Can independent cinema be saved?

Can independent cinema be saved?


In my last post, we looked at the last 20 years of moviegoing and how the film industry has changed into a franchise business – 20 years of moviegoing by Adam rubins

Now, the content business is more than just about a theatrical window and more about the toy or the theme park ride, this has undoubtedly had an effect on independent cinema and its distribution partners.

Over the years, cinema going has proved itself to be recession proof but the same cannot be said of independent cinema. Indie movies are niche, restricted to a theatrical (if lucky) and home entertainment window and rarely break the bank. Despite the fact they are the last bastion of originality and creativity in film, we are currently living through a painful and slow demise.

So when did it all start to go wrong. In my opinion, independent cinema transformed in 2004 when Miramax co-funded The Aviator, a $110m production only a year after the $85m Cold Mountain. Miramax, were the alpha-males on the block. They owned independent cinema. So much so that they were renowned for buying movies at festivals just so their competitors couldn’t release them. It helped that they had the might of Disney behind them but towards the end relationships between Miramax and Disney were souring and this was no longer the same business Disney had bought into. If Miramax could make a movie for over $100m, weren’t they just a studio?

Once the Weinstein’s left in 2005, independent cinema changed, especially studio led indie product. Warner Independent, Paramount Vantage, New Line all closed down and left the likes of Fox Searchlight to be the best in class. Like any other business, film is about market share and competition and indie movies struggle to secure screens, compete against studio marketing dollars and even get their trailers hardlocked to prints. So we now have a new wave of independent cinema led by ‘mini-majors’. Lionsgate, eOne, Studio Canal are now developing a new business model that is multi-territory and potentially even more profitable than some labouring studios. Twilight and Hunger Games have delivered franchise growth to independent cinema and the profits are being used to fund growth and volume.

So what does this mean for the future of independent cinema? Many of the low level independents were sustainable due to the performance of the home entertainment window but with that market struggling and distribution avenues closing (HMV, Blockbuster), its becoming harder to live on a day to day model. Unfortunately, some of the smaller distributors will continue to struggle in their attempt to compete with the studios and now the mini-majors and I expect to see more going to the wall. The ones that remain need to be smart. They need to consider release windows well beyond just theatrical (VOD, PPV etc) and they need to review their overheads and marketing strategy. This business needs insight and intelligence and they don’t like to pay for it. Why not use insight or audience data to justify an acquisition or help sell a movie? Why not invest in creating traction online to drive intent to view? Why not create more exhibitor interest by sharing data with them whilst negotiating terms? Why not create better and more relevant content for their niche audiences at production stage? Why not crowd source the development of key projects asking the opinion of those who will ultimately part with the cash later down the line?

Those that remain will need to be smarter and give themselves a competitive advantage. Its no longer acceptable to say we can’t afford it. They have to look at what they have and spend it wisely. Independent cinema needs to move away from the old school and into the new if it wants to survive. And I hope it does. Because without independent cinema, we wouldn’t have:

Reservoir Dogs
Lost in Translation
The Usual Suspects