Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No Man's Land

At festivals, talking with other filmmakers and audience members, the question of the day is usually, "What are you hoping is going to happen with your movie?" Nine out of ten times the answer is some sort of distribution deal. Over the last few years, ever since Robert Rodriguez busted open the indie dream with a $7,000 film, there's been an surge of low, micro, and no budget films all competing for that grand distribution prize. But I believe that well has run dry. Big budget films are having a hard enough time competing with one another, along with video games and video on demand, and are given just over a week before being yanked away to DVD. Why in the world would studios take a risk on some low budget independent film? Speed Racer is losing money. George Clooney's Leatherheads was a whisp of smoke, here one second, gone in an instant. What hope do the little films have?

Here's more proof, via Indiepix blog:

  • ThinkFilm, in a financial crises having overpaid for films that it can’t make money on in distribution, sells its catalog to a Canadian investor/speculator.
  • New Line Cinema, respected for its having pioneered “edgy” films into the mass market, is closed by Warner Bros; 450 jobs in NY and LA lost.
  • Picturehouse, run by top indie film distributor Bob Berney, is closed by Warner and titles folded into the studio.
  • Warner Independent, the so-called “independent” arm of Warner managed by a former studio exec, Polly Cohen, is closed and folded into the studio.
  • Cablevision, owner of the IFC channel, successfully bids an estimated $500 million for the Sundance Channel, now controls all cable presentation of independent film.
  • Discovery Networks, after purchasing rights to and then declining to show “Taxi to the Dark Side“, Discovery is rumoured to be closing their independent film activity and may cut back on their support of Silver Docs.
Another example. Let's look at two projects.

Captain Blasto. Took three years to make. Cost $7,000, an additional $2,000 to have DVD's pressed, and roughly $1000 in advertising. To submit to a single film festival costs approx. $45, and we've easily spent hundreds on entering countless fests. If you're not accepted, that money just disappears. If you are accepted you now pay airfare, hotel, food, transportation, etc. A successful screening ends up being approx. 100 - 200 people. Often times that number lingers more around 40, and I've seen as low as 12. All that money for a few dozen people? Well, maybe there's a producer/distributor on the hunt at least. At Sundance sure, to bid on that William H. Macy movie he heard great things about, but they're not at the other eight zillion festivals looking for that goofy film from Munhall. In total, I estimate that approx. 3,000 - 5,000 people have seen Blasto in it's entirety.

Luigi Story. Made in just over two weeks. Cost $100 for some overalls and fake mustaches. Posted to YouTube and advertised the link on a handful of video game blogs. Currently the short has been seen on various sites by over one million people.

Times are changing. The new distribution model, whether it is video on demand or internet, has not solidified itself. We're entering a new season where people are going to be trying all sorts of stuff. Some will work, most won't. I know I've been giving my next project A LOT of thought. What is the best end product? Direct to DVD? Digital download? Web series?

Welcome to no man's land.

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