Kudos move affects indies

Panel discusses pros, cons of early award date

Global day and date releases, the DVD explosion, rising P&A costs and the MPAA ratings system were just some of the topics covered in a distributors panel Wednesday morning.

It was Oscar, though, that really got everybody’s blood pressure soaring.

“Distributors will have to go wider faster and spend more money than before,” said Miramax chief operating officer Rick Sands, who noted the problem is getting the public to focus on the kind of picture that needs time and awards to get noticed.

Sony Pictures Classics co-prez Michael Barker, however, defended Oscar’s move to an earlier date (Feb. 29) from his more skeptical co-panelists.

“The proliferation of other awards shows has extended the season and members will see the movies they need to see,” he said. “Smaller indie films that used to open in December will open in September and October, and the Toronto and Venice film festivals will become more important to the process”.

“Monster’s Ball” got a big Oscar boost from Halle Berry’s win at the Berlin Film Fest in February 2002, but Lions Gate Releasing prez Tom Ortenberg said that Oscar’s date change will eliminate such a boost — largely diminishing Berlin’s former impact on the race.

“It’s a mixed bag,” he said. “The smaller pictures will have to go earlier and we will just have to beat the drum louder and faster.”

Paramount Classics co-prexy Ruth Vitale fears the big studios will also be moving their high-profile contenders earlier, making the loss of four weeks even more problematic for the smaller films.

Yet Momentum Pictures managing director David Kosse said it could open release schedules for indie pics. “In awards season there are countless options but in the other eight months of the year, there’s little to see,” he said.

Sands pointed out his company plans to release around six specialized films this summer. Picking the date is key, he said, noting that the issue isn’t competing with the majors but with other indies. Ortenberg added it’s becoming impossible to open a pic in N.Y. or L.A. unless it’s an event.

Targeting an audience in the age of the Internet is more possible than ever, said Ortenberg, using his current bird docu “Winged Migration” as an example.

“When I learned there were 35 million birdwatchers out there, I figured if we could reach a tenth of them (through Internet marketing) man, that would be great!”

Sesh was part of the Variety Village Cannes Conference Series.

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