MOVIE STUDIOS aren't what they used to be. Once-proud names like MGM and Fox are now comparatively small and unimportant divisions of media conglomerates. The back lots are mostly gone, and they don't even own their own theaters any more. So why not revive the old idea of a full-time staff, production facilities, and exhibition space? That vertically integrated model pioneered by the Zanucks and Warners of the early 20th century was closely derived from the theater world, which in turn inspired local producer-director Gregg Lachow, founder of the Film Company (TFC), a tiny nonprofit movie studio established here in October.
Citing the Seattle Rep, Lachow contrasts how indie filmmakers generally assemble and disband a costly infrastructure to make one movie, leaving them to start from scratch again when they want to make another movie. "It's too exhausting," he says from experience, having directed The Wright Brothers and Money Buys Happiness, among other local features. Instead, he explains, the Film Company's three-year goal is to produce six feature films with an ongoing facility, "to accumulate equipment and expertise" with its eight-person staff.
"We're selling ourselves as a national center for indie film," Lachow continues, meaning TFC raises most of its money outside Seattle, then approaches filmmakers to work under its aegis here in town—and to finally premiere the finished picture at the new Northwest Film Forum venue on Capitol Hill. (The NWFF and TFC are affiliated, but have "a financial firewall" between them, Lachow explains.)
First up is William Weiss' debut feature, Telephone Pole Numbering System (which runs Thursday, Dec. 9–Sunday, Dec. 12, at NWFF), a work-in-progress about a septuagenarian loner leading an isolated nocturnal life. Like a traditional Hollywood test screening, the idea is to incorporate audience response into a final cut; "That's how good plays are made," says Lachow. In January, Canadian cult director Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World) will make a short for TFC—although, Lachow qualifies, "We're much more feature-centered than when we started."
In the long term, the Film Company may look to DVD for revenues and a wider audience beyond the film-festival circuit (the usual barometer of indie success). Lachow concludes, "No one knows where all this is going," but Louis B. Mayer might once have said the same thing of the nickelodeon.