FILM SYNOPSIS. Duncan (Mark McClain Wilson), a philosophical nomad hitchhiking across America clutching only his yo-yo and a well- thumbed copy of Rimbaud’s The Drunken Boat, grabs a ride from Toad (Eric Vesbit), a performance artist and purple leisure slacks enthusiast from the suburbs. Toad has recently left his home town to begin a new life in Ann Arbor, Michigan where his co-dependent, folk-singing sister Jenny (Amy Raasch) lives with her fiancé, a verbally abusive law student named Calvin (Aaron Williams). Jenny currently sees a suicidal therapist four times a week and armed with her acoustic guitar, drives away patrons from a local coffee house where she slings cappuccinos with her best friend Squeeze (Melissa Zafarana). Squeeze is a closet genius whose easy-going outlook and unconditional support keeps her live-in boyfriend Hank (David Wilcox) from the brink. Hank is an unemployed, self- defeating painter who suffers from perpetual artistic block because he spends his time and creative energies baking cookies and practicing for the Oprah Winfrey Show. The local civilians tune their radios to listen to Julian (Julian Rad), a sociopathic dee-jay whose frustration, anger, and optimistic belief that life and people are inherently good, goad him to find the truth by cutting through 60’s idealism, pop culture, and politically correct bumper stickers. Once in Ann Arbor, Duncan encounters these and other eccentric characters, and through his simple outlook and curiosity, he changes their lives forever. He also falls in love.
DEVELOPMENT. The Four Corners of Nowhere was Steve Chbosky’s first feature film; he wrote, directed and associate produced it, at the age of 22. He initially conceived of the film as an audition piece for his actor friends struggling in Los Angeles: “I thought of making a super 8 feature about young people that would give them all material to show agents.”
Prior to making Four Corners, Chbosky was just getting started in his filmmaking career as he finished his curriculum at USC’s filmic writing program. He was the 1992 winner of the Abraham Polonsky screenwriting award for his screenplay Everything Divided. In the early summer of 1992, Chbosky hit the road to discover America. As he traveled across the country, he met young people that had completely transcended the “Generation X” stereotype. Chbosky explains, “These people embodied the essence of what I was trying to understand within my own experience. Revolutionaries in San Francisco. Stoners in Portland. A guy whose name was Barney Can-U- Dig-It. These people made sense to me. As I got to know them, I started to realize what they all had in common. None of them were apathetic. They might have been confused as to what they wanted, but they were trying to find it. They might have had a minimum wage job they were over-qualified for, but they were looking for a better one. In essence, they were actively seeking a place for themselves that felt right. They wanted answers rather than speculation. No one had given up the search. I left Seattle, and I started thinking about how a film could capture all of this. By the time I left the state of Washington, I knew that the key was to have fun with the stereotypes, let the real people speak their minds even if their perspectives differed, and find a way to bring all of the perspectives together. The latter finally came in the form of Duncan’s letter [which he reads at the end of the film].”
During his cross-country trip through the states, he stopped by Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit with his childhood friend, Mark Wilson. Wilson was, during that summer of 1992, finishing up his Bachelor Degree of Fine Arts at the University of Michigan. Wilson introduced Chbosky to Julian Rad, an aspiring actor and filmmaker who’s tenure in Ann Arbor had been extended by the production of his short film, Two Faces, which co-starred Randall “Tex” Cobb and had been financed through the liquidation of a contest prize from Rolling Stone magazine. The three met, spoke extensively about the script which at this point was still an idea developing in Chbosky’s mind, and there and then, mapped out a general plan of action and agreed to make the picture happen.
Chbosky returned home to Pittsburgh to pen the script while Rad secured a day job and moved back in with his parents to keep overhead down. In between shifts as a teller at a local bank, a lifeguard and a waiter at Red Lobster, Rad put together preliminary publicity packages, business plans and started initial calls to secure locations and equipment. All the while, Chbosky delivered pizzas, and sequestered himself in the basement, finally completing the script on September 2, 1992.
FINANCING. The Four Corners of Nowhere had prepared an initial production budget of $1.2 million, with contingency budgets at $750,000 and $450,000. After a tremendous push for studio financing yielded only offers to purchase the script, Rad and Chbosky chose to produce the picture independently. “Basically, no one wanted to let us do the picture.” Chbosky states. “Two of the studios called Julian about purchasing the script, but that just made us want to make the picture even more.”
Once the decision to produce the picture independently had been established, Rad and Chbosky put together the limited partnership corporation American Platypus, Ltd. “Platypus, rainbow, the combination of many to become one,” Chbosky relates, “you get the picture.” Corporate lawyer friends of the family drew up the primary paperwork and the three partners began looking for funds.
Seed money for preparation was placed by the sale of the share of Rad’s childhood comic book collection. To keep down, Rad prepared the preliminary budget and investment memorandum, studied pertinent entertainment law and made of his contacts in the Independent Feature Project. “Basically, I’d write up a draft of the contracts we needed and got the lawyers at the VLA (Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts) to make changes.” Rad laughs. “They had a lot of changes! Fortunately, I got better.” After two primary limited partners backed out at the last minute, the production budget plummeted from a lean but ample $170,000 to a paltry $52,000, a sum contributed by largely friends and family. With less than two weeks away from the film’s start date and the majority of the cast already assembled in Michigan for rehearsals, the entire scope of the production was shifted to 16mm rather than postpone to replenish production financing.
Under this financial duress, principal photography was completed for $48,263. Cash money release print financing provided for primarily by credit cards and parental heart strings ballooned that number to $136,000. As yet unpaid deferments and debt liens against the picture give it a grand total budget of approximately $300,000.
PRODUCTION. Chbosky, Rad, and Wilson had begun preliminary discussions about the film in the fall of 1992. Chbosky completed the script in August of 1993; preparation was centrally focused from Rad’s parent’s house; pre-production was carried out from a friend’s basement in Ann Arbor which commenced upon 15 June, 1994; the production team eventually rented out a local fraternity to provide housing for the incoming cast and crew. Rehearsals for the actors commenced upon 1 July, 1994. Production began on 27, July, 1994.
Many reviewers have assumed that the apparent spontaneity of the dialogue between the characters reflects an improvisational working style. According to Chbosky, however, the film was “95% scripted. The ease and comfort between the actors comes from the fact that they all had worked together through college. This was a huge help during rehearsals and really set the tone for the picture. Four years of acting together allowed them a trust and comfort level with one another that I couldn’t have gotten with strangers.”
Shot in the super 16mm format, with the Aaton camera system, principal photography was completed in twenty-four days. Budget limitations dictated the production more than any other single factor, says Rad: “The primary thing we had going for us was that I had gone to college in Ann Arbor. I knew everyone in town, and fortunately, they allowed me to shoot in their locations for nothing or practically nothing. We had access to the University’s prop storage, to University buildings, even the University’s film equipment . . . basically, the best cost- cutting contingency was that I was an alumni.” Rad had worked at the Café Espresso Royale which provided employment for Jenny and Squeeze and Rad’s previous short film had used the Ashley’s Bar and Grill who’s late night haunt proved the perfect location for Duncan and Doreen’s heart to heart. And somehow, they all allowed the filmmaker’s to shoot for free. Or almost for free. “I actually bought a grave plot from the Cemetery we shot in,” Rad laughs. “It’s a great cemetery. Somehow, I think that there’s a certain perfect irony in all of this.” Rad turned twenty three during that night’s shoot.
After completing principal photography, Chbosky and Randy Ludensky, the film’s editor, moved to the Pittsburgh home of Chbosky’s parents. The print took up residence at the Steenbeck suites of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, a local not-for-profit organization. The film was cut over a period of seven months. Additional monies were raised through credit cards and windfall subscriptions to finance the laboratory costs, including the blow up to 35mm and color timing sessions. “Basically, what you see on the screen is half finished.” Rad laments. “We didn’t have the money for sound design, or even a stereo mix, so the sound is mono. We didn’t have money for another timing session, so the color is not where Peter [Hawkins, cinematographer] wanted it to be. In fact, all the video copies of the film that exist are print transfers, not rank cine-tel or wet gate transfers, because we just didn’t have the money to spruce up the image and sound, and still don’t.”
FESTIVAL CIRCUIT. The Four Corners of Nowhere began the festival circuit in the fall of 1993, showing a one-light print transfer of a rough cut trailer at the Independent Feature Film Market as a work-in-progress. Little interest beyond raised eyebrows came of this screening, and the filmmakers continued editing. A rush cut of the first hour of the picture was submitted in September 1993 to the Sundance Film Festival to no avail. Post production continued slowly as the producers continued to vainly apply to film festivals. Houston Worldfest 1994 actually accepted the picture, however, lack of sufficient funds forced the filmmakers to decline the invitation and carry on. Post production was completed in October 1994and promptly shipped off with an application to Sundance.
The film made it’s world premiere at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival competition circuit. Rad commented “Unfortunately, we had amazing press leading up to Sundance. We were the hyped film to see on the first day primarily because Steve and I didn’t allow anyone to see the picture before the festival began. . . which was the worst thing we could have done. At the opening ceremonies party, a gentleman approached me and asked how it felt to have made the ‘American Graffitti’ of my generation. No picture could have survived the hype we had going into that first day in Utah. And the backlash was incredible.”
Chbosky elaborates: “The ridiculous thing was that outside of the studio execs, with the actual audiences, we were doing great. There was a screening held in Salt Lake City for the locals. We had a standing ovation from a sold out house in Salt Lake. There was a huge line to get autographs from the actors, which held up the screening of the film playing after us, and finally, the theatre managers had to kick us out.”
However, distribution acquisition wasn’t in the cards. “Once word was out that Miramax, New Line and Sony had all passed on us, and we had that “twenty-something” tag which was box office poison at that time, no one wanted to touch us.” Rad states. “The Friday before the festival, Harvey Weinstein was taking me out to dinner, talking Housekeeping deal. A week later, I was having meetings with guys who wanted us to give them the rights to the picture, give them all of our materials, and wanted us to finance distribution, and only wanted to give us 30% of the net take. One distribution company actually offered not to distribute the picture, but to act as our ‘distribution advisor’ and have us pay them a monthly fee of $15,000 for them to give us advice.”
POST SUNDANCE. After distribution hunting proved fruitless at Sundance, Rad and Chbosky continued on the festival circuit. The Four Corners of Nowhere was screened at the Worldfest Houston Film Festival (runner-up, Best of Fest), Florida Film Festival (winner, Audience Award), Atlanta International Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival (winner, Best of Fest), Central Florida Film and Video Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Sinking Creek Film Festival (winner, Audience Award) and the San Jose International Film Festival. Internationally, the film was screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (winner, Audience Award), the Mannehiem-Heidelberg Film Festival, the Leeds International Film Festival, the Cornerhouse-Manchester Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, Capetown International Film Festival and the Grahamstown Film Festival.
Rad and Chbosky sat down and discussed their options in February of 1995. “The fact of the matter was that no one wanted to take on Four Corners as a distributor.” Rad sighed. “From every distributor, we heard the same thing: ‘We have no idea how to market this picture, we don’t think this film has legs.’ So we decided that the best thing to do was to show these distributors the way.” Rad and Chbosky proceeded to set up test screenings and trial releases in Stamford, Connecticut, Ann Arbor, Michigan, New York, New York and Boston, Massachusetts. (See TEST SCREENING RESULTS) Firstly, Rad set up a screening through the Independent Feature Project’s Independent’s Night screenings in New York City’s Lincoln Center Walter Reede Theatre. “That screening went fabulously well,” Chbosky iterates. “Then again, what could you expect — it was filled with our people: independent filmmakers, college students, and of course, all of our friends. The response cards were through the roof.” Considering this screening as an untrustworthy representation of a general audience, Rad and Chbosky set up three screenings at the Film Archives in New York, near New York University. “I figured that at Film Archives, we could find an audience that was not stacked so heavily in our favor,” Rad explains. “We also set up a concurrent screening in Stamford, a market where we had no connections to, in order to get an idea of what the average filmgoer felt about Four Corners.” As expected, the numbers fell, but not as far as was expected. Encouraged by what they saw was a vote of confidence from the American movie-going public, American Platypus financed and produced new and improved press kits, re-printed posters and 35mm and video trailers.
The Four Corners of Nowhere had its unofficial premiere in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the 4th of March, 1995 at the famed Michigan Theatre. With a heavy marketing push which began the week before, the filmmakers and actors descended upon Ann Arbor, saturating the media with interviews, posters, promotional items, and tickets. Flyers were produced and handed out, as well as plastered across the campus kiosks and telephone polls. Interviews were held at the radio stations and even a reception was thrown by the theatre faculty of the University of Michigan to welcome home their alumni. Three press screenings were held, prompting reviews in every area newspaper, and a concurrent art showing was placed in a local gallery, selling artwork used in the film, inspired by the film, and by the actors/filmmakers. “Absolutely ridiculous,” was the judgment on Rad’s part. “If there was a way to promote this film, we did it in Ann Arbor. And it worked.” Lines around the block for two weekend showings welcomed the filmmakers back home. As well as incredibly responsive results on screening questionnaires. “Ann Arbor was our make or break point,” Chbosky yields. “If we couldn’t generate box office there, we were doomed.” Out of the $26,397.84 of box office revenue generated by Four Corners, $12,500 of it was generated initially in those first two weekend showings. The film had only been booked for two screenings, but was immediately picked up for consequent weekend showings at the Michigan Theatre as well as at the local State Theatre.
American Platypus then booked a six week run in Boston, Massachusetts, at the Cornerhouse Theatre. Cornerhouse had heard of the success of Four Corners at the Michigan and hoped to duplicate it’s success there. Again, the filmmaker’s descended upon the town and tried to again, saturate the media and the market with attention on the picture. “Which was a crazy idea,” Rad admits. “Boston was a completely different ball game. For one thing, it’s a metropolis compared to the small college town of Ann Arbor, we didn’t know the town as well, and there was no history to the film there. Also, Cornerhouse had five other screens showing films with distributors who had money for television ads, newspaper slicks, whatever. They had it and we didn’t.” The film did respectably, pulling in over 27% of the theatre’s overall box office for the six week run, even against larger studio picture releases who shared the same roof. “And in the end, Boston proved encouraging enough for us to head back out into the festival market game,” Chbosky states.
Armed with test screening results and box office figures, Rad marched his way back into the market fray. Through all their efforts, American Platypus had spent a total of $2,600 on prints and advertising and realized a box office gross which totaled $19,750. “The numbers were enough for people to raise their eyebrows and scratch their heads,” Rad explains, “but not enough for them to commit. Hard figures were the only thing that could turn their heads.”
During the various festival screenings, Rad and Chbosky had been approached by various foreign companies seeking distribution rights to certain territories and markets. Rad began negotiating in earnest, assuming that the actual having of signed contracts would start to change perceptions. “Everyone I spoke with said that they had no idea how to make any money on this film,” Rad details. “So I would pull out this stack of contracts and say: ‘If you picked up this film right now, tomorrow it would make $187,000.’”
Finally, at the 1996 Independent Feature Film Market, Rad met with representatives of a small producer’s representative company called MGI. They told Rad that they wanted Four Corners to be their breakout into the distribution game. “It seemed like the ideal opportunity,” said Rad. “They were hungry and wanted to take a chance on us and considering the contract they were willing to sign, we felt that our best interests would be served and the picture would finally get out there.”
DISTRIBUTION DEAL. MGI is a small LA-based firm who primarily worked as a sales agent/producer’s rep for foreign sales of motion pictures. MGI partnered up with Kit Parker Films International, a new company in the distribution game, with recent successes re- releasing older domestic and foreign films. “Basically, we had been looking to get into the distribution game for some time,” MGI head Colleen Meeker explains. “But we never had a picture that we felt could make that happen. Four Corners, with its accomplishments and the Sundance label, was the picture we had been looking for.” Meeker and Rad worked for three weeks brokering a deal. Rad sweetened the pot with deals already put in place and waiting for approval with several foreign distributors as well as a year option with the newly formed Sundance Channel. “Basically, all those months of stomping film festivals and markets had provided us with individual interest from specialty distributors who inquired about contracts for certain media in particular territories,” Rad explains. “So I went ahead with preliminary discussions about element and contractual agreements, but did not sign, in order to better entice a bone fide distributor. I felt that the promise of immediate return on investment in the form of percentage take of these deals already in place would prove a more substantial incentive than any box office number or marketing evidence.”
The key features of the deal proposed by Rad and accepted by Meeker included:
- Any and all costs of completing the elemental requirements, ie, E&O insurance, rank cine-tel transfers, the creation of ad slicks, would be financed and/or absorbed by MGI.
- The film would be released initially to 5 markets, to be followed up with 30 more, bringing the release to 35 markets strong. The film would then be re-distributed to 35 more markets, using the initial 35 prints already created for the initial release.
- In lieu of an advance, MGI agreed to pay the producers the first $50,000 of any sales/gross revenues, in lien against the producer’s eventual end.
- For theatrical release, there was a 50/50 percent split on all gross revenues less direct distribution costs.
- For non-theatrical release, there was a net revenue split of 60/40 percent in the producer’s favor.
- Any and all deals negotiated by MGI on behalf of American Platypus and 4 Corners, could not be finalized without the written consent of the producers.
- MGI agreed to spend at least $250,000 on prints and advertising for the initial 5 markets, to be increased by an additional $250,000 on the following 30 and another $250,000 on the finally 35 markets.
- “The plan was ambitious,” Rad concedes. “But we felt that in order to give the picture a chance, we had to push it through. And frankly, MGI seemed to be up for the challenge.”
MARKETING CAMPAIGN. The primary appeal of Four Corners was obviously to college markets. Rad explains: “We had conducted several test market screenings before the deal with MGI, and it was obvious from those results just how dependent we were going to be on the college student film-goer: educated, cineast, and more importantly, going through similar situations as the characters in the picture.” The plan was to utilize a tiered release as had been used successfully by Sony Picture’s Classics in marketing Howard’s End. Starting out with an initial market release in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. The release would be expanded from there to include Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas within a week of the initial release. From there, the release would be expanded to an additional 30 cities within three weeks of the initial release. Once these markets had been exploited properly, the 35 prints created for those 35 markets would be re-distributed to an additional 35 markets. The filmmakers were insistent on the timeline — MGI felt insistent to a fault. “Basically, these kids were asking me for guarantees that I just felt were pushing the envelope of what was possible.” Meeker admits. “I didn’t have any room for a market to fail.” Meeker also insisted that the film open in Los Angeles to ensure Variety and Hollywood Reporter reviews. “This was the main crux of our eventual disagreement. LA was not and is not where Four Corners should have been opening.” Rad states. “A film about college kids in the midwest — opening in South LA?”
PROMOTION AND PUBLICITY. Kit Parker designed and financed the production of ad slicks and poster one-sheets from negatives provided by the producers. Chbosky worked on putting the final touches on a soundtrack album while also cutting radio liners from the film’s primary dialogue track.
Kit Parker had internal publicists which they used to promote the film for their initial release in Los Angeles. However, Meeker felt that their promotional campaign was not up to snuff. She hired the Promotional firm of Peter Marais, Inc. to handle the Los Angeles release. “Unfortunately, she didn’t tell us about it,” Steve Durbin of Kit Parker laughs. “We are going about our business, working the promotional end, and then TV stations and newspapers are calling us saying, ‘There’s some other publicist sending us releases on Four Corners. Who’s handling the PR?’ It made us look really bad and MGI actually tried to bill us for Marais’ fee.”
TRAILER AND AD. Due to budgetary constraints, American Platypus agreed to cut and finance the production of three trailers for theatrical promotion. “Luckily we had already made trailers from the test release,” Chbosky laughs. All prints of the trailer would then be financed and distributed by MGI/Kit Parker. Keeping these budgetary constraints in mind, as well as the ever-increasing size of the bill owed to the laboratories, Chbosky cut three trailers utilizing entire scenes from the film, intercut with black card and white titles. The trailer ran in Los Angeles before the Kit Parker/MGI release and previously in Boston during the test releases. Editor Randy Ludensky states “The trailer was a huge success in Boston. Steve and I went to Boston to view the trailer with an audience waiting to see Crumb. They actually applauded!”
Kit Parker financed the creation of an ad slick from the original posters created by American Platypus for the festival circuit. Kit Parker then financed the creation of poster one sheets for theatres from color publicity photographs taken on the set of Four Corners. “Thank God we had still photographers on set.” Rad exclaims. “I hired a photography student at U of M to do publicity stills of all the primary actors individually as well as group shots. We had a still photographer on set taking press candids, and several crew members had their own cameras. We used them all.” Upon signing the agreement with Meeker and MGI, Rad and American Platypus turned over all negatives to these publicity pictures.
OPENING RUN. “Was an out and out disaster.” Wilson exclaims. The film opened at the Laemmle theatre, off Wilshire Blvd., on the northern edge of South Central, Los Angeles. The previous day, The LA Times panned the picture as “talky, pretentious.” The Hollywood Reporter spewed: “Leading us wading through this band of feckless, witless malcontents is Duncan. . . .” MGI’s Colleen Meeker stated: “We had no idea that the film would play so badly to the LA media. It was obvious that they hated the film, but they REALLY hated this film. For the Hollywood Reporter to actually be that viscous was particularly shocking. And in the end, it hurt us. LA is an industry town, and everyone reads the reviews.” No newspaper ads were run, nor was the trailer previewed on TV or in theatres. Radio ads were never even duplicated, and sat as masters in the office.
Despite the horrendous reviews, Four Corners played one week at a full run to bring in grosses of $2,489.50. “To be honest, it was the kids that brought people in.” Bob Laemmle states. “There were always at least two of the actors from the film outside, walking around LA, handing out flyers.” The Laemmle decided to continue carrying the film for an additional three weeks as a midnight weekend show to bring in additional $3,057.09 over six screenings.
“Meanwhile, as soon as the LA disaster strikes, all of a sudden, MGI is no longer interested in having any sort of involvement in the distribution of the picture.” Rad accuses. “In fact, Colleen once complained to me that she couldn’t convince anyone to be the domestic distributor. To which I had to point out: ‘Colleen — you ARE the domestic distributor.’” Kit Parker had other issues with Meeker: “Greg Laemmle actually called me, all confused as to who to send the Box Office net to: apparently Colleen had called and told him that we didn’t have the rights to the film and that the Laemmle should pay her instead.” Miffed at how MGI had handled the LA engagement as well as this interesting twist, Kit Parker Films complained and were promptly fired by Meeker. The film stalled. And moved from MGI’s distribution list to sales list. “Literally,” Rad states. “I have copies of the MGI ads run in the 1996 and 1997 AFM (American Film Market) — and in 1996, they are the distributor; in 1997, they are the sales rep.”
LEGAL ACTION. Finally, in May, 1997, Rad and Chbosky decided they had had enough. They engaged Dean Silvers, a reputable entertainment lawyer, who agreed to handle the case pro bono against eventual earnings. He, along with the producers, prepared to level a class action suit against Colleen Meeker and MGI for fraud, embezzlement, fiduciary negligence and gross mismanagement. “You have to realize that MGI never kept up their side of the contract at all.” Rad claims. “Even right down to foreign sales: under contract, we were supposed to have consultation rights over any foreign sale, and when we levied the suit, that’s when we found out about six foreign sales we had never heard of. Also, MGI has yet to pay us anything. Any part of the foreign sales, our share of the Sundance Channel option, nothing. They have actually claimed, in writing, that the film has ‘made no income.’
“To be honest, it was our desperation to have domestic theatrical distribution that got us into this mess. Looking back on everything, the smart play would have been to go ahead and sign the deals and make at least some money to pay the last of our outstanding debts and at least some to our investors. But the fact of the matter was that we believed in the film and felt that domestic theatrical release would open up countless doors and frankly, we didn’t have the capital to properly finish the film. Live and learn.”
MGI was immediately disbanded in light of the lawsuit and Colleen Meeker began doing business under the moniker of Nevada Film Partners. Unfortunately, Silvers decided that to pursue this case against MGI would not be in their best interests. The producers are currently seeking alternate pro bono representation or financing to properly engage litigation representation. Rad admits: “We made two huge mistakes in the contract: first, we allowed it to be under the jurice of California law. Second, we didn’t include an arbitration clause. Which means we have to sue. And we don’t have the money for a retainer.” Not legally bound to arbitrate, MGI recently turned down an invitation to arbitration through the California Lawyers for the Arts.
Not that this was the end of the producer’s troubles with MGI. In November of 1997, Rad received a letter from Meeker at MGI stating that she had engaged the services of Troma Entertainment to represent the film at the 1997 MIFED film market in Italy.
Shortly thereafter, Rad was contacted by Troma per their ongoing negotiations to acquire the film, demanding the elements to the picture. “This took us completely by surprise,” Rad elaborates. “Considering that MGI had already been notified of their breech of contract, that they had lost all copyright privileges and still she was trying to squeeze the last bit of money she could out of the film.” The producers contacted all concerned parties and let them know of MGI’s intentions. Rad and Troma began talks about a possible video distribution deal, which then stalled in negotiations.
In 1998, Rad retained the services of BARAB, KLINE & COATE, LLP, a legal firm specializing in entertainment law, who agreed to waive all payment for services in advance against a 45% cut of the eventual award. Considering that no other entertainment law firm able to litigate in Los Angeles would consider the case for less than a $25,000 retainer, BARAB, KLINE & COATE accepted $2,500 as retainer to cover basic court expenses.
Included in this package in the appendices is a copy of the original complaint made against Colleen Meeker and MGI Production and Distribution.
In November of 2000, a judge ruled in favor American Platypus, Ltd. and found Colleen Meeker and MGI Production and Distribution guilty of copyright infringement, fraud and breach of contract. Judgement then awarded American Platypus, Ltd. a restitution of 3.4 million dollars. Finalization of the case is currently pending jurice of legal services. Meeker had promised to appeal.
In the face of the decision against her, Meeker decided instead to leave the country. She sold her properties, belongings and emptied out all her bank accounts, personal and business. Last we heard, she was living in Greece.
SELF DISTRIBUTION. In a fury of frustrated energy, Rad collected together all of the exploitation elements and began work to self distribute the picture. Rad explains: “It seemed ridiculous that we had three one sheets, publicity photos, ten film prints of the trailers, four film prints of the picture, a soundtrack demo already digitally mastered and ad slicks, and we were not moving forward in the theatrical market. And anyway, I was looking over the budget numbers and realizing how many people we owed money too, and my enormous amount guilt got the best of me.”
Rad worked out a deal with Kit Parker to take possession of all prints and distribution elements to the picture in return for reimbursement of their out of pocket expenses incurred in preparing to distribute. Reimbursement was worked out to be 40% of the net take on any theatrical exploitation. Kit Parker then rendered all elements to American Platypus that were in it’s possession. Unfortunately, key poster art and publicity negatives were in possession of MGI and have not been returned.
Rad quickly utilized his contacts in Ann Arbor once again to re- book the picture for a single showing at the Michigan Theatre, the location of their previous triumph. And on 28 March, 1998, The Four Corners of Nowhere grossed $1,333.50 from a single Saturday night screening with no advance advertising, purely via word of mouth.
Rad and American Platypus have attempted at self distribution to other independently owned theatres, currently with no avail. “Frankly, we have two major strikes against us,” Rad details. “Number one, we’re old. We were at Sundance in 1995. Our last bit of mass exposure ended in 1997 when our run on the Sundance Channel ended. Number two: we’re broke. We don’t have the deep pockets like the bigger distributors to advertise and purchase full page ads in newspapers, and most independent theatres depend on that. So even if they like the film, there are these two huge reasons to believe that even after popcorn sales, the picture will bring them no revenue.” The Producers are also considering self distribution in video, however are still pursuing an alternative to having to do that.
HOME VIDEO. Kit Parker had the rights to Home Video distribution under the auspices of their contract with MGI. These contractual obligations have reverted back to the producer in light of MGI’s firing of Kit Parker from the domestic distribution and American Platypus’ suit against Colleen Meeker and MGI.
PAY CABLE. Rad had already worked out a deal with the Sundance Channel for a year’s option to run the film for $25,000. MGI took over the brokerage of the deal upon signing the deal with American Platypus. The year long run ended on 1 January, 1998 and was chosen to not be extended. At this point in time, MGI has not paid American Platypus any monies relating to this domestic cable exploitation sale.
FOREIGN SALES. According to Meeker, MGI Production and Distribution secured cable and television deals with Taiwan, Switzerland, and Middle East. “Odd considering that when we first signed with Meeker, Steve and I provided her with a hot list of company leads that had contacted us per exploitation rights,” Rad states. “A list which included Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil, South Africa and the UK.” American Platypus, Ltd. has made several requests as to the action taken by MGI as to these territories, to no avail. As to the three territories that were secured and confirmed, American Platypus, Ltd. has not received any monies per the contractually agreed upon percentages.