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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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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch