Bad News on the Indie Front?

The indie world is abuzz with predictions of doom and gloom over two separate events that happened last week. First, the powerful (read: financially and artistically successful) independent sales and financing companies HanWay Films and Celluloid Dreams are teaming up to create a company called Dreamachine. Second, the Tribeca Film Festival has decided to raise their ticket price to $18.

You may be wondering how this is going to affect you, or even if it will, especially if you just plug whatever indie title you read about into your NetFlix or GreenCine queue and wait for them to arrive at your door. Well, it will affect you. Allow me to explain.

Dreamachine

I’ll start with the merger. Anthony Kauffman highlighted the possible negative repercussions of the team-up in this article and this follow-up. He doesn’t say that the merger is a bad thing for the new company, but instead worries that their focus on larger projects will leave the younger and edgier style of auteur films, the type that they used to support, out in the cold. According to Kauffman, “The union also signals a move away from the foreign art cinema that defined Celluloid, long a destination for both burgeoning and veteran auteurs, from Francois Ozon and Jia Zhang-Ke to Takeshi Kitano and Abbas Kiarostami.”

The worry is that if no new sales company steps up, these movies will never get distribution and will never be available on NetFlix or GreenCine.

Film Festival exhibition

But maybe you live in an area that has a strong film festival that shows a lot of foreign titles. You’ll still be able to see some of those acclaimed titles there, won’t you? Maybe not.

When a film has distribution it’s much easier for a festival to get a print. A foreign production company that has yet to land a distribution deal won’t always see the benefit to showing their film at festivals. On top of the festival paying to ship the print to and from a foreign country (an expected cost), they may charge a screening fee that no festival could recoup with ticket sales. The choice becomes to either raise money through sponsors and foreign embassies or drop the films.

Without exposure, you will never hear about these films and won’t put them on your NetFlix or GreenCine queue, no matter their quality.

The Tribeca Price Hike

Which brings us to the Tribeca Film Festival and their choice to raise ticket prices from $12 for non-special event shows to $18. This has inspired a lot of speculation combined with a “wait and see” attitude. Most people think it’s stupid and arrogant to charge that much. After all, most festivals charge the price of a standard movie ticket, or maybe a little more.

The first thing you should know is that festivals rarely pay filmmakers to show their films, instead compensating them with exposure and maybe a trip to a city they haven’t been to before. Will the increased ticket price change that? No. And it may have the detrimental effect of diminishing the size of the audience willing to take a chance on it.

And this is where the speculation kicks in. Does Tribeca need the extra money because they’re paying these crazy screening fees? It’s doubtful, because every festival fights to keep the rental fees far below the cost of the shipping. The real question is: Will production companies and foreign distributors come back to Tribeca next year and demand bigger fees because of their inflated ticket prices? I suspect they will. And I suspect based on this article that Tom Hall, the director of programming at the Sarasota Film Festival, would agree with me.

Worse yet, once a couple of festivals buckle and start paying large screening fees, the companies will expect it from other festivals. Fewer festivals would be able to afford it, and the films themselves will get less exposure.

Once again, you will have fewer chances to hear about potentially great films, much less be able to rent them.

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If he could, Andy Spletzer would exhibit all the best movies for free and pay large screening fees for them, too.