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Larry Meistrich speaks at Synergy

May 10, 2007

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Last Tuesday, the New York Film Synergy Group, (founded by Tom Lassu) invited Larry Meistrich, producer of Sling Blade and the founder of the Shooting Gallery, to speak at the Actors Theatre Workshop. The event was a huge success.

Recently, Larry started a new studio NEHST creations and is currently looking for talented filmmakers. Larry’s company allows aspiring filmmakers to pitch, either virtually or live, to NEHST executives in hopes of reaching a deal. NEHST will then help produce, market, and develop the idea. Although Larry says that they’re willing to fund Internet, TV, or even feature film ideas, its obvious that NEHST wants to be a player in the Internet space, which makes perfect sense because of its low cost and easy distribution.

Overall, this was a great meetup. Larry is an engaging and good speaker. What I like best about him is he tells it the way it is. No BS. As an example, an aspiring screenwriter asked Larry how he could get Tom Hanks to read his script. Larry told him straight up that Tom Hanks would never read his script. The reason? Because Hollywood is a closed system. And if you’re not in the system, you’re out of luck. (Which is one of the reasons why Larry started NEHST — to partner with those talented individuals outside of the system and help them get in)

Highlights from the night:

  • Larry told an interesting story about how Sling Blade got made. He said the single most important reason why Sling Blade was produced was that Robert Duvall agreed to do a cameo and said they could put his name on the movie box. It’s that simple. If you didn’t have a big name, the likelihood of success or distribution is minuscule. And remember that Billy Bob wasn’t a star back in 1996. From the start, Larry was always aware of the business needs in making a movie deal, which is why he’s so successful as a producer.
  • Larry believes theatrical screenings will become more of an “event” and that we should expect to see more event marketing around big movies. With home theaters and Internet becoming so much more convenient for entertainment (especially for those in suburbs with kids), there will need to be compelling reasons to trek out to a movie theater.
  • When making your film, make sure to CLEAR YOUR RIGHTS. This seems obvious but a girl in the audience who had recently made a feature admitted that she didn’t have the rights to her music…. Sony does. Good luck with that one.
  • In one of his early films Laws of Gravity, the only two people who were paid were the Sound Person and the DP. Everybody else worked for free. Makes sense, especially since sound is a critical, but underrated, position. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen the audience react to sound is when the sound is messed up.
  • The current talent search mechanism in the film industry is silly. It shuts the door to good ideas. Again, this is where NEHST comes in.
  • Larry believes any content with a niche will find an audience on the Internet. I completely agree with this, as it follows the long tail theory.
  • A little “did you know” fact. Why are movies 90 minutes long? Because you can fit 6 screenings in a day instead of 5. The theater makes money on concessions so the added turnover is good for business.
  • I asked Larry whether they would leverage some of the already existing Internet platforms out there (e.g., YouTube Revver, etc.) for their content. Larry inferred that NEHST would act as its own portal and that they would also distribute offline. He didn’t seem enthusiastic about YouTube or any other Internet distribution channels. He said YouTube wasn’t making money and cited a lot of their legal problems. That said, I’m not sure if he had heard about YouTube’s plans for monetization.
  • Larry says don’t waste your money on a short. Just do a scene instead and show you can cast and direct. He also said don’t shoot on 16MM. I wish he told me that a few years ago….
  • Larry’s tips to pitching NEHST
    1. Don’t be late
    2. Understand your story
    3. Logline should only be about 3 sentences
    4. Know your 3 acts
    5. End the pitch in a manner that they (execs) will want to know more and ask questions
    6. He also said that it may be cheesy but the “Die Hard on a Bus” analogy works well in helping grasp a concept, especially if one of the execs is hungover
  • NEHST is willing to fund up to $50MM for a project. I’m sure this is an extremely rare case. My bet is they produce a lot of smaller budget Internet series first like one of the deals they signed “Cook U”
  • A funny moment when a paranoid woman complained that she was afraid to put her short movie on the web because it would get stolen. She said that the largest number of viewers are young males and that we KNOW they’re not the most ethical bunch. Hah. While I understand her paranoia, I think its 100 times better to get exposure and have your short stolen than keep it close to the chest and have zero viewers. Just my 2 cents. If I had something stolen, I’d be like “Yes! Somebody likes it!”
  • Larry flatly said that when pitching, he doesn’t really give a shit about passion. He says everybody has passion.
  • A person brought up the fact that whenever you pitch an idea, you’re opening yourself up for someone to steal it. Larry said he’s read 25,000 scripts and that there’s nothing he’s going to see that’s truly original. Maybe a few things with twists. Plus, he said there’s no reason for them to steal because they’ll be out of business. While I’m sure Larry and company are ethical, I think the danger lies in the other people in the room. A lot of these pitch sessions are set up so the other pitchers are sitting in the seats of an auditorium, watching the pitches happen. So there is a little danger there. No matter what, you should copyright your stuff.

Anyway, those are the highlights. Overall, a great time and it was valuable hearing a pro talk about the business. A friend from business school and I are set to pitch on June 2nd. We have a killer idea that makes sense both creatively and from a business side (i.e., large niche out there). I’ll report back on how it goes. We only get 3 minutes. Guess we have some practicing to do.

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