By Open Book
The 64th, 2011 Festival de Cannes or Cannes Film festival is set to hand out its awards for best film on May 22, 2011. Cannes is one of the most influential film festivals in the film industry. Followed closely behind are Berlin International Film festival, The New York Film festival, and Venice Film festival and of course Sundance.  Film festivals are where independent filmmakers go to showcase their films in hopes of getting distribution. Yet, in the last two years major studios have scaled back the number of indie films it distributes and or produce. Why? We will uncover the reason distributors are being cautious, plus review why American audiences prefer to see blockbusters in theaters versus indie films.
Film festivals are wonderful places where creative minds, smart audiences and industry heavyweights come together to celebrate emerging talents. They provide networking and business opportunities for innovative indie filmmakers. It’s a place where acquisitions are made and obscure films get discovered. Film festivals typically run for about two weeks bringing a lot of tourism dollars to cities and states. For example Robert DeNiro and Jane Rosenthal started Tribeca Film festival in New York in 2001 following the World Trade center attacks to support the rebuilding of lower Manhattan. Tribeca Film festival has quickly become one of the largest bringing in two million attendees and generating 425 million dollars in revenue for New York City each year. Yet, due to the high number of indie films over flooding the multiplex (simply put, there are too many films and not enough theaters) film studios over the last two years began scaling back the amount of indie films they produce and distribute.  This trend has impacted indie filmmakers and film festivals around the world.
Do American audiences prefer blockbusters to Indie Films? The big six studios like Warner Brothers, Columbia, Paramount, Disney, Universal and Fox seem to think so. They own independent film studios that produce Art House specialty films that cater to a certain niche. But some studios like Warner Brothers in the last two years have shut down their specialty film devisions. In 2005 15% of domestic box office revenue was from independent film studios. In the 1990’s the Indie film movement was at an all time high due in part to the Sundance Film festival it discovered talents such as Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Paul T. Anderson and Steven Soderbergh. Investors outside the major studios were now distributing indie films in huge numbers. Then major studios took notice and began developing independent studios of their own. They include, Sony Pictures Classics in 1992, Fox Searchlight in 1995, Paramount Classics 1998, Focus Features 2002, Warner Independent 2003(which is now closed) and Relativity Media 2008.
By early 2000 Hollywood was producing three different categories of films. They included 1) Big Budget Blockbuster, 2) Art House, which is produced by Hollywood conglomerate indie studios mentioned above. 3) Genre and Specialty films coming from true indie studios and producers who flood the film festivals looking for distribution each year. Yet, Hollywood has begun to reduce the amount of Art house and Specialty films in favor of producing more commercial Big Budget films. Why? In an article by Jeffrey Taylor from Showbiz Management Advisors he states;
“Major film distributors are being far more cautious in acquiring independently financed films for distribution, a situation that has dramatically slowed business at major film gatherings, including Sundance in January and Cannes in May. At Sundance, highly anticipated films drew few bites from buyers.”
Consumers can see this trend by the number of Big Budget Re-makes, Sci-Fi and Action/Adventure films slated to come out this year. Many of these films allow studios to charge higher ticket prices due to 3-D technology. But wait! Don’t indie films cost less to produce than a Big Budget CGI film? Yes, but they cost more to market. Due to over-saturation of indie films in theaters, it has driven up the marketing cost to compete with other films. Also, many argue the reason indie films fail at the box office because consumers are choosing to see Blockbusters instead of indie films. Today it’s safe to assume average moviegoers prefer to see big visual special effect films in theaters and wait to see indie critically acclaimed films at home. All this has changed the market and climate for indie filmmakers and some fear the worst is yet to come. In Part-2 of this series we will review the future of indie films.
Also see: Blockbuster vs. Indie Films: Part 2