Exclusive Q&A with Eric d'Arbeloff MBA '93 and Howard Cohen AB '81


Eric d’Arbeloff MBA ‘93 and Howard Cohen AB ‘81 are the Co-Presidents of Roadside Attractions, a specialty film distributor based in L.A. Roadside has released over 150 films in its near 20-year history, with combined box office exceeding $500 million. Their films have garnered numerous Oscar® and other award nominations and wins. Roadside is partially owned by Lionsgate, who distributes Roadside films in aftermarkets such as VOD and television. In 2022, Roadside announced a three-year deal with Hulu for the post-theatrical streaming window on its theatrical releases. Roadside’s recent releases include MOVING ON starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, SOMEWHERE IN QUEENS starring Ray Romano, and the Independent Spirit Award winning EMILY THE CRIMINAL starring Aubrey Plaza. Upcoming releases include RETRIBUTION starring Liam Neeson. Notable releases in recent years include BENEDICTION from director Terence Davies, THE COURIER starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Matteo Garrone’s double Academy Award® nominated PINOCCHIO, Academy Award® winner JUDY, and the number one independent film of summer 2019: THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON. Also in recent times were the highest-grossing independent film of 2018, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, the Spirit Award-nominated BEATRIX AT DINNER, and double Academy Award® winner MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. 

Howard Cohen is the Co-President and Co-Founder of Roadside Attractions, which devises innovative theatrical release strategies for outstanding specialty films. Before running the show with Eric d’Arbeloff at Roadside Attractions, Cohen was also an Executive Producer on Mira Nair’s film VANITY FAIR and was head of the Independent Film Department at United Talent Agency. Cohen’s early career included executive positions at HBO, Paramount, and TNT. Cohen is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), in the Executive Branch. Cohen has a B.A. from Harvard College.

Eric d’Arbeloff is the Co-President of Roadside Attractions. His other credits include TRICK, which premiered in Sundance, LOVELY & AMAZON, which premiered in Telluride; LIFETIME GUARANTEE: PHRANC'S ADVENTURES IN PLASTIC, which premiered at Outfest and is currently available as part of the Masc curation on the Criterion Channel; and ALL IS LOST, which premiered in Cannes. He has a B.A. in Modern Studies from the University of Virginia and an M.B.A. from Harvard.

Q: You’re both producers on the soon-to-be-released film SHORTCOMINGS, Randall Park’s hilarious feature directorial debut based on the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine. What drew you to this film? What are you most excited for audiences to see when it hits theaters?

SHORTCOMINGS is a wonderfully wry and poignant work of literary fiction from author Adrian Tomine that was way ahead of its time when it was originally published, and named a New York Times Notable Book, in 2007. We admired the book’s unflinching honesty and its astute, often hilarious, observations about identity politics, sexual mores, and the impact of racial representation in pop culture. We felt like the broader culture has caught up to it, and we immediately saw its potential as a feature when our head of development, Ryan Paine, presented it to us. Like many of our favorite independent features, it’s told from a perspective that we hadn’t seen on screen before.

Adrian wrote the script for the film, and he and Randall Park worked closely together to update SHORTCOMINGS’ story and setting to the present day. We’re excited for audiences to get to know Randall as a director and for audiences to experience this story and get to know Adrian’s razor-sharp comedy and writing voice, since this is his first produced screenplay! Likewise, we’re excited for audiences to see our phenomenal, funny cast in action.

Q: We’re in a really exciting era of increased representation in Hollywood, specifically with regard to Asian American representation (with last month’s release of JOY RIDE in particular and LOVE IN TAIPEI coming out this month). What can you say about where this film fits within the current industry landscape?

Asian Americans have historically been underrepresented in Hollywood, on camera as well as behind the camera. This has been true even in the independent film sector, though were both old enough to remember the defining impact of Wayne Wang’s early films. While it’s exciting that the past few years have brought an upsurge in Asian-American representation in Hollywood, it’s also frustrating that it’s taken so long for this to happen. Thanks to decades of work by the Asian-American Hollywood community, there’s now a proven track record for a variety of commercial films with Asian characters. But we’ve seen fewer stories that feature flawed, funny, and complex Asian-American characters like our leads, Ben, Alice, and Miko. Our hope is that filmgoers will agree that our creative team has made a film that both leans into Asian-American identity and transcends it. Romantic confusion and the journey toward self-discovery are universal human experiences. They are themes explored in many of the films we love, and in particular, films we love to see with other filmgoers in a movie theater!

Q: Your company, Roadside Attractions, has released a lot of very unique, engaging, and acclaimed films, including THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, JUDY, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, and WINTER’S BONE. What do you look for in films when you’re considering becoming attached to them? What really makes you feel like a film is going to be successful?

We try to approach every movie on its own terms, i.e. does it succeed in what we judge to be its intentions? And then we ask how it affects us personally: Is it memorable, moving, and/or funny? We also try to gauge how we think critics will respond if we’re seeing it in a setting without reviews. If we’re seeing it at a festival where it gets reviewed, we read all the reviews carefully—and ask ourselves not just are they positive reviews—but are they motivating reviews that would get you off your couch and to a theatre? And then we ask ourselves who the audience is in terms of demographic (e.g. age, ethnic group, etc.) and psychographic (e.g. arthouse, commercial) that might actually go to see it in a theatre. Our financial model for movies is still theatrically driven, though we also consider how it might play in home entertainment. We get input from partners to assess that. We go through this exercise on each film, with the goal of seeing both the rewards and the risks. It’s great to stretch for films we love, but we also want to live to fight another day. So it’s a tricky dance between personal passion and business judgment.

Q: Can you talk about your paths to where you are now in the industry? As partners both in work and life, are there challenges or times when you don’t see eye-to-eye creatively? Or do you find yourselves to be very in sync when it comes to creative decisions?

Howard had history as a creative exec at a few companies—HBO, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, and notably running the early indie film dept at UTA in the late ’90s. Eric started in early reality TV and became an indie producer of such notable films as TRICK and LOVELY & AMAZING. We made a decision in the early aughts to join forces and start a company.  There have been challenges here and there being partners in work and personal life but two separate careers had challenges too! We are in sync creatively far more than not, and we’ve learned to politely disagree when we’re not. It’s actually easy because the one who doesn’t like something always says, ‘well if you really love it, even though I don’t, then we should do it,’ and that raises the bar pretty high! We use comps a lot when we assess risk, and every once in a while we drag out the comps that one of us championed that either didn’t work or did work but we didn’t buy. Luckily, we use those sparingly, usually at about 3AM in Sundance!

Q: Eric, you were quoted in a Vanity Fair article a few years ago: “From the very beginning, we really wanted the company to be the antidote to elitist, New York-based entertainment. We wanted to be more populist, to make movies that have what we call a willingness to entertain.” Do you feel like this still rings true for Roadside and your approach?

To some extent the theatrical marketplace has shifted since Eric said that, no question populism has continued to be a North Star for us. We’re not in a position to release tentpoles, so it’s not populist in that way. But we’re interested in films that play different niches out in the world that are not all driven by what happens for indie films in NY and LA and Sundance. Our biggest box office success to date, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, which grossed $83 milllion in 2018, is a film few Hollywood executives have even seen. We’re proud of that, though we love our coastal elite films too!

Q: How did your time at Harvard play a role in your career paths, if any? And what’s the biggest lesson you each learned early on in the industry?

It sounds kind of pat, but Harvard played the biggest roles for both of us in shaping who we are as people: having confidence in our taste, and bolstering our characters in how to deal with the industry and the world. We both still have close friendships formed at Harvard which are indeed priceless. But there have been ironies too: Eric has an MBA, but he learned one of his most valuable business skills, how to create and manage a budget, in the shabby production offices of the Roger Corman Studio in Venice. That’s a reason to bounce around a bit early in your career—you may learn something real-world and useful!

Q: Of course, I have to ask, what piece of advice do you have for aspiring directors/producers/creatives?

In moving forward with any of your content ideas for film, TV, or any other media, think about whether the film or show is something you yourself would pay to see (or go out of your way to make an appointment to watch it at home). It’s such a simple threshold and yet we find people don’t consider this. If the answer is YES I WOULD, ABSOLUTELY, with little hesitation that’s so meaningful. If the answer is very qualified, well, if it were playing within 6 blocks from my apartment at my favorite theatre (or it was fed to me on an app during the credits of another show) and it had over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s cast with my favorite actors…DUMP THAT IDEA NOW. If you’re not totally excited by it at its core you have to assume it will have trouble exciting others. And you might be surprised how powerful it can be to dump an idea or put the brakes on a project. Reason being, you can learn a lot working on someone else’s idea and on someone else’s dime! One of the challenges of being creative and going to a great school is that the expectations get set so high. There are many aspects of entertainment that can lead to a creative and rewarding career. Film is about great teams as much as it is about grand individual statements.

Q: How do you both spend your free time? Any particular media you’ve been enjoying lately?

We have both played tennis (not with each other though)! We have a son who just graduated high school (and going to Harvard, Class of 2027!) so he has been a huge focus for the last 18 years! Eric is on the Board of Film Independent and Howard has sung baritone in the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles since 2002. We are avid theatregoers with a subscription to the Pantages and we travel to Broadway a few times a year. And we pay to see movies in the theatre almost every week. Even during the pandemic, we drove to Orange County when they reopened theatres before LA in June of 2020—we needed our fix.

Q: Finally, which project have you both been most proud of being involved with?

That’s a bit like asking us which one of our children we love the most (luckily we have just one!). What’s fascinating is that our feelings about our films are inextricably bound to our feelings about the process of releasing them. There could be a great poster, a memorable PR moment, or a unique idea from a member of our team that we tried for the first time. If you’ve ever adopted a pet, you know your love blooms from the journey, not just the pedigree.

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