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
Sundance Hits and Misses, Pandemic Edition
Yes, 2020 sucked. The worst year of our lives finally came to an end, and most independent films and filmmakers, like just about everything and everyone else, suffered. Grand Jury Prize winners were delayed, critics’ favorites were lost and buzzworthy breakouts, briefly the talk of Park City, remained in limbo, waiting for some nebulous future release date when movie theaters might re-open and vaccinated audiences might attend them. Normally, you could look back at a year’s worth of top Sundance titles, examine what became of them in distribution—as Filmmaker usually does—and glean some takeaways about the state of the marketplace.… Read more
The Clock is Ticking: Filmmakers on Surviving Through the Pandemic
Time may be running out for independent filmmakers. Sure, even as the pandemic has completely disrupted their entire workflows and business models, they’re a scrappy and resourceful bunch. Like restaurants pivoting to drive-thru, delivery and take-out to outlast our current infectious plague, filmmakers are moving forward in myriad ways, whether in post-production on already completed films, developing new scripts or trying to produce new films self-insured by funders with scaled-down crews and robust coronavirus prevention measures in place. But survival is tricky right now and dogged perseverance may only work for so long. To stay afloat, for example, one New… Read more
Can You Finance an Independent Film During a Pandemic?
In the middle of the global pandemic and one of the worst economic downturns in a century, Maven Pictures’ Celine Rattray, a producer of Driveways, The Kindergarten Teacher and American Honey, had several projects interrupted. But in early April, a timely new project—in which the crew and cast could work remotely from their own homes—was suddenly greenlit. She spoke to a private equity investor who she believed would be a good fit for the film, budgeted at six figures, and the financier agreed to fully fund it during their phone call. “The deal closed in a couple days,” says Rattray.… Read more
Two or Three Things They Know About You: Marketing Independent Film with Behavioral Data
Dear filmmakers, surveillance capitalism is your friend. Like every other thing we purchase nowadays, movies have been subsumed into the new digital economy, where behavioral data, influence campaigns and social media marketing are an integral part of doing business. Morally, you might have a problem with Mark Zuckerberg’s corporate practices, but there’s no getting around the fact that Facebook and Instagram hold some of the most powerful tools to reach people and manipulate their decision-making—including their choice of which movie to see on a given weekend. “It’s definitely been a help for smaller filmmakers,” says Stephen Metzger, director of marketing… Read more
Hits & Misses 2019: Surveying the Success of the Sundance Film Festival’s Theatrical Releases
The times, they keep a-changin’. In its immediate aftermath, the story out of Sundance 2019 was its bounteous acquisition market and record-setting sales numbers—from New Line’s $15 million purchase of Blinded by the Light to Amazon Studios’ $27 million splurge on Late Night and Brittany Runs a Marathon. By the summer, a different narrative began to emerge. While these top acquisition titles earned millions of dollars at the box office, they all still under-performed in theatrical release. Then, Amazon Studios’ veteran head of theatrical distribution Bob Berney left the company, a departure that potentially signaled shifting priorities at what had… Read more
The Business Cycle: Anthony Kaufman On the Legacy of Jay Van Hoy and Lars Knudsen’s Production Company Parts & Labor.
“What always attracted me to the work is that there’s something impossible about it,” says Jay Van Hoy, cofounder of Parts & Labor, the New York–based independent film production company that helped develop a wave of new auteurs over the past 15 years, from Kelly Reichardt to David Lowery to Robert Eggers. While Parts & Labor no longer exists as it once did as a partnership between Van Hoy and producer Lars Knudsen (the two split in 2016, with Van Hoy retaining the brand), its legacy lives on, as one of the most prolific independent film companies of its time,… Read more
Crisis of Representation: Why Independent Filmmakers Still Need Agents and Managers
“If you want to work in Hollywood, you must have representation,” says one industry veteran. That’s been a longstanding rule in the entertainment business for the past several decades. Despite the battle between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Hollywood’s big talent agencies over packaging fees, and the thousands of writers who subsequently fired their agents, and even amidst the plethora of new outlets and disruptive distribution technologies, independent filmmakers are still largely subject to the traditional forms of gatekeeping. (And directors haven’t had to fire their agents—at least, not yet.) So, that leaves emerging filmmakers still dependent on… Read more
Digital Haves and Have-Nots: Disappearing SVOD Deals and Independent Film
Subscription streaming services are dominating the independent film marketplace—in more ways than you think. Yes, Amazon dropped nearly $50 million at Sundance to buy several movies, and Netflix spent another $25 million in the days and weeks that followed. Beyond inflating acquisition costs over industry norms, the outsized influence of the over-the-top new media giants are affecting all sectors of the distribution business. Some industry veterans suggest this isn’t so different from previous bullish markets when well-heeled specialty divisions like the Weinstein Company or Fox Searchlight drove up prices. “Sundance has been competitive for years, so I’m not sure it’s… Read more