×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Glut of Indie Films Divorces Itself From Laws of Supply and Demand

A network executive caused a stir the other day by complaining there was “too much television” out there. He was reacting to the fact that scripted series on cable had almost doubled in quantity over five years.

With the film festival season upon us, on the other hand, it’s the movie folks who might be most worried about the “too much” syndrome. With a profusion of new films on display in Toronto, Venice and Telluride, producers will be hard-pressed to find a niche for their movies in a fervid marketplace, where they’ll be competing against the buzzworthy content on TV.

Ask exhibitors if there’s too much product, however, and they’ll tell you there’s not enough — too few films have the juice to compete in an ever more diverse and crowded media universe. Reflecting this, the acquisition business at fests has become scarier for producers. “When a movie tanks, the distributor always says, ‘I spent only $2 million for the rights,’ forgetting to add that he put $15 million into prints and advertising,” observes a top specialty film distributor.

The super-abundance of TV programming can be traced to the basic laws of supply and demand — the network appetite keeps growing. The increase in indie film production is more idiosyncratic. Basically, there seem to be a lot of people who want to make movies; mostly rich people. While the Disneys and Universals focus on movies with billion-dollar potential, the new class of billionaire investors is willing to aim for more limited payoffs.

A case in point is Broad Green Pictures, funded by billionaire brothers Gabriel and Daniel Hammond, who are co-funding and distributing at least 12 films this year. Most are ambitious pictures aimed specifically at the smarthouse circuit, but their backers are going about it cautiously. Broad Green spent $3 million to acquire “99 Homes” at last year’s Toronto market and, a year later, after warily guiding the film through the exigencies of the fest circuit, will release it this month.

99 Homes” is a socially conscious film about corrupt capitalism — specifically the exploitation of middle-class home owners by real estate hustlers. There’s a degree of irony in the fact that this message is funded by a hedge fund and Abu Dhabi.

While well-funded new entities like Broad Green, A24 and Bleecker Street are stepping up output in the specialty arena, the opposite end of the spectrum — genre films — also is luring investors intrigued by the worldwide horror audience. “Genre films represent the only sector of the business where a good story can make money internationally without star casting or a big-name distributor,” says producer J.D. Lifshitz, who should know.

Lifshitz is a ferociously ambitious film nerd who, at age 22, is about to start production on his seventh genre film. He recently closed a deal with a Hong Kong entity, appropriately called Making
Horror, to further expand his slate. Intense but good-natured, with a keen sense of humor, Lifshitz and his 23-year-old partner, Raphael Margules, are middle-class kids who squandered their
meager savings on a trip to the Cannes Film Festival last year. They spent $6,600 to lease a basement booth to which they dragged prospective foreign buyers to see movies. Their business plan is lean and mean: Their films cost less than $1 million, they take nominal fees, and martial eager (and inexpensive) young filmmakers. Their intent is to challenge established genre rivals like Jason Blum’s Blumhouse.

Filmmaking may be a tenuous business, its economics more haphazard than TV, but its lure is as formidable as ever.

More Voices

  • FX Confronts Streaming Thanks to Disney

    Kicking and Screaming, FX Is Forced to Confront Future in the Stream (Column)

    During his network’s presentation at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, FX chief John Landgraf made waves — and headlines — by mounting perhaps his most direct criticism yet of Netflix. Landgraf, whose briefings to the press tend to rely heavily on data about the volume of shows with which FX’s competitors flood the [...]

  • Longtime TV Editor Recalls Working for

    How a Bad Director Can Spoil the Show (Guest Column)

    I have been blessed with editing some of TV’s greatest shows, working with some of the industry’s greatest minds. “The Wonder Years,” “Arrested Development,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” “Pushing Daisies” and, most recently, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” I have earned an Emmy, ACE Eddie Awards, and many nominations. But whatever kudos I’ve received, over my [...]

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

  • Hollywood Has Come Far With Diversity

    An Insider's Look at Hollywood's Diversity Efforts and How Far It Still Needs to Go

    I am a white man working in Hollywood. I grew up in Beverlywood, an all-white, predominantly Jewish, Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between 20th Century Fox Studios and MGM, where my elementary school had only one black student. I am compelled to write about diversity in Hollywood because “diversity” — in front of and behind the camera [...]

  • Venice Film Festival A Star is

    How Venice, Toronto and Telluride Festivals Stole Cannes' Luster (Column)

    In all the years I’ve been attending film festivals, I have never seen a lineup that looked as good on paper as Venice’s did this fall, boasting new films by Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), Mike Leigh (“Peterloo”) and the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) in competition, [...]

  • Black Women in Medicine BTS

    Hollywood Needs to Include People With Disabilities on Both Sides of the Camera (Guest Column)

    In five years, nothing has changed. Despite open calls for greater diversity and inclusion, recent research shows that there was little change in the number of characters with disabilities in popular films in 2017. A study conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content