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in Filmmaking
on Dec 6, 2006

Larry Fine has a piece up at Reuters noting the dissolution of InDigEnt, the innovative low-budget film company created by Gary Winick and John Sloss that was behind pictures like Tadpole, Personal Velocity and Pieces of April (pictured).

From the piece:

“I kind of think we had our moment in time. Unfortunately there is no million-dollar film any more that actually gets in the market place and makes some money because the studios want the Capotes’ and the ‘Sideways‘ … they want the $8-million film to make a $100 million instead of the $1-million to make $10 (million). That’s the problem,” he said.

In addition to making many good films, InDigEnt proved that a company backed by industry money could resize the cost and reshift the ethics of low-budget production. People talk about making films cheaply, but when industry money is involved, budgets usually climb as physical production execs pore over individual line items and tell producers that it can’t be done for less. Even more importantly, equity fiinanciers embrace the “cheap” ethos of digital while insisting on their money first, not considering the true value of the labor underpaid crews, producers and directors bring to the table.

InDigEnt conquered both of these problems. The $100,000 budget ceiling (which, I’m told, could wind up around $350,000 for many of the InDigEnt films) mandated a frugal approach, while original financier IFC’s goodheartedness in giving cast, crew, producers and director gross participation from the films’ sales (i.e., crew got paid while, not after, IFC recouped production costs) ensured a crew base happy to work on future IFC films. (I know an art director who pocketed $40,000 or so from an InDigEnt job, and that’s real money.)

InDigEnt tried to hedge its bets by demanding name actors for each of their pics, but as Winick’s quote above makes clear, the market simply wouldn’t, in the end, continue to support these movies. While InDigEnt films may have been audience-friendly at Sundance, in the theatrical marketplace they had to face films with far bigger budgets and much bigger stars. Also, the mini-majors have in recent years drifted out of the “loss leader” business of promoting new directorial talent in lower budget movies.

I think Winick dead-on with his final quote, though:

“I think the good news is that the Internet, it’s not there yet, but it’s going to shift something to get independent film back where it will become lucrative again,” he said.

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