by Eugene Hernandez
"I'm just in it for the money", indie-stalwart Steve Buscemi's "Rockhound"
character declares in the big-budget Disney/Touchstone summer release,
"Armageddon" -- the line is sure to elicit laughs from any members of the
indie film community who see the movie. So, it should be no surprise that
when walking west on 57th Street earlier this week after a meeting, a
group of indieWIRE staffers stopped suddenly in front of a bus shelter at
Broadway and then burst into uproarious laughter. Stunned at the sight of
a headshot of Buscemi, his mug filling the large advertisment for the
movie, the group immediately noticed the telling tagline -- "He's doing it
for the money."
* * * * *
"I think that you're seeing (the) Hollywood way of doing business being
applied to the indie sector of the market," Variety reporter Monica Roman
told indieWIRE yesterday, reflecting a changing climate. Roman, the
Hollywood trade's primary New York film reporter and a regular on the
indie beat, continued, "The casting and the marketing and the distribution
are becoming more on par with Hollywood-type methods."
It is from this perspective that indieWIRE looks at week of business
activity in the independent film community. Clearly, not only does the use
of the term "independent" seem surreal in this context, but the impact of
Hollywood business practices becomes excruciatingly evident. The place to
start when looking at the big business world that some are now calling,
"Indiewood", is indeed Hollywood's trade bible.
Page one of Tuesday's Gotham edition of Variety fronted the headline,
"Indie scene crazed over 'Psycho' pic, looking at the fallout over Lions
Gate's deal with Leonardo DiCaprio to star in their new film, "American
Psycho." The "Psycho" drama captivated some and frustrated many as the
impact that an actor of DiCaprio's stature can have on a little indie film
became frighteningly apparent. "There's dealmaking and there's filmmaking,"
producer Ben Barenholtz told Variety, continuing, "This about dealmaking."
No truer statement about what is essentially the Hollywood-ization of
indie films could have been spoken.
Flashback to April 15th, when Lions Gate made the DiCaprio announcement
at Cannes. "Leonardo DiCaprio has agreed to play the lead role in Lions
Gate Film recently announced feature "American Psycho"," a company press
release confirmed, adding that the project would begin "principal photography
this fall in New York and a major director is currently being sought." Word
spread that the films original director Mary Harron and actor Christian Bale
were out, as was the film's $6 million budget was tossed in favor of a
reported $40 million price tag (half of which would go to DiCaprio). The
actor was said to be surveying a short list of directors to helm the project.
Yesterday, Variety again led with a telling front page story on the saga --
"DiCaprio not quite ready to go 'Psycho'", the Hollywood trade headlined, as
it reported the news from the DiCaprio camp that actor was by no means
signed to star. An indieWIRE call to Lions Gate yesterday was referred to
a Los Angeles public relations firm hired to handle company corporate
publicity. The L.A. rep stood by Lions Gate production president Mike
Paseornek's statement that seemingly contradicts the Cannes announcement,
"We have always understood this to be a situation where Leo was attached
to the movie based on the material. We never made claims that he has a
deal with us at this point." Yet, when pressed for some sort of
clarification, the publicist politely apologized and even joked that indieWIRE
should call in with any information we might uncover.
As the week progressed, the business of Indiewood peppered Hollywood trade
front pages, from an article about Australian filmmaker Robert Luketic's
three picture deal with Miramax, to yesterday's announcement that producer
Cary Woods has inked a five-year deal with New Line giving him $10 million
in equity for a pact that offers the company theatrical, video, and broadcast
rights to projects from the producer's "Independent Pictures" outfit.
According to the one report, the total capital infusion into "Independent"
could top $100 million.
If any further evidence was needed to prove that Indiewood means business,
one would need look no further than the way that companies have chosen to
unveil their latest Hollywood pacts. Even though Variety had already
revealed the deal, in the case of Luketic Miramax slept on indieWIRE's
request for a conversation with the filmmaker, ultimately referring the
call to the filmmaker's managers in Los Angeles. Apparently gone are the
days of accessibility and simplicity for the twenty-six year old filmmaker
who ultimately spoke with indieWIRE by phone from Sydney. And in the
case of Woods' "Independent" announcement, a call to the producer's L.A.
office was referred back to the Manhattan office of arguably the largest
and most influential entertainment public relations firm, PMK. A request
for a press release detailing Woods' deal became an unreturned telephone
message -- after all, this is Hollywood.
[EDITORS NOTE: Consistent with the way that we reported most business news during Cannes, beginning next week indieWIRE will publish most "Indiewood" biz news in a capsulized format. As always, press releases can be emailed to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or sent by FAX to the indieWIRE office at 212/581-1857.]