Hurley Antics: 101 - The Independent Film Market
It was not until the late 1980's that independent films became popular in the market place. Independent films eventually found a place along side the blockbusters. Increasingly over time, independent films took more market share of box office returns than studio films. Contrary to the high-risk nature of studio produced films, independent films have high-profit potential. Furthermore, the potential for a greater return on an independent film far exceeds that of a studio produced film. This is predominately because independent films generally use lower paid actors/actresses and have lower budgets.
One film from this particular genre, Napoleon Dynamite (2004), had a production budget of $400,000 and turned a worldwide gross of $45,658,577. Another comedy example is Sideways. With a budget of $17,000,000, Sideways grossed an astronomical $109,502,303, on top of being nominated for five Academy Awards. One of which won "Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published." Waiting, an additional example, had a United States gross of $16,101,109 when the production budget was only $3,000,000.
The potential for large returns from independent films is not their sole convincing aspect. Of the five Nominees for Best Picture in the 2006 Academy Awards: Crash, Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Goodnight and Good Luck, and Munich, four were independent films. Crash took home the Oscar.
For the past five years, the market for these films has grown exponentially. More independent films are being made now than ever before and there are now more avenues for creating and distributing these films. One such means for distribution is the foreign market. For example, the 2006 release Borat, which was created independently, was distributed by 20th Century Fox in 19 countries including France, Germany, Brazil, Japan, the UK, USA and others. Not to mention Sacha Baron Cohen's Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy/musical.
Another channel for independent filmmakers and producers to distribute their films comes from the festival circuit. Robert Redford started the Sundance Film Festival in 1981. Since its establishment, people have flocked to see the newest independent creations every year. The conception of the Sundance Film Festival was crucial in advancing the art of the independent film. Hundreds of festivals have since have arisen throughout the US and abroad further allowing filmmakers to present their work on the big screen.
The festival circuit is a goldmine for these filmmakers as large distribution companies send representatives to find the next big independent film. Intriguing festivals include Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Melbourne, Roma and Shanghai for their reputation as the leading festivals in the world. Other festivals to look at are Greenwich, Fairfield County, Newport, Boston and Tribeca. These festivals are especially interesting to us because of their geographical location. These festivals tend to promote films shot in their regions in order to foster more overall interest in film in their surrounding communities.
This is especially true in the tri-state area and New England, both of which have many advocates working to establish a greater film industry on the East Coast. This revolution of east coast filmmaking today is perhaps led by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal who started the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002. The festival was founded to "celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute to the long-term recovery of lower Manhattan [post 9/11]." This particular festival is the goal for all east coast independent filmmakers.
In the past decade, the star system of filmmaking has driven the budgets of studio produced films through the roof. Many studio films will pay their actors immense salaries of $10 million plus; one more reason to go independent. Actors such as Edward Norton (American History X) Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking), Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine) and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland- 2007 Golden Globe Winner for Best Performance in a Movie, Drama) have jumped on the independent circuit among many other A-List actors. Add those to 2006 Academy Award nominees Matt Dillon (Crash), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain-also starring Jake Gylenhol), David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck-Also starring George Clooney) and Terrence Howard (Hustle $ Flow) and of course Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Winner, Best Actor - Capote) Oftentimes, these actors will defer all or part of their salary in order to take a percentage of the film's net profits. Having one of these A-list stars will not only increase a film's interest in the festival circuit, but also attract attention from distributors.
A final motive to create an independent film is the cost of technology. With the recent waves of technology driving the prices of cameras, film and lighting equipment lower, it is easier and cheaper than ever to rent this equipment. In addition, with less interference from studio big wigs, independents are often shot in half the time of major studio films. This, in turn, lowers the film's overall budget and the time required to generate the final product.