RTIndie: Can Indie Studios Survive Without Big Studio Backing?

by | October 31, 2006 | Comments

With the sale of independent-minded ThinkFilm last week, can indie film distributors survive without big studio backing?

Author: Juliana Tringali

ThinkFilm, best known for releasing 2004’s "Born Into Brothels," was recently purchased by the Capco group for $25 million. Group head David Bergstein plans to merge ThinkFilm with Capitol Films (another formerly fledgling distribution company), creating a "formidable new force in the independent marketplace."


We’re not going to tell you how the wheels on "Shortbus" go.

For five years, ThinkFilm has built a reputation for distributing daring films that many others wouldn’t touch. Its current theatrical releases include John Cameron Mitchell‘s sexually explicit "Shortbus" and "Half Nelson," the story of a drug addicted inner city teacher. Meanwhile, Capital Films has helped to sell such fare as "A Prairie Home Companion" to international markets.

Before the purchase, ThinkFilm was the one Canadian company distributing movies in the states. Their game plan was generally to acquire documentaries or daring low budget films and subsequently attempt to sell them to more mainstream audiences.

The strategy won an Oscar for "Brothels" (which scored a 96 percent on the Tomatometer), and garnered further nominations for other releases ("The Story of the Weeping Camel," "Murderball"). But despite some critical and moderate commercial successes (including "Spellbound"), none of the ThinkFilm’s offerings broke through to widespread box office popularity. Capco says the merger will allow ThinkFilm to be a bigger player in the global film market.


"Murderball": Better than "Rollerball!"

In the expensive world of film production, perhaps the acquisition of smaller companies has always been an uncomfortable but irrevocable truth. After all, when indie first went boom in 1994, its most powerful mainstays had already been snatched up.

Miramax was purchased by Walt Disney Co. in 1993 (just before releasing "Pulp Fiction," the shot that sounded out the new era in film). In 1994, Turner Broadcasting System purchased New Line Cinema, which had dared to produce movies from unknown filmmakers since 1967.


No, this isn’t a metaphor for the indies and the majors.

But 1994 was a time of optimism. Making films outside the studio system was not only possible, it was hot, and bright-eyed believers were standing up to be counted. Among them were Newmarket Films, then a new privately-owned production and distribution company (purchased by New Line/HBO in 2005), and the Independent Film Channel (IFC). Palm Pictures was started in 1998, and ThinkFilm began in 2001.

Studios had their finger on the pulse as well. In 1994, Fox Searchlight was introduced as the indie wing of 20th Century Fox and it went on to produce some of the most successful "independent" films of the 1990s. NBC Universal followed suit in 2002 with Focus Features. Not surprisingly, these smaller sectors of major studios have had more staying power than their more authentic counterparts.

Top Reviewed Limiteds

Opening last week in limited release: "Shut Up & Sing," a rockumentary about the Dixie Chicks, is at 93 percent with 30 reviews; "Exit: The Right to Die," a documentary about assisted suicide, is at 88 percent (8 reviews); "Absolute Wilson," a documentary about avant-gardist Robert Wilson, is at 82 percent (11 reviews); "Cocaine Cowboys," a documentary about drug smuggling in Miami in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is at 78 percent (23 reviews); "Babel," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s globetrotting film about despair and interconnectivity, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, is at 74 percent (61 reviews); and "The Bridge," a doc about suicides on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, is at 64 percent (28 reviews).


Dixie Chicks flick: a hit with crits!

Top Performing Limiteds

"Babel" was the biggest indie winner this week, grossing $366,000 for a big per-screen average of $52,258, despite playing in only seven theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Stephen Frears‘ "The Queen," starring Helen Mirren, continued its strong performance, grossing $1.9 million, with a $12,638 per-screen average (it’s made $6.3 million during its theatrical run). "Shut Up & Sing" made $51,000 in four theaters, for an average of $12,750. But something of a disappointment was "Death of a President" which, despite the hum of controversy, made only $167,000 with a per-screen average of $1,835.


Why so blue, Cate? Critics and audiences like "Babel."

Tag Cloud

Shondaland political drama Video Games transformers MSNBC Paramount Network CW Seed what to watch Epix Super Bowl Watching Series science fiction crime drama LGBTQ YA ABC Sundance Now aliens Reality Competition San Diego Comic-Con CBS 24 frames Year in Review Dark Horse Comics Certified Fresh Fox News Martial Arts crossover Superheroes dceu DirecTV TV Infographic discovery Cosplay GoT zombie Disney Winners TCA period drama Fantasy TBS comiccon Sundance GIFs Lucasfilm 2015 boxoffice social media ITV PaleyFest Cartoon Network Box Office 2016 Hulu technology 007 Premiere Dates 2017 Lionsgate Awards Rock CBS All Access sitcom TNT romance PBS talk show Kids & Family DC streaming service President Starz Tomatazos OWN binge YouTube Red Teen Spike harry potter Masterpiece psycho Oscars Amazon Shudder Walt Disney Pictures RT History SDCC golden globes Columbia Pictures E! hist Best and Worst Country biography supernatural ratings MTV Writers Guild of America 20th Century Fox CMT DC Comics jamie lee curtis festivals Rom-Com Sony Pictures Nickelodeon Star Wars Marathons Warner Bros. Extras war Musical justice league historical drama Adult Swim Netflix CNN Nat Geo Western Grammys serial killer Drama Song of Ice and Fire AMC History Crackle APB anime El Rey Polls and Games Ghostbusters Nominations Disney Channel NYCC Toys TIFF The Arrangement Set visit E3 Red Carpet Lifetime Mary Tyler Moore travel ESPN DC Universe HBO Esquire Winter TV SundanceTV Summer Syfy USA Network Calendar Comedy Opinion ABC Family mutant American Society of Cinematographers Creative Arts Emmys 45 thriller adventure A&E Horror zombies crime thriller Fall TV Holidays National Geographic politics Acorn TV Pixar doctor who Bravo Showtime Freeform Podcast diversity Trailer Paramount YouTube Premium IFC Films cops cinemax USA Universal Photos Britbox Reality IFC NBC Action docudrama FOX crime sports Countdown finale Sneak Peek FX Tumblr See It Skip It TV Land Logo Comedy Central cooking Emmys VICE police drama The CW cults SXSW Trivia Comic Book TruTV TCM Star Trek Animation Spring TV composers Christmas Marvel Biopics FXX TCA 2017 robots 21st Century Fox Superheroe Apple BBC America Schedule singing competition VH1 Music medical drama unscripted dc TLC dramedy Rocky WGN blaxploitation Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt GLAAD Food Network vampires Ovation BBC BET cats X-Men Pop based on movie Interview spy thriller Valentine's Day Character Guide Musicals Sci-Fi Pirates Ellie Kemper Thanksgiving Mindy Kaling Mystery Election streaming First Look