Flick Lauderdale

The Art of the SoFla Movie Deal

A lot of South Floridians, seeing film crews set up on local streets or fashion models drape themselves across Fort Lauderdale's famous seawall, believe we'll be the next Tinseltown. Not in this century. If there is any real local connection to the pic biz -- that entrepreneurial yeast culture in which loafer-clad wheeler-dealers huddle poolside to negotiate points, percentages, and distribution rights -- it's mostly in the person of Mike Broder, head of Small Planet Pictures in Fort Lauderdale.

In the world of film distribution, Broder is the oddball. The unassuming, chunky, 29-year-old former movie projectionist, who was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Hollywood (the Florida one), set up operations here two years ago, making him a Sunshine State pioneer. These days, Hollywood Reporter ranks Small Planet 45th among 75 American film distributors.

In fact, Broder is on the verge of pulling off a fascinating deal that involves Small Planet's latest property, the documentary Rockets Redglare, about a Lower East Side actor/con man/junkie. Produced by Steve Buscemi, with appearances by Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, and others, the film, which opens here on October 1, will be among the first to be distributed digitally to a national audience. (A spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners says Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Catwoman were both available in digital versions at some theaters, though not as general releases.)

Instead of FedExing copies on celluloid to cinemas, Rockets Redglare will be downloaded via phone lines to digital projectors -- 30 of them for starters, in this case -- which will deliver them to the silver screen for the entertainment of the viewing public. Digital filmmaking is shaking up the film world, with directors like Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) developing new moviemaking techniques using portable state-of-the-art video cameras, and the big studios pondering cost-cutting possibilities. "Film has been around for 110 years," Broder says. "It's time for new technology."

Getting in on the distribution end doesn't guarantee Broder a lock on any future deals (though doing it digitally saves him the money he'd have to spend for celluloid copies, about $5,500 each). It earns him credibility as a forward-thinking operator. "There are people I haven't been able to get on the phone for five years, they're so high on the food chain," Broder says. "Now they're calling me at home."

Broder has paid his dues on the unglamorous side of the movie business. He worked as a theater usher, did sound and lighting at rock concerts, then managed Fort Lauderdale's Gateway Theater. To date, there have been eight Small Planet movies, with the most successful, the 2002 movie Tully, bringing in a modest $500,000 at the box office. His biggest bust: the gangster movie This Thing of Ours, directed by Danny Provenzano, now doing a 10-year term in Pennsylvania for a variety of racketeering crimes.

"It's what happens when you do business with criminals," Broder says, with a world-bitten scowl.

Rockets Redglare has already gotten some mixed reviews in New York. "It's not for everybody," the future bigwig concedes. "It's for people who like coffee and cigarettes."

Eek, I'm So Nervous

Usually, there's at least a tiny grain of truth in those urban legends. For instance, it wasn't really a cat in a microwave -- it was a hamster in an E-Z Bake oven. Likewise, rumors that panicky South Floridians started hoarding every tab of Xanax they could get their shaky hands on during a near-solid month of hurricane warnings turned out to be, well, slightly exaggerated. Walgreens and Eckerds insist they kept pace with a nervous population's psychotropic needs throughout threats from Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.

But some smaller pharmacies reported spiked sales of nerve-calmers. It's hard to blame folks for stockpiling -- after all, picturing your roof flapping around like a baggage tag on a carry-on could unhinge even the strongest constitution.

Asked about hoarding, Charles Brumer, druggist at Hollywood Discount Pharmacy for the past 20 years, replied: "The answer is yes, but it wasn't a freakishly crazy situation," he acknowledges. "People did want their medicine -- and they wanted it early. There were some people who requested Xanax, Ativan, and Valium -- people we'd never seen getting it before. And some people got a whole month's worth and were already asking for it again."

Tailpipe's advice: If you get nervous, gnawing on the bedpost works just as well.

Et Tu Narcissus?

Congrats to City Link for its sturdy little best-of issue, complete with the slick paper cover and the pin-up portrait of a babe in a bikini. Tailpipe especially liked the Blink's choice of "Best Local Music Festival," which, it turns out, is the paper's own event.

A Glimpse of the Future

It was a mystical experience. On Friday, September 3, around 8:30 p.m. as Hurricane Frances ravaged the Bahamas, the Saturday edition of the Sun-Sentinel landed in Tailpipe's driveway. In large bold type, "Keeping Watch" stood strong above an aerial photograph of the massive hurricane.

Saturday! This could really work, the 'Pipe thought, vibrating like an East L.A. lowrider. Let's see. If Sunday's paper got there early too, Tailpipe would have time to dig out the winning Lotto numbers and hustle down to the local 7-Eleven. The possibilities were endless.

But, nuts, the headline was a cruel in-joke. With its Saturday edition jumping the gun, the Sun-Sentinel didn't have a chance to report on the storm's most surprising act: a nearly 24-hour, wait-and-let-me-get-ready shuffle in the warm Atlantic. What happened to the days of hardboiled, cigarette-smoking, whisky-drinking reporters yelling "Stop the presses!" when big news (read: potential storm of the decade!) happens?

"Basically, the way the storm was tracking at that time, we decided to go with those early deadlines," Kevin Courtney, the newspaper's communications manager, told the 'Pipe. "We made the best decision at the time. When the storm stalls, the weather conditions become out of control. You have to coordinate all people with safety in mind."

Translation: Editor Earl Maucker and I had to juggle some plywood.

The Sun-Sentinel admits that some subscribers did not receive newspapers during the rainy, windy weekend. But how many fishwrappers went missing? "I wouldn't want to discuss [that] in detail, for competitive reasons," Courtney says.

Translation: C'mon, that's embarrassing. Next question.

As it turned out, Hurricane Frances merely molested Broward County. The Miami Herald, whose circulation is spotty north of Griffin Road, patted itself on the back in a column by editor Tom Fiedler for publishing nearly every day.

Frances really put the beat down on Palm Beach County. And somehow, the Palm Beach Post found a way to put out a paper every day. (Post brass have houses with fewer windows to board up, according to sources.) "We printed normal newspapers Saturday, Sunday, and Monday," Post Publisher Tom Giuffrida said. "Getting those papers delivered was another proposition."

Three-fourths of subscribers in Martin and St. Lucie counties did not receive Sunday papers, Giuffrida said. By Tuesday, 79 percent of all Post subscribers had received the Sunday edition. Sure, the rag was late, but at least it wasn't an evening edition masquerading as the morning paper.

For that, you needed a Sun-Sentinel subscription. -- As told to Edmund Newton

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Edmund Newton