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There's no question that the independent film industry is hurtling into the unknown. Coasting on a distribution system that does not seem to be compatible with the rapidly evolving production system, there is no question that a paradigm shift is around the corner. The question is not if, but when, and more importantly, what? The Tribeca Talks panel The Future of the Indpendents set out to answer that question Friday afternoon at the DGA Theater in Midtown. The panel consisted of filmmakers Austin Chick (August), Raymond De Felitta (City Island), Mary Harron (American Psycho) and Gary Winick (Bride Wars).
Moderator David Carr, of the Times, was his typical lively self, getting the discussion rolling by asking the question that was on everyone's minds: is now a good time to be getting into the independent film business? "It's never been a good business to be in," De Felitta quipped. That got a decent laugh. "But does it suck more than usual?" came back Carr. "It doesn't suck to make independent films," Winick observed. "It only sucks if you want to make money." And so the conversation was framed. As it moved along, the filmmakers noted that not all aspects of the business are ruined. "It's still appealing for actors, to want to be in independent films," Winick noted. "Because of the Oscars." "Yes," Chick agreed, "there's a lot of interest from talent. The issue is distribution. We need a new paradigm for distribution."
It became clear that a lot of the safety routes for independent filmmakers no longer exist. "You used to be able to finance your film off foreign sales or DVD sales, and you can't do that anymore," Harron explained. "Now distributors want big stars for every role. The expectations have gotten very high." Chick noted that "it's the films in the one to fifteen million dollar range that are being wiped out." Harron nodded. "The industry is just not interested in indie film right now." "Except for Fox Searchlight," Chick pointed out. "Even with Peter Rice, the head of Searchlight," Winick said, "I pitched him something like InDigEnt, but he said, we can't do this. Every movie we release, we have to market as a big movie, in order to compete with advertising."
"Well," said Carr, "there's an unbelievable abundance of entertainment at home now. You guys really have to compete with DVR, Netflix, and so on for my dollar." It became clear that the panel sees these competing sources as a good thing, however, as they are all examples of films being viewed in more places. "However," Winick said, "we're a far way away from monetizing the Internet the way we'd like to." "And until that happens," Harron added, "we'll all be in limbo. This is a particularly difficult period we have to get through. But there may be great opportunity ahead." Austin Chick agreed, noting that "More than ever, films are being made for less than $300,000. Eventually, some sort of platform will have to be developed."
"Is it the case," Carr asked, "that films in the one to fifteen million range are more studio-esque, but without the payoff? You get notes on everything, but you're still just getting two sticks and a rock to make a movie." "Yes," De Felitta agreed, "you're working in the confines of a machine, but you're not making any money."