In Australia’s small market, indie distribs are rarely niche providers. Instead, they tread the line between a few select arthouse titles and the odd breakout hit to stay solvent.

“Two of our most successful films were at two ends of the spectrum. We had ‘Source Code’ that did almost A$6 million ($6.3 million) here and went wide and mainstream. At the other end of the spectrum we had ‘Incendies,’ the French-Canadian film that did about A$1 million ($1.05 million),” says Hopscotch Films topper Troy Lum. “I think films that work here are very distinctive, movies that cater to a very specific markets.”

Palace Films topper Nicolas Whatson agrees. “Films either work brilliantly or not at all, the middle ground seems to have slipped away,” he says. “The audience is either passionately interested in something or it’s really hard to get a result. That’s making Australian distributors more selective, or more careful, about what they launch theatrically.”

Local films have had a good year, led by Roadshow’s breakout hit “Red Dog,” which has nabbed $7.9 million.

In terms of cable and TV sales, Whatson says, “provided you have quality product those opportunities are still there,” but Lum admits it is still tough.

“We struggle compared to the studios and we have a first-look deal with Showtime so we are the lucky ones,” he says. “Free TV is very difficult.”

Both agree that VOD is providing a useful income stream, but they are not popping the champagne corks just yet.

“VOD is growing literally day by day, it’s becoming an income stream that is big enough for us to budget for, big enough for us to take notice of,” says Lum. “The court is still out on whether it’s going to replace the reduction in the DVD market, but we’re seeing some positive signs.”

Number of screens: 1,991
Number of 3D screens: 686
Top indie distribs and B.O.: Indie distribs in Oz account for around 15%-20% of the annual B.O., approx. A$1 billion ($1.05 billion) Palace Films and Cinemas: Distrib with an exhib chain that pitches to an arthouse audience. Has a strong foreign language bent. Hopscotch Films: One of Oz’s indie success stories, balancing big local films like “Mao’s Last Dancer” with foreign arthouse fare. Madman: Edgier distrib with a strong homevid market and a taste for special interest genres like anime and horror.
Top exhibition chains for indie films: Dendy: City-based chain that leans heavily on arthouse fare but with the occasional mainstream film. Palace Cinemas: Main outlet for Palace Films’ arthouse pics, particularly French and Italian titles. Greater Union: Big gun that unspools some of the indie distribs’ more mainstream fare.
Typical minimum guarantee paid: Most indies buy up and down the scale, but could range from $26,000 to $1.57 million depending on the film.
Typical gross split for theatrical: There is not a typical split but distribs quote a minimum of 25% and a maximum of 55%.
Top FIVE indie films: “Red Dog” ($7.9 million); “Source Code” ($6.3million); “Oranges and Sunshine” ($4 million); “Blue Valentine” ($1.46 million); “Incendies” ($1.05 million)
Upcoming indie pickups: “Midnight in Paris” (Hopscotch); “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Hopscotch); “Ages of Love” (Palace)