Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mark Cuban

I'm pretty inspired by Mark Cuban's speaking in last week's Austin Film Society/University of Texas class.

The class started out slowly (rolling traffic light black outs delayed Cuban getting to UT, the proctor played waaaay too much of The Eagles' "Life's Been Good" before he allowed Cuban on stage, then he asked for applause from the fans of the Cuban-owned Dallas Mavericks (which was fine), but then asked where the Spurs and Rockets fans were (which led to, uh, arguably louder applause).

From founding system integrator and reseller MicroSolutions (and selling it to CompuServe, Inc./H&R Block for $6M, to founding and selling to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock, to saying the hardest thing anyone can do is be an actor, to founding 2929 Entertainment, to buying the Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures chains, to purchasing and re-energizing the first hi-def satellite network HDNet, he got my creative and entrepreneurial juices flowing.

By his own admission, there wasn't a time in Cuban's life "where I wasn't entrepreneurial."

On the entertainment front, Cuban made news recently with the controversial "Day-and-Date" release of Steven Soderbergh's Bubble in theaters (Landmark), television (HDNet), and DVD (Magnolia Pictures). Normally, distribution channels each get their own window, and theaters in particular don't like their already (and, I would argue, self-caused) shrinking profit window mucked with. Outside of Landmark, 70 theaters in the nation showed Bubble.

He admits it's a challenge: "How do you help people get movies, how they want, where they want, when they want, and have it have value at every point in the distribution?" (Cuban doesn't include Video-on-Demand (VOD), which he says removes tiering value for Day-and-Date.)

I was interested in the details of how Cuban moved into each vertical space, like with 2929 Entertainment, limiting risk and learning a little on Godsend, getting a little riskier and learning a little more on Criminal (great and under-rated film; Warner Independent did the film and John C. Reilly a big dis-service in their lack of commitment), and I'm looking forward to next 2929 releases We Own the Night and Akeelah and the Bee.

Cuban likened acting to corporate business, which (unlike sports, he said), "You only need to be right once."

"[Actors] just need to find that one thing that works for them."

So, Cuban has done a lot -- what's his secret?

"I'm a big believer in learning," Cuban said, "Most people keep doing things the same way. But if you can stop, absorb it, analyze it, you're ahead of the game."

And later, brings it back to the fact that he spends 70% of his time on the film side:

"Nobody's smarter than the [film] business."

Which has recently driven him to read about the film business for hours at night before bed.

Other tidbits from Cuban:
  • "The first challenge for an independent film maker is not to lie to yourself."
  • "Independent film makers need to realize theirs is not the only money in the value chain at risk."
  • "Right now, to distribute a movie there are gate keepers no matter what -- Whether it's a big movie or a small movie."
  • "To develop an hour drama right is about $750K per episode."
  • A new HDNet Films reality TV series is in the works, with Dennis Rodman "Rodmanizing" straight-laced folks (a la Queer Eye for the Straight Guy).
  • On his and his partners'/companies' mission: "Where we see hypocrisy, let's try to free people from hypocrisy."
  • Unlike the disappointing (and, I would say, a bit hypocrital) message of a lot of AFS/UT speakers, Cuban said college is important, if for no other reason than "The point of college is to learn how to learn."

I got the sense that is something looks hard, Cuban looks to whether that's a reason to do it.

"I just like to take on controversial subjects. Period."

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