Editor's Note: SOCALshowbiz generally writes about the directors, actors, gaffers, and producers where we look at those who help make the magic happen behind the scenes. This article is focused on a well respected consultant whose expertise is on the business side of the business.
Marty Shindler has worked in and around the entertainment industry for over thirty years, but there has been a continual thread of a relationship with Lucasfilm that you will see unfold that played a key role early in his career.
He has had hands on management roles at companies such as 20th Century Fox, MGM, Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic and Kodak’s Cinesite. Mr. Shindler has also worked at Coopers & Lybrand (C&L)/PriceWaterhouseCoopers, starting in the audit practice in the Boston office and later in the Los Angeles based entertainment practice in a quasi audit and consulting role.
It was 1979 while Shindler was on the audit staff of C&L Los Angeles when he received a call from a search firm for a position that opened at 20th Century Fox when Lucasfilm hired a department head from Fox. The Lucasfilm connection had begun.
Shindler joined 20th Century Fox in the Financial Reporting department, the department responsible for tracking and reporting the profitability of the company’s film slate and related financial management and analysis, thus providing Shindler with deep insight into the economics of the movie business. Two years later, Mr. Shindler became the head of the department with additional responsibility for Distribution Accounting, becoming involved with the dynamics of the distribution/exhibition relationship.
After a short stint at MGM, Shindler returned to Fox as Controller of Studio Operations, the group responsible for the entire backlot and studio support infrastructure. In this role, he served on the Board of Managers of CBS/Fox Studios, the studio currently known as CBS Studio Center.
During this time, Mr. Shindler was recruited by legal counsel at one of the independent production and distribution companies to help professionalize some of their operating departments. It was here that he learned that he could be successful at analyzing a company’s challenges, providing recommendations for improvement and, in the end, supervise the execution of those recommendations.
In 1987 Marty returned to Coopers & Lybrand. Given his most recent problem solving experience, he was hired in a quasi consulting and audit role. During this time, Mr. Shindler learned that Lucasfilm was seeking new auditors and he was able to get the firm on the list of contenders. This became the next link in the Lucasfilm chain of events.
The firm won the competitive bid and Mr. Shindler became the Manager on the account. Fast growing Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) had won seven Academy Awards and four Technical Achievement Awards but was in need of professionalizing its business practices. Shindler was assigned to the consulting team that analyzed the ILM operations.
He later joined the new management team that was forming to take ILM to the next level in its growth curve and to be involved in the implementation of the C&L recommendations. This became the next link in the Lucasfilm. Marty Shindler was responsible for such functions as accounting, finance, business affairs, purchasing, and computer support (the nascent CGI infrastructure team).
It was during the time that ILM was undergoing a major analog to digital transition and Shindler was heavily involved in the development and analysis of the capital expenditure requests, presenting many of the ROI analyses to the corporate management team at Skywalker Ranch. This helped set the stage for his knowledge of digital technologies, being there near the dawn of the digital era. In his last year at ILM, Shindler was also responsible for managing the Camera Engineering Department.
Following several years at ILM, Mr. Shindler first consulted with and later joined Kodak’s digital start up, Cinesite, not in a financial role, but as VP Sales & Marketing, due in large part to his knowledge of the digital process for production, post production, and visual effects.
Marty Shindler then saw a market opportunity with the many digital start-up facilities in the industry, recognizing that many would need the kind of professional services in which he was involved at C&L, albeit on a smaller scale.
Thus, for the past 17+ years, Marty has been an independent consultant operating as The Shindler Perspective, Inc. joined by his wife Roberta, a former banking executive who earned a Masters Degree in Management from the Sloan School of MIT. They have been providing a range of services to companies in the entertainment and entertainment technology industries, including many projects focusing on the business side of entertainment with an eye to the direction of a wide range of technologies and their implication for the many, many business along the value chain.
Marty is also well known for his many high-profile speaking engagements at such industry conferences as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Digital Hollywood, Creative Storage, Storage Visions, The Previs Society and others.
The engagements have also included sessions for such industry organizations as Amplify Roundtables/United Talent Agency, the Media & Entertainment Service Alliance (MESA), Directors Guild (DGA) and Variety’s 3D Entertainment Summit.
International conferences have included KIPA (Korea IT Promotion Agency); Daegu (Korea) IT Industry on behalf of UCLA and Keimyung University on the topic of Entertainment Business Management; The 2nd China (Nanjing) International Software Product Expo on the topic of Global Trends in Computer Animation and Software Tools and Broadcast World Wide in Seoul on the topic of the Entertainment Business from the Hollywood Perspective.
SOCAL: Where were you born and raised?
MARTY: Born and raised in western Massachusetts in the city of Pittsfield in the Berkshires.
SOCAL: What kind of things did you do as a kid growing up that might have been a clue to the path you have had from accounting to entertainment?
MARTY: I scratch my head on that one all the time. It may be that I always attempt to be funny, a stand up of sorts, but I am not sure that was a clue, since I still do that, but it has little to do with the serious management consulting work we do. I suppose that in the many speaking engagements that I have had and panels that I moderate, I always attempt to inform, engage and if lucky, entertain the audience at the same time.
SOCAL: To many in the entertainment business, there is much mystery surrounding the business side of things. What were the most surprising business practices you found as an insider?
MARTY: One of the things I totally understand today is the very risky nature of the business. I was just a kid from Massachusetts and in my interview for my first entertainment industry job, I was told that most of the movies made lose money for the investors. When I joined the company and in those years saw hundreds of P&L statements on movies, I could see that with my own eyes. The risky nature still exists. Look at the many movies that open and close within weeks or the TV shows that do not make it past the first season…. It is risky.
SOCAL: Everyone believes that the books are cooked at the studios to always make a property look like it is losing money so they don’t have to pay out shares of profits. In your experience, is that an exaggerated notion?
MARTY: It is definitely exaggerated, although my purpose is not to defend the studios. From a movie point of view, when I hear that from people, I typically ask if they read their contract before they signed and if they understand the difference between box office and film rental. Many answer no to both questions.
The studios are part of large publicly traded companies, so there are many internal controls that monitor how participation statements are prepared and monies, if any, distributed. Also, what most participants do not understand is that the profits are based on contractual accounting, not Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. The contract that is signed stipulates the methodology that is used to define profits and related payments.
Your readers may be interested in something I published a number of years ago on this topic, Understand Before You Sign.
SOCAL: Please give us some insight into the distribution side of the business and how it differs from the standpoint of studios versus independents. How have things changed in recent years, for better or worse?
MARTY: From a pure feature film point of view, studios have the ability to release a big movie in a big way. It is not unusual for a movie to be released in 3, 4 or 5 thousand screens for opening weekend. They cannot handle the smaller, independent type of movie as easily. That is why they have organizations within the studios that target that market – both from a production and distribution point of view.
Looking ahead, with the democratization that has taken place, an independent can get a movie released through a smaller, non studio distributor, but can also go through the likes of the many new channels that You Tube and other over the top sites have set up. The problem will be the marketing of the movie/TV show/production and being sure it will be found by the target audience.
That said, this is 2013, and everyone needs to have a social media strategy. Look at the audience that Sharknado got, albeit through Syfy Channel. And there have been many, many instances of shorts and other content going viral, but you cannot predict that or just set out to make something to go viral. It is a natural occurrence of sorts. When viral happens all bets are off.
SOCAL: Tell us about the company you had the most fun working for. Please share some examples of what made it great.
MARTY: That is like saying which child do you like best…. Of course, there are some jobs that were better than others, but I like the consulting practice that my wife, Roberta Shindler, and I have had for 17+ years. We use our respective backgrounds to work on business issues for many companies on the entertainment and entertainment technology value chain.
My work at Industrial Light & Magic was very unique as I had gone to work at ILM following an involvement there in a consulting study on behalf of the Coopers of what is today PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The study and my later hands on management role at ILM helped to build their business foundation in its early years, such that it was thus poised for growth. I am proud to say that ILM was #1 then and still is at the top of a very competitive business.
SOCAL: On the business side of things in the entertainment industry, do you have a hero? Someone who exemplifies an outstanding entertainment executive?
MARTY: While I would not categorize him as an entertainment industry executive, some years ago, we developed a business plan for a proposed venture of noted futurist Alvin Toffler and his business partners. There were a number of times where I had one to one time with him where we spoke about how he thinks about the future. If you picked up his Future Shock, written in the mid-late 60s, and read it today, you would be amazed at his thought process then, and how he thought about what is now common, but definitely beyond the horizon at that time. Mr. Toffler inspired me and he is one the people whose path I have crossed in life that I can truly say made a positive difference in me.
SOCAL: Please share some of the trends you consider the most important in media these days and the near future.
MARTY: I mentioned the democratization of content creation and distribution earlier. With the way that TV, however defined, is growing, there are lots of opportunities on the horizon for companies of all sizes to create and distribute content. I see cable/satellite/telco TV providers ultimately unbundling their deals and the business model transitioning more toward a pay per view/on demand scenario and one where perhaps we pay at least part of the fee through the amount of data downloaded. My mobile phone plan works that way and in the future our content to the home and to the traditional TV will probably work in the same way. The seeds for that transition are already in place. It is a matter of time.
SOCAL: Knowing what you know now, would you have gone straight into the entertainment business or is the path you followed the one that gave you the best foundation for your successful career?
MARTY: We all take different routes along life’s path. Mine worked for me as I built on different skills and experience as I moved from one role to another. I went from Fox to a troubled company where I had an opportunity to fix some operations and then to Coopers & Lybrand where I worked with a wide range of companies on the entertainment industry value chain from a professional service perspective. That led me to ILM and in turn to our consulting practice.
SOCAL: So what drove you to start an independent consulting practice?
MARTY: I was in a marketing role at Cinesite, a Kodak start up, an interesting role in a creative technology company for a guy with a CPA in his background, when, due to digital technologies, I saw a lot of start ups and early stage companies that I figured would either be intimidated by or could not afford a firm such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, McKinsey or other major practices, but who still needed the types of professional services those firms provide.
I figured that I had been on the management and entrepreneurial side of the desk and I had been on the professional consulting side, too, and knew that I could provide those services and relate to the people that would become our clients.
And the ”our,” includes my wife. Roberta has a top 5 business school background but had taken time off from her career to raise our children. It was a natural for her to be involved, initially critiquing the work I was doing as her time permitted, moving to the point where we are today and have been for many years where we work together on projects.
When a client retains us, they have access to Roberta, Marty and Roberta & Marty, effectively 3 components of the relationship that benefits the clients.
SOCAL: What do you do for fun? Are you involved with any charities or industry organizations that are special to you?
MARTY: It is both fun and exercise, where I do a rigorous bicycle ride several times a week. It enables me to not only get my cardio, but it also is a time where I get to think on various topics in which I am then working.
I have been a long time member of the Visual Effects Society, having served for 10 years on the Awards Committee from inception. As you can imagine, with my background, I took responsibility for the Awards voting, both nominations and final voting. During the process, I created and managed the online view and vote system as the first such system in the industry of all the guilds, the Academy, etc.
I am also a member of the Digital Cinema Society and the Hollywood Post Alliance, attending their events and participating as much as I can.
SOCAL: What advice would you give a young person about the business side of show business?
MARTY: One of the very early pieces of advice I received is one that I think is important for a young person today....that is, read the trades and other industry publications as much as possible. Understand who the players are, how the industry works and how the many facets of the industry fit together.