For years, Larry Jackson, 58, did the high-class Hollywood hustle as a production executive with film industry giants The Samuel Goldwyn Company, Orion and Miramax. He made Julia Roberts a star as the man behind Mystic Pizza and was the executive on film hits like Silence of the Lambs.
So why is a man with this sort of Hollywood cache today working out of a home office in Amherst, Mass. - a town known for colleges, not cinema?
The move east in the summer of 2001 wasn't entirely Jackson's choice. As he explained over lunch at a local greasy spoon a year later - in between cell phone interruptions from the producer of a film from the Czech Republic whichJackson was about to distribute in the US - his wife wanted out of Los Angeles. She was concerned about raising their two children in a more wholesome environment. Jackson shared her concerns about the kids and knowing they would have to enter "the unsavory elitism" of private school life.
Moreover, he and his wife were more than alarmed when their bedroom was invaded one night by armed gunmen looking for a big haul in what had been touted as the safest neighborhood in LA. The couple survived. But they were held at gunpoint for about twenty minutes as the house was stripped of valuables. That long silence sent them an urgent message: relocate, and fast.
Then there was the fact that he was growing disenchanted with the corporate side of the movie industry. Jackson was finding that the studios weren't being as creative as they once were and had become dominated by MBAs and number crunchers. "They wanted to make movies that aren't adventurous and ride on the coattails of something else," he said.
Looking around for someplace to live, he and his wife sought a town "with none of the evils of urban living, but all the culture and intellectual sophistication you can find in urban centers." And that place was Amherst - home to several name colleges, Emily Dickinson and lots of cultural activities, and now the epicenter of virtual company research as the home of Hidden-Tech. Moreover, the town is just down the road from up-and-coming Northampton, Mass. and the film distribution company, Northern Arts Entertainment, that Jackson co-owns with a partner in nearby Granville, Mass. named John Lawrence Ré, who moved up from New York City many years ago and now lives on 400 acres of wilderness.
"It's wild but he's fully broad-banded and we trek into NYC whenever necessary for major meetings," he says.
Jackson's had his ups and downs in virtual company land, but today he's hyped again. He and Ré were able to secure an initial round of funding to create i-ArtHouse.com, a very special online film library that contains extraordinary films from around the world, "most of which have escaped distribution in North America and some that haven't been seen outside of their country of origin. Many have won significant prizes in major film festivals," he notes.
The launch is imminent. Some of i-ArtHouse.com's films will be available for streaming, some to download to own or rent. Some will be available to burn to an encrypted DVD that the buyer can keep. The combination of those options will vary, says Jackson, explaining that the rights "are different from film to film."
Although not everyone has the connections and capabilities to work in Hollywood-related industry from a home office, Jackson says the industry is changing enough for this to be a possibility for those with tech backgrounds, as well as for for screenwriters, composers, production designers, costumers, animators and even film editors. "An editor can be cutting a film anywhere in the world and communicating with a director anywhere else in the world, with a production company or studio in a third place - all linked through video conferencing."Stay tuned for more on i-ArtHouse.com. And share you ideas about working for Hollywood from just about anywhere.