Thursday, July 03, 2008

It's Not Us - It's You.

There's been a ton of discussion across the blogosphere regarding Indie Film Producer/ Studio Guy Mark Gill's recent speech which postulated that yes, the sky is falling on independent film.

John August has his discussion here as it relates to his Sundance film, THE NINES.

Will Dixon picks up the thorny baton
and relates it to "Canadian film."

and of course, alt-media guru and poster boy Kent Nichols has his own takes here and here.

Here are some of the relevant points (13) that Gill makes in his speech that to him indicates the sky is falling. My comments are in yellow:

I know I don't have to repeat all the ways that the independent film business is in trouble. But I'm going to do it anyway--because the accumulation of bad news is kind of awe- inspiring:

1: Picturehouse and Warner Independent have been shut down.

2: New Line's staff was cut by 90 percent, and the survivors were sent to hell...I mean...Burbank.

3: Paramount Vantage was folded into the mother ship (this one may not be all bad news, by the way, but it still scares the hell out of independent film people).

4: Sidney Kimmel shrunk his company in half.

Seriously? You're saying it's bad news that a company (companies) which hasn't had ANY hits is downsizing? Are you freaking serious here, Mark? How did you run that BUSINESS over there?

5: ThinkFilm is being sued for not paying its advertising bills, even as the unions repeatedly close down their David O. Russell production with the prophetic title "Nailed" for failure to meet weekly payroll.

What goes around comes around. Mismanagement, false expectations, ego. They ALL played a part in this fiasco.

6: Another five companies are in serious financial peril. And those are only the ones I'm sure of.

7: The $18 billion that Wall Street poured into Hollywood over the past four years has slowed to a trickle, and shows no signs of being replaced at even remotely the same levels from any new source.

That's because some smooth-talking suit like yourself convinced them the American, nay - the World market, wants to go see "important artistic expressions" in a populist media. You sold them a bull, er bill of goods. You know it and I know it.

8: There's a glut of films: 5000 movies got made last year. Of those, 603 got released theatrically here. And there's not room in the market--as there used to be--for even 400 of those.

Maybe there's room for 300. So everything else just dies. Most of these pictures are pre- ordained flops from independent distributors who forgot that their odds would have been better if they'd converted their money into quarters and taken the all-night party bus to Vegas.

Not every film deserves distribution. They should shutter the doors on the idea that indie film should get theatrical distribution. Theaters are like theme parks and should be treated that way - only for big spectacles. Indie film needs better, more coherent DVD and alt-media marketing instead of this encrusted, old-fashioned lethargic theatrical distribution marketing.

Indie film is all about self-important artistic ego. They don't have "galleries" so they use theaters to stroke their pretensions. Fuck 'em.

9: Advertising costs have radically outpaced inflation even as media delivery of audiences falls through the floor. So movie companies now enjoy the privilege of paying way more to be far less effective marketers.

That's their own damn fault. They don't listen and pour money down outdated systems that don't reach their target audience. They are wasteful, inefficient and procedural instead of task-oriented.

10: Movies now routinely fight with really compelling leisure alternatives that nobody in the last great era of cinema--the 1970s--even imagined: from iPods to Xboxes to Tivos to You Tubes to the radically improved behemoth that is cable television.

And yet you still trumpet the fact that you are COMPETING with these systems when you should be working with them to enable gamers and others to easily and efficiently download movies. XBOX has its own damn download system and is wired up pretty nicely for connecting to the web. But I'm sorry, "Indie film" has had its pretentious head waaay to far up its pretentious ass to realize THE WORLD HAS MOVED ON.

11: The international marketplace may be growing dramatically, but all of that growth is eaten up by studio movies, a couple dozen top independent films, and burgeoning local language productions. Everything else we make in this country doesn't sell for less--as it has for the past 20-plus years. Now, most American independent films don't sell at all overseas. I've never seen more depressed people in my life than I did in Cannes last month. The phrase "worst market ever" could be heard from every corner. A lot of film market veterans were musing about never coming back. It's that bad out there.

Which again is why the web is so important because you can sell movies around the world ALL AT THE SAME TIME. How efficient is that?

12: One entertainment industry banker I know believes another 10 independent film financiers will exit the business in the next year. I think he's low.

They've been burned. I can't blame them. They were suckered into believing that "art films" constituted enough of a market to justify the high cost of theatrical marketing in order to turn a profit. Their artistic egos were stroked while you did a reach-around and lifted their wallets. SHAME ON YOU.

And finally, just for bad luck:

13: The average cost of an independent film released theatrically in North America shot up dramatically last year (not as much perhaps as the 60% the MPAA reported for its member companies, but a lot nonetheless). And this of course makes it a hell of a lot harder to break even or squeak out a small return and stay in business.

And those costs are mostly related to actor's and union salaries and NOT THE ACTUAL EQUIPMENT AND PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE REQUIRED TO MAKE A MOVIE. The cost of editing, camera and SFX equipment and software dropped dramatically while quality rose. The cost of distribution (aka the web) dropped. Server and storage fees dropped. Itunes now sells 50,000 movies a day. More and more sites have cropped up dealing with movie marketing and distribution (

Aside from that, everything's great.

Mark - of course you be sarcastic about it all, stuck there in the 20th century with the rest of your indie film colleagues who became studio shills. You haven't rethought your business model in a long time, and quite frankly it shows.

Read this Mark and realize -- we've moved on. Indie Film isn't the right girlfriend for us anymore.

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