Magazine article Variety

Boutique Keeps It All in the Family

Magazine article Variety

Boutique Keeps It All in the Family

Article excerpt

Moonstone Entertainment navigates rocky road of indie biz by running fuel-efficient outfit

Even 30 or so years ago, when Moonstone Entertainment founder Ernst "Etchie" Stroh was in the Israeli music business, he was apparently so nice about saying "No," people thought he was saying "Yes."

"I remember this one fellow who came in with a project and Etchie was so positive and so nice, the man thought, 'Yes! He's going to do it,' " says Stroh's wife of 39 years and partner Yael. "It wasn't until he walked out the door that he realized he'd been turned down. Even when Etchie says no, it's done in such a beautiful way."

A wife can't testify against her husband - and one who describes a relationship as "42 years of honeymoon" probably shouldn't be considered an unimpeachable source on the subject of her spouse. But Etchie Stroh - whose Moonstone is now celebrating its 20th year in the production and distribution business - does have a certain reputation, even among his competitors.

"He's a charming, well-liked guy," says one, with perhaps begrudging respect Moonstone Entertainment has, after all, survived two of the more tumultuous decades in the history of mass entertainment, an era that has seen media, technologies and film companies appear, flourish . . . and then vanish like shadows at noon. Moonstone's formula has been about low overhead, a tight team and realistic expectations.

"I think it's the nature of how we run our business," Stroh says. "It's a lifestyle, really. We're really a boutique, family operation rather than a typical Hollywood operation. Everybody - me and my wife and everybody else - has worked together beyond the 20 years. For five years before, I was running another company and they were with me then, too."

Etchie, who is Moonstone's CEO and Yael, the company's president, founded Moonstone at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival - Etchie's music industry background having led, via his connections with the legendary Ertegun brothers, into the thenburgeoning world of VHS. "They got me into the film business via Warner Home Video," he says of the Erteguns, Nesuhi and Ahmet But Etchie eventually had what he called his midlife crisis.

"I said 'Israel is a little too small,' " Stroh recalls. "I'm 36 and I feel 75 and I want to do something else. Yael was for it and I'm entrepreneurial. But I didn't know what 'independent' meant."

For Moonstone it has meant involvement with what is now well over 100 films, including 70 or so in the distribution back catalog and about 30 with which the company has been involved as a producer, with such directors as Robert Altman ("Cookie's Fortune"), Alan Rudolph ("Afterglow"), "D Postino's" Michael Radford ("Dancing at the Blue Iguana") and Mike Figgis ("Miss Julie," "Hotel").

Moonstone also has a long, ongoing relationship with the fabled Chen Kaige, whom Stroh manages in territories outside China "The Promise," produced with Chen and his wife-producer Chen Hong, was the largest production then mounted in China, received a Golden Globe nom for foreign film and was the official Chinese submission for the foreign-language film Oscar. Their new collaboration is titled "Caught in the Web," an examination of new media's influence on modern society. It will play at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival.

The other big plans include a pair of franchises. "We're planning to do a movie a year with an action character called Code Name: Falcon," Stroh says, referring to a series of adventures that will feature an ex-Marine who is called upon by the State Department for top-secret missions. …

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