Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban

Gotham Awards: Gotham Tributes

There may be no substitute for experience, but innovation is often accomplished by those who come to the game with fresh eyes. Such is the case for Cuban and Wagner, who in less than five years have not only succeeded in helping bring to the screen original, challenging films but have created a unique model for how films can be financed, produced and distributed.

The longtime business partners showed their knack for staying ahead of the curve when they founded the Internet site in 1995, then sold it four years later to Yahoo for a cool $5.9 billion. Two years later, they applied their passion for technical innovation to the world of cable television with the launch of the high-definition pay TV channel HDNet.

They went on to expand into original film production two years later with indie outfit HDNet Films. The duo founded 2929 Entertainment as the umbrella company to house further ambitions in production, international sales, distribution and exhibition. (Their portfolio also includes indie distributor Magnolia Pictures and the Landmark arthouse theater chain.)

With their various holdings in place, Cuban and Wagner started breaking rules. In February, they pioneered the “day-and-date” model of film distribution with the simultaneous video, cable and theatrical release of Steven Soderbergh’s low-budget HD film “Bubble” (the first of six the director will helm for HDNet Films).

They also scored six Oscar nominations this year for George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck,” a project 2929 stepped in to finance at a crucial moment. Among 2929’s recent projects is Lionsgate release “Akeelah and the Bee” and the upcoming “Turistas,” “Fast Track,” “Black Christmas” and “We Own the World.”

Other 2929 initiatives include Truly Indie, a low-cost theatrical distribution service for indie filmmakers, which launched in October 2005.

“We question everything — from how movies are marketed, distributed, screened, to how they are produced,” Wagner says. “We think that technology now allows everything to be done differently and more efficiently, and we will do everything we can to wring inefficiencies out of the business. We enjoy that.”

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