The Shooting Gallery, 1991–2001

The Rise and Fall of an Indie Empire

On June 19, just days after their first annual board meeting as a new-technology firm, Itemus dropped the bomb that the Shooting Gallery's financial situation had "deteriorated substantially" and they would need at least $10 million to keep their new subsidiary afloat. Three days later, when Meistrich gathered roughly 60 staffers to tell them they were no longer getting paid, the man many in the industry have called a frat boy was crying: Meistrich's empire had fallen.

Now that the company is bust, many are left in the lurch. Bowles has been working at home, struggling to secure bookings for the films from last spring's Film Series—such as Cannes critics' favorites Eurekaand The Day I Became a Woman, which are still circulating around U.S. theaters. "But there's no company left," says Bowles. "If you want to get materials, there's no one to get them for you."

Frank Novak, a furniture maker turned filmmaker, sold his debut film, Good Housekeeping, to the Shooting Gallery in May 2000 at Cannes, hoping for a release in January 2001. But because the Shooting Gallery defaulted on its payments, the film is now back on the market. "It's really a drag," says Novak, "because when we sold it to them at Cannes, we had all these other people interested in the movie. So that momentum is squandered."

Similarly, producer's rep Josh Braun was in final negotiations to sell Paper Boys, a 41-minute documentary by celebrated commercial director Mike Mills, for the next edition of the Film Series. Paper Boyswas to be paired with Chris Smith's 60-minute documentary Home Moviefor a run in theaters. "It would have been perfect," Braun says, "because Home Moviewas shorter than the traditional feature-length film, so they needed to find something that worked thematically and was long enough to make up the time difference." Now Paper Boysmay never see the dark of a multiplex and Home Movieis back in play, looking for other theatrical outlets.

Many see the demise of the Shooting Gallery Film Series as the most tragic consequence of the company's collapse. Neil Friedman, who sold Good Housekeepingas well as French director Laurent Cantet's acclaimed Human Resourcesto the company, says, "If not for the Film Series, Human Resources would never have seen release in America. And there's no way that film was ever going to make any money in the U.S." Miramax will reportedly launch a similar series soon, but Friedman wonders, "Are they really going to look for the more artistic films that Shooting Gallery went for?"

In addition, the company had numerous projects in development, from new films by Bob Gosse and Neil LaBute to an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp (which after several months of development prompted Thompson to send an infamous e-mail to Shooting Gallery production executive Holly Sorensen, which began, "Okay, you lazy bitch, I'm getting tired of this waterhead fuckaround").

While filmmakers may have lost another production company to develop, finance, and distribute their films, it's the many independently contracted publicists, ad agencies, landlords, and investors who will suffer a more immediate setback. "This is a devastating blow to my business," says New York publicist Susan Norget, who is owed a substantial amount of money for her work on the Shooting Gallery Film Series. Los Angeles publicist Fredell Pogodin, who has yet to be paid for time she spent on the Oscar campaign for A Time for Drunken Horses, had no idea she'd take such a huge hit. "Is this a sizable chunk of change that I have to eat? Yes. Have I ever been burned like this before? No."

According to The Hollywood Reporter, several investors, including former Shooting Gallery board members and production executives, claim they are owed more than $1.26 million for money they invested in films such as You Can Count On Me. Court documents obtained by the Voicealso showed a judgment against the Shooting Gallery was filed days before the shutdown in favor of Maria Follini, mother of CJ Follini, president of Gun for Hire, for approximately $360,000, plus interest, for money she invested in the company. Over $174,000 is also owed in back rent for 609 Greenwich, and subtenants of the building like Highway Films and NYT Television may also find themselves caught in the quagmire, having rented equipment from Gun for Hire that they now fear may be repossessed.

Arnie Sawyer, whose company served as Shooting Gallery Films' ad agency, is also owed a large sum of cash. "There were all these assurances that Itemus would be the white knight," says Sawyer. "Those of us who saw the arrears growing took steps to protect ourselves, but it looked like there was going to be a silver lining." While that silver lining has turned to dust, Sawyer, a 20-year veteran of the independent film business, doesn't appear daunted. "There are no guarantees in this business," he says. "I'm always amazed people invest in it in the first place."

Back on the seventh floor of 609 Greenwich, two guys from another media company in the building stop by the ex-Shooting Gallery offices. "Is it all gone?" one asks. "Yep, it's all gone," the other answers. As they take the elevator down, he adds, "And we're next."

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