Ex-Paramount Home Video Chief Eric Doctorow Ready for Next Round

At the age of 70, Eric Doctorow is getting a second wind.

Having weathered a health crisis and the loss of his wife, all in the past year, the former Paramount Home Video president is giving Random Media, the independent film distributor he co-founded 10 years ago with partner Tom Skouras, a renewed push, with a focus on quality over quantity.

“A near-death experience is a profound catalyst for change,” he says. “I’ve discovered a heightened sense of purpose in my personal and professional life.”

Doctorow wants to sustain Random Media’s current annual release schedule of approximately 30 films, aiming for the ideal equilibrium between disc, digital TVOD, and streaming.

“Our strategy over the next few years is to refine our expertise, draw more filmmakers to our innovative approach, and assist in shaping new careers for emerging filmmakers,” he says. “Nurturing the growth of novice filmmakers is immensely gratifying. It’s one of the key motivations behind our passion for this industry.”

Doctorow says that when he launched Random Media a decade ago, “we envisioned creating a vibrant market for cutting-edge, potent independent films in various genres that might otherwise remain undiscovered. We were prepared to dedicate ourselves fully, focus on minute details, and establish a reputation as a trustworthy independent distribution company.”

To achieve this, he continues, “we chose to take a unique approach. Firstly, we decided to limit our monthly releases to a few select films. Some companies release 10 or 20 films monthly, but that didn’t seem right for us. So, we concentrated — and continue to concentrate — on two to three films a month. This way, we aren’t indiscriminately throwing ideas around, but instead, each film receives our dedicated focus.”

Secondly, he says, “we prioritized forging strong, personal relationships with every filmmaker. We ensure they’re familiar with each member of our team, guaranteeing constant accessibility. We are always at hand to answer phone calls and emails promptly, and diligently provide follow-ups. This is basic, but crucial customer service.

“Thirdly, although we don’t offer advance payments for our films, we allocate substantial marketing resources for each release. Without creating buzz, a film simply dissipates into obscurity — an idea we find inconceivable. We engage PR and social media experts and closely collaborate with filmmakers to uncover any potential opportunities that may have gone unnoticed.

“And, lastly, but of paramount importance, we respond to emails promptly, issue statements on schedule, make timely payments, and value our relationships with filmmakers highly. In essence, we epitomize the ‘good guys.’”

Random Media primarily acquires genre films, spanning horror, sci-fi, comedy, and documentaries. “We fervently believe in each film we release and we try to seize every opportunity,” he says. “Despite the dwindling marketplace for DVDs, we still have faith in them. Therefore, we ensure that each film is released on both physical and digital platforms, globally and across all streaming, SVOD, AVOD, and other platforms, including, recently, FAST channels.”

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The home entertainment business, Doctorow maintains, “is more multifaceted and varied than ever before. Thus, staying informed about current trends has become increasingly important. Consequently, we spend a substantial amount of time discussing trends and opportunities with our wide network of long-term contacts and associates.”

Doctorow spent 20 years at Paramount, culminating in the presidency of the studio’s home video division under studio boss Jonathan Dolgen.

When his Paramount job ended in 2003, Doctorow briefly took over operations of first THQ, the video game maker, and then Ventura Entertainment, an independent home video distributor.

He later spent five years as GM of MGM, managing the distribution joint venture with 20th Century Fox. He capped his studio run as EVP of Miramax.

Doctorow and Skouras launched Random Media in 2012, with Don Rosenberg as COO. The company has, to date, released 250 films, including titles such as Hoaxed, The Kybalion, Iron Brothers, and Incident at Guilt Creek.

Upcoming releases include: 

  • The Joke Man: A biopic about Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling, famous for being the head writer of Howard Stern’s show for 15 years and infamous for leaving that position. Digital and DVD, July 18.
  • Vengeance Turns Vol. 1:  Following a brutal attack in which her husband and children are murdered and she is left for dead, Rebecca Falcon rises from the carnage of her former life hellbent on revenge as a bloodthirsty vigilante called Mia. Digital and DVD, July 25.
  • The Oyster Shucker: In the world of competitive oyster shucking, Honor Allen is among the planet’s best. This documentary follows the four-time U.S. champion over several years, exploring the unique subculture and meeting competitors from around the globe. Digital and DVD, Sept. 5.

Eric Doctorow: Internet Still Lacking When It Comes to Discovery, Particularly for Indie Fare

Four years ago, I wrote a guest commentary in Media Play News about the inherent problem with the internet and independent film distribution. Back then, I argued that the internet was a great search tool, but a terrible discovery tool. 

Eric Doctorow

I compared video stores (remember them?) to the internet and found the opposite to be true: They were terrible for search because you could never find what you were looking for, but they were great for discovery. Indeed, video stores basically built the independent film business because customers were able — essentially forced — to discover new films when they couldn’t find what they really wanted to take home. Hundreds of filmmakers and thousands of films found their audiences because their films were available on shelves Saturday night. (By the way, when I refer to independent film I am referring to small-budget, no-star projects. These films are almost never released theatrically, but end up on streaming platforms.)

The internet, on the other hand, is a place where you can find anything you are looking for, provided you know what you are looking for. It’s true that discovery on the internet is better than it used to be, but it is not a discerning experience.

Digital platforms have famously bad recommendation engines, though they are getting better. But even Netflix, which has an advanced system, tends to recommend films that are not true independent fare because Netflix is less a movie site than a television site.

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Most, dare I say all, streaming and TVOD platforms are now pretty good at recommending films that are like the ones you watched recently. But more and more, they are recommending films and other content with well-known cast or solid box office success. They are not recommending true independent low-budget films that star someone named Fred Cruise, rather than Tom.

FAST channels can slice and dice big genres into smaller and smaller sub genres and certainly provide a cool viewing experience for fans.  But FAST channels still don’t solve the bigger problem: where do smaller, independent films go to breathe and be seen?

I know from experience that one problem with independent films is that there are too many of them. When anyone who wants to be Quentin Tarantino walks into a Best Buy and walks out with a fantastic camera for under $1,000, is it any wonder that films seem to be falling out of the sky?

Many people will say, “Good films rise to the top,” but we all know that this is simply not true. Good films, like any good art, can only rise to the top when it is promoted and pushed. That seems simple enough — find people to promote and push great independent films.  But it’s not that easy. The cost of promotion and advertising is growing much faster than the potential revenues generated from most films.

There is a reason that studios spend upwards of $100 million to open an important, expensive film. It’s because that’s what it takes.  Trying to get consumers first to be aware of a film and then to get them to watch it is hard, given all the media messages that bombard each of us each day. 

The BFI recently declared that the independent film industry in the U.K. might end up being killed because the combination of rising marketing and production costs and lower revenue is making the industry unsustainable. The same thing could happen here in the United States.

One possible solution is to follow the ancient Greeks and the Medicis.  In those times, art existed by virtue of patrons. Michelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel on his own. He was sponsored by the Medici family.  Today, we have some of that — would opera exist without wealthy patrons? How about orchestras, art museums and dance? 

But film seems to be a different animal. Yes, we see some tax incentives to help support production and marketing. Canada is a good example of this. But it is not likely that widespread use of this tax advantage will happen in our increasingly frugal federal and state government bureaucracies. Certain private patrons will do good work, but not enough and rarely for small independent films. These investors are usually rich individuals who often say they don’t want a financial return on their investment but, like all good capitalists, eventually want a return on their investment.

Our industry is at a crossroads. Supporting and seeking out good independent films is critical to the industry’s future. These films are part of the food chain that helps create future “big film” filmmakers.  Ask almost any directors of note and they will concur. Ask Nick Cassavetes or Wally Pfister or Darren Aronofsky, among many others, whether independent film was important to their career development.

So, what is the solution? Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer to this complicated question, but here is some food for thought.

  • Let’s get the DEG and OTT to focus on independent films: these two organizations reach a lot of important executives and taste makers. Would it be so terrible to have a seminar or two on the independent film business?
  • Perhaps some streaming platforms should create an “independent film corner” on their sites.
  • Maybe certain media outlets that list top performing films could also have a section on independent movies.

 

These are just a few ideas. I am sure there are others that make sense that other people might envision. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have many of the questions.

Anyway, as our business evolves let’s not forget that in many ways, the independent film business is at the heart of our industry’s future.

Eric Doctorow is president of independent film distributor Random Media. He previously was president of the home video divisions of Paramount Pictures and MGM.

Comedy ‘Ernesto’s Manifesto’ Due on Disc and Digital From Random Media Jan. 14

The comedy Ernesto’s Manifesto will come out on DVD, Blu-ray, on demand and digital from Random Media Jan. 14.

The film stars Cuban-born American Fernando Hidalgo (“The Fernando Hidalgo Show”), Amy Davidson (“8 Simple Rules”), Adam Huss (“Power”), Lisandra Tena (“The Good Place”), Randy J. Goodwin (“The Rookie”) and newcomer Tabitha Caulfield.

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Written and directed by David M. Matthews, it follows Ernesto, a sweet, simple and gentle man, who is doing the best he can to get by in Los Angeles. A series of bad breaks, however, cause him to lose his job, his girlfriend, and his home. Then, just when all seems hopeless, he finds employment, which leads to housing, an important friendship, and unexpectedly, a new and improved career trajectory.

Matthews and actor-executive producer Hidalgo met through a U.S.-based online advertising outlet, Craigslist, and the production was completely funded by Hidalgo’s Bitcoin profits.

The film was released theatrically Dec. 13.

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Actioner ‘El Coyote’ Due on DVD and Digital Feb. 25 From Random Media

The action-comedy El Coyote will come out on DVD and digital Feb. 25 from Random Media.

The film made $1.3 million at the box office and was screened in 400 theaters across 50 cities in October.

Starring Michael Saquella (Dream Round), Robert Costanzo (Die Hard 2), John Capodice (Speed) and Tom Sizemore (Black Hawk Down), the film follows a father, Stone Spencer (Saquella), who is living in Arizona in the witness protection program for helping the United States government. Stone is a self-made man — and hit man — for the mafia and an undercover killer for the CIA, who has to negotiate a deal with the Mexican cartel because they have captured his son Jax, a federal ice agent. After doing what the cartel requests of him, they renege, and all hell breaks loose. With too many cartel members to handle, he makes a call to New York and a dozen or so Italian mobsters fly from New York to Arizona to take care of business with the cartel.

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El Coyote is a classic showdown between two high profile gangs, the Italian mafia and Mexican cartel,” stated Michael Saquella. “When was the last time you saw, or heard, about the mafia taking on the cartel?”

Thriller ‘Truth’ Due on DVD, VOD and Digital Nov. 12 From Random Media

The psychological thriller Truth will come out on DVD, Digital and VOD Nov. 12 from Random Media, Valhalla and Dual Visions Productions.

It tells the tale of captured army officer Xavier Faraday (Eric Paul Erickson, who also directs) who is offered amnesty if he will detail his time at a notorious internment camp. When Xavier reluctantly agrees, his interrogator peels away the layers of his life, only to reveal he’s not the only one hiding something. The film, also starring Rachel Alig, unfolds with only two actors in a single location, in real time.

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It won Best Director honors at the Marina del Rey Film Festival and the Silver State Film Festival. Additionally, Erickson won Best Actor at the Laughlin International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Actor at Japan’s Bloodstained Film Festival. He also traveled to Russia as a guest of the Arctic Open Film Festival as part of the award-winning slate that featured the film’s inclusion as an Official Selection at stops including the Cardiff International Film Festival, the Silver State Film Festival, and the Worldwide Women’s Film Festival where, among other awards, it picked up Best Feature. Alig took home Best Actress honors at the Laughlin International Film Festival.

LGBTQ Coming-of-Age Drama ‘The Experience’ Due on VOD, EST and DVD Nov. 5 From Random

The LGBTQ coming-of-age drama The Experience will arrive on VOD, EST and DVD Nov. 5 from Random Media.

The film stars Allison Kove (Rotten), Ava Capri (Little Rituals) Shawn Christian (“Days of Our Lives”), Lou Ferrigno Jr. (“S.W.A.T”), Sabina Gadecki (“Entourage”), Brigitte Nielsen (Beverly Hills Cop II) and Gordon Thomson (“Dynasty”).

Set against the unique backdrop of a tough love wilderness program for the wayward children of the elite upper class, The Experience examines the life of Scarlet (Kove), a teenage girl whose ongoing behavior — partying, piercings and suicide attempts — has landed her at the Hills of Heaven wilderness camp, where she begrudgingly hauls a 40-pound backpack in the sweltering heat of an arid, hilly back country. When a mysterious girl named Dillion (Capri) arrives at camp, Scarlet begins to open up and maybe even fall in love. However, just when the girls are making a meaningful connection, they are forced to reconcile their reality in ways they cannot begin to fathom and question the very fabric of their own existence.

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The Experience is a powerful and offbeat coming-of-age story that has every emotion conjured for our teenage lead characters,” said writer-director Katerina Gorshkov in a statement. “We are particularly excited to have powerhouse Brigitte Nielson cast in the film, as her role is not her usual action-thriller villain.”

‘Hamlet in the Golden Vale’ to Bow on DVD, Digital and VOD Oct. 8 From Random Media

Hamlet in the Golden Vale, New York-based theater company Roll the Bones’ film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, will come out on DVD, digital and VOD Oct. 8 from Random Media.

The production follows a team of actors to a 500-year-old castle in Co. Tipperary, Ireland, where — over the course of three weeks — an re-telling of Shakespeare’s greatest work emerges. The film tells a story-within-a-story, blurring the lines between the actors and their characters as eight actors living in close quarters are immersed in the world of Hamlet and the play’s search for meaning.

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In addition to the feature, the team also tackled a 360 virtual reality experience with production support from the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio and presented two onsite immersive performances for the surrounding community.

‘Horror Movie: A Low Budget Nightmare’ Coming to DVD and Digital Sept. 10 From Random Media

The docu-film Horror Movie: A Low Budget Nightmare will come out on DVD, on demand and digital Sept. 10 from Random Media.

Directed by Gary Doust, the film is a comic fly-on-the-wall-style documentary that follows a filmmaker’s attempt to live out a childhood dream by making a super-low-budget horror feature, about an aborted fetus that seeks revenge on its family. Tired of playing roles like the diabetes patient or the weird friend on Australian TV, actor/filmmaker Craig Anderson sets his sights on a career upgrade. With his and his brother’s life savings on the line, he manages to sign up Hollywood “scream queen” Dee Wallace (E.T., Cujo) to star in the film, but it is not long before things go wildly off the rails and his dream turns into a nightmare. With the budget spiraling out of control, union issues and even a circumcision to overcome, viewers follow the moviemaking rollercoaster journey from pre-production to the very end.

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Filmed in Australia, Horror Movie: A Low Budget Nightmare aired on ABC TV (Australia) and was listed in The Guardian as one of their top 10 Australian TV programs of the year (2017). The docu-film went on to win Best Feature Film at the 2018 Hollywood Horror Fest and was nominated Best Documentary at the Adelaide Film Festival.

Fantasy Thriller ‘Shadowplay’ Coming to DVD and Digital Aug. 27 From Random Media

The fantasy mystery-thriller Shadowplay will come out on DVD, on demand and digital Aug. 27 from Random Media.

Starring Tony Eusoff, Juria Hartmans, Radhi Khalid and Stephen Rahman Hughes, it follows private eye Anton Shaw (Eusoff), who is hired to find a young woman Lamya (Hartmans) whose disappearance may be linked to a traumatic event in his own childhood. While investigating, his obsession with finding her awakens evil forces from his youth and he must overcome his own demons who have returned to prevent him from unlocking a dormant power to manifest his dreams into reality. As the truth of the case merges with the fiction of a 1980s game book Anton is reading, he’s drawn deeper into the story, unsure if he’s losing touch with the real world. In Anton’s search for answers, a mysterious man seems to either be guiding him, or luring him into a fatal trap but nonetheless is holding the key to Lamya’s disappearance.

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As Anton gets closer to the truth, he finds Lamya’s diary, and discovers it is a magical tome that enables its owner to rewrite their life into whatever they wish it to be. Did Lamya vanish into a realm of her own creation or has Anton inadvertently re-imagined his own life through these pages? With everyone involved either gunning for his life or roping him into deadly situations, Anton is certain that wherever the labyrinthine path leads him, he will find Lamya — if he can stay alive long enough.

Filmed in Kuala Lumpur, Shadowplay is executive produced by Ken Petrie of 27 Ten Productions and directed by Tony Pietra Arjuna.

Drama ‘Tomorrow, Maybe’ to Be Released on DVD, On Demand and Digital Aug. 20 From Random Media

The family drama Tomorrow, Maybe will come out on DVD, on demand and digital Aug. 20 from Random Media.

It stars Robert Blanche (Men of Honor), Bethany Jacobs, Grant Davis (Crimson and Clover) and Brian Sutherland (“Z Nation”).

Directed by Jace Daniel, the film follows Lloyd Hayek (Blanche), a career criminal who has spent the last five years in jail for dealing drugs. Upon release he attempts to reunite with his estranged daughter Iris (Jacobs). While Lloyd was in jail, Iris married an undercover narcotics detective who is dealing with some major issues. Iris’s life is falling apart, and things begin to spin out of control.

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The film had its world premiere at the 20th edition of the independent film festival Dances With Films and won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor at the Portland Indie Film Festival.