Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: Looking Beyond the Buzzing Blogosphere

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Have you been following the buzz over the last couple of weeks in the blogosphere about the state of ThinkFilm, one of the more recent doc champions (behind Spellbound, Murderball and Taxi to the Dark Side)? Like a three-martini buzz, it can be intoxicating, making it difficult to make sense of what’s what. There have been reports that the company’s owner David Bergstein and his Capital Films haven’t been paying the bills, as it were. There’s also been chatter about filmmakers such as director Alex Gibney not getting money they were owed (and then, in Gibney’s case, eventually getting paid), and a lawsuit from Allied Advertising, which handles the company’s prints and advertising, claiming they were owed $4.2 million in unpaid bills.

A lot of the “reporting” on the issue has referenced unnamed sources, and there’s been a notable lack of comment from Bergstein or ThinkFilm. It appears that some of the “reporters” didn’t even seek comment from the subjects. And lest we forget, a lawsuit is just a legal claim, not a statement of fact. Not that I’m saying there’s no truth in the matter, but I’ve just been bothered by how the rumors have surfaced as news when, really, there have been very few hard news stories (there’s been one Variety piece) covering the situation. So while discussing another doc matter, I figured I’d check in with ThinkFilm president, Mark Urman, who had this to say:

Let’s not get into the whole THINK thing. If someone wants to talk about the achievements, track record, and unique (and uniquely charming!) personality of the company, let him do so on the basis of what he has seen and heard from others. If one wants to chronicle the woes, one is simply adding to them. Thus far, all the writers who purport to set the record straight do so by recapitulating all the half-truths and false assumptions only to halfheartedly refute them. I am stymied as to why so many film writers are much quicker to cover our problems than they are to cover our films. (And don’t get me started on the attendant and anonymous “comments” that bubble up from the depths and attach themselves permanently to the journalism, or is that germ-alism, like carbuncles!)

It’s not exactly a definitive statement on the state of the company, but I think it’s a fair assessment of the overall vibe that the blog-media-complex is treating ThinkFilm like the latest chum thrown in the water.
With independent film shingles (Warner Indepedent, Paramount Vantage) shutting down or being absorbed by other companies and last year’s grim box office, I guess it’s a time for folks in the business of making money from docs to gird their loins. Or get out of the water.

PS: A “carbuncle,” by the way, is a large abscess on the skin, usually with one or more openings that drain pus. I think for now on we should all refer to vile, insidious blog comments as such. Thanks for that, Mark!

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Jason

    FOREIGNID: 15635
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Hey Tom,
    Despite what Mr. Urman would like the truth to be, the FACT is that ThinkFilm, since being purchased by David Bergstein, has been utterly remiss on paying people. I know first hand, as a producer whose film was distributed by ThinkFilm that they simply don’t pay. I’m talking UP FRONT monies; contractual obligations. “Half-truths and false assumptions” are what Urman calls these reports. I call them “on the nose” because what once was a “uniquely charming” company is now a shell game. And don’t think the irony that parent company Capitol Films’ problems with managing its capital is lost on me.

  • http://pbs.org/pov/blog ruiyan

    FOREIGNID: 15636
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Jason is not the only who disagrees with you, Tom. Check out AJ Schnack’s response to your post:
    http://edendale.typepad.com/weblog/2008/06/povs-tom-roston.html

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 15637
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Jason, care to share about what the film is that you’re talking about? Or if that’s too upfront, could you say what the status is of your grievances? I ask these questions because–to the point of my post–for all I know, you could be a bitter 21-year-old filmmaker who never got a film made but have some beef with Think because they never read your script. You, dear reader, could be a carbuncle! of course, the tone of your email suggests to me that you’re not and that you’re legit. in which case i’d be sorry that you’ve been treated unfairly, and even cheated. in your mind, is there a distributor that always treats filmmakers fairly? or do most of the distribs try to shortchange the filmmaker?