During the 2010s, Dallas Sonnier was a rising talent of a filmmaking producer. He moved from Texas to California and would start out as a producer and executive producer on a number of mostly forgettable Steve Austin action movies. But, eventually, he would land the larger picture of Bone Tomahawk, a gritty mixture of western and horror that attracted the likes of Kurt Russel and Richard Jenkins. He released the film from his own studio, Caliber Media.
Soon after that film debuted, he moved back to Texas in 2016 to turn Caliber Media into Cinestate, a local studio that would aim to make movies specifically in the Lone Star state and free of Hollywood scruples. It sounded like an inspiring story of one producer trying to rise up by forming his own studio to challenge bigger ones.
Unfortunately, it’s a story with a dark turn. Because for all the local pride that Cinestate took in being a home-brewed Texan studio created by a local producer, it would end up making huge mistakes that led to hideous scandals.
Before all the controversy arose, however, Cinestate was actually doing rather well as a studio, at least from the perceptions of the public unaware of what was going on behind the scenes.
They released such gritty and violent films as Brawl in Cell Block 99, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, and Dragged Across Concrete. None of these films were huge box office successes but they were films that got people interested. They featured notable actors such as Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson, and Don Johnson and received plenty of positive critic feedback.
It’s hard not to be a little impressed that they made a film where Vince Vaughn crushes someone’s skull into concrete and then drags it across the floor. To clarify, the scene I’m talking about is from Brawl in Cell Block 99 and not Dragged Across Concrete.
The studio even acquired the movie website Birth Movies Death. But by far one of the best things that Cinestate ever did was revive Fangoria. The horror magazine stopped publication in 2017 as it had been struggling to stay afloat. But in 2018, Cinestate purchased Fangoria and soon relaunched the magazine that same year. A horror magazine continued on thanks to this studio.
Everything seemed to be going well for Cinestate. They were making movies people were paying attention to and reviving film publications fans cared about. Their future looked rather bright.
Then it all came crashing down.
The fall of Cinestate began in March of 2020 when Cinestate line-producer Adam Donaghey was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl during the production of A Ghost Story. He would soon be arrested on these charges when audio evidence was provided of him soliciting sex from his crew.
This wasn’t just an isolated incident as it’s been reported that Donaghey was barred from theaters for getting into drunken fights with women. For all of this, he would end up being known as the Harvey Weinstein of indie cinema.
Donaghey’s behavior was downplayed by Cinestate and more specifically Dallas Sonnier. Sonnier tried to distance himself from Donaghey, acting as though he were shocked to hear of this news, but he couldn’t quite hide being complicit in covering up such scandals.
Soon after, more allegations came out from others who had been sexually harassed while working for Cinestate.
Probably one of the most damning was that veteran actor Fred Williamson had been groping members of hair and makeup departments during the production of the film VFW. Those who were groped told Sonnier about this and his response was that the crew should just look out for each other because Williamson was too expensive to fire.
Jessica Schmidt, who was in costume and experienced this offense, explained the situation:
“So, it’s like, you’re like standing in front of a sexual predator and you are telling us to use the buddy system?”
When most of this information was revealed in an article by The Daily Beast, Sonnier had two responses to these allegations.
The first was a kinda-sorta apology where he stated he was going to make his sets safer as he wasn’t as experienced in this area of film production.
But he also stated that these allegations were not true and that they had never been informed about these issues. He went on to remark how this is a plot to take down his studio:
“The less than a handful of crew members who have personal vendettas against us right now, they’re frustrated because we told them that they weren’t doing a good job or we have moved on and started working with stronger talents in those positions.”
Filmmaker Adam Dietrich, who worked on multiple projects with Cinestate, spoke of how this is a real problem within the indie cinema scene with regard to sexual abuse:
“I didn’t experience that directly, but I’m recognizing that there are some systemic abuses in place within our industry. Especially the independent film industry and maybe specifically in Texas. We’ve been taught that we have to either do X or find a new job.”
And doing X essentially meant anything from 27-hour-shoots to staying quiet about sexual abuse in the workplace. And since there wasn’t exactly a lot of local film work in Texas, it was either put up with such a toxic work environment or don’t work at all.
With things not looking good, Cinestate essentially went dark as the hideous nature of what went on behind the scenes spewed forth.
Birth Movies Death had to shut its doors as a result. Don’t worry about Fangoria though. They were thankfully bought up by different people and continue to push out new issues without Cinestate.
So, after all this, what happened to Cinestate?
Well, Dallas Sonnier still wanted to make films even after being called out for being a massive piece of shit. He rebranded Cinestate as Bonfire Legend and chose their exclusive distributor to be The Daily Wire, a conservative news outlet.
On January 14th, 2021, The Daily Wire released a Cinestate film that had been waiting for a commercial debut, Run Hide Fight. It’s essentially a high school revenge fantasy where Zoe, a teenager trained in using guns and getting over the death of her mom, decides to take out some school shooters that are rampaging her school.
The way that The Daily Wire and its figurehead Ben Shapiro promoted the film makes it sound like Ben was behind making this film possible. This is not true. Run Hide Fight was made well before Cinestate turned into a studio so publicly toxic that they had to resort to seeking a conservative news organization as its distributor.
Cristen Leah Haynes, the film’s second assistant director, spoke ill of what happened to the film, stating
“Is there a way to remove your name from a crew list? … I’ve never wanted to take my name off of a project more.”
Makeup artist Madeleine Rose spoke of her reluctance to work on the film given the allegations of Donaghey who was also working on the film. The breaking point for her was when she heard the crew had killed a deer for the film which was a violation of a number of film and hunting regulations.
“They hired a local hunter, went on his land, and filmed the deer being shot. Then they took the deer and froze it, so they could pull it out again for close-ups with the actual actors.”
When Rose brought up these concerns, she was basically yelled at by Donaghey and was told that she was either with them or against them. She quit the next day.
Furthermore, Run Hide Fight was not outright shunned by the film community JUST because of the Daily Wire association. It debuted at the Venice Film Festival in September 2020 and the reaction was still largely negative. Some thought the film was meh as a revenge fantasy while others just thought the film was a mess of being a pointless exercise in Death Wish style entertainment.
To give more of my personal opinion, I managed to watch the film amid its free YouTube debut, and even if you divorce the politics of the film, it’s still not that good.
Aside from the lead girl Zoe having a backstory of hunting and learning to defend herself, nobody has a personality in this story. The villains are just cartoonish bad guys who love chaos for the thrill of it all and because they were apparently bullied, though the details of what led down that road are never divulged. The victims are also all random students we never get to know. It’s a mindless action picture in this regard.
This seems to be by design where Shapiro thinks the film is really strong for never giving the bad guys motivations and just makes them bad guys because..they’re bad guys. No observations on real-world school shootings, please.
The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh actually said this film is great escapism. Yeah…if you consider school shootings escapism.
I guess it kinda fits this label considering it never really questions anything cultural that led up to the shooting. Don’t think about any of that. Just enjoy your Die Hard action movie set in a high school where the teen who is skilled in handling a gun saves the day and never gets hurt.
A lot of people have referred to Run, Hide, Fight as Die Hard in a high school.
Yeah, about that.
So many people like to use this descriptor whenever there’s an action film taking place entirely within an enclosed space, referring to the setting of the first Die Hard film taking place almost entirely inside Nakatomi Plaza.
The thing is, Die Hard wasn’t notable just because of this aspect. So many films with a similar setting often get compared to Die Hard when thematically and structurally they’re nowhere close to being a Die Hard film.
Even Die Hard films are not really Die Hard films anymore. Some are even commercials!
Die Hard holds up because it has solid arcs for all the characters. We know who John McClaine is as a character. We know his quirks, his worldview perspective, his working-class attitude, and see him as human the way he becomes more wounded and bloody as the film goes on and not just charging through without a scratch. There are stakes to his character. He’s not an unstoppable killing machine, where stepping on glass with bare feet is actually really painful. It’s one of the reasons why Die Hard is often referred to as a bruised-arm action movie.
We know who the villain Hans Gruber is. We know how he behaves, how he plans to take over Nakatomi plaza, and what his demands are in this situation. He’s an interesting villain because of both his cold nature and intricate means of targeting a corporation for his own gain.
Run Hide Fight has none of this depth. Zoe has pathos, sure, but never goes through much of a change. By the end of the film, all that’s accomplished is that she confesses her love for another student almost inexplicably and reconnects with her father, who she doesn’t catch up with until the end of the film. She’s also perfectly fine by the end of the film, physically and emotionally, even willing to hunt down the final shooter when he is out of the school. She never questions the horrific events that transpired, only relishing in that sweet revenge of watching another student bleed out.
The lead villain of Tristan also isn’t interesting because he openly admits he’s only doing all of this for the mayhem. No demands and no plans past just shooting up the school. No observation of the influences that led to this point either because, hey, it’s escapism! Stop demanding that characters have reasons for doing things!
And as I said before, all the victims and supporting villains are just a whole lot of nothing. We never learn much of anything about them, making it all the harder to care about anyone in this story.
This is kinda decent for mindless entertainment in an overblown, exploitative, Cannon Films sorta way. But it doesn’t really hold up if the goal of pushing this film on the Daily Wire is to make a case for conservative values.
It’s not that it doesn’t hit the conservative checkmarks of what that particular audience likes to see, it absolutely meets that criteria as proven by a number of online reviews, but this film has about as much to say on gun violence as 2018’s Death Wish. So…not a lot.
The two films even have the same ending, where the good guy with the gun kills the bad guys with guns and everybody lives happily ever after, never again questioning how such violence arose in the first place.
If NRA TV were still around, I guarantee they would’ve taken in this film.
Also, speaking of streaming services, can we talk about how bad a plan this is for distribution? Run Hide Fight is only available on The Daily Wire streaming service, which as of now only has one film. If you want to watch that one film, you have to pay $14 for a one-month subscription. Seriously, $14/monthly for one movie.
Disney+ costs $8 a month and they can’t even convince fans of The Mandolorian to stay subscribed off-season with the likes of all of Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar in their catalog.
And The Daily Wire really expects people to pay $14 to watch one film? And keep paying it month to month while they wait for the next one which is most likely many months away?
Let’s be real here though.
The only people who are going to watch this film are the ones already subscribed to The Daily Wire. The only other perks you get with this subscription is access to all The Daily Wire political videos, so mostly stuff you can already watch on YouTube, and a Liberal Tears tumbler? Who would use that in public?
Now, to be fair, it’s not uncommon for a news studio to produce films. CNN has most notably made a number of documentaries under the banner of CNN Films. And while CNN does air these films on their channel, you don’t need to watch CNN to view them because they’re not the sole distributor.
They actually have a wide range of distributors such as Lionsgate, Magnolia Films, and Gravitas Ventures. So while CNN retains the television rights, they pass the theater and home video rights to different distributors who get their films more exposure on other platforms. Their films don’t just air on CNN. They can be found on a number of common streaming services, VOD platforms, DVD, and sometimes in the theater.
More importantly, however, you don’t have to subscribe to some CNN subscription service to watch these films. So if you were curious about their films on the ownership of dinosaur fossils (Dinosaur 13) or the mesmerizing Apollo 11 space mission (Apollo 11), you won’t have to endure the agony of being notified of extra Chris Cuomo rants or purchase a Conservative Tears coffee mug!
The Daily Wire will keep promoting these films as trying to strike out against Hollywood. That no distributor would take these films because stuff like Run Hide Fight was simply too controversial for being too conservative.
This is a lie. Cinestate’s conservative films prior were doing just fine before the horrendous nature of its producers and directors were revealed. Their films were shown in theaters, premiered at festivals, hosted on major VOD services, and actually garnered quite a bit of positive press.
Nobody bought up the rights to Cinestate’s latest movies because they didn’t want to be associated with arrested sexual abusers, defenders of sexual abusers, and a studio known for creating a hostile work environment.
If a ridiculous right-leaning revenge thriller like Death Wish could make it into theaters through Lionsgate in 2018, especially during a time when that kinda film was incredibly controversial, there’s little reason why something as similar as Run Hide Fight couldn’t have a similar debut. Unless, of course, your studio is a piece of shit and nobody wants to associate with you for treating your crew like garbage.
I have no idea how Cinestate, sorry, Bonfire Legend is going to proceed with future films. They may learn from their mistakes or they could just keep making them. But considering The Daily Wire seems to have no issues with just how Run Hide Fight was made, chances are low that the distributor will care much about work ethics on the set. Or who knows, maybe a miracle will happen and they’ll actually create a better work environment.
One thing I can say for sure is that every film will come branded as being a fight against liberal Hollywood and stressing conservative values in film, regardless of what the film is about. But in the current state of how these films are distributed, you’re not supporting the chance of getting more conservative films out to the general public. You’re supporting The Daily Wire.
Run Hide Fight is available on no other platform and thus the only way to track how much of a success the film has been is to look at the streaming numbers, which could easily be conflated with those already subscribed just because they want another hour of Ben Shapiro videos. If The Daily Wire was truly serious about being a notable movie distributor, they would make this film available to rent on other platforms like Amazon and Vudu or at the very least set it up through a more approachable streaming platform. If the laughably inaccurate right-wing documentaries of Dinesh D’Souza could make it onto Amazon Prime, there’s no reason The Daily Wire couldn’t do the same.
But it’s doubtful The Daily Wire is ever going to do this, however, because distributing to other platforms would mean extra contracts and percentage cuts. And why go through all of that when The Daily Wire could just host the film themselves and keep all that sweet subscriber money?
When you place your film in this box, you’re not shaking the cages of current filmmaking trends. You’re basically PureFlix, making films that only appeal to a specific demographic within an insular community, far from appealing to a broader audience. It’s just echo-chamber propaganda.
And that’s what happened to Cinestate.
It was the Texas indie studio that was once on the rise and quickly descended into only having their films hosted on a conservative news website.
It’s a bit tragic because if the producers had just made for a better work environment and didn’t throw their crew members under the bus when they came forward with issues of harassment, they would have been a real force to reckon with in Hollywood. Some of their films really were good and still carried a conservative appeal.
But now that they’re exclusively housed within The Daily Wire, it’s doubtful they’ll ever have any greater influence outside of their very specific audience. The audience who drinks soda from their Liberal Tears tumbler, apparently.