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Spencer Folmar has directed four feature films and produced several others, but he hasn’t had much luck as far as getting them seen in theaters. So, as he prepares to unveil his next movie, he’s trying a new tack: buying theaters — buildings, screens and real estate — to ensure that his projects and those of other indie filmmakers will be shown.
With backing from private equity firms (he declines to name his financial backers), Folmar has so far bought three theaters in rural areas and created a company, Veritas Theatres, for the venture. For his next film, Shooting Heroin — a fictional story about a town forced to go vigilante on drug pushers — which is set to open April 3, he’ll control the entire process, from making and distributing the pic to exhibiting it in theaters he has purchased in addition to others he does not own.
Veritas’ purchases include the Guthrie Theatre in Grove City, Pennsylvania, bought in December 2018, and the Texas Arts Theatre just outside of Dallas, bought in late 2019. Folmar also says he will close on the Cliftex Theatre in Clifton, Texas, by the end of January. Two additional, undisclosed theaters are under contract and a sale will close within two months, he adds.
Folmar’s actions might cause some raised eyebrows, especially given a 1948 Supreme Court decision that forced studios to divest from theater chains to dissuade monopolistic practices. But the court stopped short of explicitly banning any entity from owning theaters in the future — Disney owns the El Capitan in Hollywood, for example — so Folmar is taking advantage of the loophole. (The Department of Justice under President Donald Trump said in November it would revisit the decades-old, so-called Paramount Pictures consent decrees, which some on Wall Street speculate could lead to studios eyeing movie chains once again.)
“Nothing [distributors] promised actually happened without me bothering them,” Folmar recalls of his dealings on prior films. “I ended up doing things myself that they should have done. … They didn’t pay on time, there was inaccurate accounting, and they didn’t service the title. Every independent filmmaker I’ve ever spoken to has had a similar experience.”
Folmar has also created Hard Faith, a production company for movies targeting Christians, as well as Veritas Films to produce, finance and distribute mainstream titles. Veritas Films is also distributing movies it did not produce, as is the case with Warning Shot starring David Spade, James Earl Jones and Bruce Dern and co-distributed by Stone Cutter Media. In postproduction, Folmar boarded the project as co-producer.
“What Spencer is doing is exciting for independent filmmakers because even a small theatrical window does wonders for them,” says Jeremy Wells, an actor-producer who is pitching several projects to Folmar.
Folmar is far from alone as a theater owner and also distributor. In 2003, Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner co-founded 2929 Entertainment, which produces and distributes films, and they owned Landmark Theatres until selling it in 2018, while Philip Anschutz bought distributor Walden Media in 2001 and owned Regal Cinemas until selling it in 2017.
Folmar, 30, made his first feature film 13 years ago and turned a profit via DVD and streaming, and he did so with his next two movies, as well. He is bankrolling Hard Faith and Veritas by way of money earned in commercial real estate, corporate video production and directing TV commercials.
As for Shooting Heroin, which is budgeted at $2.5 million, it is set to be released on 30 screens via Folmar’s Veritas Films and target a mainstream audience in its depiction of the opioid crisis. The movie stars Sherilyn Fenn, Cathy Moriarty and Nicholas Turturro. Folmar is producing alongside Mark Joseph, who is also producing a biopic of Ronald Reagan and associate-produced 2016’s Max Rose, the last film starring comedy legend Jerry Lewis.
Next up for Folmar and his Veritas companies is a film based on the Johnny Cash song “The Beast in Me,” where he will seek to attract both a mainstream and Christian audience, as well as Bonhoeffer, a historical drama based on a pastor-turned-spy who tried to stop the rise of Adolf Hitler.
Folmar insists he has no intention of collecting theaters just to sell them off later. “This is a unique pursuit. Many industry insiders and traditional investors have given up on the theatergoing experience,” he says. “But If the experience is unique and well thought out in beautiful buildings, audiences will come back.”
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