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A Business of Ignorance: 6 Lessons from the New Digital Distrib Universe

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by Anthony Kaufman
July 23, 2013 3:06 PM
2 Comments
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What's the next trend in indie filmmaking thanks to the digital universe in which we live? Tween TV stars. Yes, that's right. Turns out Harmony Korine was ahead of the curve with his casting of Disney TV ingenues in "Spring Breakers." In my latest Industry Beat column for Filmmaker Magazine (not available online), I looked into the latest developments in digital distribution, including new strategic casting decisions, and I'm still not sure whether digital and VOD distribution is good or bad for the biz.

Here are 6 key takeaways from the story:

Fat, Sick
"Fast, Sick and Nearly Dead"'s Joe Cross is smiling, because his doc has found success with digital distribution.

1. Find a young TV star with a solid online fan base and you're gold.

"I'm seeing more and more films leveraging up-and-coming TV actors that have social media profiles," said Erick Opeka, Senior Vice President of Digital Distribution at Cinedigm Entertainment.

2. Over-supply is a problem.

"It's harder and harder for people to find stuff," says Brian Newman. "Yes, you get the sense that some people are succeeding – certain docs, Eddie Burns, Kevin Smith – but very few will target a niche that can be served, and very few have that direct relationship with the audience."

3. Digital successes are predictable.

Either horror films, starry Hollywood-imitation indies (Margin Call, Arbitrage, Bachelorette), and lots of docs, whether those suited to capitalize on young tech-savvy millennials (Indie Game: The Movie, Bones Brigade, Jedi Junkies), pop docs (Dave Grohl's Sound City, Journey doc Don't Stop Believin') or health and wellness docs (Hungry for Change, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead).

4. Theatrical runs are still key.

If producers can come up with about $100,000 for small theatrical runs, Gravitas' Nolan Gallagher believes it's a cost-effective strategy to achieve the necessary reviews and social media awareness to eventually be profitable—"if you have a great film," he adds.

5. It's better than nothing.

Low-budget narrative indie filmmakers aren't getting rich—two recent indie projects launched through Sundance Artists Services saw about 10,000-11,000 downloads--but they still welcome the platforms. "I think some filmmakers might be disappointed with that result," says Adam Bowers, writer-director-star of the comedy, The New Low. "But I feel lucky to have this. For me, these digital platforms seem to be the best option for dealing with that huge amount of movies [being made and released]."

6. A digital apocalypse for indies may be looming.

"I think there's going to be a big VOD apocalypse coming soon," says Brian Newman. "As soon as Hollywood starts messing more with windows and doing day and date, imagine viewers sitting at home on the weekend, and they have the option to see the latest Hollywood movie over an indie? Then screw it: indies are dead."

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2 Comments

  • Danny Indio | August 6, 2013 7:24 PMReply

    And in anticipation of an indie VOD collapse, I'm curious to know what the numbers for the indie dvd market are today as a parallel indicator. I wonder how many dvds indie filmmakers sold before the erosion of the dvd market to compare it to present-day sales. If the comparisons aren't too off then maybe indie filmmakers can still survive a Hollywood intrusion into VOD.

  • Danny Indio | August 6, 2013 7:20 PMReply

    Because oversupply is a problem maybe filmmakers should go full-tilt and brand themselves like rap and rock stars to stand out.

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