Sunday, January 17, 2010

Independent filmmmakers go for "D.I.Y." (do it yourself, sell it yourself)

When I think of “independent film”, I usually think of film that is marketed as such, for adult or grown up (but sometimes specialty children’s) audiences, and shown in theater chains that feature “arthouse” material, such as Landmark Theaters. But other theater chains, such as AMC (with “AMC Select”), Regal, and National Amusements typically reserve a portion of their screens for such films.

But “independent” has come to have multiple meanings. Some of the “independent” films are domestic or Canadian productions with big directors and big stars with more specialized subject matter, typically appealing to “educated” audiences, and tend to come from midsized companies like Lionsgate (has the best musical trademark trailer in the business right now), Summit, and Overture, and sometimes Miramax and The Weinstein Company (after the split). All three of these companies have tended to produce larger and larger films in this market, and Lionsgate also specializes in horror (the “Saw” franchise), as does TWC (with Dimension) and Summit “specializes” in fantasy (the “Twilight” franchise). (There are others: ThinkFilm, and HDNET and Mark Cuban’s Magnolia, which offers ambitious fare.) These companies are often partially involved in production, and sometimes work with other small distributors (like Lionsgate’s working with Roadside Attractions and Freestyle Releasing). “Foreign” films, which come from the UK and Australia as well as foreign language films, come from “boutique” distributors , of which the largest are Sony Pictures Classics and Focus (which gave us “Atonement”). Warner Brothers, New Line, and Paramount officially dropped out of this market over a year ago, although it’s hard to believe that they won’t come back in with other trademarks. Summit and Lionsgate sometimes help distribute foreign films.

In the book world, we think of the “publisher” as the brand giving us the book; in the movie world it has typically been the distributor, most often associated with an international company, and sometimes involved in production (but not always). When larger films, including many films that we think of as “independent” are picked up, they typically are controlled by the distributors, that “brand them”, contributing in the background to some of today’s fights over copyright and the DMCA.

However, theater chains (especially Landmark) have been good enough to bring us films that are really much smaller, sometimes nearly self-distributed. Sadek’s “Redline” was shown by National Amusements in 2007.

As Hollywood tightens it’s belt and as more media consumers go for DVD’s and streaming, self-distribution of film starts to make sense in a manner analogous to on demand printing for self-published book authors. Manohla Dargis has an article on the “Arts & Leisure” section of the Sunday Jan. 17 New York Times, “Declaration of Indies: Just Sell It Yourself”? here, like a car or a home? Indeed, I’ve reviewed a few socially and politically important films that seem to have only festival “distribution” and DVD’s: “Darius Goes West,” “Mountaintop Removal”, “The Greening of Southie”, and documentaries about the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy including “Ask Not” and “Tell”.

It does seem to me that the “don’t ask don’t tell” problem might be ready for bigger time treatment, maybe from one of the midsized companies I mentioned above. (We have had the TV films “Serving in Silence” and “Soldier’s Girl”, but nothing really big.)

I could entertain a D.I.Y. (“Do It Yourself”) approach to my own paradigm for “Do Ask Do Tell”. There was a bizarre incident in 2005 that is a humdinger of a mystery (main blog, July 27, 2007) that reaches back all the way to my 1961 William and Mary expulsion, and “incorporates” how I jumped into the debate over gays in the military, how that led to COPA and to today’s debate over topics like “online reputation.” Ironically, as the article says, Internet presence (Facebook and Twitter especially) are usually a critical component of a D.I.Y. approach.

To cover the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes tonight, go to the main site. Taylor Lautner, sartorially presented in a tux, got to present “(500) Days of Summer” and he hasn’t even reached is 18th birthday yet. Schwarzenegger (a Republican!) presented "Avatar".

"Avatar" won best motion picture, drama. Cameron said that Pandora was about4-1/2 light years away (I think it's more like 30 light years). Best comedy or musical was "(500) Days of Summer". We saw a lot of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the audience. Remember his tumbling act on SNL, and remember Taylor's?

Update: Monday Jan. 18

Check out the Business Day article by Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, "In Hollywood, Grappling with Studios' Lost Clout," link here. MGM is having trouble getting $2 billion for a purchase as it has evaporated into just doing smaller films. LionsGate's market cap has gone down by 50% in the past couple years despite some very ambitious releases.

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