For 18 years, Mark Ehrenkranz has delighted film fanatics in Morristown, Paramus and Parsippany with sneak previews of movies large and small, complete with guest appearances by top actors, directors, producers and critics.
Now, hoping to borrow a page from the Metropolitan Opera, the Morristown resident is using technology to take his New York Film Critics Series to a national audience.
On Nov. 5, 2013, the series will present an advance screening of Nebraska at 50 theaters around the country, kicking off monthly screenings of intriguing small releases that live or die by word of mouth.
Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers will host next month’s event from the AMC Empire 25 cinema in midtown Manhattan, where Nebraska stars Bruce Dern, June Squibb and Will Forte will field questions.
Audiences viewing the HD simulcast from select cinemas can ask questions via Twitter. For future screenings, cameras in some venues will offer a more interactive experience.
Directed by Oscar-winner Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways), and shot in black and white, Nebraska is about family life in America’s heartland. It opens nationally on Nov. 15.
“I’m totally excited,” said Mark, 53, who has spent eight years waiting for the right circumstances–in Hollywood and the world of technology– to make his national dream come true.
Finding a studio partner was challenging.
“Nobody wanted to be first. They all want to do it. Paramount is taking a shot with me… a great shot, and we’re working day and night on this,” said Mark, who has worked in TV and movie production and distribution for 25 years.
He has done projects with Jerry Seinfeld, Elaine May, Joel Grey and Michael Nesmith of Monkees fame, among others. His credits include “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and “Entertainment Tonight.”
Kevin Bacon, Sigourney Weaver, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, Alan Alda, Kathleen Turner, Chazz Palminteri and Edward Burns are some of the stars who have done Q & A sessions at the New York Film Critics Series.
Trailer for national version of the NY Film Critics Series
Met Live in HD
Metropolitan Opera Live in HD satellite transmissions have brought Met performances to theaters around the world since 2006, reaping millions in revenue for the opera company.
“To me, the most exciting part of that is behind the scenes. They show the sets, the makeup and the wardrobe. I want to replicate that. Lots of other shows out there are just talking heads,” said Mark, a movie buff since his father Ira took him to see a Jason Robards film, A Thousand Clowns, when he was a boy in West Orange.
But satellite broadcasting raises too many hurdles for the film series. It’s expensive, and few cinemas are equipped to receive such transmissions, Mark said.
Instead, a video streaming service will pump his four-camera HD shoot–including “private moments” with stars in the Green Room–to movie houses via the Internet.
That approach has its own challenges. Many cinemas lack broadband connections and ban laptop computers for fear of digital piracy, Mark said. And he discovered that Manhattan lacks high-speed fiber lines. So he had a 60 megabit-per-second pipe installed at the AMC Empire 25.
“We have the fastest connection of any entertainment facility in New York City,” he boasted.
Nationwide, Mark purposely chose art-house theaters beloved by passionate moviegoers. These include the Coolidge in Boston, the Music Box in Chicago and the Seattle International Film Fest Theater.
Screenings around the country will range from $18 to $35, Mark said. Tickets to the live New York screenings will be $37.50. Subscription packages may follow.
Mark’s next dream? Premiering his own movie, Turbulent Souls. He is producing the full-length feature, based on the memoirs of author Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics.
“Yeah, baby, we’ll put this in the program!” Mark said.
Mark’s monthly simulcasts are separate from his eight-week subscription series in Parsippany and Paramus. The New York Film Critics series left Morristown when ownership of the Headquarters Plaza cineplex changed hands this summer; extensive renovations are planned and Mark said it’s too soon to say if the series will return to HQ Plaza.