×

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Oscar Statue Oscars Placeholder

    Oscars 2020 Predictions: Who Will Get Nominated?

    The Oscar race is on. And it’s about to get a lot more intense when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces the nominations for the 92nd Oscars on Jan. 13. Golden Globes shutout “The Irishman” is favored to earn several nods, as will “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which went home [...]

  • Golden Globes Analysis Oscar Race

    Why Golden Globes Will Likely Have Little Effect on Oscar Nominations (Column)

    With the Globes now behind us and Oscar noms rapidly approaching on Jan. 13, what should we be paying attention to in Hollywood’s biggest film awards race? Surefire bets are Globe winners Renée Zellweger (“Judy”), who already has one Oscar, and Brad Pitt, who should garner his third acting nomination for his work in Quentin [...]

  • Renee Zellweger "Judy" Pathe

    Golden Globes Predictions: Who Will Win in the Film Categories?

    With the Golden Globes just around the corner, there’s only one thing that seems inevitable: Renée Zellweger will win for best actress in the drama category when the awards are handed out on Jan. 5. Besides that, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. can go in so many different directions, as the Globes are arguably the [...]

  • Joe Talbot Jimmie Fails Last Black

    Want a Career in the Arts? Build a Community (Guest Column)

    Last November, 400,000 writers from around the world agreed to spend a month with their friends writing novels. They met in libraries and cafés, cheered on by 1,000 volunteers. One writer, a 20-year-old college student, recently signed a two-book publishing deal. Previous novelists have had their books turned into Hollywood movies. And it wasn’t just [...]

  • Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in

    Can 'Little Women' Recover for Oscars After SAG Nominations Shutout?

    Where in the world was “Little Women”? That was the big question this morning when the 2020 SAG Award nominations were announced. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the classic novel was completely shut out by Wednesday’s nominations. It comes on the heels of “Little Women” snagging just two Golden Globe noms for Saoirse Ronan for lead [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    Golden Globes: Six Things to Know About the Film Nominations

    Most of Monday morning’s Globe nominations didn’t come as a big surprise. “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” have been ruling awards season – their many nominations were expected. But Globe wins don’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold — about half of best pic wins have been in sync [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content