Lerner: ‘Indie’ means risk

Nu Image/Millennium exec looks at the state of pix

Many proclaimed this year’s Oscar race as proof that indies are roaring back to health and vitality.

Nu Image/Millennium topper Avi Lerner doesn’t agree with that premise.

“No one can disagree that when you’ve got ‘Crash’ having this kind of success, it’s good for independent film. That’s a true independent film. I consider Lionsgate a real independent company.

“But ‘Brokeback Mountain?’ No way. It was released by a studio with all the machinery and money and people of a major studio — the same people who released ‘Munich.’ The same people who released ‘King Kong.’ No, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was not an independent film.

“An independent film is a movie that was really made by independent people, independent producers, not by Focus. The producer of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was James Schamus, the head of a specialty studio.

“The (studio) specialty units — Warner Independent, Paramount Classics, Focus, Rogue — all those companies are making exactly what independent companies were making and they’re crowding the market. The difference is they can afford much bigger movies.

“Studios don’t have to worry about risk the way independent companies do. None of the independent companies that I know would take a risk and make a movie about gay cowboys. There’s no way somebody in his right mind wouldn’t say: ‘Who’s going to buy this?’ 

“The business is controlled by the studios because they’ve got plenty of money behind them.

“It’s very tough for independent companies. I don’t want to sound negative, but look what’s happened in the last 10, 15 years. If you look at a list of all the independent companies there were, from Carolco to Largo to Hemdale, so many of those companies that existed in the 1990s — none of them exist (now).

“Even the latest batch, companies like Intermedia, which did major movies, they can’t compete because if you make a mistake you’re out of the business.

“The companies that appeared in Cannes 15 years ago, you’ll see none of them anymore. Really.

“The price of filmmaking in America is crazy. It’s impossible to make a movie in America with all the different unions. We’re making more movies in the ex-communist countries because we feel America has become like a communist country. The unions and covering all the costs of pension and welfare, minimum salaries, holiday pay … it makes your life so difficult.

“The foreign market has gotten tougher. We’re all affected by it. We still get a price, but for much less than before. DVD, piracy … piracy is a disaster. It’s the crime of the century in many ways. Nobody cares.”

— as told to Nicole LaPorte

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