Genre films keep Shoreline sailing

Company succesfully mixes art and commerce

Few companies can go the distance on the foreign sales circuit, but Shoreline Entertainment, now 15 years old, is among that elite group.

CEO Morris Ruskin makes no secret of a key reason behind Shoreline’s longevity — acquiring and producing good old-fashioned genre films: “You come to these markets and what you hear is, ‘Do you have any action movies, any thrillers, any horror movies?’ And man, shame on us if we don’t.”

Today, Shoreline’s best known for film sales, but it didn’t start that way.

“We began as a production company,” says Ruskin, whose first experience as a co-producer was in 1992 on “Glengarry Glen Ross.” After five years of ups and downs, Ruskin made a decision to acquire and sell art and genre titles on the worldwide market. “We started the sales company in 1997 as a means of getting our films made,” he explains.

With its main L.A. offices located on Century Park East and sales offices in Las Vegas, Shoreline’s business is divided 60/40 between worldwide sales and production of original films.

To keep abreast of market demands, Ruskin and his sales execs Sam Eigen and Brian Sweet plus director of acquisitions Brandon Paine track the fest circuit and markets to locate product. They also receive a combined total of close to 50 films and scripts per week.

Within Shoreline, two sublabels, Watermark and Rip Tide, delineate the library of titles. “Rip Tide is genre stuff — action, horror and thrillers,” Ruskin explains, “and Watermark is our indie and art films, dramas and comedies.”

The Rip Tide label has paid big dividends. “We got lucky this year because we made a genre film called ‘The Signal,’ which was in the midnight section of Sundance, and it sold to Magnolia for many more times than its budget,” says Ruskin. “It’s that sort of nice combination of art and commerce.” (“Signal” is set to hit theaters in January.)

Over the years, Shoreline has weathered the decline of video sales, the rise of DVDs and ever-changing global economies. Ruskin points out that the days of funding a picture entirely through presales are over.

“Now we look at soft tax deals and a combination of a little bit of equity, a little bit of gap, sometimes married with some sales,” he says. “You don’t necessarily want to presell in some cases, because waiting to see how many festivals it gets into raises it to a whole different price.”

The exploitation of digital rights is another heavy issue facing companies such as Shoreline. Ruskin says he made a cell phone content deal with a Japanese company that ended up making no money, so he’s hesitant to get further involved in the fledgling mar ketplace. “Until there’s really an infrastructure there, why give away those rights?” he asks.

Ruskin makes it a habit to share his experience with other filmmakers. “They get the indie spirit,” says director Jeff Glickman, whose “Killing Zelda Sparks” is repped by Shoreline. He’s now also co-producing Shoreline’s “Pomona Queen.”

Producer Eileen Craft, with whom Ruskin has made three films, most recently “Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School,” is another alum of his tutelage.

“I was a first-time producer, and he took me under his wing, helped us through the film and worked with us on sales and distribution,” Craft says. “It’s a hard business and risky, so you want to enjoy who you’re working with.” Currently, Craft and Ruskin are developing a supernatural thriller and creating a gap fund with entrepreneurs out of Austin, Texas.

Another example of Ruskin’s talent nurturing is helmer Justin Ritter. Shoreline picked up his self-financed horror effort, “KatieBird *Certifiable Crazy Person” (2005), and after success with foreign sales, Ruskin continued to work with Ritter. They have “A Gothic Tale” in post and two other films in development.

Gary Rubin, head of First Independent Pictures, who acquired Watermark title “Everything’s Gone Green” at last year’s AFM, sees Ruskin’s aesthetic as the driving force behind Shoreline. “When Morris utilizes his own taste to acquire a film, I think he’s excellent. Morris is very careful, and that’s to his credit.”