On the eve of the fall film festivals, I’ve been working on articles for Variety and Filmmaker Magazine, talking to distributors and producers about the current state of the market. And like a broken record player, industry-ites keep talking about “new technologies” and “new modes of delivery” as the saviors of a film production/distribution model that is fundamentally dysfunctional in the current moment. When you think about it, it’s shocking to consider that hundreds of millions of dollars, countless jobs and companies are all relying on a future that isn’t quite here yet. Movies, with significant budgets, are still being produced, even though so few domestic distributors are able to pay enough money to cover their costs (and the “new modes” are waiting to take hold).
The ultra-low budget arena has its own set of problems. But bigger budget movies without distribution in place — the kind looking to make a splash in Toronto (i.e. “Brighton Rock,” “Henry’s Crime,” “Everything Must Go,” “What’s Wrong with Virginia,” “Rabbit Hole,” etc.) — are competing for a very few number of coveted spots–and without landing a home at Lionsgate, Summit, Fox Searchlight, Focus or maybe The Weinstein Company, I can’t imagine they have other workable options.
What will this rose-colored future look like, exactly? Will digital downloads and VOD sales make up for the downturn in DVD? Will digital theatrical distribution save such costs on prints that films will be able to reach more audiences at lesser expense? Will producers of bigger indies even need distributors (certainly lower budget films may not)? This stuff better work itself out soon, or a whole lot of folks are going to be looking for another line of work.