Sling Blade producer Larry Meistrich sued for fraud

Larry Meistrich
Larry Meistrich

In 1991 Producer Larry Meistrich launched The Shooting Gallery on the momentum of Laws Of Gravity, stumbled along for the next few years with a slate of art house films, caught lightning in a bottle with Sling Blade… and then the train ground to a painful stop in 2001.

From 2001 The Village Voice:

On the seventh floor of 609 Greenwich Street in Manhattan, a movie poster of You Can Count On Me lies on the floor. Chairs, desks, and office supplies are strewn about as if a hurricane had blown through the building. Two guys in jeans and T-shirts edge through the clutter, wheeling a cabinet toward the elevator. When asked if they’re working for the Shooting Gallery, the 10-year-old entertainment production company that operated here until late June, one of them replies, “We’re not getting paid; we’re just picking some stuff up for Larry.” (…more)

More recently, Meistrich has launched his new Nehst Studios (pronounces “Next”). The studio was announcing back in 2007 on various filmmaking boards that it had funding for a slate of new films ranging from 2MM to 50MM “to shoot within the next two years”. In addition they spun off two other services, PitchNehst.com (where you can pay $10 to pitch to Larry) and Screentest.biz, where actors can pay to upload photos and videos in the hopes of being cast in a project. Screentest.biz assures it will only allow funded, greenlit projects to access actors’ profiles. (Interestingly, the only TV project listed is Nehst’s own Dribble Kick Throw, which it first announced casting for in 2007. On Screentest.biz, the project lists a 2008 release date.)

The only two projects listed to date on the Nehst site are 2008’s Running The Sahara and the upcoming Article 32, both quiet documentaries. Not exactly the slate of multi-million dollar blockbusters Nehst seemed to be promising.

Larry and Nehst have been met with rabid cynicism from many indie and wannabe filmmakers, who view the charging of fees for the opportunity to pitch as simple scammism. Larry’s been called a “friggen parasite … [who is] not into making movies, but instead … into getting the money out of everyone’s wallet” by filmmakers who resent the pay to pitch concept.

I have been more tempered in my response, saying that to me he seems like a guy who’s using some admittedly kind of crass methods to develop his studio, but whose pedigree is legitimate… and that I’d rather find ways to work with people who are in a position to be valuable to me than call them names and question their ethics. Although I’ve never paid to pitch myself, I wonder why some pay-to-pitch formats are acceptable and some are not. [more on that here]

Recently, Nehst has been reamed by bloggers for their questionable methods and motives in pursuing tax incentives, grants and a convention center in Ohio. Says James Renner of ClevelandIndependent.com:

It sure sounded cool, didn’t it?

Last year, the Plain Dealer trumpeted the arrival of “Nehst Studios” to Cleveland. Star-struck North-Coasters wondered when we might begin seeing Tom Hanks strolling through Public Square. Nehst Studios. You know, like Paramount Studios. Warner Bros. Studios.

They promised jobs. They promised to bring in $125 million a year in new business; show business. In a region where $5 and a sandwich buys you a home these days, that sounded swell. We wanted to believe.

But we knew it couldn’t be true, didn’t we? We’re from NE Ohio, after all. Disappointment is our reliable friend.

Well, yeah, turns out our hunch was right.

Nehst is as much a studio as my dick is a muffin. Their CEO is a renowned swindler. Their principal investor? Bernie Madoff’s family. Yes. That Bernie Madoff. Their good friend: Al Ratner. Yes. That Al Ratner.

And when they tried to swindle $300,000 from Ohio taxpayers, the only public servant asking questions was handed a pink slip.

What’s going on? And why did Frank Jackson just give them the Convention Center?

Let me explain: (…more)

So Nehst’s principle investor is Andrew Madoff, the son of Bernard Madoff, who is serving a 150-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Not exactly the pedigree one looks for in a startup business ostensibly managing tens of millions of dollars.

Now, Meistrich, Nehst Studios and Madoff are being sued by Dana Offenbach, former President of Production at Nehst Studios, for fraud, for a minimum of $300,000 in damages plus $5 million in punitive damages.

You’ll notice that Dana Offenbach is the same person who in 2007 was posting on filmmaking boards on behalf of Nehst.

I’m still not drawing any premature conclusions, as I’m a firm supporter of Due Process (and I’m sure to be vilified by one or two Meistrich hating filmmakers who will conclude I want Larry to steal their money because of it). Nobody’s been found guilty of anything, disgruntled employees sue their ex-bosses all the time, pay-to-pitch hasn’t been proven to be a “scam”, lots of websites charge actors to post their pictures, and movies/tv shows/web series all can take years and years to get through production if they make it through at all. And lots of people get funding, lose funding, and get it back again. That’s Hollywood.

But I find this whole slow spiral fascinating, having lived through the dotcom bubble (which The Shooting Gallery certainly emulated), being a fan of Meistrich’s best credit (Sling Blade) and doing my level best to understand what’s legitimate and what’s not as I try so desperately to trip over the threshold of the secret door into Hollywood myself.

Maybe Nehst Studios (and its subsidiaries) are a scam designed to milk wannabe filmmakers, actors and writers, as well as taxpayers, out of their hard earned money by selling pie-in-the-sky Hollywood dreams. Or maybe they’re just really shitty business people who’ve chosen two bad historical moments (the crashes of 01 and 08/9) to try to launch one of the hardest kinds of businesses there is to launch, and are misunderstood by bitter Hollywood-hating uber-indies and average Joe’s who don’t understand how volatile (financially and professionally) the industry is.

Maybe.

We should all watch this one closely.

LINKS OF INTEREST:

A pdf of the complaint can be found here. [PDF]

And if that link stops working, go to the NY state courts website here, and run a search on Larry Meistrich. The court docs can be found there.

Here’s a Fox Searchlight Searchlab video with Larry talking about making movies.

23 thoughts on “Sling Blade producer Larry Meistrich sued for fraud

  1. I wonder what the ratio is for legitimate (meaning that they are actually going to produce the/your film) to illegitimate (meaning they won’t actually pull it off). My guess is that it is about 1:60000.
    Too bad that Larry seems to have slipped into the ILL category. I guess that old aporism “You are only as good as your last project” continues to ring true.

  2. Larry Meistrich also started the DVD distribution outlet Film Movement (maybe it was mentioned above?)

    http://www.filmmovement.com/

    I attended a really small seminar he held at the New Hampshire Film Expo back in like 2002 where he talked about this “on demand” DVD film club thing. It’s still in operation.

    Actually seems like a decent idea although I don’t subscribe.

    1. Oh yeah, Film Movement… yeah, that’s one of his projects too. Yes, a cool idea. And apparently legit.
      “Film Movement is a full-service North American distributor of critically acclaimed award-winning independent and foreign films. Film Movement has released films from 25 countries and six continents, including top prize winners from Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, Tribeca and many other prestigious film festivals. Through partnerships with theaters, TV networks, wholesalers, retailers, institutions, and a first of its kind subscription service, Film Movement is able to get the films it distributes the audience they deserve.”

  3. I believe he is a scam. His demeanor is phony. They are playing people. I hope she wins her case. I have not received my money for my screenplay as yet…so I don’t blame her.

  4. I met Larry last night and pitched an idea to him. He spent more than 30 minutes giving me feedback. He was helpful and encouraging. I don’t believe for a minute he was scamming me. Yes, I paid $10 to send my script, but the one-on-one pitch was free. And, he gave me the chance no one else in the business would. I may not get a deal out of our meeting, but several dozen others have…….

    1. Good to hear a first person experience from the other side, Jo. Can you point me to any articles or documentation regarding the dozens of others who have struck deals with Larry? I haven’t seen anything on his Nehst site. I’d love to be able to link to evidence in his favor.

  5. In 1997 I sent Larry a treatment about a guy that builds a rocket on his property, and launches himself into space using special rocket fuel.

    In my cover letter, i stated i wanted Billy Bob Thornton to play the lead.

    Sound familiar?

    **cough** **cough** The Astronaut Farmer

    He refuses to take any of my calls. I wonder why.

    Parasite is the perfect word for Mr Meistrich.

    1. I own this movie and don’t see larry on credits or on the box listing… and i don’t see shooting gallery. So he didn’t make the movie???

      I am with Jo, I have met him and he listened to me and gave great advice for an idea i pitched in LA.

  6. “I own this movie and don’t see larry on credits or on the box listing… and i don’t see shooting gallery. So he didn’t make the movie???

    I am with Jo, I have met him and he listened to me and gave great advice for an idea i pitched in LA.”

    So because your dvd box doesn’t have Larry’s credentials on it, it’s wise to assume (which one should never do) that Larry had absolutely NOTHING to do with Astronaut Farmer? Is that what your saying? LOL. I can see you have alot to learn.

    Go ahead and get in contact with any entertainment lawyer. Make sure to show them this blog article.

    “Hey Bob. I have a great idea for a film. Some guy in Canada just sent me a very interesting & compelling treatment. He wants you to play the lead. Here, read it!”

    “Thanks Larry. I’m alittle busy with projects, but i will definately have a look when i have the time.”

    Something like that…

    The movie got made. That’s all i wanted. I was not credited. I don’t care. My point to posting this is i agree with the article. Larry is a spineless coward.

    And the reason you think Larry is a nice guy is because he didn’t like your pitch. 😉 He was being polite.

  7. Nehst, she says, has been securing deals with script writers and directors by touting a $250 million pool of capital. That fund does not exist, she says. Offenbach describes a business where meetings were held in vans in New Jersey parking lots, where employees were told to lie about Madoff’s involvement with the firm…(need we hear more? That aside, frankly what has Nehst produced lately? Two quiet documentaries. If they’re acquiring scripts and have been for years seems odd that this is what they’re putting out – something isn’t kosher here – I always suspected it. When Larry starts talking you wanna believe him but like most of the great movies, there’s always something shady going on beneath the surface – I always got the feeling they’re out to steal from anyone foolish enough to believe their tale. If you’re one of the unlucky few, pos. or negative) pls. post….

  8. I pitched a project to them, worked with them for quite some time, and other than giving notes and ideas, they have done nothing. Major opportunities missed on moving my project forward. I have relationships with many others who share the same experience. Mine is a finished product and they have done nothing. I know people with scripts who have option agreements and years later are trying to break them, but nehst wont let them out. The question is why? Your not pushing what you have, other than one doc, and your not producing any actual features. My opinion is they are trying to leverage scripts and finished films in order to raise funding. They may have intentions of producing once funded, but I dont think the money, or at least substantial money is there. This would never fly with real film pros, thats why they prey upon the dreams of people like us who dont know the ropes. Then we sit in limbo for years. There employee turnover is huge, most likely when people realize its BS they run. If anyone noticed, there big publicity break was acquiring a film known as Pale Horseman by the writer of Underworld. Where did that go? Its no longer on there imdb page.

  9. I think after reading these responses that I feel like I’ve been scammed from this same guy as well. I recently pitched two television series to him and I was told it would be five to six weeks before I would hear back from him.

    About three weeks ago, I contacted there customer service and left a message for them. They emailed me and said that I would hear a response by January 19th. It’s now January 21st and after a while I started becoming suspicious about this situation and decided to goole his site to see if it was a scam. God I should have done that first, would have saved myself 20.00.

    I’m starting to wonder if my dream of writing in hollywood will ever come true. I’m partially blind and I’m tired of people taking advantage of me.

    1. Sorry to hear about your situation. But in all fairness, 5-6 weeks is a short period of time in “Hollywood years”. I’ve had it take months and months (as many as six) to hear back from producers who’ve *requested* my material, much less from producers whom I’ve cold pitched. Sometimes I’ve never heard back. It’s important to remember they’re reading lots of stuff, and are possibly involved in multiple complex projects at any time. Even once they’ve replied, and you’re in any kind of conversation or negotiation, the response cycle can be weeks.

      If your work is great, and it’s a fit with the company and their slate, you’ll hear from them. If you don’t, it’s safe to assume it’s just not a fit. Calling and asking for updates is generally not favorable…

      And paying for the privilege to pitch? Usually a red flag, though opinions vary… see this post: http://chipstreet.wordpress.com/2009/09/15/pay-to-pitch/

  10. Too good to be true. How does an apparent low level producer with no studio ties manage to secure a $250 million dollar “fund” from “investors” when we are in a near depression and ALL credit has dried up? If this was four years ago, I might had believed him, but come on, Steven Spielberg had to go to INDIA to secure financing.

    Larry is smart. He only charges $10 for a pitch. It’s practically free money for him. All he has to do is send a vague “It’s not for us” form letter a few weeks/months later (if ever).

  11. I co-wrote that script with Brandon back in ’97.
    Brandon knows how to write, I contributed dialogue and character development.

    Brandon sent that in to Meistrich and the rest is how Brandon says it happened.

    That all happened BEFORE I worked in film.

    I have been in film production now for over 7 years and while what this spineless snake did is true, I have come to see that it is completely normal for this business. From having scripts slid under bathrooms stall doors to finding them in luggage after traveling to watching people sleep their way to the top to watching PAs supply producers with blow on set and then watch them be my boss on the next show – I have to take this all tongue in cheek.

    Is Meistrich a slimeball?

    Yes.

    Is he alone?

    Not by a slingblade…er, longshot.

  12. Come to think of it, I just thought of two words…

    Class.
    Action.

    Can you feel the love Larry?

    Better yet, someone write a script about him and what he does and we’ll all pitch in the settlement to bring it to production.

    “…the movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.’ Then he added, ‘there’s also a negative side.”

    – Attributed to Hunter S. Thompson.

  13. I’m sure the people at NEHST are sincere. I went to one of their pitch meetings at the Four Seasons Hotel in NYC. Four people (including Larry Meistrich) spent about half an hour with me. Say they see 2 or at the most 3 people per hour; that’s pulling in, say, 25 dollars per hour. Split among 4 people, that’s about 6 dollars per hour per person. Yeah right, what a scam, they’re really raking it in on 6 bucks an hour, huh? Plus they had the expense of whatever $20 drinks they had to pay for (for themselves, alas, not for the writers), in order to hold the table. They must have sincerely wanted to hear ideas. If that’s a scam, they’d make more money panhandling on the subway.

    About Astronaut Farmer — the coincidence means nothing. Nothing. I have a screenwriter friend who was working on a script on exactly that idea, and while he was working on it, Astronaut Farmer came out. Yes the person posting above mentioned Billy Bob Thornton for the lead, but that would be almost automatic in connection with NEHST, since Larry did Sling Blade. Coincidences happen all the friggin time. Last year I was planning to write a screenplay about the pirate radio scene in London in the mid-60s, then of course that other movie comes out.

    I went to a few meetup.com meetings for screenwriters in NYC two years ago. One of the guys there had sold his screenplay to NEHST, and another optioned his to NEHST.

    While I don’t believe that NEHST is in a position to actually produce a movie these days, I do believe they really do intend to.

  14. Check out http://CineSpin.com — a new site recently launched, dedicated to emerging opportunities in funding, marketing and distribution for filmmakers. It should be a great place to swap information and experience on issues like this.

  15. Hello Larry,
    Do you remember Thomas Dwyer? He was the main investor for Sling Blade (Production Company) Shooting Gallery that you never paid nor acknowledge. It’s sad that greedy people such as yourself will do anything for money.

  16. I worked closely with Larry for several years and watched him lie to most of the people he worked with, cheat on his wife, take advantage of everyone that came his way, Sad thing is that he was always charming enough to talk his way out of it.

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