Reel power

Dallas-based Regent Entertainment vies to become a Hollywood player, and it's off to an Oscar-winning start

It's 24 hours after meeting with Stephen Jarchow, and the only detail about the man that remains in the memory is how utterly unassuming he appears. This is not a knock against Jarchow; his friends and colleagues say much the same thing, but always with the caveat that looks deceive. So it's a compliment to describe Jarchow as rather ordinary. Or maybe it's just a nice way of saying that the man who founded Regent Entertainment during the early 1990s and helped pay for last year's art-house sensation Gods and Monsters isn't at all the archetypal movie producer. Not like, say, Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, a man who looks as though he has devoured half of Hollywood and has yet to pass it through his digestive tract.

Even his spacious office, which is located off Preston Road and Northwest Highway, reveals little about the man, save for the photographs of his 12-year-old daughter. There are the requisite movie posters in the small anteroom -- most of them for Gods and Monsters -- but the Regent CEO's office is mostly bereft of film artwork. The only thing truly out of the ordinary is a glass case filled with miniature sports figurines and worn copies of Clair Bee's collectible books from the 1940s and '50s featuring all-around star athlete Chip Hilton. Jarchow mentions that he owns the film rights to these books and plans to make at least one movie using Bee's character. This is how Jarchow discusses much of his business: casually, in a soft, easy tone that matches his exterior.

Atop his office coffee table sits a pile of the books Jarchow has written, among them 1986's epic Real Estate Syndications: Tax, Securities, and Business Aspects and the sweeping Institutional and Pension Fund Real Estate Investment. Jarchow doesn't even crack a smile when he's kidded that these are rather, ya know, sexy titles.

Stephen Jarchow founded Regent Entertainment in the early 1990s as a way to recycle old movies to the foreign market. He never imagined Regent would one day win an Academy Award.
Mark Graham
Stephen Jarchow founded Regent Entertainment in the early 1990s as a way to recycle old movies to the foreign market. He never imagined Regent would one day win an Academy Award.
Bill Condon wrote Gods and Monsters for Ian McKellen, pictured here with Brendan Fraser.
Robert Burnett/Mindfire Entertainment
Bill Condon wrote Gods and Monsters for Ian McKellen, pictured here with Brendan Fraser.

"These are hard to write," is what the 48-year-old says before moving on to the next topic of conversation -- how to secure foreign distribution for made-for-television movies. At least on the surface, the man is all business.

Jarchow's stoic veneer gave Gods and Monsters writer-director Bill Condon the impression that Jarchow didn't like his movie, the story of Frankenstein director James Whale during the final months of his turbulent life. When Jarchow and his Regent partners -- Paul Colichman, Peter Dekom, and Mark Harris -- convened last year to screen the film, Condon was already nervous. It did not help matters that after the lights came up, Jarchow sat there with a look of stone-faced seriousness.

"You get ridiculously insecure at such moments," recalls Condon, who regained his composure only after receiving assurances from Colichman that Jarchow really enjoyed the film. "Only later did I get to understand his style. The man is straightforward and gentle, which is a breath of fresh air when you're in Los Angeles."

Not long ago, Regent was simply Jarchow's side project, a nothing little Dallas-based movie distributor selling foreign video rights for dreadful films he picked up for pennies at bankruptcy sales. Regent -- the name has a familiar movie feel, but it was just a street in Jarchow's hometown, and his way of pretending he was in the movie business even though he was just dumping garbage in Europe.

But that seems like a long time ago. 1994 B.O. -- Before Oscar.

Now the man has an Academy Award on his résumé, thanks to the writer-director who once thought Jarchow hated his movie. He even helped pay for Gods and Monsters out of his own pocket. To hear Bill Condon tell it, Jarchow's a regular Robin Hood in pinstripes, and his partners are equal saints in his eyes.

Had Regent just turned out Gods and Monsters, among the most critically adored films of 1998, then this would be a captivating success story all by itself. It's so high-concept as to be far-fetched: Unknown production company with an office in the barren wastelands of Dallas spends $1.5 million of its own money on film about gay horror-movie director, receives rave reviews, and wins numerous awards and untold respect. Sounds like a winning pitch meeting.

However, Regent's story only begins with the success of Gods and Monsters. Since the film's release last year, the company has purchased a movie theater on one of Los Angeles' busiest street corners, making it easy for Regent to showcase its own films in the world's largest market. And more important is that the company has gotten into the distribution business. Meaning: Regent is morphing into a bona fide movie studio.

The company already has a track record of producing made-for-TV movies -- most of which star outcasts from Fantasy Island reruns. But in recent months, it has picked up three films for distribution: the delightful Free Enterprise, about two Star Trek zealots for whom love is the final frontier; Sixth Happiness, starring a grown man trapped in the fragile body of a small child; and Spent, about a couple trying to overcome their destructive addictions.

It ain't Miramax, but it's a start.

And to think, Jarchow is nothing more than the accidental movie producer, a Wisconsin-born man who stumbled into the film world from the back entrance -- in this case, a dying Las Colinas film studio that Jarchow purchased in 1992 simply because it was a good deal. Until then, he was as much a part of the movie business as any schlub who forks over eight bucks to sit in a darkened theater. He practiced law, he wrote real estate books, and if he harbored Hollywood dreams, he never chased them down.

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