Some indie filmmakers in limbo

Coin from digital platforms still years away

Independent filmmakers are facing an increasingly frustrating rough road while competing against the majors and waiting for coin from digital platforms to materialize – a much-anticipated source of revenue that’s still a few years away.

That consensus emerged Friday from indie leaders at a conference sponsored by the Independent Film & Television Alliance. Event at the Beverly Hills Hotel drew more than 200 producers and sales agents and featured a “guardedly optimistic” keynote address by industry vet Kerry McCluggage, current topper at vid distrib Allumination Filmworks and an investor and adviser to Peace Arch.

“I say guardedly because every opportunity I’ve attempted to outline this morning is also available to your larger, more well-heeled and financed competitors and they aren’t anxious to change the balance of power,” said McCluggage, who was a top exec at U and Par for two decades.

McCluggage stressed that indies can compete against the majors by acting quickly — “use size, or lack of it, to your advantage” — and providing a nurturing environment for filmmakers.

“It begins with maintaining respect for the creative voice,” he added. “If content is king, then the creators of content need to get better care and feeding from you than the corporate conglomerates that might tend to look at them more as deals than valuable voices in a world that is hungry for fresh vision and perspective.”

McCluggage urged indies to cut costs as a way to survive market pressures, noting that overspending has doomed many indie producers and distribs, and asserted that the day’s coming when widely available digital platforms will drive down distribution costs. Still, that’s no guarantee of success, he added.

“Niche audiences, however loyal and fanatic in the best sense of the word, need new and innovate thinking to help guide them and can be overwhelmed by choice that isn’t accompanied by context,” McCluggage said.

For the time being, however, the digital revolution isn’t leading to much besides a lot more work. “It’s so frustrating because we have to spend three times as much time negotiating on digital rights with no revenues coming in yet,” noted Myriad Pictures topper Kirk D’Amico.

And the improved access to financing hasn’t made the task easier for indies, according to Voltage Pictures prexy Nicholas Chartier, amid the negative impacts of piracy and a cooling DVD market. He also suggested that global warming may be chilling movie attendance in international markets since warmer temps can drive patrons away from multiplexes.

“I would not recommend to anyone who’s 22 to get into international film finance,” Chartier added.

Richard Guardian, co-prez of Lightning Entertainment, noted that competition for leisure dollars and time has intensified to the extent that he urged taking steps such as contractual requirements with actors to promote the film over a specific time period.

And IDC president Pedro Rodriguez stressed that the biz must find alternate means to promote to young people, who often aren’t as enthused by pics with actors who are decades older than they are.

“The star system is gone,” he added. “Release costs are skyrocketing because the marketing people will tell you they have no idea what they’re doing. People have 1,000 options to get their information from.”

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