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THE ENVELOPE | THE CORNER OFFICE

`Sunshine's' Go-to Guy

January 31, 2007|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOHN SLOSS has been called independent filmmaking's consigliere.

He's part lawyer, part salesman, part problem-solver who became an avid film buff watching a movie a day as a projectionist and usher while attending the University of Michigan.

Honored films he's been involved with include "Boys Don't Cry," which won Hilary Swank her first acting Academy Award, best documentary Oscar winner "The Fog of War" and current best picture nominee "Little Miss Sunshine."

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How do you get independent movies noticed and on the awards radar?

Our first job is to get them a distributor. When we were selling "Little Miss Sunshine" it came to mind that the right distributor might be one who, in addition to getting the film to its audience, could possibly put it in line for recognition. But that wasn't the driver, by any means.

How often do you work with documentaries?

An average of two of the five nominated each year are films we're involved in. I just love documentaries. I sold "Hoop Dreams." I've always felt they were underappreciated. It seemed arbitrary to me that people deemed them not worthy to watch at a movie theater. People's orientation toward seeing documentaries in a movie theater is changing completely.

What draws you so much to independent movies?

We do tons of studio stuff. It's not one orientation over another. But I guess I'm drawn more to singular vision more than filmmaking as pure entertainment by committee. That's just my bias.

How has the independent world changed in the last five to 10 years?

The major studios are focused on event films, and they've confined to the specialty divisions the character-driven and awards-driven films. As a result of that, the specialty divisions have upped their average budgets and really created a niche for films from $5 million to $25 million.

Don't a lot of independent movies have as good or better returns than big films?

The economics are actually better. You don't need to spend $25 million to test your concept. You open it and, if it works, you'll end up spending less money [on marketing] because of the word of mouth. If it doesn't, you haven't thrown out twice as much as the film cost to find out.

The real problem is the number of films released. It's gone up dramatically. What happens is a lot of the pure independent films have trouble staying in theaters.

You have executive producer credits. You work as a lawyer and sell movies. How do you describe exactly what you do?

I'm not a producer at all. I spend a lot of my time on a continuum of being a service provider. At one end is being a lawyer, at the other end is being a salesman, facilitator or something that isn't purely the practice of law.

So you're the guy who gets thanked somewhere in the speech?

If they are being generous, that's right.

james.bates@latimes.com

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