The problem is us…

The NY Times takes a look at the state of the indie world. At a time when so many indies did well at the Oscars last year, why are so many indie studios closing??

But that embarrassment of riches is a direct cause of the present desolation. Those movies were sent out into a brutally competitive marketplace, a Hobbesian battlefield of each against all. Competition may be healthy, but in this case the odds of winning seemed to grow increasingly long as the victories became pyrrhic. In principle, the middle-sized movie is a way to minimize financial risk. With some notable exceptions, like Miramax at the end of the Weinstein era, the specialty divisions have advertised their thrift and moderation, often capping production costs at $10 million or $15 million or $20 million.

Compared with the $100 million that the big studios now routinely spend on their franchise movies, that’s not a lot. But the effort to make good on even a modest investment frequently becomes an exercise in throwing bad money after good. Building an audience for a movie that doesn’t capitalize on the mass appeal of a pre-existing pop cultural brand is an expensive proposition, and a huge gamble.

Ah, market dynamics. Indies are hot, so there are a ton of indie movies. Then, there are too many indie movies and the producers need to spend more and more to get audiences to watch them. The game goes from being a high probability that a small investment will succeed to a low probability that your now high investment will succeed.

Ideally in true market dynamics, winners are weeded out from the losers. The “smart” players will stay around, get smarter and earn more of the small indie market, but do so profitably. IF it is a big enough market. Here’s the kicker –

Will there now be fewer? Would that be a bad thing? Will fewer mean better, or just more of the same? These questions have ultimately less to do with the movie business — which always changes and always stays the same — than with the state of the audience. All of these strategies of marketing, branding, campaigning and publicizing amount to a strenuous, sloppy effort to intuit the desire and influence the behavior of moviegoers. And the problem may be not that there are too many movies, but that there are too few of us.

As an aspiring filmmaker, I believe there will always be filmmakers who want to make indie movies – movies that are not feel-good, big budget movies. And there will always be an audience. The question the NY Times proposes is is the audience big enough.

I wonder. Does this audience only consume indies? No. They also consume big budget. So how many indies can they watch and how can yours be one of them? That’s what everyone is trying to solve.

I think the answer will not be to spend more. It will be to spend differently. The cost of acquisition has to go down, the engagement method has to be different. Will be fun to watch… and perhaps, at some point, participate 🙂