Early Oscars vex indies but some see silver lining

Distribs face fresh issues from accelerated sked

ORLANDO, Fla. — This year’s accelerated Academy Awards season has complicated releasing and marketing decisions for specialty distribs.

But while there was broad agreement on that score, panelists at a ShowEast session on independent film expressed a range of opinions on how to cope with the situation.

“It’s tougher now,” Focus Features distribution prexy Jack Foley told a ballroom full of exhibs at the Daily Variety-sponsored session Wednesday. But like it or not, specialty distribs must unspool potential Oscar contenders earlier than usual to generate interest among Academy voters, he said.

“Some of these films are fragile, and you can blow a film by the time you get to Christmas now,” Foley observed. “But you have to do it.”

In previous years, specialty distribs regularly unspooled awards candidates in late December and limited runs to L.A. and Gotham exclus, expanding into other markets only after Jan. 1.

Yet Steve Gilula, distrib topper at Fox Searchlight, saw a significant silver lining in the quickened kudos-season pace. “I’m thrilled everything has been moved up a month,” he said. “The press has become so obsessed with the Academy Awards that it had been really difficult to open a critically driven film in the first quarter.”

Different tack

But proving that strategic thinking in the indie world is just as varied as the films, Newmarket prexy Bob Berney plans to distrib Charlize Theron starrer “Monster” in just three markets by year’s end, on the theory the gritty drama will make an immediate impact and generate big buzz just prior to Academy balloting.

Focus’ recent “Swimming Pool” suspenser was greatly helped by elaborate use of in-theater banners and one-sheets, Foley said. And Gilula noted Searchlight’s successful summer drama “Bend It Like Beckham” stimulated positive word of mouth via a hefty 400 pre-release screenings.

Panelists agreed that specialty releases are increasingly at odds with commercial pics in indie’s platformed releasing approach.

Foley pleaded with exhibs to have patience with specialty films, which take longer to grab hold in the marketplace but may enjoy far longer runs.

“Bend It,” which hit homevid shelves Sept. 30, played in theaters 29 weeks, Gilula noted.

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