March 4, 2011
Massachusetts was well represented in the audience of this past week’s Oscar ceremony. Not only did the cast, crew, and even the real life characters behind Lowell-based The Fighter attend, but two local boys were there to represent a couple of small movies that have attracted big Oscar attention. Newton-born Howard Cohen and Brookline-born Eric d’Arbeloff are the co-presidents of Roadside Attractions, an independent film distribution company whose two movies, Winter’s Bone and Biutiful, were among those nominated in major categories.
Cohen started in the movie business as an agent, and d’Arbeloff was a producer whose credits include small indie films like Lovely & Amazing and Trick. After watching Hollywood turn in favor of making fewer movies with bigger budgets, the two figured they could successfully market and distribute cheaper, independently-financed movies made for grown ups.
“For me as a producer,” says d’Arbeloff. “I was at the flipside of a number of distribution deals, and I felt like there was an opportunity for a non-studio entity to be passionate about these smaller films. And that’s where we really found our niche.”
Roadside Attractions first hit was Super Size Me, which chronicled Morgan Spurlock’s self-inflicted dare of eating only meals from McDonalds for an entire month. From there, they went on to release a diverse slate of films, including Good Hair, The September Issue, and this past year’s critically-acclaimed and award-winning Winter’s Boneand Biutiful.
How does the duo choose which films they are going to distribute?
Says Howard Cohen, “They are joint decisions, but we also let each other have the films that we really champion. You get the diversity of opinion.”
“For instance,” continues Cohen. “In 2009 we distributed The September Issue, the Anna Wintour Documentary. Eric was really the promoter of that, and saw that there was a big audience for it. I liked the movie, but I think he really had the vision for that one.”
On whether or not they like every movie they distribute, Cohen answers, “It’s better if you like it. I think we definitely distributed films that were not our personal taste, but I would say the vast majority were films that we liked.”
Cohen and d’Arbeloff bring to Hollywood a New England sensibility, especially in how they approach their decision-making process.
“We want our films to have a willingness to entertain,” explains d’Arbeloff, “and maybe that comes from a little bit from our New England roots. We are not just about pleasing critics, and being kind of urbain.”
“We want movies that audiences can really connect with, and that I think is the ideal Roadside Attraction Film. So maybe we have a little bit of Bostonian, New England humility in the mix versus some of our competitors. I think that has opened our eyes to a number of films that aren’t geared towards critics, but that have really sound audiences.”
Cohen add, “We talk how key particular theatres are for our films. They are not the downtown art houses, but actually a little more suburban theaters. The West Newton Cinema is our prototype theatre.”
“We go to the West Newton Cinema every time we visit Eric’s family, who still live in Brookline. We talk to the manager and ask what’s working, what’s not working. There’s a kind of too high brow or very narrow kind of movies that doesn’t work there. And there is a sort of a King’s Speech kind of movie that works really well there.”
What’s worked for Cohen and d’Arbeloff this part year is the Ozark-set mystery Winter’s Bone, nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture, and the Spanish drama Biutiful, which earned its star Javier Bardem a best acting nomination.
What does Cohen and d’Arbeloff attribute their success to?
Cohen explains, “There is group think abut a film, and you don’t want to be taken in by that, because it is sometimes about going the other way. That’s how you have opportunity and success. If everyone loved the move it would probably sell for ten million dollars.”
“It’s picking the one that everyone didn’t love. At Sundance 2010, Winter’s Bone was well liked, but no one thought it would do well,” says Cohen.
THE CALLIE CROSSLEY SHOW