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

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