Indie Film Crisis Roundup

First of all, thanks to Ted for inviting me to guest blog here at BSLS while he’s away. It was flattering to be invited, and hopefully I can produce something interesting enough to justify his invitation. I have to admit that I feel like I’ve been somewhat out of the loop this summer because of work I’ve been doing on a book I’m writing (I’ve been blogging about it at my place quite a bit lately). So, perhaps at the risk of a little self-promotion, I’ll point to one the questions I’m (briefly) addressing in the book, which focuses in part on the role of digital media in shaping film distribution, promotion, and exhibition. One of the biggest questions that has come up this summer, of course, is the widely-discussed crisis in independent cinema (and quite naturally some of the discussion entails whether there actually is a crisis, which, I think is a legitimate question).

Perhaps the most notable account of the indie crisis came from Mark Gill whose keynote speech at the Los Angeles Film Festival has sent shock waves through the entertainment press and into the film blogosphere as he carefully documented all of the major indies who have either shut down operations or significantly cut down production. He also reminds us that there have been virtually no breakthrough indie hits this summer (Thomas McCarthy’s excellent little film, The Visitor, comes closest among indies, though a couple of docs, including Expelled and Young@Heart have also done well). Gill , like a number of others, partially blames a glut in production–over 5,00 films were submitted to Sundance this year–but shifting business models are also be partially to blame.

Others who’ve weighed in on the indie crisis include Carrie Rickey, who does point out that summer is not always the best season for indies, and David Poland, who reminds us that while teenagers continue to see movies on the big screen, the audience for indies–upper income people over 30 with busy lives–is the group most likely to abandon theaters. In fact, summer blockbusters are doing quite well this year, which means we’ll be seeing more of them (maybe not that Speed Racer sequel, but you never know). More recently, David Carr has weighed in on the pages of the New York Times, pretty much echoing these arguments to the point of saying that some have called Gill “Captain Obvious” for saying what, apparently, everyone knows.

But there are other perspectives on the state of things. The Indiepix weblog, for example, attempts to criticize the crisis narrative by arguing that the traditional business models are changing, which is probably fair. That being said, I think they get a few things clearly wrong. While travel costs are clearly up, that actually benefits theaters that provide a much cheaper form of entertainment than a long trip by car. And while I agree with them that it sounds arrogant to say that too many films are being made, that doesn’t make the indie marketplace any easier. Meanwhile, Kent Nichols, echoing the arguments of many of the new internet indies, argues for “giving it away” in order to build an audience so that you can get paid later. I’m not willing to bury indie film to his degree–I’ve enjoyed too many indie films and have seen to many indie auteurs I admire struggle to make movies–but I recognize his larger point that the internet offers new business models and even new narrative models.

I don’t know if I have any answers yet, and this post has been as much about organizing my thoughts as it has been about coming to any conclusions. I do think that indie filmmakers will invent new models of distribution, but it’s difficult not to feel like something is in the process of being lost right now.

Posted by Chuck Tryon on July 02nd 2008 | Home Page | 5 Comments Subscribe to this site's feed

5 Responses

  1. It Came From Tartan » Big Screen Little Screen Says:

    […] Indie Film Crisis as talked about by Chuck Tryon a couple of days ago is a subject that I can’t resist passing […]

  2. Bob Alexander Says:

    Thank you referencing our comments over at IndiePix! I feel the need to apologize if in my enthusiasm I seemed to claim a complete basket of right answers! I hope I wouldn’t do that, but … On the other hand, however, I do get frustrated with self-serving comments offered as perspective by putative industry leaders.
    The comment from Frances Harvey about the collapse of Tartan Film Distributors in England is very interesting. If there is a general economic trend, one would want it to be independent of cultural forces, and perhaps this example from England suggests that the theater model, at least for indies, is beyond repair.
    Your reference to David Poland’s comment about the demographics of “film” versus independent film is especially interesting. My friend, Edward Jay Epstein — in his book “The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood” — writes that in terms of content, the Hollywood studios are franchise builders of children’s brands. What we’re seeing is that even college age adults have grown out of that category of entertainment, but really have nowhere to turn except for small screen indie films.
    This is a difficult but exciting time. Good luck with your book. Let us know at IndiePix when we can buy it!

  3. Chuck Says:

    I think you’re right to suggest that this is a difficult time for indies but one with a lot of potential. I’m certainly an admirer of filmmakers such as Susa Buice and Arin Crumley and Lance Weiler who have essentially invented new modes of distribution, and I know that Indiepix has also been very creative in helping indie filmmakers find audiences, so I waver between sadness and excitement about the direction of indie filmmaking.

    The book will be out in March of next year hopefully, and I’ll be making updates on my personal blog, but I’ll certainly keep you posted on its progress.

  4. The Chutry Experiment » My Fifteen Minutes Says:

    […] part of the indie film scene. In addition, given all of the recent discussion of the “independent film crisis,” the concept of indie itself is in the process of be redefined, and if Sujewa’s […]

  5. The Chutry Experiment » Rethinking Indie Says:

    […] in the age of digital media.  I addressed these issues briefly in a guest post published over at Big Screen Little Screen and managed to work some of these ideas into the conclusion of the book.  My post–and much […]

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