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Toronto: Picturehouse’s Bob Berney Touts Recent Successes of Indie Film Industry

Describing the North American releasing market as currently being in a “chaotic and disruptive state,” Picturehouse co-founder Bob Berney said that independent films left money on the table this year.

Berney was speaking Sunday at a Toronto industry seminar on the state of North American distribution.

His analysis of a summer season that was down 15% overall was one in which tentpoles did not hit the heights and one where counter-programming of indie fare worked well, but was underplayed.

“A number of independent films played this summer against the studio blockbusters. ‘Magic in the Moonlight,’ ‘Belle,’ ‘Boyhood,’ ‘Begin Again.’ These indie, platform-released films really did well. One reason was that there was not a lot else to see. There could have been at least five more. The marketplace would have allowed them. People went to see them or they stayed in theaters longer than they otherwise would have because there was not a lot around. The bigger platform-release companies didn’t pick up enough films. Everything is timing. Looking at the fall right after Toronto, it’s crowded.”

Part of the recent indie success may also have been attributed to better use of social media.

“Social-media tools are creating advance awareness for films, allowing marketing to be more targeted with both traditional and digital media. So we can use social media early and then spend media dollars closer to the theatrical opening, that’s getting us a lot further along and allowing us to complete with bigger films,” he said.

Berney suggested that digital distribution and shrinking windows are creating “more chances to get your film out, lots of paths to take,” while at the same time the number of companies in the traditional platform release business is shrinking.

“Multi-platform VOD, ultra VOD can open new channels for films that would otherwise have been considered busted or ‘almost theatrical’ movies,” Berney said.

He added that the DVD, Blu-ray and traditional home-entertainment markets are proving resilient.

“It’s a really slow death. DVD for certain genres is still huge. I still really believe in the theatrical experience, but each film has to be an event, and have a handcrafted marketing plan,” he said, arguing that distributors need to have passion and exhibitors need to keep reinventing themselves.

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