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Maverick Distributor Marty Zeidman Changed Face of Indie Cinema

by Anne Thompson
June 11, 2011 11:50 AM
5 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Inside the independent film community, Marty Zeidman was known as an innovator who changed the way independent movies were released. The distributor who worked at Miramax, Polygram, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Fine Line, Lionsgate, Paramount Classics and Columbia Pictures died at age 63 in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 8, 2011, from complications due to pancreatitis. He also worked in exhibition for many years as head buyer at Landmark Theatres, and most recently, owned indie distributor Slow Hand Releasing (Innocent Voices, Kids in America and U2: the Concert Movie).

Zeidman was the sort of old school shoot-from the-hip exec that we don't see much anymore. What Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Co. and Focus Features are today are in large part thanks to him.

Some of the credit that goes to the Weinsteins for their golden era at Miramax belongs to Zeidman, a distribution executive they recruited from Columbia Pictures. Just as the Weinsteins were hitting their stride in the mid-80s, Zeidman figured out how to take their art-house movies, so-called "specialized" fare such as Scandal and My Left Foot, and break them out wider than any indies had gone before. Others wanted to play the big theater chains instead of the indie circuits, which back then were limited to Landmark and key art markets. Zeidman was the one to boldly break through the guarantees and rules that were strangling the indies to a bigger, wider world. Where was the real money? The suburbs.

That's what Sony Pictures Classics' Tom Bernard means when he chortles that Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is playing everywhere. But it was Zeidman who took his studio moxie and pushed through the barriers at the bigger circuits and got indie films played there. He had guts and instincts, he brashly took risks. He wasn't afraid to fail, and occasionally got into trouble. But exhibitors respected him for his ability to get the most out of a run, to know when to push wider. It's a talent few people have. The list of his Miramax breakouts is legendary, including Academy Award winners and nominees Cinema Paradiso, The Piano, The Grifters, The Crying Game and Hoop Dreams. "He changed the business," says ex-Landmark marketing chief Ray Price. "He was in the right place at the right time. He took indies to places they had not gone before. I don't think anyone was as talented as he was at booking theaters and releasing films."

"RIP Marty Zeidman," tweeted ex-Paramount Classics exec David Dinerstein on June 9. "Maverick distributor. Changed the way "art house" films were booked. Sex, lies...My Left Foot...Cinema Paradiso."

Adds Landmark chief Ted Mundorff:

Marty was always leading change in the world of independent film. His time with Harvey and Bob at Miramax was a special period. It was the time of introduction of Independent film to the broader audience. Independent film became part of the pop landscape. This was a time of phenomenal change. His time at Landmark saw a new SPECIALIZED THEATRE open in New York City. No longer were specialized theatres old movie theatres. New York, the art theatre Mecca, now had a modern day, stadium-seated ART theatre. His personal passion for the art form was the genesis for this charge. We will miss his passion.

A graduate of University of Bridgeport, Zeidman is survived by his sister Lois Tinter, a niece and nephew, and four grandnieces. A memorial service for friends and family was held at West LA's Landmark Theatre on June 12.

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More: Genres, Independents, Obit, Exhibition, Weinsteins

5 Comments

  • Neil Blatt | June 14, 2011 6:05 AMReply

    So sorry to hear of Marty's passing, so young. I first met Marty when he was the Western Division Manager at Columbia, I was opening up the Beverly Center Cineplex and trying to establish it as an alternative programming venue, those were the days. Thanks to support from Marty and others, it became the first multiplex in L.A. to specialize in "art house" product. At a time when clearances were extreme by today's standards, support from Distributors like Marty was crucial to gain access to product.

    I'll always remember his big smiling face.

  • richard myerson | June 12, 2011 8:42 AMReply

    a great film man. Marty broke all the rules and set a path for others.
    a class act and will be missed...as a long time film buyer he taught me a lot about how it is done...
    rest in peace

  • Rick Markovitz | June 12, 2011 7:37 AMReply

    What a loss! I am shocked. I always liked chatting and kibitzing with Marty and he was always a straight shooter. My condolences to family and friends. I also appreciated the tribute as I was not fully aware of his impact.
    R

  • mike schlesinger | June 12, 2011 5:38 AMReply

    I had no idea he had passed away. He was a tremendous fellow--I worked with him at both Sony and Landmark--with a marvelous sense of humor. A terrible loss.

  • Tom Brueggemann | June 12, 2011 1:14 AMReply

    A terrific recap Anne of someone most of your readers would have known little or nothing about.

    Marty was the Weinstein's Moses - he took them to the promised land, but wasn't allowed to enter to quite enter. For all their expertise and skill, they (as those of us who dealt with them when the did their own early distribution out of Buffalo) didn't have the patience or understanding of what it took to deal with cynical, bottom-line exhibitors, even those who were involved with specialized as it existed in the 1980s.

    Scandal was indeed the breakout, though this film now is largely forgotten. My bailiwick at the time was Chicago, and I recall clearly how Marty wanted one of the prime suburban theatres I booked for Scandal to supplement early on our exclusive run, and we sped it out far quicker than normal. This pattern continued over early Miramax titles like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and My Left Foot (which I know Marty had to take some real risks on in terms of pushing it early on). By the time The Crying Game came along the system he had set up across the country was ready to explode as all of a sudden a Miramax title was accepted as one that could play more widely than in the past and sooner.

    He was smart enough to keep his distance, working out of LA during this whole period (ironically, he moved to NY briefly once he left Miramax) and finding somehow miraculously the independence to run his own operation with much more autonomy than one might have expected. And he got it because he delivered the goods to the Weinsteins.

    The rest is history.

    Marty was not a one company guy of course, and transferred his skills elsewhere (Fine Line, Paramount Classics, Lionsgate), and what he established at Miramax was nurtured by others will skill and finesse (the latter which Marty had in abundance, even if you needed to get to know him to get beyond his assertive and self-confident manner.

    Thanks again Anne for not only paying tribute to Marty but also giving real insights in how those of us who've worked in the specialized trenches who most people never hear of played a vital role that made a difference.

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