Denizen of the Screening Room
When he was Spectator's film editor, Doug Freed '91 brought the campus reviews of the Oscars and the New York Film Festival. Now, as a buyer for Landmark Theatres, he decides what is showing on local screens from Denver to the East Coast.
The Boston-area native registered for every film class he could in the days before film studies was a major at the College, and after graduation he made a beeline for Los Angeles. There he pursued a career in film marketing and advertising before landing in 1996 what he calls this "ideal job--getting paid to watch movies."
Landmark is a national chain of theaters that specializes in foreign and independent films. Freed is one of two buyers for the country, and is in charge of analyzing local markets, choosing what to show where and for how long and negotiating with distributors. He scouts for films at the major festivals and previews movies both in his office's private screening room and at L.A.'s many advance showings. "I haven't rented a video in years," he admits.
Doug Freed '91 (right)
PHOTO: DANIEL MEARS © THE DETROIT NEWS
Programming decisions are based on the film's merits, the character of the community, and the fit between the two. Freed spends some of his time doing field work: checking out the neighborhoods, looking at the competition, talking to managers and even lunching with the local critics. Figuring out the personalities and tastes of critics is especially important for the success of the foreign and indie movies since a review may be the only input a potential movie-goer has. So the buyers try to search out films that a critic will like.
"In Detroit, Susan Stark at the News loves gentile period pieces," Freed has determined. "And in New Orleans the film critic is into Haitian art, so anything from the Caribbean we play there, he gives it a great review and we do great business. But he doesn't like costume dramas, so those he pans and we try to avoid them."
Personal instinct and taste also come into play but do not always mesh with the marketplace. "It's disheartening when movies I love don't do any business," he says. "Sometimes I'll play a movie because I think it deserves a shot, even though I know deep down it won't do any business. But I don't have the luxury to do that very often."
In his free time, Freed has started piano lessons and continues the habit he developed in New York of visiting the local museums and galleries. He says he has even "started dabbling in the L.A. art scene" as a collector. On weekends he and his movie-industry group of friends ("It's rare and refreshing to meet someone not in the film business," he says) crowd into multiplexes with the masses. "I like to watch movies with an audience," Freed says. "Besides, we don't get to see dumb comedies or action movies in my job."