Independent Distribution In America Is Seriously Threatened

And the reason is because independent exhibition is even more seriously threatened.  This is likely the last year of 35mm projection and the problem of that goes much deeper than whether you appreciate grain or not.

Sure the promise of digital projection & delivery is partially lower costs, but the cost of conversion is out of reach of many small exhibitors.  The funding scheme that many theater chains have utilized, instituting in a Virtual Print Fee (VPF), puts the financial return in jeopardy for indie films -- we could not play DARK HORSE in theaters that required a VPF because after the film rental split, another $800 in VPF risks having us not just not make money, but lose money.

The studios all require the theaters to be DCI compliant.  The cost of being so is out of reach for smaller theaters.  Yet, the studio, and their specialized subsidiaries, represent such a large share of the box office, theater owners have to consider this move.  But if distributors don't want to lose that $800 that goes to the VPF, can the same theater offer projection on one of the many cheaper systems.  Why not?  Because evidently the MPAA went to The Supreme Court and got them to approve an exception to the anti-trust laws and require all the theaters to sign a no-compete clause and use just a single platform.  This sucks and is not what I expect from a country that prides itself on being the "Land Of Opportunity".  

A former intern of mine, Ricky Camilleri, hosted a great conversation on this topic on HuffPostLive.  His guests include

Here it is that discussion non-live.

 

 
Two further notes: I have to say I really like this style of Google HangOut forum for discussion, particularly with the added in comments and questions from the audience/community.  It feels very participatory.
 
I wanted to title this "Independent EXHIBITION In America Is Seriously Threatened" but I suspect that "Distribution" will make more folks read this post.  More and more as I look at what is the lifeblood of independent cinema culture I come to exhibition.  They should be are heroes.  The industry and culture needs to celebrate them far more than we do.  The era of the filmmaker/exhibitor collaboration should already be here -- but it's not.  Shall we try to fix that too?

Jeff Lipsky: WHY SO SERIOUS? Part 2

Jeff Lipsky continues what he started...:

6. I predict the death of mumblecore movies by 2011. Independent films will once again boast strong scripts and, as such, will reach a broader audience. This is probably as good a time as any to reiterate to critics who invoke the name of John Cassavetes in their reviews of so-called mumblecore fare: John’s only improvised film was “Shadows.” Suck it.

7. Wonderful myriad primers about self-distribution are available in current issues of magazines like FilmMaker, MovieMaker, and at this link provided by DYI guru Peter Broderick (http://www.peterbroderick.com/writing/writing.html). Such detailed first-person reporting, including specific anecdotal detail and how-to information is worth its weight in gold to independent film producers. This shared information will become much more prolific and abundant and available in the months and years to come. We don’t need more filmmakers, we need more knowhow about gaining access to audiences for the all-too-few great independent films that still manage to get made.

8. Just when digital projection saturation in all cinemas across the U.S. was about to be a tangible thing, a reality, looming not on the horizon but happening TODAY, banks aren’t lending money to anyone. That’s where the billions of dollars for this wholesale transformation was going to come from, from banks. Fewer digital screens (for a while longer, anyway – I know it’s still coming) will mean fewer bad digital movies. Audiences will be happier, critics will be happier, incisive and insightful bloggers will be happier, and more people will return to the movies, especially to good independent movies.

9. Praise the Lord, the studios became fed up with so-called independent distribution in 2008 (just as they did in the early to mid 80’s) and everyone began biting their fingernails. But let’s look at what else happened in the distribution world in 2008 (and January 2009). Two new indie distributors hung out their shingles and laid down their gauntlets during Sundance this year, Senator made a bold statement with its acquisition of “Brooklyn’s Finest,” and Summit broke through with its first $100 million grossing film (yeah, it was “Twilight,” but that shouldn’t blunt the impact of that encouraging watermark). Relatively obscure indies like Oscilloscope enjoyed a succès d’estime with “Wendy & Lucy,” Overture rode the wonderful “The Visitor” to a (nearly) $10 million gross and a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and Music Box cashed in on its rock ‘em, sock ‘em success “Tell No One.” Studio boutiques were never independent distributors anyway; by definition they were dependent on the support of their parent company. Every ten years or so that support dries up and (most of them) go away, clearing the way for a brace of new, innovative, distinguished upstarts. Even with the demise of ThinkFilm there are a greater number of pure play independent distributors now than there were one year ago.

10. Kodak continues to produce thrilling new film stocks (Vision 3, 5260) which just might encourage more independent filmmakers to dabble in this antiquated art form for just a bit longer. After all, it’s kinda nice when you don’t have to have to worry about whether the pattern of your leading lady’s costume is going to wreak havoc on your wave form. (I know, I know every film will be shot digitally someday, but that someday, I suspect, is still farther off than some people would like to think.)

A final prediction and admonition: as soon as newspapers and magazines fold up their tents for good the World Wide Web (2.0) will be longer be free. And then even more people will return to movie theatres.