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

quibi Turner Classic Movies supernatural richard e. Grant rom-coms ID sag awards Chernobyl Epix space Food Network WarnerMedia TCA Comics on TV children's TV justice league godzilla Polls and Games BBC blockbuster Shudder Trailer animated YouTube Red AMC dogs video movies PBS TV Land rotten Vudu boxoffice Sundance Now GIFs Film Festival Spring TV telelvision Martial Arts San Diego Comic-Con Rocketman television Tumblr jurassic park best cancelled television monster movies Women's History Month prank Tubi Avengers kong Winter TV Marathons Starz sitcom singing competition ESPN 24 frames Ghostbusters PaleyFest Mary Poppins Returns psycho Rocky dramedy hist Syfy DirecTV FX on Hulu green book APB disaster french james bond VICE Paramount Network popular Universal chucky technology Ellie Kemper nbcuniversal HBO spinoff 21st Century Fox aliens toronto Marvel Television WGN A&E TruTV foreign Sci-Fi Warner Bros. hidden camera cancelled kaiju NYCC crime Animation Lionsgate Travel Channel Action RT21 comedies TV true crime halloween tv Mary Tyler Moore CBS ABC stand-up comedy what to watch worst BET Set visit Pride Month critics hollywood mutant spy thriller Certified Fresh Mudbound joker BBC America cancelled TV series die hard south america The Walking Dead Alien trailers See It Skip It Sundance TV Apple TV+ game show 2016 cults cinemax Sundance based on movie doctor who zombie documentaries australia criterion Crunchyroll 2019 Esquire Academy Awards FOX Extras 2020 USA Network Britbox Star Wars ABC Family TV One comic deadpool slashers nature crossover concert NBC Fox Searchlight teaser indiana jones name the review Cannes science fiction political drama versus latino spain spanish language Paramount rt archives 007 Funimation GLAAD President canceled TV shows scary movies all-time Elton John CMT The Academy Biopics Masterpiece 20th Century Fox Binge Guide BET Awards TLC Hallmark Christmas movies binge dc classics satire National Geographic Hallmark CW Seed 2015 Election Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt stoner tv talk 99% Fantasy Year in Review Winners YouTube Premium Awards Tour ghosts travel Emmy Nominations Super Bowl SXSW italian Comedy cooking Reality Competition Columbia Pictures Emmys romance screen actors guild docuseries nfl Baby Yoda ITV emmy awards laika Sneak Peek Best and Worst miniseries Sony Pictures elevated horror Walt Disney Pictures cats facebook Mystery stop motion Heroines women The Witch Spike Holiday discovery Peacock game of thrones asian-american LGBT 4/20 TV renewals Tarantino Netflix dark LGBTQ SundanceTV king kong Character Guide TCA Awards ratings sequel Rock vampires universal monsters YouTube romantic comedy serial killer adventure dceu TIFF E! YA festival renewed TV shows Video Games Infographic First Reviews OWN Pixar revenge theme song TCA Winter 2020 unscripted blaxploitation 71st Emmy Awards Hulu blockbusters Endgame Horror TBS finale streaming Amazon Prime Video child's play diversity biography Freeform Adult Swim TCA 2017 spider-man Toys Mindy Kaling Quiz Logo dragons Awards PlayStation Marvel Studios Interview films free movies christmas movies First Look transformers Cosplay spanish Dark Horse Comics Star Trek DC Comics Superheroes Red Carpet batman VH1 Turner strong female leads Trophy Talk Fox News war Mary poppins razzies Watching Series E3 DGA Reality Pop TV Trivia Creative Arts Emmys Family cartoon documentary The Purge Lucasfilm anthology halloween mockumentary Legendary Pet Sematary Comic Book Song of Ice and Fire award winner reboot twilight robots Amazon mission: impossible Disney streaming service Television Critics Association Musical casting Crackle witnail worst movies Exclusive Video Disney Plus SDCC Kids & Family The Walt Disney Company Schedule thriller Hear Us Out hispanic Paramount Plus CBS All Access japanese Film golden globe awards Drama social media comics news Box Office politics 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Holidays Stephen King composers pirates of the caribbean Christmas Acorn TV Captain marvel scorecard Discovery Channel historical drama obituary venice OneApp Premiere Dates Oscars Netflix Christmas movies Teen sequels jamie lee curtis Bravo crime thriller CNN American Society of Cinematographers Cartoon Network medical drama directors BAFTA MSNBC Tomatazos USA adaptation Disney+ Disney Plus MCU golden globes video on demand Rom-Com Countdown 2017 FXX Opinion FX Disney Channel IFC Films Broadway Brie Larson crime drama RT History Photos Amazon Studios GoT superman X-Men Country Fall TV Superheroe Anna Paquin talk show Western TNT New York Comic Con natural history independent BBC One rotten movies we love boxing sports parents The Arrangement HBO Max psychological thriller Shondaland harry potter reviews breaking bad Spectrum Originals book werewolf El Rey screenings MTV comic books black 2021 docudrama Calendar archives franchise Disney Television Academy VOD Writers Guild of America Musicals Black History Month Nat Geo police drama DC Universe Music HBO Go Lifetime canceled Summer a nightmare on elm street series cars Marvel cancelled TV shows IFC A24 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Nominations Classic Film anime DC streaming service Nickelodeon Black Mirror kids fresh Showtime Comedy Central TCM comiccon 72 Emmy Awards Lifetime Christmas movies Pirates superhero Podcast zero dark thirty 2018 zombies movie indie 45 Thanksgiving fast and furious Apple TV Plus Grammys remakes History period drama Arrowverse cops Ovation Valentine's Day The CW Apple Amazon Prime Pop festivals ViacomCBS ABC Signature football toy story