Paradigm Shift: The Current State of Development Labs
When the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) announced in spring 2020 that they would shutter, many in the independent film community were shocked. For 17 years, TFI had supported hundreds of filmmakers and projects, including underrepresented artists, through its Tribeca All Access program, as well as Latin American filmmakers and VR visionaries. At the time, TFI’s closure appeared to be the result of a unique case of pandemic skittishness combined with its parent organization’s increasingly for-profit ambitions. Rather than an outlier, it may have been a sign of things to come. Given the lingering effects of the COVID era and the… Read more
Peak TV is Over—What Comes Next?
Remember “Peak TV”? It was a good run, starting more than a decade ago with the launch of filmmaker-driven shows such as Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO, David Fincher’s House of Cards on Netflix and Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake on Sundance Channel, not to mention episodic heavyweights like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Walking Dead, all of which supplied steady work for a plethora of indie writers and directors. But that party is over—or at least taking a break. If the corporate mergers and media layoffs of the past year weren’t enough of a… Read more
Hit & Misses: The 2022 Releases of Six Recent Sundance Features
In just three (admittedly, very momentous) years, the marketplace for independent films has completely changed. During previous turning points over the decades, executives would use words like “waves” or “cycles” to describe instances of upheaval, but what’s happening now is more like a comprehensive reset. In a recent online article titled “The Sky is Falling, Take Shelter,” producer Rebecca Green wrote, “This year is unlike anything I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve been working in this business.” If Sundance and its films are a barometer for the independent film industry, consider this comparison: The pre-pandemic class of Sundance 2019… Read more
Communication Breakdown: Has the Pandemic Produced a Culture of No-Reply?
U know what I hate? Financiers who ghost u after expressing lots of interest, asking for this that & the other thing, mtg w/yr team. I understand financiers who are too busy to reply in 1st place. But what's up w/ones who suddenly go cold after being so hot? DO NOT GHOST ME.❌👻 — Mynette Louie (@mynette) March 3, 2022 On March 2, 2022, Mynette Louie, producer of award-winning films like The Tale and I Carry You with Me, tweeted out the above complaint, railing against what anecdotally appears to be a lamentable industrywide trend of financier ghosting. Filmmakers and… Read more
Strategic Reassessments: Arthouse Distributors and the Theatrical-vs.-Streaming Debate
Less than a year ago, it seemed like the sky was falling for independent films being released in theaters. Netflix’s stock was hitting record highs, the core demographic of older metropolitan moviegoers were staying home, and the entertainment complex was pivoting to the new normal of their subscription streaming overlords. Their dominance may ultimately prevail, but a more delicate and intricately linked dance between theatrical and streaming appears to be the future of releasing films. As an insider notes, “I think it’s swinging back towards theatrical, even though the end-goal is still about making the streaming stand out.” To name… Read more
Goodbye to the 14-Hour Day: The Entertainment Industry’s Shifting Work/Life Balance
“[I]t’s as if our whole society is burned out.”—The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 20, 2022 During the ongoing “Great Resignation,” tens of millions of Americans—including those in the film industry—have quit their jobs. But the employment shifts in the entertainment business have as much to do with people leaving their work as with reassessing the ways in which they work. After months of pandemic-mandated pauses and soul-searching, phrases such as “work/life balance” and “self-care”—previously anathema to a culture of all-hours dealmaking and work—have finally arrived. If, as one executive says, “14-hour workdays, sleep deprivation and, too often, unhealthy meals” used… Read more
Hits and Misses, Pandemic Edition 2.0: Anthony Kaufman Breaks Down Six Sundance 2020 Films’ Theatrical Releases
According to Box Office Mojo, our contemporary plague ended on June 14, 2021—the last day the label “COVID-19 Pandemic” was included on its daily box office reporting. But don’t tell that to anyone trying to release a film in the second half of 2021, as viral variants spread widely across America, plunging the hopes of many filmmakers and distributors. Welcome to Pandemic: Year 2. The merciless persistence of the coronavirus and its wide-ranging impact on theatrical moviegoing and home viewing habits became more entrenched over the past several months—with indies on the losing end of the stick. Struggling to gain… Read more
The COVID Challenge: Arthouses Adjust to a Reconfigured Landscape
In the Heights, Black Widow, Respect and Candyman—not typical indie-film fare, but because of the pressures of the ongoing pandemic on theatrical moviegoing, these are just some of the films arthouses have booked over the past several months. Granted, the supply of new available films was massively down, and theaters have been desperate to get audiences back into seats, but COVID-related shifts in arthouse exhibition have been significant, myriad and potentially long-lasting. And none of it is good for indie filmmakers. For example, here’s something you probably don’t want to hear from your neighborhood indie venue: “We’re seriously considering playing… Read more
Where Have the Low-Budget Movies Gone?
While streamer-backed productions promise a golden future for a lucky few, for most independent filmmakers these days, it’s more challenging to subsist by making the sort of professionally budgeted, less than $3 million films that used to be hallmarks of the sector. One significant reason, according to producers, is that it’s much more difficult to shoot a nonunion film. IATSE has become a more dominant force in the independent industry, which has consequently expanded budgets well above that number. “I don’t think you can do a union movie for less than $3 million,” says one producer. Although some nonunion shows… Read more
As the Calendar Rolls Around: Producers and Sellers on the Pandemic-Altered ’21 Festival Season.
For more than 40 years, there was a certainty to the film festival calendar—a comfort in knowing that, since 1978, when the Berlin International Film Festival moved to February, followed by Cannes in May, and Venice in the fall, there were three distinct seasons for producers, sales agents and buyers to meet, see films and make deals. But in 2021, things are different, of course. While the inflection points of the business cycle—winter, summer, fall—remain somewhat in place, the ongoing pandemic has scrambled the dates, formats and plans for hundreds of film events, upending launch strategies and causing potential logjams… Read more