Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

It's Hard Out There For Indies - Dude, Where's My Distribution?

I'm working on a piece on the nature of film distribution, specifically in consideration of black cinema. Below is a very recent article from The Hollywood Reporter that I think makes for a telling companion piece. As you will see in the article, times are indeed tough for independent film distribution overall; and, as I'm sure we all know, when things are difficult for the "majority," they tend to be exponentially worse for those in the "minority."

January 2007

In a congested market, indies struggled to rise above the crowd.

These are sobering times for the independent film industry. Boxoffice revenue for films from indie distributors and specialty divisions dropped 11.9% from $1.32 billion in 2006 to $1.16 billion in 2007, while the number of indies in theaters increased from 501 to 530.

Even more disturbing, only 16 of the films grossed more than $20 million (nearly half of them by a slim margin), down from 20 in 2006.

The biggest story of 2007 might be that 350 indie films -- two-thirds of the list -- failed to reach even $250,000 in ticket sales, an increase from 313 in 2006. All this at a time when overall 2007 domestic boxoffice hit a record high of $9.62 billion, a 5% increase from 2006, according to Nielsen EDI.

"Films with big stars and great directors and reviews once could've been counted on to reach the low-seven figures," ThinkFilm head of U.S. theatrical Mark Urman said. "Today, they're routinely not making their opening advertising budgets."

"In the past, when there was a downturn in the marketplace, people would say 'It's cyclical,' " said IFC Entertainment chairman Jonathan Sehring, who heads the day-and-date First Take program, which offers films as Video On Demand offerings on cable. "But now I don't see it changing. The public is barraged by so many new entertainment options, and there are so many films in theaters, they can't help but cannibalize each other."

Read the rest of it HERE.


  1. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    Hmm... it doesn't surprise me that things are getting 'more' difficult for independent distributors.

    A few years back, in the mid-late 90s, there seemed to be an inde/arthouse backlash against Hollywood... And Hollywood paid attention.

    So soon you had Searchlight (Fox), Sony Classics (Sony), Focus Features (Universal)...

    Suddenly, 'independent' movies had huge budgets (well, huger than the average inde movie) and marketing behind them.

    Also, as the internet became more prominent as a marketing tool - it was easier to reach the more discerning film 'nerd' that these 'independent' projects might appeal to.

    Of course, while the internet can still play a major role for true idependent filmmakers and distributors, the fact still remains that they don't have the kind of money or clout to get their films to a wider audience via the usual Hollywood machine... And maybe the should just stop trying.

    With each major studio now in possession of its own arthouse/niche/independent arm, why would they want to distribute the competition?

    The only use Hollywood has for independent movies and filmmakers is as a recruitment ground. If you're lucky, they'll show an interest in your project, shelve it, and then get you to come work for them...

    So if working for Hollywood is your ultimate goal, then great, but if telling diverse, cerebral, challenging, non-formulaic or just plain quirky movies is your bag, it might leave you in a bit of a quandry.

    And if you're a independent BLACK filmmaker...? Well, apparently, this was a record year for black films at Sundance, that erstwhile bastion of independent film exhibition. And how many of those black movies were picked up...?

    Answers on the back of a postage stamp, please.

  2. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    OK... so now I've just read the full artcile, and it would seem that the 'independent' films they're referring to are mainly the projects of niche deparemtments of big studios...!

    I guess viewers of inde movies are no longer being suckered into parting with their dollars to make big studios even bigger... It's cheaper to wait for DVD release... when the chronological distance means that the din of all the Hollywood hype will have died done, somewhat. And then, there's always bit torrent...

    Seems like Hollywood got greedy, thought it had sown up the inde scene and then started to treat it like old Hollywood... paying ridiculously over the odds for non standard fare.

    I guess they'll be looking for a new business model then.

  3. Qadree said...

    They don't appear to be including people who self-distribute their films. I heard about a guy who did a movie called "Zen Noir" and he says that he made $40,000 within the first two days of self-distributing his movie on DVD.

    I listened to an interview he did and apparently he has a background in internet marketing and used what he knew to market his film online. I don't know what his current sales figures are, but his film caters to a small niche and if you have something that would appeal to a broader audience I think the technique that he used may be more practical than signing on with a distributor in some cases.

    I'm still doing research to find out more about what exactly he did, but he sells a course that supposed to teach filmmakers to do what he did and it costs around $400. I'm trying to find out as much as I can before I pay for anyone's course. I have a basic idea of how it's done, but I'm trying to find out more. When I have more details I'll write it up and post it to my blog.

  4. The Obenson Report said...

    @ Wendy - me thinks that it's time that we redefine "independent film." I'm writing a piece about this.

    @ Qadree - thanks for the heads up. I've never heard of this fellow nor his film. I'll have to google both. But no, articles like these aren't including "little guys" like Mr Zen Noir and myself.

  5. said...

    Noooooooooooooooooooooo. :(

    Great comments.

    "A few years back, in the mid-late 90s, there seemed to be an inde/arthouse backlash against Hollywood... And Hollywood paid attention."

    Yeah, I remember that.

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