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

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