By Geoff King; Dawson Books

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First impressions tend to stick and can largely determine the chances for success or failure in one market or another. 42 To this end, the distributor worked with two public relations companies to place interviews with the director and the star, Heather Matarazzo, in youth-oriented magazines and on MTV. In the case of Welcome to the Dollhouse, the strategy was to seek a crossover from art-house to a wider youth audience, something rarely achieved on any scale. Films such as Dollhouse or Wes Anderson’s critically lauded high-school movie, Rushmore (1998), can easily become caught between two stools.

United Artists Classics was created in 1980 as a speciality division to handle art-house films, mostly foreign, but it became one of the major players in the American independent sector in the early 1980s. Twentieth Century Fox and Universal followed, creating their own classics divisions. All three proved short-lived, although studio involvement in the independent sector was to increase, in various forms, in the 1990s. A significant role in the emerging infrastructure of the second half of the 1980s was also played by John Pierson, as a pioneering producers’ representative, mediating between new or emerging filmmakers and distributors and in some cases providing development funds such as the $10,000 invested in She’s Gotta Have It and $53,000 contributed towards the completion of Go Fish.

44 A balancing act is often involved in the handling of films with specific constituencies, as opposed to the more general art-film audience. Playing up the specifics might be detrimental to the arthouse appeal, while exclusive concentration on the latter can leave potentially significant markets untapped. The success of the bigger independent distributors, especially Miramax and New Line, has been based on their ability to achieve a crossover into larger audiences, beyond those of both the art-house and specific social groups defined through categories such as class, ethnicity or gender.

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