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Misfire: The Rise and Fall of The Shooting Gallery: Hamptons Review

The Bottom Line

Colorful tale from the Indie Bubble is understandably one-sided.

Venue

Hamptons International Film Festival

Director

Whitney Ransick

The media company's sad saga is recounted by an insider.

A sad tale of unfulfilled promise and Enron-like fraud set in the heyday of the indie boom, Whitney Ransick's Misfire: The Rise and Fall of The Shooting Gallery offers an insider's view of a company that started as a scrappy film production outfit and became a textbook example of New Media chaos. Ransick, a TV vet who was there at the company's beginning, enlists many of his old comrades, but is predictably unable to convince those blamed for the company's failure -- CEO Larry Meistrich and CFO Steve Carlis -- to contribute; their perspectives aren't the only ones missing here, but their absence is the most limiting, making the film more memoir than investigation. Commercial prospects are slim, despite sometimes juicy material.

TSG's roots were at the Purchase outpost of the State University of New York, where the so-called "SUNY Mafia" supported each other in an array of humble film productions. Their most esteemed alum, Hal Hartley, isn't interviewed here, but his story is presented as a crucial element in the creation myth: We hear of a spur-of-the-moment visit to a Chase Manhattan branch in which Hartley unexpectedly got a $7,000 loan to make The Unbelievable Truth.

Soon, pals including Bob Gosse (a familiar face from Hartley's early shorts) were venturing into Manhattan, renting an old building on Broadway they couldn't afford, and helping each other make movies. (They also rented their space and services to other filmmakers, a crucial part of the business.) Nick Gomez's Laws of Gravity, a critical and commercial success, got the ball rolling; a few years later, Sling Blade earned them a record-breaking $10 million sale to Miramax.

But other successes were scarce, and, as depicted here, the company developed split personalities: One, in search of distinctive artistic visions, was a peer of Killer Films and Good Machine; another, more dominant, side cared far more about quantity than quality, and threw money at one dumb idea after another.

Plenty of staffers share their experience of seeing the business grow harder and harder to comprehend over the years. Bob Gosse gets more screen time than others, seemingly having more insight into the motivations behind expanding the film business into an amorphous enterprise encompassing web content and branded merchandise. Gosse comes across sympathetically, and the film captures the shock of the company's 2001 collapse. But the "rise and fall" chronology is thinner than it should be, leaving us to marvel at the train wreck without exposing anything new about its causes.

Director: Whitney Ransick

Producers: Whitney Ransick, Gil Gilbert, Bob Gosse

Director of photography: Gil Gilbert, Derek Wiesehahn

Music: Sam Bisbee, Dave Thomas, Jr.

Editor: Gil Gilbert

No rating, 77 minutes