The problem with independent distribution is that it costs a lot of money to keep the machine running. The numbers of outsiders are legion who have jumped into distribution because they blanch at the money they think they are leaving on the floor with onerous releasing deals.
It takes guts, several years of deep-pocket spending and lots of know-how to make distribution work. Indomina Releasing, the distribution wing of the Dominican Republic's Indomina Group, is the latest indie to shut down its North American operations, with 15 L.A.-based jobs lost as of Friday due to the closure. "They want to be guys who are creating content, not releasing films," stated their Rogers & Cowan spokesman.
None of Indomina's domestic releases passed the $1 million mark: the one that came closest was Bart Layton's Sundance doc "The Imposter," which was shortlisted for the Oscar but did not make the final five. Other worthy Indomina releases, including Leos Carax's well-reviewed "Holy Motors," Tsui Hark's "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" and his big-budget Jet Li-starrer "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" in 3-D, and Sundance pick-up "LUV," from Sheldon Candis, have labored to reach audiences and hang onto screens, often without sufficient marketing support.
Choosing opening slots is about deft timing and picking the right moments. And building a distribution machine is about growing over time, with steady output. "You can buy difficult films and keep them playing, until you get a breakthrough and move up, like Chutes and Ladders," says one veteran distributor. "They thought they could buy films and throw them out there like a piece of meat."
Working with the indie was a challenge for some of their partners. Indomina was described by one vendor as a "hornet's nest" of disorganization, with acting CEO Bruce Kirkland struggling to get answers in time for ad-buying deadlines, which hurt the films. Many, especially "The Imposter," could have done even better with proper handling. "They were ostensibly in this business," says the vendor, who demanded up-front cash payment. "But they had no idea about this business."
Indomina is now seeking new homes for its titles, including the Sundance 2012 acquisition "Filly Brown," which stars Gina Rodriguez, Edward James Olmos and the late Jenni Rivera, who died in a plane accident last month.
While distribution will end, the company's L.A. office will remain open. Indomina, based in Santo Domingo and run by vice-chairman and CEO Jasbinder Singh Mann, is focusing now on producing TV and movies such as "Cabin Fever: Patient Zero" and its sequel and Samuel L. Jackson's adaptation of "Afro Samurai." Indomina's production and foreign sales execs, including former acquisition exec Rob Williams, are heading to Berlin in February.