Mike's Adventure

Life in the Wicked Movie Biz

It used to be that, about two-thirds of the way through a European art movie, the main character would spend eight or ten minutes wandering wordlessly through a city or a landscape, trying to escape a state of miasmic alienation. Tailpipe's friend Peter Rainer, a film critic, calls those interludes "existential walkabouts."

That could have been what Mike Broder, president of Small Planet Pictures, was doing last year. His movie-distribution business in wreckage, bill collectors and lawyers in pursuit of him, Broder did a walkabout across the United States. Well, make it a driveabout. "I decided to drive around the country to find myself," says Broder, a round, bulky man with close-clipped hair and sharp, discerning eyes.

Until then, Broder, 31, had been the sole representative of the movie biz in Fort Lauderdale, aside from the usual collection of multiplex and neighborhood theater owners. Small Planet was ranked by Hollywood Reporter as 45th out of 75 American film distributors (which, in truth, isn't saying much, since the field is dominated by five or six megadistributors at the top). Broder never wore Gucci loafers, but there was a cachet of dealsmanship about him. His eyes were peeled for properties, he was always thinking of artful ways of structuring distribution deals, and he had some modest successes. (Remember Tully? How about Way Off Broadway? Hmm.)

Then he got involved with filmmaker Luis Fernandez de la Roguera, whose documentary about a Lower East Side con man/actor/junkie, Rockets Redglare!, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003. "He thought he had Shakespeare, but it was a bomb," Broder says now. Long story short, after a brief theatrical release, the movie sank like a stone. De la Roguera, with some backing from well-known movie actor and Rockets Redglare! producer Steve Buscemi, sued, claiming $1.75 million in damages. The filmmakers said that Broder never paid them any royalties and that he distributed the film illegally outside of North America. Broder says he never saw any royalties either. "Never got a dime from that picture," he says.

Unfortunately, de la Roguera died in a motorcycle accident last August, and Broder thought the matter was closed. (A very cautious attorney from the Robbins Law Firm in St. Petersburg told Tailpipe last week that de la Roguera's "estate," whose members the lawyer wouldn't divulge, is still pursuing the suit.)

The moral of Broder's story: "Stay out of the film business." Independent filmmakers are more and more succumbing to the market, and big-time indie production companies like Fox Searchlight and Sony Classics dominate the field, he says. "For every Blair Witch Project, there are 3,000 movies that lose money," says Broder, who started out as manager of the Gateway Theater in Fort Lauderdale.

Like any adventurous entrepreneurial mind, though, Broder made a comeback. He could have gone back into distribution, working for one of the biggies, or gotten an, ugh, office job somewhere. Nah. Broder is now South Florida's biggest impresario of anime and comic conventions. He has already pulled off two big Anime Supercon events, most recently a lively weekend at the Inverrary Resort featuring hundreds of dress-up characters and animation fiends, with another scheduled for June.

Everything that the movie business didn't have, he says, pop conventions have (except, of course, for the rare million-dollar payoffs).

"Everything with a movie is difficult," Broder says. "Getting people to the theater, getting reviews. You're lucky to get 120 people to a screening. At the anime convention, you're talking to more than 2,000." One thing Broder knows is arithmetic.

Tailpipe called Broder back to ask a few more questions, but no answer: He must be off again, drivin' about, escaping the miasma.

Better Than What?

Everybody knows that Tailpipe likes to soar like a bird, but he couldn't make it to the Air & Sea Show preliminaries last week. So he sent a feisty surrogate, New Timeswriter Kelly Cramer. She got a ride on a loopty-loopin' biplane, and she hasn't been the same since. Let her tell it in her own words:

"I knew I wasn't going on a suicide mission when, just before we took off, I heard pilot Fred Cabanas tell someone to go get him a grouper sandwich. He'd have to get me back on the ground, I figured, if he wanted to eat his lunch. Cabanas has been flying since he was 16, logging more than 20,000 hours of flight time. Yeah, if you're game, he's the man you want flying you upside down, in circles, or wrapping you around in one of those crazy, uptilted figure eights.

"In less than five minutes, Cabanas had maneuvered the black and yellow Pitts Special S2-C out of the Pompano Beach Airport and over the aquamarine water of the Atlantic Ocean. First, he let me fly the plane. Yikes. He told me to gently pull to the left, and, just as we started to turn over counterclockwise, he said to take it all the way. In a flash, we were upside down. Whoa. Just for balance, he had me circle the bird to the right too. Then he took over for the fancier maneuvers — the hammerheads, tail slides, and snap rolls — which, from the inside, look like just a lot of swooping and swerving. But the G-force was, uh, rad (really, no other way of saying it) and at one point lifted me into weightlessness.

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