Monthly Archives: July 2009

10 Insights to the Indie Film World (as shared at this year’s LA Film Fest)

Posted on by Jon Reiss

Ok, so I already spoke about James D. Stern’s talk a few days ago, but wanted to share the broader message as so eloquently reported by Indie Wire last week. Great, great stuff.

The World As We Know It Is Over? 10 Insights on the Movie Biz
by Andy Lauer (June 23, 2009)

“The way we operate is being dissected and reassembled in front of our eyes,” noted Endgame’s James D. Stern in a keynote speech at the Los Angeles Film Festival over the weekend (which was published in its entirety by indieWIRE). Later that day, a panel of key industry players gathered at the fest’s Film Financing Conference to, as moderator and industry blogger Anne Thompson put it, “parse the desperate stage of the indie economy” right now. The panel, titled “The World As We Know It: Is It Over?,” included “Che” producer Laura Bickford, Christian Gaines of Withoutabox, Ted Mundorff from Landmark Theatres, “Notorious” producer Bob Teitel, and Beastie Boy Adam Yauch from Oscilloscope Laboratories.

The discussion touched on how to profit from Internet and VOD distribution plans, the increasingly uncertain fate of traditional media, the financial limitations of producing independent film in the current economic climate, and the recent formation of DF Indie Studios. Though realistic about the challenges facing the industry, all the panel members offered valuable insights on how to make the financing, marketing and distribution of independent films come together during tough times.

Here are 10 insights shared this weekend in Los Angeles:

1. Christian Gaines on the changing role of film festivals.

Insight: Festivals may be returning to their roots as a showcase for filmmaker’s work and become less of a platform for corporate sponsors and the industry to promote themselves. Continue reading →

Gigantic Digital – A Gigantic Step for Filmmakers in Online Distribution

Posted on by Jon Reiss

Independent Film Distribution Moves Into a New Era–With – For the First Time Ever, Movie-Lovers Across the U.S. Will See New Indie Titles First Run, Ad-Free & Streamed in Hi-Res

For the first time ever, audiences will be able to see first-run independent movie releases everywhere in the United States. New York-based film company Gigantic Releasing is changing the face of U.S. indie film distribution with today’s launch of Gigantic Digital ( The website will enable anyone in the US with a broadband connection to access Gigantic’s first-run feature films in markets where there is no theatrical distribution. Releases will go up “day-and-date” with theatrical openings in major markets. The announcement was made by Gigantic’s CEO Brian Devine and Gigantic Releasing president Mark Lipsky.

Independent titles have been distributed in the same way for decades, with cost and technology restricting their availability to only a small number of cities. “Whole swaths of this country have been left out of the excitement of discovering new movies beyond the usual Hollywood fare,” says Lipsky, a veteran film executive known for innovative marketing. Continue reading →

Making “Smarter” Independent Films (or rather, make films more wisely)

Posted on by Jon Reiss

The Hollywood Reporter posted a great article last week on Jim Stern’s LA Film Fest Talk. Some of you may remember that last year around this same time, Mark Gil was going off about indie film’s declne and ultimate demise. Needless to say, Jim was singing a different tune, calling attention to the ever-importance of the relationship between director and producer, especially in the indie film world.

Producer calls indie world to task – Jim Stern touts careful budgeting, and more

The Hollywood Reporter, June 20th 2009

Producer Jim Stern issued a warning call to the indie business Saturday, saying that if it wanted to endure, it needed to stop working at cross purposes with itself and its financiers.

Speaking in the high-profile slot at the Los Angeles Film Festival where Mark Gill last year gave his now-famous ‘The Sky is Falling’ speech, Stern told the audience that the indie world needed to more deeply consider marketing and financing.

“It’s been hip to disrespect the money,” he said. And “most businesses have a complete plan from the start of a project, which includes the whole chain, from manufacturing through distribution. Ours typically does not.”

Instead, he said filmmakers needed to develop marketing plans and work more closely with financiers. “We need to cut costs, mitigate risks, target our audience,” he said.

The Endgame Entertainment principal, the producer behind such pics as “A Chorus Line” documentary “Every Little Step” and Mark Ruffalo con-man movie “The Brothers Bloom,” spoke during the Finance Conference at the festival. The address has become a kind of barometer for the state of the indie business.

Last year, Gill gave a keynote in which he warned that financing models, distributors and other part of the indie world were on the brink of collapse. Less than a week later, Paramount Vantage was consolidated; a year later, the indie world finds itself in a far bleaker place.

Given the market travails, Stern faced a tough task with his address: He couldn’t simply underscore the misery, but he also couldn’t risk sounding overly optimistic about the indie world’s future.

So he walked a fine line, acknowledging the brutal realities but offering several ways out.

“We’re upside down on the mortgage and it’s time to mail in the keys,” he said, citing the stat that nearly 10,000 films were submitted to Sundance last year, but only three so far have been released theatrically.

In parts sounding like the second coming of Gill, Stern described a climate in which studio tentpoles are flourishing but the number of indies that have made even $1 million this year has dwindled from 16 at this point last year to six.

But he also prescribed several solutions. He highlighted what he called “smarter movies” — those that were careful about budgets and conscious about audience.

Filmmakers who followed their own heart at the expense of the market, Stern said, were due for a rude awakening.

“I love Sundance,” he said. “But it gave rise to a sense of entitlement to personal films,” adding that filmmakers are at a point in the business cycle that “if you make a personal film, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t get an audience, or, even much worse, if it doesn’t get sold.”

Greater attention to marketing from the earliest stages of development has been a major theme in the indie world recently, though naysayers have noted that some of the best indie and specialty pics in the past year — such movies as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler” — were driven by intensely personal visions that didn’t explicitly consider marketing until after they were made.

As part of his solution, Stern singled out entities, including Hulu and iTunes, that were exploring and peddling on-demand and streaming video. “These are the once and future friends of independent film,” he said.

Stern also suggested that producers stop worrying about casting pricey A-level talent, which he said in most cases ceased being a factor for international sales and domestic boxoffice. “I don’t think stars drive people to the theaters in small movies,” he said.

He warned against the temptation of concentrating on such areas as special effects and photography, that should be the province of tentpoles. “Movies can look terrible and get an audience, and movies can look terrific and not,” Stern said.

But making successful indies also required a complex series of traits, he said. “You need to be as sly as a fox, as slippery as an eel, as thick-skinned as a hippo, and as rich as Sidney Kimmel.” He added: “But if you don’t meet those qualifications, don’t worry. It works just as well to be crazy as a loon.”

Indie Film Today: Retiring or Resurging?

Posted on by Jon Reiss

This post came from The Indie Auteur blog and was in response to an ongoing argument on the future of indie film. Stephan’s mentality of “do something about it or stop complaining” struck a chord with me. Article is re-posted below:

It’s Always A Hard Time To Be Indie
by Stephan Vladimir Bugaj

A recent post on John August’s blog, titled “A hard time to be an indie,” inspired me to inaugurate this blog with a post about the idea that it’s a particularly difficult time to be an Indie filmmaker (John quotes a speech by James D. Stern, which is also worth reading). It was a particularly synchronous post by John since I recently just attended the first annual Produced-By Conference, where a number of Producers were singing a somewhat different tune (or, perhaps a similar tune, but in a different key).

One point that several Producers made at the conference is that it’s always “a hard time” to be an Indie filmmaker, and that it’s an unusually bad time merely because it’s a hard time for the whole industry, and the whole economy. Their perspective, as working Indie Producers, was that if your passion is for Independent Cinema then you have to make a go of it when the time is right for you as an individual filmmaker — because the time is never “right” for entrepreneurial filmmaking.

A perspective I found especially compelling was Continue reading →

Indie Film Takes Lesson from Indie Music – Online Marketing at its Best

Posted on by Jon Reiss

When music downloading and the internet really hit, many thought it would be the collapse of the music industry. For similar-yet-different reasons, the indie film world finds itself in a similar position today, and in combination with our poor economy, we’ve all heard the horror stories surrounding the decline and potential collapse of indie film. My thoughts are that those who are trailblazing the way towards a new world of online and indie platforms might pull through, exactly as they did in the music industry, and apparently the LIJIT blog does as well. Read on for an example…

Indie movies taking a tip from indie music

June 25, 2009

When your industry is out of the mainstream, why would you market in a mainstream way?

On today’s sign-up report, I saw that a blog all about the making, and promoting, of an independent film was on there. The movie is called Not Forgotten and the blog is called Not Forgotten Movie. (Aptly named, I know.)

As a film major, I love independent films but know how hard it is for them to pick up widespread distribution. If they’re lucky, they’ll be shown in small theaters somewhere in L.A. or New York. If I’m lucky, I’ll have the chance to catch the film on Netflix. However, with the advent of social media, indie films can increase their chances of hitting it big by connecting with audiences before the film even arrives in theaters.

When a film is made by a major studio, millions of dollars can go into promoting it. But with small films like Not Forgotten, the only chance they have at being shown nationwide is if the audiences express an interest for it. With free tools like blogs, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube, the producers of the movie can help spread the word at a much lower cost and prove that there is demand for the film to be shown. Continue reading →

More Oscar Nominations for Best Picture, More Indie Films in the Mix?

Posted on by Jon Reiss

I know, I know, there are many of us who have moved on from following the Academy Awards as they have let us down one too many times by overlooking great films and filmmakers. But many indie folks, along with The are happy to have learned that there will now be 10 nominations for year in the “Best Picture” category. The hope is that less-marketed indie films will now have a chance to contend. I guess only time will tell if they’re right…

Indie World Thrilled About Oscar
Movies that face campaign problems due to small marketing budgets will have more opportunities.

By Michael Speier & Carolyn Giardina
The Wrap
June 24th, 2009

The indie world is licking its chops at the notion of more contenders for best picture.

In recent years, indies have made it to the top five, including this year’s winner “Slumdog Millionaire” and 2008 winner “No Country for Old Men” and audience pleaser “Juno” in 2008. But other acclaimed titles such as last year’s “The Wrestler” and “The Visitor” came up short.

With 10 slots instead of five, the movies that usually face more campaign problems due to small marketing budgets and overall muscle will have more opportunities to grab a dangling golden carrot.

“The indie film community needed a shot in the arm, and this is it,” said Cassian Elwes, who ran the independent film unit at the William Morris Agency until three weeks ago. “For movies struggling to find proper distribution, the notion that good films may get a best picture nomination will help on every level,” Elwes told TheWrap. Continue reading →