22 Nov 2013

A Passion for Film

Eric d'Arbeloff (MBA 1993) plays a starring role in bringing independent films to wider audiences.
Re: Steve Chao (MBA 1981)
by Jill Radsken


by Jill Radsken

All of Eric d'Arbeloff's (MBA 1993) movies have heart. But the film producer and copresident of Roadside Attractions, a distribution company that counts Super Size Me, Winter's Bone, and Biutiful among its successes, is as surprised as anyone that he found that emotion at Harvard Business School.

"Going to HBS somehow emboldened me to push away from things I knew to things I didn't know," he says.

D'Arbeloff says Roadside Attractions, which is poised to celebrate its tenth anniversary early next year, will finish 2013 in dramatic fashion. The company's latest release, All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford, saw Oscar buzz begin building weeks before it hit the screen in October.

"My first film premiered at Sundance [which was founded by Redford]. The spirit of the festival is so crucial to my career, and so many things he's done have inspired me," d'Arbeloff says. "In the small-world category, all these strands connecting around this one film—it's a very exciting moment."

D'Arbeloff, who runs Roadside with his business and life partner, Howard Cohen, recalled the moment—rather, the movie—that ignited his passion for film. As a teenager in Brookline, Massachusetts, he went to see Small Change, a 1976 drama directed by Francois Truffaut, with his middle school French class. "My parents had taken me to Young Frankenstein and independent films, but that blew me away," he says.

But Hollywood's silver screen seemed "so far removed from my life," and d'Arbeloff didn't consider that he could actually work in the film business until he got a job at Lotus Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after college.

"I was making a lot of training materials and interactive demonstration disks; and the internal film crew were from WGBH [the PBS station in Boston] and Zoom alumni," he says. "It was this slow awakening that maybe these skills would translate into something completely different." From day one at HBS, d'Arbeloff, a self-described "classic suburban kid," recognized his chance.

"My roommate was from England. People in my section were from Africa, China, and Eastern Europe," he recalls. "There's always pressure to take a somewhat trodden path, but I saw people from completely different backgrounds, and I realized how many opportunities had been given to me."

His classmates inspired him, but so did the Technology and Operations Management (TOM) Unit, which still resonates in the work he does today.

"I bring some of the stuff I learned in that class to the majority of my days," he says, recalling a case study of Krups, the coffee maker, and analysis of cost, engineering, and design. "That is exactly what movies are. What is the budget? How do I manage those costs?" he said. "I didn't think of it as interesting or relevant, and it was both."

While at HBS, d'Arbeloff found an internship through TV executive and HBS alum Stephen Chao (MBA 1981), and when he graduated, the former Fox president got him a job.

"Within two months of being out here, I was working on a pilot," d'Arbeloff says. "It was an amazing experience to be involved with someone like that."

Through the late 1990s and early 2000s, he produced several films (Trick and Lovely & Amazing), and the experience allowed him to see the bigger picture. "I knew what I was good at and where there were other people who were better," he said. "For me, distribution was bridging a lot of different parts of the industry."

Seeing so many small, but worthy films struggle to find their way into a theater was his impetus for starting Roadside, and today he compares his job as similar to that of a curator.

"Hollywood is a dream factory. We're kind of the factory part of it, but you also can't look at these products like they were clear product. You have to create an aura around them," he explains. "I'm going to see these films, and deciding what's worth putting out in the world."

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1993, Section F

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