, some of which were optioned and he became an intern at MTV, an experience he considered at that time to be “the new frontier” of entertainment.

He soon became employed at Zupnik Entertainment Enterprises, staying for 6 years. He began as a script reader, then moved up to become the Director of Development and finally became a Vice President. His high water mark there was as a Co-Producer for the high profile very successful film, Glengarry Glen Ross.

Shoreline Entertainment's Morris Ruskin

He began Shoreline in 1992 on his own with a financial partner. It started as a production company. He then had operating money to run the company but NO income. Projects were set up at New Line, Warner Brothers and various sales companies but they all got stuck in development. He figured out that there were two viable ways to make money in the business – selling movies worldwide and managing talent. Because he worked very closely with the sales company, New Line, on Glengarry Glen Ross, he decided to start a sales company. In 1995 he hired sales people to sell films and within six months he had three films in play. Morris says this meant “we were off to the races”. He then began to pick up / or acquire other films to sell.

He continues to branch out. In 2012 he formed a management company for directors, writers and writer / directors.

When we spoke he was intensely proud of a new film he served as Executive Producer on, Pablo, which was opening the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival this past October. This is a Spanish language feature documentary about graphic artist, trailer and title maker, Pablo Ferro, narrated by Jeff Bridges. Pablo was Kubrick’s title designer. Born in Cuba, he migrated as a teen to New York and had, as Morris expresses it, “a rags to riches and back to rags life”. The documentary is a representation for how difficult it can be to make it as an artist in the business. Perhaps it resonates with Morris as he has been able to successfully balance the art of filmmaking with the business side of selling movies.

For Morris Shoreline is a “purposely eclectic” company. His team acquires and sells feature narrative films and documentaries. They pick up “foreign language” (meaning – non English language) films and art house indies. On the commercial side they sell “genre” pictures, thrillers, horror.

Now that sales are successful, Morris now focuses his daily work on management, production, financing. He has produced approximately fifty films. Two of those films were directed by his high school friend who introduced him to filmmaking through Super 8 movies! Shoreline tends to be very loyal to the filmmakers it works with. If it picks up someone’s finished film, often Morris works with that filmmaker to produce the next film and perhaps even to manage him or her. As a producer Morris has had many award winning films and multiple films in Sundance and at The Toronto International Film Festival.

He has started a film financing company called Watermark. His partners here are the Swiss / London based Blue Pencil Investments. They will raise equity money for films, will give MGs (aka minimum guarantees) and sales advances. They will take all rights to world markets and license them to distributors through Shoreline.

A film he used to outline his way of working was the 2005 Sundance hit Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School, a romantic film about a couple meeting in a charm school, starring Robert Carlyle, Marisa Tomei, John Goodman and a cameo from Danny DeVito. These elements gave it heat for sales – Sundance, good cast, mini majors involved and CAA. Lots of CAA talent were cast in film. CAA was also brought in to sell U.S. rights post and during Sundance. Goldwyn acquired the film for U.S. distribution. For this deal CAA was proof (to the market) that the film had “the best elements”.

Another successful film out of Sundance in 2007 was The Signal which had a USD $50,000 budget and made over $3 million USD from the U.S. alone.

Kees Van Oostrum's 'A Perfect Man'

Shoreline acquires and sells lots of Spanish language films now. Some recent titles are Rabbit Woman, The Precocious and Brief Life of Sabina Rivas and 7 Boxes which has been to as many as seventy five film festivals.

Morris’ main philosophy for Shoreline films is, “get the films out in the biggest way possible”. Often these days this means going firstly to festivals as there is often no theatrical release. Festivals can lead to or even replace theatrical. Festivals spread the word, help marketing, get films seen and reviewed, and can even mean income when a festival will pay a screening fee.

Some recent titles he is proud of include A Perfect Man with Liev Schreiber which will be released theatrically in North America by IFC on November 1st, A Farewell To Fools with Harvey Keitel and Gerard Depardieu which will be released theatrically in North America by Monterey Media in the Spring. (About Liev Schreiber Morris says “a good name really helps” and he says that sometimes the films with known cast sell best). Also The Geography Club, which premiered at OutFest and will be released theatrically in North America by Breaking Glass on November 15th, the aforementioned 7 Boxes which will also be released theatrically in North America by Breaking Glass in February, and Baal Shem Tov, a Jewish film in clay animation which Morris says is a very rare film medium and because it belongs in a niche which has attracted much attention.

+++++++++++++

Shoreline’s website says the following about Morris’ work and career.

During the course of producing more than fifty films, Morris has structured deals that incorporate deferments, soft money and international co-productions in order to create financially-viable motion pictures. These productions focus on bankable genre content and star-driven projects that can secure success in a sometimes-uneven marketplace.

Notable amongst such productions are the modern classic Glengarry Glen Ross (Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin) which led to an Academy Award Nomination for Al Pacino; The Man from Elysian Fields (Andy Garcia, Mick Jagger, Angelica Huston); The Visit (nominated for four Spirit Awards) and Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School (John Goodman, Marisa Tomei, Octavia Spencer, Robert Carlyle, Danny DeVito).

Morris is no stranger to the festival circuit having films in the most distinguished festivals worldwide such as the Toronto International Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, and Sundance, where The Signal was sold in a multi million dollar bidding war hours after the world premiere.

Morris’s productions have spanned a variety of genres and locations, from a stereoscopic RealD 3D-animated film based on a comic book being released by Anchor Bay (The Amazing Adventures of the Living Corpse) to a wartime dark comedy starring Harvey Keitel and Gérard Depardieu (A Farewell to Fools). A documentary narrated by Jeff Bridges (Pablo), a co-production shot on location in China ( Wushu Warrior) a comedy that was the opening night gala film at Slamdance (Weirdsville), an action thriller shot in India starring Harvey Keitel (Beeper), a heist crime caper starring

Timothy Olyphant that premiered in The Berlin International Film Festival (High Life) and a South African feature dedicated to Morris’s mother (Master Harold And the Boys).

By consistently developing and acquiring projects that are attractive to domestic and foreign markets alike, Morris has ensured for over twenty years that Shoreline remains a stable yet versatile and ever-evolving organization.

+++++++++++

The website describes Shoreline like this:

Sebastián Silva's 'The Maid'

Established by Morris Ruskin in 1992, Shoreline Entertainment's Worldwide Sales, Production, and Management divisions comprise one of the longest-running and most-respected film companies in the industry.

Shoreline presents itself via its quality participation at more than 15 major media markets and festivals a year and positions itself to nourish continuous relationships with broadcasters, distributors and festival programmers.

Shoreline has represented numerous award-winning films that have premiered at high profile Festivals such as Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Tribeca, Rotterdam and San Sebastian, as well as films nominated for Spirit Awards and Golden Globes.

Such films include: The Man From Elysian Fields, 7 Boxes, Father’s Chair, Un Mundo Secreto, Freaky Deaky, Zona Sur, Undertow, Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School, Weirdsville, High Life, The Signal, and The Maid.

Shoreline’s advertising presence includes a long-standing deal with the Hollywood Reporter for its back cover on the dailies during the Toronto International Film Festival, American Film Market, European Film Market (Berlinale), and Marche Du Film (Cannes).Moreover, Shoreline’s marketing efforts include sponsorship of the Buyers Lounge during the American Film Market. With more than 20 years of experience, Shoreline’s momentum is greater than ever.

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Lastly, some useful links to various that Shoreline supplied to us –

Here is a link to our website:

www.slefilms.com

Here is a link to an article Screen did on Watermark – which is the company we set up with Blue Pencil Investments to finance films -

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/PDFS/screendaily-bluepencil.pdf

Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori's '7 Boxes'

The number of festivals 7 Boxes has played in to date is 75. It will be released theatrically in North America by Breaking Glass in February. It all started for 7 Boxes in San Sebastian. This year we had Rabbit Woman there, so we hope for the same success. Tom Davia is our director of festivals and alternative theatrical.

Here is a link to all the markets we attend:

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/markets.html

Here is a link to the YouTube Baby Panda Sneezing that went viral

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAcdvmnZ_GM

From this they made a family adventure film which we picked up. Here is a link to the film on our website:

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/SneezingBabyPanda.html

We’ve had success with family films and this is a title that is attracting a lot of interest from buyers.

Other hot AFM titles include:

A Perfect Man with Liev Schreiber who has heat from his new show Donavan.

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/PerfectMan.html

A Farewell to Fools which stars Gerard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/Ipu.html

The Amazing Adventures of the Living Corpse which was bought by Anchor Bay for North America, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/Corpse.html

Sascha Hartmann's 'Sir Bill'

Sir Billi which is a family animated film with the voice of Sean Connery.

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/SirBilli.html

Freaky Deaky which is based on the novel by Elmore Leonard and stars Billy Burke, Christian Slater, Michael Jai White and Crispin Glover.

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/FreakyDeaky.html

The Geography Club which won the Audience Award at Outfest and will be released theatrically by Breaking Glass in November.

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/GeographyClub.html

Hidden Moon which stars Wes Bentley

http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/HiddenMoon.html

was nominated for EIGHT prestigious SILVER GODDESS AWARDS, given by the

Mexican Film Press and Critics / PECIME on their 42nd. edition in 2013. The Silver Goddess Award is the most prestigious film award in Mexico.

1) Best Film of the year: Producers Antonio Ruiz, Ray Diaz Gonzalez, Rodrigo Lobo & Pepe

Bojórquez.

2) Best Director: Pepe Bojórquez

3) Best Screenplay: Pepe Bojórquez / David Howard

4) Best Actress: Ana Serradilla WINNER

5) Best Supporting Actress: Alejandra Ambrosi

6) Best Actor "Best upcoming Lead Actor": Osvaldo de León

7) Best Female Actress in a feature role: Angélica María

8) Best Original Song: Hidden Moon. Performed by IL VOLO. Music by Luis Bacalov. Spanish Lyrics by

Edgar Cortázar / Tony Renis / Humberto Gatica / Massimo Guantini. Produced by Humberto Gatica /

Tony Renis / David Franco. WINNER

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