June 6, 2016

Despite VOD Ascendance, Indie Execs are Bullish on Theatrical Release

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What's the future of indie film distribution? Hear from three studio execs trying to shape it.

Executives from three new indie distributors, Bleecker StreetBroad Green Pictures, and Saban Films, along with Sicario producer Molly Smith, took part in this past weekend's Produced By conference on the Sony Lot, participating in an hour-long panel with the rather dramatic title, “Is the Sky Falling? The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Independent Film Producers.”

But these execs were far from distressed about the future of the indie film market, as well the theatrical release model. Bleecker Streets’s Andrew Karpen said, “I don’t think the sky is falling. There’s clearly a market for over-35 audiences in theatrical releases.”

The studio has scored with films like the bio-pic Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston, which grossed $7 million despite limited theatrical release. Another new studio, Broad Green, had a score with their film A Walk in the Woods, which was given a wide release on 2,000 screens and earned upwards of $30 million, or roughly $15,000 per screen. 

"I don't think the sky is falling."

Sicario's producer Molly Smith said, “You have to be nimble today, disciplined and conservative." The Lion's Gate film, about the drug wars in Juarez, Mexico, earned three Academy Award nominations and $86 million worldwide. The budget, though, was $30 million, hardly the cost of most films we would traditionally think of as 'indie.' But with Hollywood relying more than ever on tentpole, event films, indie film budgets are inflating, too, as they bring in stars and other trappings of Hollywood glitz.

Which raises the question: with all the endless talk of budgets and box office, is indie film heading towards a state of being indie in name only, with a business model (and stories) that reflect a sort of Hollywood, Jr., as opposed to the more daring cinema of the past?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13wqRFYBE8M&ab_channel=Ik-HyunSong

The one participant in the panel that didn't rely on theatrical release was Saban Films, who, though they distributed The Homesman theatrically, grossing over $2 million, concentrates primarily on VOD and says they will probably make one theatrical release a year. “We’re agnostic to the medium of distribution,” said Jonathan Saba. “We have not lost money on a film yet.”

“You have be nimble today, disciplined and conservative."

This agnosticism is nothing radical in the movie business; whatever makes money, wins. While theatrical releases will never go away (and thank god for that), VOD is definitely the future, and all of the panelists were quick to make clear they had no beef with Netflix, Amazon, or any other VOD platform. Hammond said, "For an independent producer, Amazon and Netflix are great partners,” and indeed, Broad Green signed a deal with Amazon Prime last year

In today's indie climate, it's more incumbent than ever for filmmakers to decide on a release platform before they begin shooting; obviously, a film intended for theatrical release will have a completely different workflow than one set for VOD, or for both. Pretty much the only thing anyone seems to know right now is that they don't know anything; this is always the state of affairs in the movie business, but even more so in 2016, it seems.

What do you think? Would you care about a theatrical release for your film, or would Netflix or Amazon suit you just fine?     

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