The Myth of the “Indie” Film

There was a time that Google was considered an upstart; a maverick search engine going up against the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft and a raft of other better known, better financed companies. Similarly, film distributors like Miramax, Vestron and October Films were scrappy mavericks going up against the major studios. They were underdogs. They […]

Last Updated: January 28, 2009 @ 6:27 PM
There was a time that Google was considered an upstart; a maverick search engine going up against the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft and a raft of other better known, better financed companies. Similarly, film distributors like Miramax, Vestron and October Films were scrappy mavericks going up against the major studios. They were underdogs. They were independents. In both cases, the media latched on for the ride and had inestimable impact in raising not only the profile and status of the underdogs, but in cultivating consumers’ understanding of the issues and nuances at stake.
 
Just as Google is no longer a maverick underdog, the former mavericks of the film world are no longer independents. Disney bought Miramax, Universal bought October (eventually morphing into Focus Features,) Turner/Time Warner bought New Line, Vestron was swallowed up by Lion’s Gate, and on and on. Today’s distribution economics, the explosive technological advances of the past several years, the broad acceptance of new media; in 2009 these have all united to give us a simple yardstick with which to define independent film. With rare exception – and those exceptions will fade quickly now – any film that is largely or entirely distributed across the internet is an independent film. Put another way, any film that is primarily exhibited in bricks and mortar theaters is not an independent film.
 
Why does this matter? Because every new movement needs the support of the media to thrive and this new paradigm in independent distribution is no exception. Unfortunately, the media has been slow to catch on. Instead, they continue to relentlessly perpetuate an increasingly absurd  myth of ‘independent’ cinema – $100 million dollar ‘indie’ grosses; multiple Academy Award-winning ‘indies'; star-packed ‘indies'; $10, $20, $50 million dollar budgeted ‘indies’ – rather than acknowledging the fact that the new indie is rattling the gates with righteous fury and a true independent spirit.
 
On February 20, Morgan Dews’s remarkable documentary, "Must Read After My Death," will open in theaters in NY and LA and, day and date, everywhere else in the country via our online cinema, Gigantic Digital (www.giganticdigital.com). In other words, the film will be available to hundreds of millions of moviegoers on the same day that it opens in New York City, streamed in ultra high quality and commercial-free. The price will be $2.99 for a 3-day, unlimited viewing ticket. Where the film is or will be playing in theaters, those markets will be blacked out and the film will not be accessible online. Likewise, the rest of the world will be blacked out in order to preserve international rights.
 
Moviegoers will never abandon the movie house but they won’t be going there to see independent cinema. Every day thousands more households upgrade to large, widescreen monitors. Every day thousands more households extend their broadband connections to big-screen TVs and home entertainment systems. By 2011, most TVs will have built-in wireless forever merging the internet with the television. These are the art houses. This is ‘indie film’ in 2009 and beyond.
 
Gigantic, whose mission is to revive and remake the independent distribution model, will be the first distributor to release its films primarily online. Within a year or two, however, all but the majors will follow Gigantic’s lead in acknowledging the giant elephant in the room, climbing on its back and taking it for a ride into the future of independent film distribution. We hope – we beg – that the media changes gears sooner than later. I promise that this new indie movement will be no less exciting, stimulating or newsworthy than the one that came before it.

Mark Lipsky's Insight Cinema offers domestic and international distributors, producers and filmmakers advice on digital strategies and audience development among other issues. He blogs at InciteCinema, a plug-and-play solution for American independents and filmmakers around the globe who wish to either bypass or enhance traditional bricks-and-mortar release strategies.