EXCLUSIVE: The independent film and theatrical space was shaken up Thursday night when Deadline broke news that Landmark Theatres president Ted Mundorff was exiting. Mundorff was a fixture at the largest dedicated specialized theater chain in the country, with 252 screens in 27 major markets, the chain that owners Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner sold 10 months ago to Cohen Media Group’s Charles Cohen. Deadline had heard there was friction between owner and president for a while. Although he didn’t want to specify his differences with Cohen, Mundorff acknowledged that his exit didn’t come out of the blue. Deadline caught up with him when he was coming from a board meeting of Film Independent, on his way home to watch the World Series.
“The fact I am no longer employed says a lot, but [Cohen] bought the theater 10 months ago, and this is a company we built from the ground up, that was bankrupt in 2003,” Mundorff said. “When I came on board, we started changing the film program and improving that. I started running film operations, changing that. It has been a long time building this chain up to the point it has become the dominant chain, if only because there is nobody else.”
Mundorff was still coming to terms with his own exit — he could not remember the last time he was unemployed — but he reiterated how important it was that Cohen choose the right executive to succeed him and continue the commitment to prestige film.
“Independent film is so fragile, and people are really feeling it this year,” he said. “The business is very difficult to make money in, and so it’s important how you run your business. As well as you might run the business, if you have bad films, you are scrambling. We built a really great team and I do think what happens with Landmark, is what happens with independent film. That’s a bold statement, but I don’t think you can disagree with it.
“My concern for the last 10 months is, are we able to achieve the goals we have been striving for, for a long time.
When he came in and bought the company, [Cohen] said, you’re going to run it. That was kind of a relief and we said, let’s give it a go. I really didn’t know what to expect when he bought it. We don’t agree on a lot of things, and frankly, it is his company. I think I gave it a good 10 months, and we just didn’t see eye to eye on things, and it became time to move on.”
I asked Mundorff if there was some specific disagreement or area where they clashed, but he wasn’t taking the bait.
“I think we have a philosophical difference,” he said. “I don’t want to dwell on exactly what that is. I come from film and he comes from real estate. We have different backgrounds. He is a passionate guy who really loves film and hopefully the company continues to prosper. We just didn’t seem to come to an agreement.”
When I suggest this sounds like a split that had been in the works for a little while, he acknowledged: “It didn’t all happen yesterday.”
Mundorff, who has been one of the most visible distribution executives to indie film companies and the trade press, said he has no plans to stop what he has been doing. “I just love what I do; I hope something comes along that interest me, though I don’t have anything on the table right now. I like a challenge and interesting thing and hopefully this will lead to something new and something fun.”
Some looked at the exit of Mundorff as the latest reason to be depressed about the prestige theatrical film business, as I lumped it onto things like the Paris Theatre closing (Netflix at least briefly reopened it for Marriage Story), after Lincoln Plaza and other theaters. An optimist by nature, Mundorff wasn’t changing that just because he is unemployed for the first time since he can remember.
“Look, everyone is struggling,” he said. “In baseball, when I listened to the St. Louis playoffs, they said there were tickets available. I thought, for a St. Louis playoff game, at home and there are tickets available? That says a lot. There’s not a more passionate fan than a Cardinals fan. As entertainment goes, everybody has to really pay attention to what the numbers are. Since 1927, attendance has gone down, though box office remains the same. It usually sits around $10 and a half billion dollars. I’ve always been very bullish on movie theaters, and I don’t think they are going away, but I do think these past two years we have seen closures of theaters. New York fell behind the rest of the world when it comes to theaters. When we opened W. 57th, that was the first time a theater had opened there since the 42nd Street theaters and that was 10 years before and prior to that was the Sunshine, which closed. New York, you see a Paris closing and in another city, that might have happened 10 years earlier, which is my point.
“Older theaters will continue to close and single screen theaters will continue to be difficult to book,” Mundorff said. “The Paris is a special theater, and when there is a great year, the Paris is right there. In 2018, that was the best year ever in motion picture history. It came in $14.2 billion, which is a little more than normal, and for Landmark, it was the best year we ever had. But you saw it start to fade in the fourth quarter, which is generally our best quarter, and that was just due to product. We had a great first, second and third quarter in 2018, but the fourth quarter got a little weak. Which means you don’t get that push into the first quarter of this year. There were a lot of changes going on, but when people asked me, did streaming disrupt movie theaters? I would say, well, streaming was around in 2018 and didn’t seem to hurt. This year, hopefully Christmas and this awards season will be better than last and it won’t be a down year. Commercial side year are projecting 5-10% off last year, which still isn’t bad. But it’s still a reduction and it remains to be seen what the indie space will look like.”
Asked what innovations Mundorff and his team came up with to make the moviegoing experience more palatable, Mundorff said: “We came out with the couches and love seats in 2007 and the whole world changed after that with the recliners and big comfortable seats,” he said. “And not that it is an innovation, but besides the programming, a reason people come to Landmark is the customer service. It’s a place people are comfortable and like to go to. I think maintaining that through the years has been very gratifying.
He bore no ill will toward Cohen and the theater chain with which he has been identified the past 15 years.
“I love independent film, that’s my passion,” Mundorff said. “I hope Landmark stays on track and is able to continue to support independent film, which is so important to our culture. That remains my passion.”
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