01 Dec 2015
How Do I Get Your Job?
Mac Bartels (HBS 2016) asks Eric d'Arbeloff (MBA 1993) about his path to HollywoodRe: John Davis (MBA 1981); Steve Chao (MBA 1981)Topics:
Just back from the Toronto Film Festival, Eric d'Arbeloff (MBA 1993), copresident of independent film producer and distributor Roadside Attractions, talks to Mac Bartels (HBS 2016) about how he got into the biz. Bartels, currently copresident of the student-run Entertainment & Media Club, worked as an assistant to John Davis (MBA 1981) of Davis Entertainment and at Creative Artists Agency before coming to HBS.
MB: What sparked your interest in the film industry?
ED: I loved movies growing up. By the time I got to HBS, I had already spent a summer in LA and completed a film program at USC, so I wasn’t even sure business school was a good choice at that point. But in the long term, I envisioned a career that had a foot in both business and creative.
MB: How did you get started?
ED: It was a long exploration process. A light bulb went off postcollege when I was working at Lotus Development, creating interactive marketing demos for various products. I really liked the experience of getting my hands dirty working with designers and producers. And I got lucky, because I met a television producer through HBS named Stephen Chao (MBA 1981) and interned for him between my first and second years. He was an early mentor who offered me my first job.
MB: What led you to start Roadside Attractions?
ED: When I worked at Fox Family Films, my boss at the time was producing a documentary on the side called Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary. I got to do a lot of stuff on that project and literally brought the print with me for my first trip to Sundance in 1997. That was a real aha moment, because I realized I had always wanted to affect the cultural conversation through the work that I was doing. I got to see that happen firsthand at Sundance.
MB: Can you talk about the economics behind Roadside?
ED: Ultimately, this business is driven by the curation of a slate of films. We release 10 to 12 films each year—they could be finished, or films that we develop from the script stage. We worked on All Is Lost with director and writer J.C. Chandor pretty much from the ground up.
Picking films is very much an art, more than a science. One of the great things about film festivals is you get a sense of what audiences, including journalists, think. We’re able to talk to exhibitors who might book the film. But part of it is having a gut instinct. If you don’t have that, you can get into trouble trying to repeat past success by measuring every potential acquisition against a comparable film from the past. A film like Winter’s Bone would be a great example of that. It didn’t have obvious art house appeal, because it was about a very gritty part of the world, but we saw it as an amazing thriller.
We do movies for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes it’s because it’s something that we just really love and feel like, yes, there’s a business model for it. Would there be a more lucrative choice for that slot in the slate? Maybe. It comes back to the curation aspect of this business. It’s very different from the search engine method of figuring out what’s worth watching.
MB: Any advice for students or alumni considering a career in the media and entertainment business?
ED: Ask yourself why you’re choosing this industry as opposed to another. The film business is a little tricky for MBAs to navigate. It doesn’t have the same clear path that other, more traditional fields do. Leaving that aside, the broader field of media and entertainment can be a really exciting place to work. There are more opportunities now than ever in terms of creating content. For me, it comes down to really, really loving the product that you’re selling.
Class of MBA 1993, Section F