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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

The Numerical State Of Indie Distirbution

After writing about the sales at Toronto that were mostly steam, I wondered how the indie distribution scene was looking. So I decided to take a look. All the numbers in this piece are as of this week. So some companies may have more hits or distribute more films this year. Yes. But I think you’ll get the general sense of things…

Six non-studio distributors have had at least one release this year-to-date that grossed over $20 million domestically.

To my eye, that is a new tier of distribution. Let’s call them The Mid-Indies: Weinstein Co, Summit, Relativity, Lionsgate, FilmDistrict, and CBS Films. Only one of these companies, Liongate, existed before 2005. Open Road is being built to be in that category. And Roadside Attractions delivered for The Conspirator, the $11.5m domestic grosser that is their all-time high.

Combined with The Dependants (Fox Searchlight, Focus, and Sony Classics), this is now The Middle in the movie business. Quality drama, smaller genre, and high-aiming doc & foreign language. And it looks pretty healthy. (Sony Classics has the top Dependant grosser to date this year with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and its $54.4m gross to date.)

Summit, Weinstein, and Lionsgate are the only non-Dependants that have been over the $100m domestic mark with a film. And through these years, it’s just been two for the Weinsteins, one for Lionsgate (with the Miramax F9/11 pick-up not really their film to claim), and the 3 Twilight films for Summit with 2 more to come. Those moments are great and glorious, but not the business model.

The high-flier amongst The Mid-Indies this year has been Relativity’s Limitless, which did $79.3m domestic.

You hit your first independently distributed title not released by this group at $5.2 million… IFC’s big doc number for Herzog’s 3Doc Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I tend to pair IFC and Magnolia as The VODers, though IFC is a bit more aggressive about theatrical than Magnolia is. They have four $1m+ releases this year compared to Magnolia’s one. Regardless, both share the VOD model and the greatest success so far in exploiting that model.

The fourth group I would note are the True Indies. These are companies that release at least three movies a year, hover between $1000 and $5 million per picture and more often than not expect to do under $10 million a year total in domestic theatrical.

This year, 16 distributors had at least one film grossing $1m, but none as high as $5.2 million: Codeblack, Rocky Mountain Pictures, Anchor Bay, Eros, Freestyle, Goldwyn, Music Box, Newmarket, Palladin, Reliance Big Pictures, Producers Distribution, Shorts International, SMODcast, Visio, UTV, and Zeitgeist. But of those 16 distributors, 8 released just one film this year, really qualifying as ongoing True Indie distributors.

Thing is, the companies that are real ongoing True Indie distributors haven’t have the big wins that some of the one-offs have, Outside of the Majors, Mid-Indies, the Dependants, and the VODers, the top distributors were Codeblack with $5.2m for its one release, Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain, and Rocky Mountain Pictures with it’s one release, Atlas Shrugged. The highest grosser in this True Indie class is Anchor Bay’s $1.2m for Kill The Irishman.

This tells you a lot about where the theatrical business is for the smart, proud, and often veteran companies. If $1.2m is the best you can hope for after 9 months of the year have passed, the risk/reward in chasing theatrical with marketing dollars is leaning the wrong way.

Add to the group of 7 from two paragraphs above another 20 distributors who release at least 3 films a year, none of which has grosses as much as $1.2m domestically: Abramorama, Alive Mind, China Lion, Cinema Guild, Film Movement, First Run, Image, Indican, International Film Circuit, Kino, Lorber, Monterey Media, Nat Geo, Oscilloscope, Phase Four, Rialto, Screen Media, Strand, The Film Desk, and Variance Films.

These 27 companies are the True Indies. To date this year, they have grossed a combined $30.3 million domestic.

So that’s my sense of things. Four major versions of indies, plus the self-distribution players and one-timers. Four very different sets of ambitions.

All in, 30 indie films so far this year grossing over $10m. 78 indie films at $1m or over. 277 indie films under $1 million. 184 of those indie films under $100k.

Tough business.

(Edited, Sunday 11:20p – Correction on distribution of The Conspirator.)

4 Responses to “The Numerical State Of Indie Distirbution”

  1. JKill says:

    What do the Middle, Dependents, and True Indies spend in P&A in contrast to the majors? Also, what about for the “wide” VOD release of a Magnolia or IFC?

  2. Krillian says:

    I forgot Newmarket existed til I read this. Seems like they were more successful/prominent a few years ago.

  3. krazyeyes says:

    Considering that the Upcoming Releases section of the Newmarket website says “Check back soon!” it looks like Newmarket has forgotten they exist too.

  4. Richard Hell says:

    Dave, your son is a dependant. Fox Searchlight is a dependent. Please fix. Thank you.

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“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

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