Is Independent Cinema Dead? Variety Editor Peter Bart Says So

The following quote is attributed to Variety's Pam McClintock:

"The worst thing that ever happened to indie film was that the studios decided it was a good business."

And while I agree with that statement, I'm not sure I agree that Independent Movies are on the "endangered species list" as Variety editor Peter Bart writes in his latest blog entry. Bart claims that studio expectations for their art house divisions were too high. "Their production budgets were too lofty and their marketing budgets too ambitious," Bart writes, pointing towards the downward box office trend for specialty films in 2008. Here are the Variety numbers:

2006: $416 million

2007: $330 million

2008 (so far): $161 million

While I do agree that the specialty film market is on a down turn, I think it is unfair to point to 2008's numbers as an accurate indication of such. For example, Juno was probably the biggest indie film of last year, earning $143 million, and it wasn't released until December. And there was no indication that it would be such a huge hit. Heck, no one had even seen the film until Telluride/Toronto. So I think it is far to early to count 2008 out.

That said, I think the quality of films being produced is not the real problem, but instead the marketing pushes behind them. For my money, The Wackness and American Teen were on level with the mini-major indies of years past, but both films were poorly represented to the mainstream public. One only has to look at the posters for each of the films mentioned to understand a problem exists. But this isn't anything new. Picturehouse released King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters last year, and it barely went on to break a half-million dollars domestically. The film is one of the best reviewed movies of all time, and has huge appeal to the number one demographic in this country.

The problem is that the mini-majors don't know how to sell a movie that can't sell itself. Sony Pictures Classics doesn't understand how to market a film, instead they prey heavily on possible award nominations for the needed push. And Fox Searchlight seems to be the only studio that knows how to market these type of films correctly. They have released eight "studio indies" in the past five years that have made over $32 million at the box office. But on the other hand, even Searchlight's future line-up seems a bit weak. Choke is a low-budget R-rated comedy with the ability to reach the college-aged crowd, but it certainly doesn't have the mainstream appeal of a Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. Don't get me wrong, I love the movie, but there is only so far a film like Choke can go.

So what is the answer? Is independent film dead? And if so, who is to blame?

Discuss: What do you guys think?