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by IAFT staffer Pete Wassell

Gone are the days of the giant studio.  The system is broken, it’s bloated, it’s watered down.  Gone are the days of theatrical distribution for small films.  The internet–that’s the frontier.  The digital realm!  On Demand, immediate satisfaction, instant connection, that’s what drives the market these days.

Or so they say…

The truth is the large studios still rake in 94-96% of all revenue from box office sales.  The bigs are the gatekeepers, and distribution is a mess right now.  No one really knows where the market is headed.  The digital revolution is taking place, but we’re in the midst of its infancy.  That doesn’t mean the studios will always have the power, or that we don’t need them.  It’s good they do what they do: navigate the waters of the distribution, marketing, and sale of films ranging from 100 million dollar blockbusters to 30 thousand dollar festival darlings.  The people who work at the studios may have business-oriented minds, but they also love movies, and isn’t it good to have someone business-oriented helping the young artist navigate the maze that is the entertainment industry?

With that said, who can forecast what the industry will look like 10 years from now?  Many predict the digital revolution will come to fruition and content will be streamed live to your TV, computer, or Smartphone right when you need it, but what does that mean for small films?

I just finished reading an article by Jon Reiss on his website  The title is, “Indy Film is Dying…Unless it isn’t.  Why Independent Filmmakers Shouldn’t Throw in the Towel and Why Indy Audiences Still Exist.”  Long title, but well written.  The article is mainly about the implosion of the independent film distribution market, citing the trouble at Sidney Kimmell, Think Film, Paramount Vantage, Picturehouse, and New Line.   He speaks at length about the explosion of content in the digital age, and how it’s hard to find a gem nowadays in the flood of garbage product.

In some ways I agree with that assessment, but in many ways I don’t.  He mentions “small” indy films that were big hits and helped float the industry.  Movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, both of which cost $16 million and $14 million respectively.  Take it from me, I just wrapped my first micro budget indy feature that was shot for under $150,000.  16 million does not sound indy to me.  Were they independently produced?  Yes.  Did they have small budgets?  Yes.  However, they were directed by two well-known directors, Guillermo del Toro and Julian Schnabel.  And the budgets were $16 million and $14 million!!  Stop telling me that independent film is for guys like del Toro making $16 million movies.  Independent film is Evan Glodell making Bellflower for $50,000.  It’s Joe Swanberg making films for $100,000, or Shane Carruth making Primer for $6,000.

Check in on Friday for Part 2 of Pete’s Do-It-Yourself Distribution blog.

Fred Bailey

Following a three-decade career in the movie business, during which 23 of his scripts were turned into celluloid, Frederick Bailey is currently a Directing, Screenwriting and Acting mentor at the International Academy of Film & Television. He’s also taught acting at the River Hollywood Training School in Tokyo. He recently wrote, directed and on-screen hosted two 45-min. educational documentaries for IAFT: DIRECTING and SCREENWRITING.

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