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DISPATCH FROM LOS ANGELES: Insiders, Observers, and Many Others Wonder: Is the Sky Really Falling?

DISPATCH FROM LOS ANGELES: Insiders, Observers, and Many Others Wonder: Is the Sky Really Falling?

“Attached. Locked,” Mark Gill said in a brief email to PR reps late Tuesday, June 17th. He was sending a final PDF version of “Yes, The Sky Really Is Falling,” a keynote speech he would deliver in a few days at Film Independent‘s Film Financing Conference during the Los Angeles Film Festival. “Let’s talk about what to do in terms of publicity,” he noted in the short message, time stamped near midnight. By Sunday, 24 hours after the speech, numerous people were buzzing about his remarks, but on Monday, as insiders began forwarding online links to the transcript speech, the reaction intensified. “I’ve already received it nine or ten times,” an industry insider told Gill, “I am going to scream, please make it stop!” In the past four days — as of late morning local time today (Thursday) — the article had been read on indieWIRE more than 99,100 times, a whopping immediate response.

While at the Provincetown International Film Festival over the weekend, I published the text of Mark Gill’s provocative keynote speech as a First Person article on indieWIRE. Within a couple of hours at the Massachusetts festival, producer Ted Hope approached me to talk more about Gill’s remarks. The next day — after participating in a PIFF panel discussion with Greg Araki, Mary Harron, Tom Kalin, John Waters, and Christine Vachon — Hope sent some thoughts to his wide email list of friends and colleagues, including a link to Gill’s speech.

“In these discussions, and in the articles attached below, it’s clear that Business of Indie Film is looking for a new paradigm,” Ted Hope wrote in Monday’s email message. “We are between things and the old model no longer works and the new one is undefined. But I see some real hope nonetheless.” He continued, “This change has been much discussed for the last fifteen years, but the digital revolution is very slow in coming. This slow trickle has, in my opinion, allowed for a withering away of what truly made the indie film world unique, which is the glue that kept it a community and not just a demographic. Digital downloads won’t be anyone’s salvation, but the internet can truly rebuild what has collapsed — but it’s time to look at the infrastructure first.”

“Time and time again, films emerge that define a community and the community comes out to support in droves,” Hope said, “Similarly, it truly feels to me that we are at a cultural crossroads, where we — as a community of filmmakers and film lovers — are in real danger of losing access to a dynamic range of personal cinema, unless the various communities start to take steps to unite and speak up for the world they want.”

Chatting with indieWIRE last night in Los Angeles, Mark Gill noted that the majority of comments he’s received since making the remarks have essentially noted, “Well, somebody needed to say that.” While he was reiterating points that insiders have been making for some time now, in his words, Gill “collected it all and put an overarching theme over it…’The Sky is Falling speaks to their deepest fears, ‘Holy shit, the sky is falling’.”

“Really great communication has a way of hitting a nerve, whether its a movie or a speech,” Mark Gill concluded, “For whatever reason, this seems to have hit kind of a raw one it seems.”

Over drinks at Tuesday’s IFC Films and Blockbuster party at the Sunset Marquis — celebrating IFC’s Los Angeles Film Festival slate — numerous attendees were still buzzing about Gill’s speech. A staffer from a leading Hollywood talent agency noted that Gill’s comments were making the rounds via insiders and assistants, posted in internal bulletin boards and shared widely. Also at the party, Variety‘s Anne Thompson wisely likened it to the wake-up call that came from the infamous “Katzenberg Memo” back in 1991. In a blog post about Gill’s remarks, she wrote over the weekend, “Unfortunately, most of the folks trying to make indie movies these days, as was revealed at my film financing panel Saturday (including producer Cathy Schulman, ICM’s Hal Sadoff and New Bridge Capital’s Danny Mandel), seem to be trying to make genre thrillers with someone on the list of not-too-costly actors between the age of 20 and 30 who foreign sales agents want to sell in territories around the world (where interest in American product seems to be drying up).”

“I am not of the belief that we are at the end of indies, but that we are at the end of a certain kind of cycle, particularly regarding theatrical distribution,” offered David Poland, on his own blog, three days ago, “I am not of the belief that this is a ‘sky is falling’ moment in which people are panicking for no reason, but that there is a real paradigm shift going on and that indie distributors are as slow in adjusting mindset at the major studios.”

“We’ve known that the indie business was full of peril for years. But is there a way out of the current doldrums?” asked LA Times writer Patrick Goldstein, via his own new blog, also on Monday. “The real problem with the indie business isn’t quality, but discipline. We have a generation of filmmakers who feel entitled to make personal films at studio prices,” Goldstein continued, “If people in the indie world want to start making money again, they have to start treating their investment like a truly precious natural resource, not like Monopoly money. Discipline is not antithetical to art. The oldest and most consistently successful specialty division, Sony Pictures Classics, keeps making money because it resolutely, sometimes to a fault, never overspends on a film. When there is a bidding war, you can always find SPC chiefs Tom Bernard and Michael Barker running in the other direction.”

Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard seems unfazed, calling this merely “a periodic market adjustment,” in Sunday’s Philadephia Inquirier article by Carrie Rickey. Salon.com‘s Andrew O’Hehir referenced Rickey and then ran with his own response to Gill’s remarks earlier this week in a column that stirred the blogosphere on Tuesday. “Even as the potential moviegoing public has become distracted by an explosion of electronic options and devices unimagined a generation ago, the marketplace has been swamped by a poisonous glut of new movies,” O’Hehir wrote. “There are two contradictory ways of looking at the current crisis, and as is customary with these things, they’re both partly accurate without quite grasping the big picture. On one hand, this rapidly snowballing market crash seemed to come out of nowhere… O’Hehir noted, continuing, “On the other hand, even if nobody saw this coming, we should have seen something coming. The national economy has slipped into what looks like a protracted recession, the supply pipeline is clogged with crap, the future of film distribution is literally up in the air and the audience is distracted, distraught and fragmented. Newspapers, broadcast TV, the music industry and other media have suffered precipitous downturns.”

“Can the Internet Save Indie Film?” wonders the headline of a blog post yesterday in Conde Nast Portfolio, while in the New York Times Charles Lyons took a closer look in today’s article for the paper of record. The buzz even hit Entertainment Weekly‘s PopBuzz blog.

“Is the indie-film business dying or on the verge of reinventing itself? Or is the indie biz a canary in the coal mine whose symptoms indicate bigger problems for all of Hollywood? And what should be done to fix them?” wrote Gary Susman in the EW blog post, asking the Entertainment Weekly readers to weigh in with thoughts.

“Indy movies and horror movies have one major element in common. Every few years some ‘insider’ will come out and say the industry’s dying. Then, some brilliant director comes out of left field saves the genre entirely,” writes commenter “EP Sato,” “Trends in popular culture tend to come and go in waves. Yes, Independent film as we know it IS dying. But I’d argue that the ‘independent’ films weren’t that ‘independent’ to begin with… ‘Independent’ in the 1990s meant making a movie with maxed out credit cards and good friends (like Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez did), but in the 2000s it meant major financing and marketing via major movie studios for lesser known fare.”

“Independent film will always be around,” continued Ep Sato on the EW blog, “The question is how will the medium be available to consumers? Is the arthouse theater dead? Maybe. Are ‘independent’ studios on the outs? Probably. But moviegoers will always appreciate the unique and quirky indy film experience that the studios will always be unwilling to risk.”

Mark Gill’s complete First Person article was published earlier this week by indieWIRE.

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