Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I include this portion of David Hayes article in today's Variety to emphasize the difficult environment indy film financiers and distributors find themselves in.
Last year's Cinderella Coach (Hamlet 2) went for $10 million. However it promptly turned back into a pumpkin over the summer when it only grossed $5M. When you consider the marketing that went into the film's wide release, plus the $10M to buy it and the theater owners take, that's a loss of around $20 million, Ouch! Folks, that's real money, not the Monopoly stuff. If you're the type of person who slams the studios for being uncreative or short sighted, remember this financial loss before doing it again. Remember this is "Show Business," not "Show Art." And please think about the financiers' concerns when choosing what to write or which of your scripts to send to an agent, manager or producer. It's tough out there.

Industry dressing down for Sundance

Economy brings a more subdued festival

Sundance, the first major fest to take place in the midst of the brutal economic downturn, is likely to be a more subdued affair.

There will still be the usual distribs scouting pics and sellers offering a full range of fare, but the overall noise level at the fest, running Jan. 15-25, is expected to be turned down a bit.

Organizers are marking the fest's 25th anniversary with special "storytelling"-themed events and Web content. Steven Soderbergh will sit on a panel seeking to answer the question "What next?"

That question has haunted the indie and specialty arenas of late. Despite the fall emergence of breakouts like "Slumdog Millionaire," "Milk" and "Doubt" at the mini-majors, the hangover from 2008 has lingered as vets absorb the disappearance of Warner Independent and Picturehouse and a big pullback by Paramount Vantage just three years after its euphoric "Hustle and Flow" Sundance moment. Add the breakdown of ThinkFilm, Bob Yari's release arm and other pure indies and the ground has shifted significantly underfoot.

Funding for pics is available, but the capital-intensive distribution and marketing sectors have been in dire straits of late.

"It just feels a lot tougher this year because so much is changing," said Bob Berney, who headed Picturehouse before it was unplugged last year by Time Warner. "Even so, I'm looking forward to Sundance just for the chance to see movies because it's often been a place of renewal."

The 10-day fest will see an array of preems, some for pics that are already spoken for, some not. For many trekking to the Wasatch Mountains, memories of last year's cross-currents remain fresh -- success stories like "Frozen River" and "Man on Wire" mixed with misfires like "What Just Happened?" and "Hamlet 2." Focus bought the latter for a record $10 million in an all-night bidding war, only to see it gross barely half that in wide summer release........

(photo from last year's Sundance)

1 comment:

  1. It was heartening to see 'Slumdog' take the Golden Globe for best picture this past Sunday, but what does that really mean to me, a Canadian screenwriter?

    A low budget feature (which in Canada is a film budgeted at 1-4 million dollars) can pay off big time, as in the case of 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' 'Good Will Hunting' 'Blair Witch Project,' but, as pointed out in your insightful post, often these little films fail big at the B.O. and that's not good for anybody.

    We can certainly point to a lack of promotion, no bankable stars, and less than perfect production values (although any movie with seriously poor sound/lighting simply will not be distributed) but it's naive to blame a Box Office crap out entirely on the distributors (who have, after all, had the guts to pick up the little film in the first place) or lack of cast (witness 'Slumdog' which features NOBODY any of us outside India have heard of.)

    Happily, no one can truly predict which odd little film is going to capture the interest of audiences everywhere.

    Sure, 'The Dark Knight' has a lot going for it including cast, big budget, big promotion, and a built in fan base from previous Batman films,TV, and comics. So it was pretty much bound to be a hit. But lots of big budget movies fail, too. And that really hurts the big boys.

    I write extremely low budget scripts (produceable for 1/2 a million) and high concept big budget scripts (50+million) in every genre but, so far, western films. I often write, as they say, with one hand on a calculator, but not always! If I'm struck with a fantastic idea that's gonna cost to produce, I write it anyway.

    I will say this: Of the twenty odd scripts my screenwriter partner and I have written (and a log/syn is available to anyone, on request) the two that keep getting optioned (but not produced) are one of our lowest budget rom/coms and a big budget high concept psychological thriller.

    Why those two? Well, both scripts are well-written but then so are the other eighteen scripts...

    Rom/coms are always popular and this one is quirky and fun. Our thriller is full of twists and turns and features gorgeous women and a moody, genius protagonist. The scripts are unique.

    Beyond that, I can't say. Yes, it's the Entertainment Business but, as much as one shouldn't forget the 'Business' part of it, one can't forget the 'Entertainment' part because no one knows what audiences are going to respond to next. It's a crap shoot for the writer, too.