It has been a strange year for independent filmmakers.
With streaming services dominating the filmmaking and film-watching landscape in 2022, independent filmmakers are finding the changes in financing and distribution to be a bigger challenge than ever before.
“We’ve taken things to market that feel extremely undervalued,” Killer Films’ Christine Vachon said during the recent closing keynote of the San Sebastian Creators Investors’ Conference.
Along with John Sloss of Cinetic Media, the pair discussed their personal experiences of navigating the U.S. independent scene in 2022. Vachon noted that she continues to see a dramatic drop in the value of her films on the international level.
No One’s Getting the Budgets They Need
Deadline reports that Vachon explained the radical change in the way films are financed, saying, “What happens more these days is that we take something out and we’re a little shocked that the market is like, ‘Okay, we like it. But we like it for about two-thirds of what you actually need to get it made.'”
This downward trend has affected how Vachon works with her cast and crew members, who she said don’t understand how drastically financing films has changed.
“There’s a big learning curve right now, which is that the cast and their representation have not caught up to the fact that the business has changed so radically,” she said.
'Anything's Possible'Credit: Amazon Studios
Actors can no longer expect to see the extraordinary amount of money they use to receive for a job because it does not justify how the extremely tight budget should be spent. Vachon explained that how budgets used to be spent no longer makes “any economic sense” because it wouldn’t allow the filmmaker to make anything good.
Sloss added that the trend is exacerbated by streaming services that are willing to give higher budgets for films.
“You have streamers paying $150 million for a $50 million film,” he said.
The deep pockets of the streamers are entirely negative as it could provide new streams of residual income for productions, but they don’t really care about what happens to the film once it is released.
“If you said to them, ‘I know you want to overpay wildly for this film. How about if you paid a little less but only owned it for 18 months as opposed to in perpetuity because that’s how long it’s valuable to you?’” Sloss said. “If they’re being honest, they’ll probably look at you and say why 18 months should be 17 days.”
'The Velvet Underground'Credit: Apple TV+
Are Theatrical Indie Releases Dead?
Later in the session, the pair were asked whether they think independent dramas can still draw audiences to movie theaters.
“Some of them clearly have, but what’s the alchemy exactly?” Vachon said.
What makes an independent film worthy of a theatrical release in the age of streaming?
“The movie has to be so original and feel like such a different voice and then that filmmaker has to hit it completely out of the park,” Vachon said. “And that’s a theatrical film.”
It seems like there is no room for error for an independent film to make it into theaters, which are still struggling to recover after years of declining attendance and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some indie projects have found a home in theater, like Ti West’s slasher Xand Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once, but it is hard for small-budget indie dramas to get the funding they need to hold on to their ownership of a film and monetize it through licensing deals with competitive streaming services.
'Everything Everywhere All at Once'Credit: A24
It is possible to make a good independent film on a shoestring budget, but there is always a chance that it might not get picked up or it will disappear in a streamer’s exclusive library, never to be yours again.
Don’t be discouraged by this. The landscape of filmmaking is forever changing and what challenges are being faced today will have a solution tomorrow. Keep creating and crafting tight stories that are entertaining and true to you.
What are other challenges that independent filmmakers are facing today?
Let us know in the comments if you have any tips on navigating these unique challenges.