Independence from Independents

9 05 2008

2929 FilmsI’m going to quote two headlines in the Daily Variety today, since they bear out what I’ve been saying about independent films for a few years, even as recently as last week:

Warner slams door on specialty pix” is the first one and, slightly lower down on the page, “‘Speed’ strikes while ‘Iron’ is hot.”

The first article talks about Warner’s decision to close its two main “independent film” releasing arms and leads off with these paragraphs:

Warner Bros. has discovered a way to deal with the specialty film business — it’s staying away from it.

The flagship studio ended months of speculation Thursday by shuttering both Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures. The closings — which caught Hollywood and many inside each division off-guard — will eliminate more than 70 positions over the next few months.

The second talks about today’s release of SPEED RACER, and leads with this paragraph:

Warner Bros. tentpole “Speed Racer” gets the green light this weekend but may very well finish behind the second week of “Iron Man.”

[I should add that the film review site Rotten Tomatoes notes that only 36% of critics have liked SPEED RACER. And, in a hilarious side note, the article also notes that Fox is “counterprogramming” with WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS, which is sure to make people like me do wheelies and handsprings.]

In a world in which that Ashton Kutcher film is considered counterprogramming, there is really no room at the major studios for real independent voices. The Wall Street Journal today notes that Warner Independent Pictures had high hopes for their 2007 film IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, but that it came nowhere near to recovering its $35 million negative cost.

$35 million dollars!! That’s what Hollywood considers an independent film!! It’s no wonder that these films aren’t successful — in order to recoup $35 million you need to have so much marketing and distribution that those cost could push the recoupable amounts to $70 million. At that price, of course, you either have to see financing independent films as an act of charity, or you have to water the film down to a more easily digestible mass of… well… pablum. I actually liked VALLEY OF ELAH, though you’d have to admit that it was certainly a very mainstream movie in almost every respect.

Does that mean that companies like 2929 (the theatrical/DVD/download play from, among others, Mark Cuban) have an opportunity, or are they doomed to play in the same arena as everyone else? (And I should, cattily, mention that 2929 is releasing Barry Levinson’s WHAT JUST HAPPENED?, which tanked at this year’s Sundance).

Years ago, I left New York City for Los Angeles because there were only two types of projects there for me to work on — the super high budget ones, and the really low budget ones. I couldn’t get interviewed for the first group, and I could no longer afford to work on the second. That stratification has now spread all over the industry. It’s not “haves” and “have nots” I’m talking about here, it’s “big” and “tiny.” The mid-range is unproduceable.

Once we get behind that, we can start developing enough of a truly low-budget/alternative base that it becomes really profitable. And, once that happens, you’ll see that mid-range start to come back again.


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2 responses to “Independence from Independents”

16 05 2008
Jen McGowan (13:22:48) :

I’d be curious to know if the lack of middle budget films has any correlation to the lack of middle class. Seems they’re both disappearing at the same time!

24 11 2008
Screens, Screens, Screens « H o l l y n - w o o d (Norman, that is) (17:35:40) :

[…] okay, so I have said it before. Often. Very often. And again and again. But you can’t stop me […]

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