Lise Romanoff’s chief motivation for starting Vision Films was her three year-old son.
Romanoff and her husband, Vision producer Stephen Rocha, get to see a lot more of their son Cameron since Romanoff, formerly an executive with Los Angeles-based distributors GRB International (which she co-founded) and Unapix, decided to build a home office in Sherman Oaks, California, and a career she could incorporate into her family.
‘I’d say my goals are just to keep in the black every year and maximize the revenue for each and every producer I represent,’ she says. ‘In a sense, it’s creating a job for myself, so I don’t have to get a real job… So I don’t know that I’d want to grow that much, I’d just like to sustain and have a nice business.’
In its first year of business, Vision reports revenues of US$2 million and is dealing in production budgets ranging from $100,000 to $250,000.
She started her career in 1990 as an independent producer with a single project, a special on special effects called Movie Magic: The Magic of Special Effects, which she ended up coproducing into a series of the same title with GRB International when she sold Movie Magic to Discovery U.S., where it’s now entering its fifth season.
From GRB, Romanoff moved to Unapix where, as vice president of development, original production and international coproductions, she got her first taste of picking and reversioning European programming when she picked up The Adventures of Nicholas Hulot, a 26 x 52-minutes produced with TF1 and Protecrea of Paris – a taste which now forms the foundation of Vision Films’ distribution arm.
It was at Unapix, too, that Romanoff began working with Terry Landau of L.A.’s Landau Entertainment. When Romanoff moved on, Landau moved with her, and in the process, became convinced of the benefits of small distributors.
‘Let’s just say that I’ve been very happy with her,’ Landau says. ‘You don’t get lost, you know what I mean? I have worked with other large companies. The thing about Lise is that she really cares, it’s not just about making money. She keeps you up-to-date, she gives you a lot of input and suggestions. Her reports are always on time, and that’s something that most of the big companies don’t do. They say they’re going to report every quarter, every half, whatever it is, and… they get months behind and it’s more difficult to follow up with questions.’
Landau says going through the chain of command at larger distributors can be frustrating. ‘I always feel that Lise is available to me, so I’ve given her all my materials,’ she adds. Materials which include The Mysterious Man of the Shroud (1 x 52-minute), which started life as a cbs primetime special, that Vision has since sold to Brazil, Canada, Discovery in Europe, Italy’s television and home video markets, as well as New Zealand, Poland, Peru, and Venezuela.
‘It’s really more about individual relationships than it is about big companies,’ Landau has concluded. ‘My experience is that it’s who you can call, who’s going to return your call, who you can chat with.’
And Romanoff, it seems, can chat with the world. Her latest deal, is World Odyssey – a 42 x 30-minutes travel series she’s just sold to be part of the newly reconfigured Travel Channel’s Amazing Destinations series (launched this fall). With a budget of $75,000 per episode, she picked up the series from Istituto Geografico DeAgostini of Milan. Originally titled Bellezze del Mondo, Romanoff says she was attracted to the series because of its high production values.
‘There’s some beautiful work out there in the European market that can be reversioned and sold around the world,’ she says of this part of her chosen niche. ‘As far as competing with majors, I think that the buyers, well, if you have good product, it doesn’t matter how big or how small you are.’
She’s also recently taken on another DeAgostini series, Wonders of Archaeology, as well as a natural history series called Tales of the Sea (6 x 30- minutes or 3 x 52-minutes) from Subaco Editrice in Rome, which Romanoff says has got some of the best cinematography she’s seen in natural history production. Since these series are done entirely in voice-over, the reversioning efforts are kept to a minimum.
Though she’s also looking at a couple of Spanish series at the moment, Romanoff does not entirely ignore the domestic production market. She’s working on projects in addition to Vision’s own productions under husband Rocha, which include the recent $250,000 The Search for Cleopatra’s Palace (a 1 x 52-minutes coproduction with Jones Entertainment of Denver and Bluth-Donovan of L.A.) which has to date been sold into Israel, Italy, and the U.K.; and the just-wrapped 3 x 52-minutes Test Flights: Beyond the Limits (at $100,000 per), for which Vision has already done home video deals in the U.S. and the U.K. and fielded substantial domestic broadcast interest.
Romanoff sums up Vision’s philosophy as ‘producers for producers.’ ‘One, promote each program as if it were [your] own, don’t give up on a film after the first market if market reaction is soft, and make an effort to maximize revenue in each and every territory,’ she explains. ‘Two, keep the producer informed of all sales activity by way of simple conversation or sales notices in between reports.’
Romanoff says it is also important to promote the producer’s talents by giving the producer credit on the promotional material. She generally spends between $5,000 and $25,000 on advertising each project. She believes if a project is not selling well after the first six months, ‘either do a new promotional campaign or cancel the original distribution agreement and let the producer seek other distribution opportunities so as not to tie up their project.’
Romanoff will be at mipcom again this year, celebrating Vision’s first anniversary by spending a part of her $90,000 annual trade market budget on a bigger stall to pitch productions from her small but growing stable of producers. The list includes: Washington, D.C.’s New River Media, Xplora Productions of Milan, New York’s Mastervision and P.S. Productions, and Hollywood Close-Ups of L.A.
Intro. – Feathering their Niches pg. 22
Marathon’s race to the top pg. 23
Nose for Cash: Temple International pg. 26