One aspect of the history of the art of filmmaking remains largely unwritten. The financial aspects of filmmaking, namely the history of producers and distributors of films. Compared to the book industry, the film industry is infinite times more capital intensive. So while it is easy, almost risk-free and relatively cheap to write a novel that satisfies minority tastes, to produce a film that caters to minority audiences requires much more money and is a much riskier undertaking. Tyler Cowen was the first to point out this rather obvious but often overlooked aspect of filmmaking in his book In Praise of Commercial Culture which deals with the economics of culture production and consumption.
But what is a film producer? A film producer’s job is analogous to that of a publisher in the book industry: he finances the final product, a cultural artifact. But what is a film distributor? A film distributor is someone who buys the rights to a certain film in order to distribute it in his own country or region. Typically, he will have to market the film, provide subtitles for it and find screening opportunities. The analogy in book publishing is the role of a foreign publishing house that translates a book and distributes/markets it in its own territory.
Both a producer and a distributor try to reconcile the art of commerce and taste. In matters of taste I always embrace the heady nobrow cocktail of high art, eroticism, horror, philosophy, experimentalism, counterculture, subversion and avant-garde. This mix is a minority taste, I am well aware of that but some people have tried to cater to people of my (but more importantly their) taste. In publishing, this person is best exemplified by French publisher Eric Losfeld.
So I wonder: who is the Eric Losfeld of cinema?
In search of Losfeld’s cinematic alter ego I want to highlight the careers of film producers and/or distributors such as Anatole Dauman in France; Antony Balch and Richard Gordon in the U. K.; Roger Corman, Ben Barenholtz and Radley Metzger in North America. These entrepreneurs ran businesses that have provided us with films that mix high and low culture or have financed their high art productions with the proceeds of their more commercial and exploitative ventures.
Consider then the entrepeneurs listed above as the beginning of an ongoing quest for the cinematic Losfeld which I hope to continue over the coming months. One name that comes to mind is Germany’s Bernd Eichinger, who has produced cinematical adaptations of literary fiction by well regarded authors such as Süskind, Umberto Eco, Ian Mc Ewan and Houellebecq as well as more exploitative films such as Christiane F. and Resident Evil. Eichinger has also announced he would be making a film about the left-wing terrorist group Red Army Faction (RAF).
Please feel free to comment if you know of distributors/producers who fit the ‘cinematic Losfeld’ description.