Top 20 Indie Power Players 2022: The Movers and Shakers in Independent Film Distribution
February 28, 2022
Welcome to Media Play News’ Top 20 Indie Power Players list, our first-ever salute to distributors of independent film, series and niche content. We’re looking beyond the big-budget theatrical blockbusters and streaming originals,and focusing on what for years been the backbone of the film industry, particularly from a creative perspective.
In selecting our top 20, a panel of judges from the independent film distribution world chose executives who play a key role in bringing indie product to the home market, which has traditionally been its ultimate destination —either disc, digital or streaming.
We also stayed away from so-called “indies” that are owned by studios or big media companies. And we weighed our list heavily in favor of independent distributors rather than film producers —which is why some companies on our list are also involved in bringing to the home market an eclectic assortment of library content, from classic and cult movies to retro TV shows.
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Danny Fisher is CEO of FilmRise, a New York-based film and television studio that is one of the world’s largest providers of content in the AVOD/FAST space. Fisher created a unique data analytics model that set in motion the company’s successful approach to acquisition and distribution of ad-supported content. Fisher has guided the company from a startup in the basement of his Brooklyn residence in 2012 to one of the largest third-party providers of content to streaming platforms, with tens of thousands of FilmRise titles currently streaming all over the world. Fisher also created the FilmRise Streaming Network, one of the world’s largest independently owned portfolios of ad-supported streaming apps and FAST channels. FilmRise offers movies and television shows across all genres, including Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Nightmares”; the iconic true crime series “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Forensic Files”; the classic American TV series “The Rifleman,” “3rd Rock From the Sun” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; longstanding British favorites such as “Midsomer Murders” and “Doc Martin”; as well as the most-streamed free-TV series of 2021, “Heartland.” Before launching FilmRise, Fisher for nearly 30 years ran the City Lights Media Group, a film and television production and distribution company with one of New York’s largest post-production facilities.
Bill Bromiley is president of Saban Films, the film acquisition and distribution venture from Saban Capital Group. Founded in 2014, the company focuses on commercial, high-quality, talent driven films, boarding projects at all stages of production and through release across multiple platforms in North America and select international territories, including a day-and-date theatrical/VOD release strategy. Saban Films’ successes have run the gamut from theatrical triumphs such as the horror reboot Wrong Turn, starring Charlotte Vega and Matthew Modine, to Brad Furman’s acclaimed City of Lies, starring Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker. Recently acquired Saban titles include Gabe Polsky’s frontier epic Butcher’s Crossing, with Nicolas Cage; K. Asher Levin’s thriller Dig, with Thomas Jane; Jesse Harris’ survival thriller Borrego, starring Lucy Hale; and Julian Gilbey’s mountaineering thriller Summit Fever, with Ryan Phillippe. Prior to joining Saban, Bromiley served as chief acquisitions officer of RLJ Entertainment, where he was responsible for the acquisition of all content, including feature films, television programming, live events, and special-interest titles, and oversaw the development and distribution of the Image, One Village, Madacy, Amity and Slingshot film brands. Bromiley also previously served as president of First Look Home Entertainment, where he launched and oversaw the home entertainment division for First Look Studios, including sales, marketing, and acquisitions.
Chris McGurk is chairman and CEO of Cinedigm, a publicly traded entertainment company with dual headquarters in Los Angeles and New York. There, he leads a team bringing streaming-first content and next-generation technology to myriad partners. Cinedigm holds more than 40,000 film and TV assets with over 33 million monthly active users, more than 700,000 SVOD subscribers and over 900 million unique customer devices. Notable recent releases the company has brought to market include Incarnation, a sinister horror flick starring Taye Diggs, and the upcoming Independent Spirit Award nominee 7 Days, a romantic comedy that marks Roshan Sethi’s feature directorial debut. The company also launched The Bob Ross Channel and Bloody Disgusting TV. McGurk has enjoyed a long and transformative executive career in the film, TV and streaming content industries. Before joining Cinedigm in 2011, McGurk was the founder and CEO of Overture Films, and CEO of Anchor Bay Entertainment. McGurk also served as vice chairman of the board and COO of MGM Studios, where he played a leading role in the iconic studio’s reinvigoration. Earlier in his career, McGurk served in various executive capacities at Universal Pictures, including president and COO, and several senior executive roles at The Walt Disney Studios, including Studios CFO and president of The Walt Disney Motion Picture Group.
Berry Meyerowitz is the co-founder of Quiver Distribution, a film and TV company operating in the United States, Canada and international markets. Quiver acquires, develops, finances and/or produces talent-driven films from both established and emerging stars and filmmakers, in addition to exploiting its library of 700 movies and series. The company produced, and this year will release, Walter Hill’s Western Dead for a Dollar, with Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe and Rachel Brosnahan, and Neil LaBute’s Out of the Blue, with Diane Kruger, Ray Nicholson and Hank Azaria. Recently, Quiver released the disaster thriller 13 Minutes with Amy Smart, Thora Birch and Paz Vega. Before launching Quiver with partner Jeff Sackman, Meyerowitz founded Phase 4 Films, where he served as president and CEO and built the company into one of the leading independent U.S. distributors. Following the sale of Phase 4 Films to eOne, Meyerowitz stayed on as president of eOne’s U.S. film business and helped launch its global digital initiative. Meyerowitz previously served as president of Peace Arch Home Entertainment after Peace Arch purchased his company, kaBOOM! Entertainment. Earlier, Meyerowitz worked at 20th Century Fox as marketing director, where he worked on successful campaigns for films such as There’s Something About Mary, The Full Monty and the “Star Wars” trilogy.
Andrew Brown & Kent Sanderson are co-presidents of Decal, a home entertainment distribution company formed in February 2021 as a joint venture between the Neon and Bleecker Street film labels. The company acquires a wide array of independent films and presents them to audiences across multiple platforms. Since launch, Decal has released Mallory Everton and Stephen Meek’s Stop and Go; Jaco Bouwer’s Gaia; and Ride the Eagle, starring Jake Johnson, J.K. Simmons and Susan Sarandon. In addition, the company manages the home entertainment rights of both Neon and Bleecker Street, as well as XYZ’s curated slate of high-profile, thought-provoking films, and is continuing to add other key partnerships. The first film to be distributed through Decal was Bleecker Street’s Supernova. Other recent releases include the much-ballyhooed Spencer, with Oscar-nominated Kristen Stewart as the late Princess Diana; Pig, with Nicolas Cage trying to retrieve his kidnapped truffle pig; The Last Son, with Sam Worthington as a murderous outlaw cursed by a terrible prophecy that he will be killed by one of his own children; and Dream Horse, a feel-good indie hit with Toni Collette. Brown doubles as SVP of digital strategy, marketing and distribution at Neon, which he joined in 2017. Neon is best known for such films as Ingrid Goes West; I, Tonya; Three Identical Strangers; and Parasite, the South Korean black comedy that in 2019 became the first non-English language film in the history of the Academy Awards to win coveted Best Picture prize. Previously, he spent more than a decade at Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum), where he rose to senior director of VOD. Sanderson also serves as president of acquisitions and ancillary distribution at Bleecker Street, which he joined in 2014. after the company was launched by Andrew Karpen, the former co-CEO of Focus Features. Earlier, he spent six years at Focus Features, the acclaimed indie now owned by Comcast.
Peter Jarowey is a partner and CEO of global independent distributor Vertical Entertainment, where he oversees the acquisitions, sales and marketing operations, as well as the day-to-day distribution of Vertical’s diverse slate of films delivered to audiences across all platforms. As Vertical’s first employee in 2012, he has played an integral role in the company’s impressive growth. Most recently, he led Vertical to the film industry forefront by meeting the unprecedented audience demand with unique distribution models via theatrical and streaming platforms. He has been instrumental in growing Vertical’s worldwide audience to territories such as the U.K., Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. Vertical’s films include Krystin Ver Linden’s Alice, starring Keke Palmer, Common and Jonny Lee Miller, which premiered in competition at Sundance 2022; Phillip Noyce’s The Desperate Hour, starring Naomi Watts; and Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s Wild Indian, which received four Independent Spirit Award nominations. Past films include the Gotham Award-winner Miss Juneteenth; the Independent Spirit Award-winner Other People; the BAFTA Award-winner Under the Shadow; and the breakout hits The Hating Game, starring Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell, and Toronto Film Festival Midnight Madness breakout Shadow in the Cloud, starring Chloë Grace Moretz. Prior to joining Vertical, Jarowey worked at ARC Entertainment managing acquisitions and marketing. He is an alumnus of Denison University.
Garson Foos is the CEO and co-founder of Shout! Factory and its filmed entertainment production and distribution arm, Shout! Studios, which specializes in all aspects of distribution, including theatrical, VOD, digital, DVD/Blu-ray Disc and broadcast. Shout! finances, produces, acquires and distributes an eclectic slate of movies, animated features, specialty films and series. Shout! owns and operates content libraries including “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (in partnership with creator Joel Hodgson) and the Roger Corman New Horizons Pictures library, and operates the streaming service Shout! Factory TV and its family of FAST channels. Recent Shout! releases include the acclaimed Western Old Henry, starring Tim Blake Nelson; the dramedy Language Lessons, starring Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales; the comedy-drama Misbehaviour, starring Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw; Standing Up, Falling Down, starring Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz; the family feature Coppelia, starring ballerina Michaela DePrince; and the action thriller Castle Falls, directed by Dolph Lundgren and starring Scott Adkins and Lundgren. Foos got his start in entertainment while in high school, working at the iconic Rhino Records store run by his older brother, Richard. The two continued to work together at the Rhino Records label, where Garson Foos rose to EVP of marketing. After the company was sold to Warner Music, the Foos brothers and partner Bob Emmer in 2003 launched Shout!
Ed Seaman is CEO of MVD Entertainment Group, a full-service music and movie distribution firm that exclusively represents thousands of audio and visual products for DVD, Blu-ray Disc, CD, vinyl and digital rights, worldwide. Recent and upcoming releases include Where the Red Fern Grows (2003), starring musician Dave Matthews; 1966’s Red Angel, from director Yasuzo Masumura, and Mario Bava’s Shock (1977), both from Arrow Video US; and the 1982 Matt Dillon starrer Liar’s Moon, part of the MVD Rewind Collection; along with collector’s editions of MGM’s Miami Blues and The Fabulous Baker Boys, part of the MVD Marquee Collection. “Serving Artists and Audiences” is MVD ‘s purpose statement and has served as a guiding light for Seaman throughout his career. Founded by industry veteran Tom Seaman in 1987, MVD remains an independent family owned and operated business. Today, MVD’s customer base consists of major retail chains and digital platforms, along with independent retailers and digital sites. At the outset of the pandemic, MVD urged its label partners to continue releasing and promoting content, stressing that home entertainment would benefit from the lockdowns, and that e-commerce and streaming/VOD would be the biggest winners. This led to MVD greatly exceeding the goals and expectations of its key label partners in 2021, driving sales to all-time highs.
Richard Lorber is the president and CEO of Kino Lorber Inc., a leading film distributor that brings more than 350 titles annually to the home entertainment market through physical and digital releases. The company specializes in international, documentary, independent and classic cinema. Recent releases include Man on the Moon, Milos Forman’s acclaimed Andy Kaufman biopic starring Jim Carrey; the Kosovan drama Hive, which won three Sundance Film Festival awards and was Oscar shortlisted for Best International Feature; and four seasons of the Italian gangster series “Gomorrah.” Kino Lorber also releases classics on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, most recently John Sturges’ The Great Escape, Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil, and the John le Carré adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. An industry pioneer with more than 40 years’ experience, Lorber co-founded and served as the head of Fox Lorber for 20 years. He later spent six years as president of Koch Lorber Films, partnered with Entertainment One. He acquired Kino International in 2009 to form Kino Lorber. The French government honored Lorber’s cultural contributions by awarding him the “Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.” He is a member of the Producers’ Guild of America and the executives branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
Nolan Gallagher & Michael Murphy: Gallagher is founder and CEO, and Michael Murphy is president of Gravitas Ventures, a worldwide film distributor that connects filmmakers and producers with a global audience of more than 1 billion people. Recent releases include the fantasy adventure film The King’s Daughter, starring Pierce Brosnan and Kaya Scodelario; Queen Bees, with Ellen Burstyn, Ann-Margret, Jane Curtin, James Caan and Loretta Devine; the heartwarming Our Friend, starring Dakota Johnson, Jason Segel and Casey Affleck; the Independent Spirit Award nominee The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, starring Frankie Faison; and the powerful documentary Finding Kendrick Johnson. Gallagher founded Gravitas Ventures in 2006; under his leadership, the company has become a global all-rights theatrical distributor that has released more than 3,000 films on VOD. Gallagher has been named a Hollywood New Leader by Variety and was chosen as part of the inaugural Indiewire Influencer class, which recognized leaders in the independent film industry. He has spoken on numerous industry panels, including at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the SXSW Film Festival and the Produced By Conference. Prior to founding Gravitas, Gallagher held various corporate marketing roles at Comcast, Warner Bros. and General Cinema Theatres. Murphy has been instrumental in growing Gravitas Ventures’ distribution footprint. He manages distribution of Gravitas’ library to more than 100 transactional, subscription and ad-sponsored VOD operators on a worldwide basis. Murphy has spoken about film distribution at many industry panels, including at the SXSW Film Festival, the Palo Alto Film Festival, Variety’s BRIC Summit, Variety’s BritWeek Film and TV Summit, and the WestDoc Conference. Prior to joining Gravitas Ventures in 2007, Murphy was a captain in the U.S. Army who won the Bronze Star during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Both men are natives of Cleveland, Ohio.
Andreas Olavarria is president and CEO of Level 33 Entertainment, a global film sales and distribution company he founded in 2010 “to break the mold of the traditional Hollywood movie distribution model,” according to the company. Level 33 distributes and sells content across all media platforms including theatrical, VOD, DVD and television. Olavarria has overseen the acquisition, marketing and distribution of more than 100 independent films, including the action thriller Unleashed, directed by Finn Taylor and starring Kate Micucci and Sean Astin; the survival drama Mountain Man, directed by Cameron Labine and starring Chace Crawford and Tyler Labine; and the romantic drama Copenhagen, directed by Mark Raso and starring Gethin Anthony. Olavarria also has produced and executive produced a number of feature films and TV movies, most recently the family film A Unicorn for Christmas, starring Abby James Witherspoon, Sunny Mabrey and Chuck Wicks. Level 33 has a slate of family friendly feature films in active development. Olavarria has more than 25 years of experience in the development, production and distribution of motion pictures, having worked as an executive at both 20th Century Fox and The Walt Disney Studios as well as in the world of independent film. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Shaun Hill is CEO and owner of Indican Pictures, an independent film distribution company that has released more than 400 films. The primary audiences for Indican’s films are home audiences, and the company currently releases upwards of 30 films annually on DVD/Blu-ray Disc and through digital retailers. The company also has key digital/streaming partnerships with Giant Pictures, Lionsgate Pictures and Magnolia Pictures. Indican films are currently available on Apple TV, Netflix, Tubi, The Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Vudu, Vizio, IMDbTV, Xumo, HBO, Hoopla and Showtime Networks. Recent releases include Guest Artist, starring and produced by Jeff Daniels; the recent GLAAD nominee for Best Film Gossamer Folds; and Pond Life, starring Esme Creed-Miles and Daisy Edgar Jones. The company has won NAACP awards, Spirit awards, Image awards and Prism awards, and currently has over 80% female employees. Hill co-founded the company in 2004 with Randolph Kret. She was responsible for The Boondock Saints getting a release by securing a deal with Blockbuster, releasing it into theaters, and overseeing its 10-plus year theatrical run into cult status. Hill started in production and produced seven feature films before working as a programmer for the Hollywood Film Festival and Slamdance. She has three feature films slated to go into production in 2022.
Nick Savva is the VP of content distribution for Giant Pictures, a digital distribution label placing movies, documentaries and episodic TV on VOD and streaming platforms in North America and worldwide. Savva began his film career at BBC Films in his native London and later worked at Tribeca Films. He has specialized in digital distribution for independent movies and documentaries for nearly 20 years. Based in New York, Giant Pictures under Savva over the past 12 months has launched FAST channels for the Tribeca Festival, Kino Lorber and Baby Einstein, with exponential growth in this category projected for 2022. The company has also established itself as a trusted digital aggregator for multiple indie labels, including Drafthouse Films, Abramorama, Utopia, Topic Studios, Participant, Passion River, BMG, Breaker, Indican Pictures, Magic Light and others. Giant Pictures has more than 1,000 titles under management and releases upwards of 40 new indie features annually. The company also has key streaming partnerships with Apple TV, Netflix, Tubi, The Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Peacock, Vudu, Vizio, IMDbTV, Xumo, Kanopy and AMC Networks. Recent releases include The End of the Storm, about Liverpool Football Club’s historic win, on Paramount+; 13 Fanboy, about a horror movie super fan, available on demand; and #Like, about a young woman’s search for justice, available on Shudder.
Joseph Amodei is president and CEO of Virgil Films & Entertainment, which he founded in 2003 to develop, acquire, market, distribute and produce movies in the narrative feature film, documentary, episodic television and special interest categories. Under Amodei’s leadership the company has released such award-winning hits as Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock’s notorious take-down of fast-food; Restrepo, an Oscar nominated documentary about a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan; I Am Chris Farley; the plant-based diet documentary Forks Over Knives; and Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me, a documentary that follows the legendary singer-songwriter on his farewell tour after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Amodei worked at Turner Home Entertainment and Polygram Video, and in 2000 was named president of USA Home Entertainment. While releasing films such as Traffic, Being John Malkovich and Gosford Park into the home entertainment world, he learned what it took to get these films noticed. The indie spirit that made USA such a success lives on with Virgil, where Amodei has been able to take his own passion and love for “everything movies” and turn it into a way to help talented young filmmakers realize their dream of getting their films seen. Amodei produced the documentary Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am?, and executive produced the Netflix series “Happy Jail.”
Bill Sondheim is CEO of Greenfield Media LLC, which provides distribution services reaching all digital platforms and physical outlets. He is also involved in executive-producing independent cast-driven films, as well as strategy and management for streaming OTT services. Sondheim has been promoting independent film for more than two decades. He was president of PolyGram Video, where he brought to market such films as Fargo, The Usual Suspects, Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Big Lebowski. He later was president of GoodTimes Entertainment, oversaw the development of Sony Music Entertainment’s dual-disc technology initiative, and headed entertainment and worldwide distribution for Gaiam, later Gaiam Vivendi. In 2013 he began a six-year run as president of Cinedigm, where he oversaw the company’s expansion into OTT and China. Sondheim most recently founded Greenfield Media LLC in 2019 and has grown the client list to more than 30 producers and production companies, streaming OTT services (SVOD, AVOD and FAST), and traditional distribution services. In the past year Greenfield Media has executive-produced four films and secured streaming and broadcast deals with several major cable operators as a producer rep, including The Hallmark Channel and UPTV. Greenfield Media has also secured label deals handling physical sales for The Asylum, Neon and Bleecker Street, Verdugo, and Film Movement.
Ilia Beizerman is SVP of operations and strategic partnerships at Distribution Solutions, a division of Alliance Entertainment that aggregates and distributes product from independent film labels in North America. Distribution Solutions’ distributed labels include Mill Creek, PBS, Vertical and Decal, the year-old joint venture between the Neon and Bleecker Street film labels. Among Distribution Solutions’ recent releases are the critically acclaimed drama Pig, starring Nicolas Cage, from Decal/Neon; the biographical drama Joe Bell, starring Mark Wahlberg, from Vertical; and RLJ Films’ mystery thriller The Dry, starring Eric Bana. Beizerman began his career at Paramount Pictures and later moved to Universal Pictures before embarking on a 12-year run at Sony Pictures, where he ultimately rose to executive director of strategic partnerships. While at Sony, he was a driving force in the 2006 creation of Distribution Solutions. His operations expertise and talent for relationship-building were pivotal in launching the company as a standalone in 2018. Beizerman formed initial partnerships with Criterion and RLJ Entertainment. Under his leadership, the label and studio partner count has hit 38, with more than 8,300 active films in the physical marketplace and more than 3,200 hours of published digital content, available through digital retailers such as Amazon, Vudu, and Redbox on Demand.
Eric Min is GM and head of content for 1091 Pictures, the film distributor launched in 2019 when Sony Music subsidiary The Orchard divested its film and television division. Min joined in November 2020 to spearhead content acquisition, client management and release management, and now oversees the marketing department as well. 1091 offers film and series owners full-service distribution to more than 100 destinations in more than 100 countries, including the major subscription services, digital stores, and AVOD channels such as Pluto TV, Tubi and The Roku Channel. Recent releases include Runt, starring the late Cameron Boyce, about bullied high school seniors seeking revenge; the documentary Pharma Bro, profiling Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager who raised drug prices after taking over pharmaceutical companies; Electric Jesus, a music comedy starring Brian Baumgartner and Judd Nelson about a touring Christian heavy metal rock band; and the documentary Clerk., about the career and life of filmmaker and raconteur Kevin Smith. Min was previously at XYZ Films, where he was part of the international sales and distribution team and led worldwide sales, distribution and acquisition of feature films. Prior to joining XYZ, Min served as EVP for film and TV at Aldamisa Entertainment, where he ran international sales, distribution and content acquisitions. Earlier, Min was VP of international sales and distribution for Seven Arts Pictures.
Michael Rosenberg is president of Film Movement, a New York City-based film distributor founded in 2002. The company specializes in world cinema, independent films and documentaries, and releases more than 20 new films each year. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Koreeda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. Recent and upcoming releases include Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy; the classic music documentary Deep Blues; the Belgian drama Playground, which won the FIPRESCI Prize in the Cannes Film Festival and was Oscar shortlisted for Best International Feature; and Ang Lee’s first feature film, Pushing Hands. In 2015, Film Movement launched the reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Stanley Kwan and Peter Greenaway. Film Movement Plus, a subscription streaming service, is available at FilmMovementPlus.com as well as on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and mobile devices. Rosenberg spent more than 25 years working for Koch Entertainment and its successor company, Entertainment One U.S. He became an owner of Film Movement in 2014. He is a member of the Producers’ Guild of America.