Is this the first stage of the return of the old studio system? Once upon a time studios didn’t just make films; they also distributed them in their own theaters. There’s a reason some cities still have old Paramount and RKO theaters kicking around. But that system died (and, in part, was killed off by a 1948 Supreme Court consent decree) leaving a fairly distinct separation between studios and exhibitors that has lasted for decades.
That old system is probably not coming back. And yet Regal and AMC, two of the biggest theater chains in the US, are now banding together to launch an initiative to buy and distribute independent films.
The LA Times has the report, and notes one of the big and possibly complicated points of this deal: suddenly theater chains would be in the dual role of working with studios on some films and competing with them on others.
(Granted, this isn’t the first complication in the relationship between studios and distributors. Universal was once owned by MCA, which also owned a big part of Cineplex Odeon; there was once a link between Sony and Loews Theaters; the third big theater chain, National Amusements, is owned by Sumner Redstone, also a controlling shareholder in Viacom, which owns Paramount; and there are business links between Regal and mini-studio Walden Media.)
The aim of this deal is to “seek out independently financed movies that may not otherwise make it into theaters, such as low-budget dramas, comedies and horror pictures.”
That adds an interesting new layer to the indie side of the business, which has gone through great changes over the past decade as small distributors have rapidly come and gone, and many indie stalwards have pronounced the sector dead or dying. This year is already looking like a better one for indies than most, however. The Oscar race is full of films and directors that either expressly represent the indie side of filmmaking or were born within it and still harbor that spirit. (Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, even The King’s Speech.) Sales were pretty brisk at Sundance and the first couple days of the European Film Market, going on now, have also been good to films without a studio home.
Movies that the currently unnamed venture picks up will automatically be programmed at AMC and Regal cinemas, but will also be offered to other chains. The venture will also release these films on DVD and to TV and the internet.