Saturday, June 28, 2008

Indie is falling

    "Unfortunately, most of the folks trying to make indie movies these days, as was revealed at my film financing panel Saturday (including producer Cathy Schulman, ICM's Hal Sadoff and New Bridge Capital's Danny Mandel), seem to be trying to make genre thrillers with someone on the list of not-too-costly actors between the age of 20 and 30 who foreign sales agents want to sell in territories around the world (where interest in American product seems to be drying up). Quality dramas are a no-go, said Schulman, although that's what she's trying to make at Mandalay Indie. And the surviving specialty distribs are strictly cherry-picking. You might get your movie made. But it might go straight-to-video. And it wouldn't be worth as much as it might have been a few years ago. [...] 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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".

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