Greenestreet carves niche in competitive specialty market

NEW YORK — Suddenly the little Gotham shingle called Greene-Street Films is starting to make some noise.

Like every company located near the World Trade Center, GreeneStreet suffered an emotional setback last year. But 2002 has been a bright spot in the company’s five-year history.

GreeneStreet fully financed the Todd Field-helmed “In the Bedroom,” which garnered five Academy Award nominations after its release by Miramax Films. The pic, which Greene-Street produced in conjunction with former neighbor Good Machine, grossed a hefty $35.9 million.

More recently, the shingle’s less than $10 million thriller “Swimfan,” starring Erika Christensen and Jesse Bradford, and co-financed with Cobalt Media, opened as the No. 1 movie in the nation, and has so far taken in $29 million.

It’s supposed to be a tough time for indies without the deep pockets of a studio behind them. But GreeneStreet has quietly sharpened its profile by focusing less on art films and more on mid- to low-budget pics with the potential to crossover to mainstream audiences.

And with Good Machine morphed to the more secure Universal-based Focus Features and Killer Films aligned with Warner Bros., Greene-Street is one of only a few truly indie shingles with any clout and name recognition left in Gotham.

Reliant partnerships

The company is batting 1.000 (seven for seven) as far as finding distribution for its pics: In the past 12 months, the Griffin Dunne-helmed “Lisa Picard Is Famous” was distributed by First Look; Benjamin Bratt starrer “Pinero” was released by Miramax; Jesse Peretz’s “The Chateau” was released by IFC Films; Paramount Classics distributed Fisher Stevens’ “Just a Kiss”; and Fox released “Swimfan.”

“We go through a meticulous examination of how a film can be distributed,” says animated co-founder John Penotti. “Any film we get involved with, we have to emotionally understand what the buying and marketing and distribution tract could be. We are reliant upon a distributor coming in, hoping there is additional value for what we have created.”

It doesn’t hurt that Greene-Street co-toppers Penotti and helmer Stevens have strong ties to Gotham’s creative community.

“GreeneStreet reps the perfect combination of taste and business,” says Steven Beer, a partner in the Gotham law firm of Rudolph and Beer. “Embracing the best of the New York independent film world, John (Penotti) and Fisher (Stevens) are accessible, personable and very smart. I like their access to money coupled with their top tier relationships with talent.”

Down the street, Miramax has been known to strike rich first-look deals with talent in order to keep them in the studio’s fold. GreeneStreet, on the other hand, charges its talent to stay close; with 35,000 square feet of prime loft space in Tribeca, GreeneStreet pays its rent, and some of its overhead, by subletting office space to a clutch of top Gotham talent, including ThinkFilm, Rob Morrow, Griffin Dunne, and producers Lydia Pilcher and Sarah Greene.

Collective atmosphere

The loft space makes for a communal feeling reminiscent of a studio lot. In order to get to their offices, the tenants pass through GreeneStreet’s atrium. There conversations can lead to meetings and ultimately to film projects with the landlord.

A founding member of theater company Naked Angels, Stevens himself is a magnate for talent. The actor-director and his company have a long-standing friendship with Naked members Morrow and Marisa Tomei, the latter of whom co-starred in “Bedroom” and “Just a Kiss.” Also frequent contributors to Greene-Street pics: John Turturro, and playwrights John Robbie Bates and Frank Pugliese, whose script “The Italian” is set up at the shingle.

But where does Greene-Street’s green come from?

Capital gains

Most of it is private investment capital from several key Moore Capital execs, and such GreeneStreet friends as Michael Gordon and David Liptak.

Says Penotti: “All the stuff that a studio does, we need to do in a microcosm. With Vicki Cherkas as our new business ventures person, Tim Williams as production head, Cedric Jeanson in charge of international co-productions, and our strong development department of Jamie Gordon and Courtney Potts, we really have the wherewithal to do well.

“All these people have different tastes, and all have a huge say in what we decide to do.”

Though he’s conservative about risk-taking, Penotti is energized by the company’s recent successes.

“In the next films, you’re going to see more commercial projects like ‘Molly Gunn,’ ” says Penotti, who just produced “Gunn” in Gotham, with Boaz Yakin directing. “But we have afforded ourselves the opportunity to take some risks, and I plan on it.”

Soon up at the indie-shingle-that-could: “Love Song for Bobby Long,” to be directed by tyro helmer Shainee Gabel, and Matt Dillon starring in and producing “Tough Guy: The Eddie Maloney Story.”

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