It’s a role he has helped redefine. In 2009, Chapnick launched Distribber, a Los Angeles-based company that allows filmmakers to bypass the traditional distribution system and earn money directly through outlets such as Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and cable’s video-on-demand service. “It’s not terribly technically advanced, but for this industry, it’s revolutionary,” said Chapnick, noting that he got the idea from a fellow alum, Jeff Price ’90, who created a similar company, called TuneCore, for musicians.
Chapnick continues to stretch the boundaries. For the last two years, he has been on the management team of one of the Internet’s hottest startups, Indiegogo, which bought Distribber in 2010. Indiegogo is an online “crowdfunding”platform that started as a place for budding filmmakers to raise money. It has since broadened to include artistic, philanthropic and business ventures of all stripes. Users include George Takei, the former “Star Trek” actor, who raised nearly $160,000 to produce “Allegiance,” a musical about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“People are using the platform in incredibly creative ways to unlock a niche in funding that had never been available for a whole swath of products and ideas that just didn’t have a way to become real, because traditional sources of funding have traditional ways of saying ‘no,’” Chapnick said.
Chapnick, an English major at F&M, has built something of a career out of upending traditional ways. He had little choice. After landing in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, he learned that the theatrical role he had been expecting to take had been given to someone else. “I was so shocked all I could do was laugh. I had no idea what I would do,” said Chapnick, who had already sublet his New York City apartment.
The native of Larchmont, N.Y., acted in commercials and built sets, drawing on his experience in F&M’s Green Room Theatre. He got into the business side of film by representing screenwriters and eventually landed in film distribution, with a focus on documentaries. His “a-ha” moment came in 2004, when he helped find outlets for two documentaries made by director Robert Greenwald, “Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War” and “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.”
Chapnick picked up the phone and convinced movie theaters to screen the films from a $1 DVD rather than a $30,000 print, dramatically reducing the cost of distribution. “Ever since then, I haven’t stopped,” he said. “I try to adopt every new technology, every new tool that could possibly help quality films and projects and people spread their messages around the world.”