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

binge war Binge Guide independent YouTube Red Universal harry potter Mary poppins aliens Toys screenings Trophy Talk Disney+ Disney Plus crime thriller versus dogs blockbuster Tarantino IFC Avengers Podcast blaxploitation Mary Poppins Returns Marathons YouTube Premium Comedy VH1 Hallmark Christmas movies Thanksgiving ratings Schedule Ellie Kemper slashers reviews TV green book E! Disney Channel Heroines Pixar New York Comic Con Academy Awards Emmys GLAAD Creative Arts Emmys toy story Disney Music TCA Superheroe Rom-Com Sundance Now Travel Channel political drama Ghostbusters FX on Hulu spider-man stand-up comedy romantic comedy politics Family Valentine's Day Opinion Musicals cats Quiz BBC doctor who Countdown mutant DC streaming service spain Trivia sports Brie Larson MCU docudrama zombie Christmas FX E3 2020 Winners TCA 2017 Sony Pictures USA Peacock Apple TV+ TV Land Premiere Dates series Shondaland SundanceTV Hallmark Mystery Reality Competition canceled IFC Films latino Set visit LGBTQ Biopics Shudder dragons witnail elevated horror El Rey sag awards PBS Netflix cancelled TV series The CW Crunchyroll Marvel Television Spectrum Originals Acorn TV Pride Month Nickelodeon television Dark Horse Comics renewed TV shows Chernobyl Fall TV WGN Freeform OneApp Rocky true crime batman 2019 71st Emmy Awards game show 2016 composers Animation Black Mirror Video Games A&E Polls and Games CBS All Access The Arrangement HBO Comedy Central NBC cartoon theme song Teen Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt indie cinemax DGA scary movies boxoffice 24 frames Pop TV Photos Marvel Cannes Holiday Apple TV Plus cancelled TV shows cancelled television Tubi Amazon Studios spy thriller festivals joker crime video RT21 adventure zero dark thirty Baby Yoda justice league Columbia Pictures YouTube jamie lee curtis LGBT Anna Paquin discovery screen actors guild based on movie children's TV Turner Television Academy Warner Bros. FOX police drama MTV Elton John kids Captain marvel Endgame Amazon First Look Showtime TBS See It Skip It NYCC The Purge CNN TruTV TIFF period drama San Diego Comic-Con canceled TV shows FXX Superheroes biography animated werewolf Lifetime Christmas movies crossover sequel Summer strong female leads Ovation talk show DC Comics Fantasy History Lionsgate Pop Extras Funimation Reality what to watch finale Lucasfilm Awards Lifetime streaming Song of Ice and Fire SXSW Nominations Star Trek Apple National Geographic 21st Century Fox comics foreign Amazon Prime Video south america directors OWN spanish language natural history Interview YA Starz APB Tumblr TNT Election movies Winter TV Netflix Christmas movies 2015 comic President Fox News teaser Mary Tyler Moore robots spinoff USA Network WarnerMedia Pet Sematary 45 Musical Black History Month Year in Review cops revenge 007 Disney Plus Pirates anthology sitcom Writers Guild of America A24 transformers cults Western Spring TV GoT Syfy Bravo Arrowverse name the review ESPN X-Men facebook Discovery Channel quibi nature movie Comics on TV Epix cooking richard e. Grant disaster Nat Geo social media game of thrones Sundance TV American Society of Cinematographers dceu AMC serial killer medical drama psychological thriller Holidays CBS breaking bad reboot technology Walt Disney Pictures RT History zombies Infographic historical drama romance free movies space Food Network Mudbound Emmy Nominations Super Bowl DirecTV Adult Swim ABC Family First Reviews golden globes 2017 Logo book Vudu 2018 Red Carpet award winner hispanic The Witch Calendar Crackle 20th Century Fox Trailer singing competition Film Festival comiccon franchise TV renewals adaptation miniseries Turner Classic Movies Mindy Kaling diversity ITV mockumentary BBC America The Walking Dead hist vampires universal monsters DC Universe supernatural casting Best and Worst thriller Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Box Office Oscars Martial Arts Paramount Network TCA Winter 2020 Tomatazos tv talk Sneak Peek Women's History Month TCM TLC dc Spike documentary ghosts cancelled crime drama GIFs anime Rocketman unscripted Amazon Prime Britbox Action Classic Film ABC science fiction Disney streaming service Drama Watching Series BET MSNBC rotten movies we love travel Film PaleyFest HBO Max CMT Horror Masterpiece Paramount Star Wars Grammys cars Character Guide Esquire Cartoon Network Stephen King Sundance SDCC Hulu Rock VICE CW Seed Comic Book Sci-Fi Certified Fresh christmas movies Country Kids & Family Marvel Studios psycho halloween Awards Tour Cosplay dramedy