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, (where you can pay $10 to pitch to Larry) and, where actors can pay to upload photos and videos in the hopes of being cast in a project. 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, 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

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.


We should all watch this one closely.


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.

DF Indie Studios – dedicated to production & distribution of indie films

dfilogoGood news in tough economic times… an exciting new studio is launching in NY, with a stack o’ cash and a distribution network in place. Is this the best time to launch? Or the worst?

And what does it mean for screenwriters who aren’t attached to a production company? A quick look at the “Greenlight Process” page seems to indicate that they’ll accept scripts, but only filtered through agents, talent, producers, etc… so your script will still need to be vetted and championed by someone with more juice than the average indie spec writer might have. That’s the part of the Hollywood model that will hopefully serve them well… a focus on projects for which they can commit the resources to complete, and for which they can identify a market. That’s just good business.

Of course, this kind of thing looks familiar for those who remember Larry Meistrich’s The Shooting Gallery (TSG).Through the ’90’s, Manhattan based TSG had big plans to build sound stages to support their slate of projects, but ended up with more misses than hits (Laws of Gravity and Sling Blade remain perhaps the two most recognizable successes) . Ultimately their demise in 2001 may be attributed to their lack of focus on proven Hollywood business practices, choosing instead to fancy themselves a dot-com technology start up with an eye on becoming a new-media powerhouse.

Will dedication to core industry business competencies (managing resources, backing projects with proven audiences, proactively managing distribution pipelines, staying in the movie business) keep DFIS from becoming a repeat of TSG? Will it have longer legs, and stay focused on the nuts and bolts of film rather than thinking it needs to be a new-technology company? Or does the new universe of online social media, marketing and distribution (that didn’t meaningfully exist during TSG’s lifetime) demand just such a bifurcated focus? Was TSG just too early, that landscape just too new and volatile?

Maybe DFIS will need to strike a balance between the two to find success. With the hard lessons of the dot-com bust firmly in our rear view mirror, we can only hope that DFIS remembers that the threat of mishandling that balance still looms larger than it may appear.

REUTERS: “Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher unveiled DF Indie Studios late Friday to eventually produce 10-12 films annually with a production cost of $10 million or less. They plan to guarantee distribution in the U.S. and Canada, backed by what they say is $150 million in equity financing.

DF Indie Studios (DFIS) has the support of big-name movie makers such as brothers Tony and Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) and independent film veterans Ted Hope and Anne Carey. (“Adventureland” and “In the Bedroom“).

“We’ve been amazed to see the competitors in our budget range have pretty much disappeared,” Dickinson told Reuters.

“That’s why we’re excited about this time period,” added Fisher. “We see it working in our favor.” [See the full article HERE.]

See the DFIS website HERE.