Technology Good News & Bad News for Indie Films
There’s good news and bad news about technology for independent filmmakers. The good news is that continued improvements have led to what Michael Cioni, co-founder of Light Iron Digital in Culver City and a panelist at the recent Whitewater Roundtable, called a “democratization of technology.” Now, it costs very little to make a film; anyone can make a movie with a low-price camera and a laptop. But the bad news is, independent films are competing for distribution and exhibition screens with big budget studio movies – and those movies are benefiting from some pretty nifty technology, too.
A recent article in The Economist takes a look at how an increase in film exhibition profits can actually hurt indie filmmakers. That’s because a lot of those additional audience dollars are being spent to see 3-D films – technology that’s not only out of reach but probably of little interest to independent producers (at least until it becomes available as part of Adobe Creative Suite 6).
With Avatar and Alice in Wonderland (especially in IMAX), exhibitors broke out a new practice we can expect from now on: charging a premium for admission. “We still don’t know how much they are willing to pay,” David Passman, chief executive of Carmike, told the Economist.
Right now the attention is on 3-D and IMAX, but is there still room at the multiplex for the personal storytelling and character-driven drama of indie film?
I say yes. A price differential for admission to certain films could have a possible benefit for indie producers.
As the article in The Economist points out:
“Cinema-owners have long suspected that, by charging the same amount to see a $2m independent film and a $200m blockbuster, they were leaving money on the table. The response to 3-D films and IMAX proves that they were. Cinema is evolving from a commodity into a business that sells differentiated products at varied prices.”
You might have experienced “luxury” or 21-and-over screenings in your neighborhood – we have lots of those options in mine – and these innovations, along with an increase in the number of multiplexes around the world – could provide additional opportunities for more “grown up” fare. No one is rushing to make low-budget indie films in 3-D? Fine, but will anyone pay extra to see Despicable Me in an elegant screening room with a glass of good wine?
If you’re on a budget (which almost everybody is these days), then lower-priced indies and dramas may be a great catch-all for independent distributors and specialty exhibitors.
The second technology change the Economist cites could also be a boon to big and small films, and that’s “the digitisation of cinema.” Digital projectors make it “easier for multiplex owners to shuffle films around screens to cope with surges in demand.” Indie producers: this is where your rabid following on YouTube and your ability to martial the forces of the Twitterverse could really help your movie. Exhibitors want to make money, and, usually, they can demand a bigger share of the box office split from indies than they can from studio films. If a film has a strong turnout in a few key markets, why wouldn’t exhibitors want to extend a run or even open on additional screens in other cities?
Indie producers, what do you think? Is it time for independent filmmakers to abandon the theater and let the big budget special effects movies have all the screens? Is there still room for more than one kind of movie?
- UK Film Finance Magazine Interview – about the future for indies, especially after the recent success of challenging films, such as The Hurt Locker and Precious.
- How to Choose (a sister wife) Foreign Sales Agent – There are a lot of good sales agents out there – more than in a long time. Who should you get in bed with?
- A Film Market Game Changer? – You can’t use this iPhone app to make your movie, but it can probably help you sell it.
- Whitewater Roundtable for Indie Producers – A recent gathering of independent filmmakers to talk about the impact of emerging technology on indies.