Is the Sky Falling for Independents? Film Execs Say Not Yet

A trio of newbie distribution outfits — Bleecker Street, Broad Green Pictures and Saban Films — remain upbeat amid the profound changes percolating through Hollywood.

Execs with each, plus “Sicario” producer Molly Smith, appeared Saturday at the Produced By conference at the Sony lot on the panel alarmingly titled “Is the Sky Falling? The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Independent Film Producers.”

“I don’t think the sky is falling,” said Bleecker Streets’s Andrew Karpen. “There’s clearly a market for over-35 audiences in  theatrical releases.”

Bleecker Street’s successes so far include “Eye in the Sky” with $18 million, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “Trumbo” — the latter two with over $7 million each, despite limited theatrical release. Karpen noted that it’s crucial to not overreach with more screens than needed, and to recognize where the audience is going to be.

“If we can’t determine who that core audience is, we’re probably not going to get involved,” he added.

Daniel Hammond, chief operating officer for Broad Green, noted that the new studio decided that “A Walk in the Woods” had enough broad appeal to merit a wide release of nearly 2,000 screens, taking in nearly $30 million — despite mixed reviews.

“On a wide release, reviews are less important,” a bemused Hammond noted.

He added that Broad Green sees a focus on wide release as the sensible approach, underlined by making “Straight Outta Compton” producer Matt Alvarez its president of production as the majors focus most of their resources on tentpoles and franchises.

“We’re pushing in-house development,” he added. “We’re strongest in wide release.”

Smith said a similar approach worked with drug war drama “Sicario,” financed by her Black Label Media which found plenty of traction and wound up grossing $46 million domestically via Lionsgate. “You have be nimble today, disciplined and conservative,” she noted.

Jonathan Saba of Saban Films noted that his label has often opted to go the VOD route rather than theatrical. Saban released 2014’s “The Homesman,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank, and generated $2.4 million theatrically, a move it will make perhaps once a year.

“We’re agnostic to the medium of distribution,” Saba said. “We have not lost money on a film yet.”

The hour-long panel, moderated by Landmark Theater’s Ted Mundorff, lacked any bashing of the new giant players Amazon and Netflix. ‘For an independent producer, Amazon and Netflix are great partners,” Hammond said.

Broad Green signed a TV output deal in April with Amazon Prime.

 

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