Indie film is dying -- unless it isn't
Yes, distributors are closing, films are tanking and insiders are muttering that doom is nigh.
But the best filmmakers always survive.
Jun. 24, 2008
All winter and spring, people in the independent-film business have been murmuring politely
behind their hands and pretending not to see the 800-pound walrus in the corner of the room:
The indie industry is undergoing a sudden and largely unexpected meltdown, or in the
business-speak recently employed by Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, "a
periodic market adjustment."
Nobody's ignoring it anymore, not after Saturday's address to a Los Angeles Film Festival
conference by Mark Gill, CEO of the independent production and financing outfit the Film
Department and former president of Miramax and Warner Independent. Gill's speech, entitled
"Yes, the Sky Really Is Falling,"
was followed by a thoughtful Sunday column from the
cataloging everything that has gone wrong for small
films, and the companies that make them, in the last six months.
It's a short but bloody history:
Warner Bros. shut down
its Picturehouse and Warner
Independent subsidiaries and slashed the staff of New Line Cinema by 90 percent.
Paramount Vantage, another "studio specialty division" that was born just two years ago, is
being reabsorbed by Paramount Pictures. ThinkFilm, a true independent distributor, is being
sued by vendors who say they haven't been paid and is under fire from documentary
who claims the company botched the release of his Oscar-winning
"Taxi to the Dark Side."
Think's future is in doubt, as is that of Sidney Kimmel Entertainment,
which has reportedly downsized itself by half. According to Gill, who ought to know, at least
five other indie distributors "are in serious financial peril." (I could probably guess who three or
four of those are, but it's indecent to speculate about other people's livelihoods.)
At the big winter-spring marketplaces of Sundance, Berlin and Cannes, the apparent indie
boom of the last few years turned awfully tepid, awfully fast. There were lots of terrific smaller-
scale films at those festivals, but hardly anything that looked or felt like an international art-
house hit on the scale of
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
-- the movies
that enable indie distributors like IFC or Miramax or Sony Classics to take chances on riskier
fare. And as Rickey details, it's been a relatively weak year at the box office, with expected
"Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day"
failing to cross over to mainstream moviegoers (or at least not in sufficient numbers).
Perhaps your heart does not bleed overmuch, amid the general economic and spiritual turmoil