High concept

The Internet was supposed to broaden the distribution of independent films from art house to our house. Didn't happen. Now Madstone Films has come to the aid of not-ready-for-Sundance players with a fresh plan to distribute indie movies in underutilized theaters. After all, if televisions and personal computers can deliver specialized content, why not the big screen?

Madstone's co-CEOs -- Tom Gruenberg, a former executive at Polygram Filmed Entertainment and General Cinema; and Chip Seelig, a Goldman Sachs partner -- see their New York City-based company as a digital-movie incubator. As producers, they will fund and nurture projects of the low-budget ($500,000 to $1.5 million), high-art variety by first-time directors. They plan to produce those films at a small fraction of the usual cost by using digital equipment. Madstone will then beam those movies -- bundled with other programming, such as news, sports, and fashion events -- using satellite or fiber-optic transmission to 10 to 20 specially retrofitted cinemas. The founders hope to put together that network by resurrecting theaters from the ashes of bankrupt chains and other woebegone movie houses. Gruenberg intends to transform those cinemas into "multipurpose venues" capable of hosting "a multitude of promotional events."

Thus, in addition to charging admission to movies, Madstone could convert its technologically tip-top spaces into multimedia venues for big-ticket corporate conferences, press briefings, new-product announcements, and the like. Then, of course, there are the popcorn sales -- a niche in which Internet movie distributors can never compete.


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