BY THOMAS BREEN
The second day of the Toronto International Film Festival saw a number of highly anticipated screenings, including Tom Ford's NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, Denis Villeneuve's ARRIVAL, and J. A. Bayona's A MONSTER CALLS. Although each merits its own full review (particularly the heady linguistics-and-sci-fi ARRIVAL), I want to turn today's post slightly away from the movies themselves and towards a man who plays a critical role in bringing those movies to theaters across the country.
I spent most of Friday morning and afternoon hopping from theater to theater with Rob Lawinsky and Arnold Gorlick. Arnold is the owner and operator of the Madison Art Cinemas in Madison, Connecticut, and has been on Deep Focus a number of times. We'll be catching up with him about his experience at TIFF 2016 on a future episode of the show.
Rob Lawinsky, a New Jersey native who has been a close friend and a trusted business partner of Arnold's for almost 20 years, is the head of Brielle Cinemas, where he acts as a film buyer and a film contract negotiator for small theaters across New England and the Mid Atlantic.
While waiting on line for our third screening of the day, I spoke with Rob about what a film buyer does and what brought him to this year's TIFF. See below for an edited transcript of the interview, and click on the audio player at the bottom of the post to listen to the complete conversation.
Deep Focus: What does a film buyer do?
Rob Lawinsky: As a film buyer for movie theaters around the United States, I help decide what films those theaters play over the course of the year. I work with mom-and-pop owned theaters: twins, triples, quads. They're not big 14 or 16-screen plexes, where you can just book a film and not worry about what you're playing because you can never be wrong. My job as a film buyer is to try to see every film that's out there so that people at my organization can have a discussion with our clients, explaining to them what we thought of the film and giving them input on what to bring to their theaters. There's so much information out there on the Internet, so clients know what movies are coming up and they can see what the projected grosses are. But sometimes you just need to be there in the theater to see a film and really get a feel for it, and that's what my organization does.
Deep Focus: How many theaters do you work with? And where are they located?
Rob Lawinsky: I program 45 different locations, which is about 190 screens across the United States. I work with theaters in Florida, Iowa, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. But we're pretty much doing business with all of the different studio offices. Most studios have only two branches in the United States now: one in New York and one in Los Angeles. Whereas when I first started in the business 40 years ago, there were branches in almost every city in almost every state. But now with the Internet and computers, the studios don't need all of these offices, they don't need all of these people. However, you can really do business anywhere, book any theater, as long as you have the right knowledge about what you're doing.
Deep Focus: Tell me a bit about your relationship with Arnold Gorlick and the Madison Art Cinemas.
Rob Lawinsky: Over 17 years ago, Arnold reached out through a friend of his and asked if we'd be interested in booking his theater. I never turn down an account! But from there, we've become personal friends. And the unique thing about Arnold is that he's a real showman. Not a lot of people will do what he does in the business, such as get up before the audience and announce the film. He has a cinema club. He's a throwback to the old days of being a real showman, and he has such a passion for this business.
Deep Focus: How has your work as a film buyer changed over the years?
Rob Lawinsky: One issue I encounter now is, even with the conversion of most theaters' projection from film to digital, the studios have so much access to grosses and to seeing the potential of theaters that they can be very reluctant to partner with low grossing theaters. On a 3,300 print run in the United States, they'll say, that theater doesn't gross, so let's not send them the film. My job is to fight for these smaller theaters, to put the pressure on the studios, even though they're showing comparable grosses of other pictures. Because these smaller theaters need to survive. They've spent so much money on digital equipment, and they need every possible picture. They've installed this digital, it doesn't cost the studios that much to make a hard drive. And it's a relationship. When they need theaters from me, I deliver. And when I need for these little guys, I expect the same thing from them. But it's an ongoing fight. That's my job, representing these guys. And I do take it personally. I treat each deal as if it were for my own theater.
Deep Focus: Why do you come to TIFF?
Rob Lawinsky: I'm here to see all of the upcoming art product, and the studio product too. I'll get a leg up on this, and will go back to my clients and talk about what I've seen that hasn't been released yet and what they're going to possibly be playing in their theaters over the next few months. Plus, I just love movies.