Perhaps the antidote to surviving as an independent film producer in Gotham is to become a real-estate mogul, too.
With 25,000 square feet of prime loft space in Tribeca, and eighteen current tenants, GreeneStreet Films is doing just that. How else could they pay the bills?
But not far from mind is the United Artists ideal of creating a community of creative talent who share the same roof. The difference lies in the relationship between the “studio” and its tenants: Instead of establishing a formal, first-look pact with a company, where talent gets free overhead and even a discretionary fund on the off-chance that it chooses to make a film for the ‘studio,’ GreeneStreet acts first as landlord.
“It’s definitely a real-estate play, not just a community thing,” says one top Gotham film exec. “But inadvertently or not, they do create a sense of community and that’s how cross-pollination happens.”
GREENESTREET IS CERTAINLY HOUSING some strange bedfellows. Apart from Griffin Dunne and Glenn Close, and film producers Lydia Pilcher and Sarah Greene, tenants include management firms Handprint Ent. and Untitled Ent.; PR firms I/D PR and Anna Samuel; hip-hop distribution shingle Adex Ent.; financial services co. Seagate Global Advisors; docu producer Susan Winter; industrials producer, Kim Denster; and animation company Red Scare.
But the loft-space, replete with oakwood floors and high ceilings, makes for a communal feeling. “My goal, since we got this property in 1998, has been to rent to more and more people I want to work with,” said co-founder and partner John Penotti, sitting in a large, atrium kitchen, who runs the company with actor/director Fisher Stevens. “The people here are friends, or friends of friends. It’s a holistic approach, not based on contracts. Just by placing people in the same physical space, there’s a great chance they will come to work together.”
I express my concern about cross-pollination. I mean, does GreeneStreet really have a relationship with each of its tenants? Penotti’s eyes light up.
“Griffin Dunne, who has had offices here for some time, came out of his office one day, lamenting that he needed a project to direct,” recalls Penotti. “Fisher and I were standing with him at the coffee machine and handed him a script that Holly Hall and Mira Sorvino had given us. It was called “Lisa Picard is Famous” and it didn’t have a director attached. Griffin got it on a Friday. By Monday, he responded that he really liked it. A few weeks later, we were prepping the movie. This is exactly the concept. Producers can walk down the hall and talk to a writer and they end up working together. We designed the space so everyone had to come through the atrium area to get to their offices.”
Penotti knows how to work the angles, knows that to survive he has to.
“What I noticed, as I was first becoming an indie producer, was how hard it is to keep a momentum going,” he says. “This idea was our way to physically represent continuity, because people are literally in the same space. It makes communication a lot more successful.”
SOME OF THE RELATIONSHIPS come through Stevens, a founding member of Gotham’s Naked Angels theater company. The actor has a long-standing friendship with Naked members Rob Morrow and Marisa Tomei. It’s no wonder Morrow, via his Bits & Pieces shingle, rents space from GreeneStreet and that GreeneStreet has optioned the novel “Barbecue Dog” for Morrow to direct. It’s also no surprise that Tomei stars in two forthcoming GreeneStreet productions — the November Miramax release “In the Bedroom,” and the Stevens-helmed “Just a Kiss,” to be released by Paramount Classics next year.
And then there’s John Turturro and playwrights Jon Robin Baitz and Frank Pugliese. Turturro keeps a “sliding office” at GreeneStreet, says Penotti. “In other words, when he needs a New York office he has one here.” The actor helmed “Illuminata,” a GreeneStreet-produced pic released two years ago, and co-starred in the shingle’s “Company Man.” Baitz, who penned the GreeneStreet-produced “People I Know,” a Miramax release starring Al Pacino and directed by Daniel Algrant, conceived of the project while working in his GreeneStreet office.
Obie Award-winning playwright Pugliese, who penned the play “Avenue Boys” and the HBO film “A Shot in the Dark,” has been close to GreeneStreet since its inception. He makes his directing debut with GreeneStreet’s “The Italian,” currently casting.
It pays to get tenants that you like. You never know when you might feel like hiring one of them.