RTIndie: Can Indie Studios Survive Without Big Studio Backing?

by | October 31, 2006 | Comments

With the sale of independent-minded ThinkFilm last week, can indie film distributors survive without big studio backing?

Author: Juliana Tringali

ThinkFilm, best known for releasing 2004’s "Born Into Brothels," was recently purchased by the Capco group for $25 million. Group head David Bergstein plans to merge ThinkFilm with Capitol Films (another formerly fledgling distribution company), creating a "formidable new force in the independent marketplace."


We’re not going to tell you how the wheels on "Shortbus" go.

For five years, ThinkFilm has built a reputation for distributing daring films that many others wouldn’t touch. Its current theatrical releases include John Cameron Mitchell‘s sexually explicit "Shortbus" and "Half Nelson," the story of a drug addicted inner city teacher. Meanwhile, Capital Films has helped to sell such fare as "A Prairie Home Companion" to international markets.

Before the purchase, ThinkFilm was the one Canadian company distributing movies in the states. Their game plan was generally to acquire documentaries or daring low budget films and subsequently attempt to sell them to more mainstream audiences.

The strategy won an Oscar for "Brothels" (which scored a 96 percent on the Tomatometer), and garnered further nominations for other releases ("The Story of the Weeping Camel," "Murderball"). But despite some critical and moderate commercial successes (including "Spellbound"), none of the ThinkFilm’s offerings broke through to widespread box office popularity. Capco says the merger will allow ThinkFilm to be a bigger player in the global film market.


"Murderball": Better than "Rollerball!"

In the expensive world of film production, perhaps the acquisition of smaller companies has always been an uncomfortable but irrevocable truth. After all, when indie first went boom in 1994, its most powerful mainstays had already been snatched up.

Miramax was purchased by Walt Disney Co. in 1993 (just before releasing "Pulp Fiction," the shot that sounded out the new era in film). In 1994, Turner Broadcasting System purchased New Line Cinema, which had dared to produce movies from unknown filmmakers since 1967.


No, this isn’t a metaphor for the indies and the majors.

But 1994 was a time of optimism. Making films outside the studio system was not only possible, it was hot, and bright-eyed believers were standing up to be counted. Among them were Newmarket Films, then a new privately-owned production and distribution company (purchased by New Line/HBO in 2005), and the Independent Film Channel (IFC). Palm Pictures was started in 1998, and ThinkFilm began in 2001.

Studios had their finger on the pulse as well. In 1994, Fox Searchlight was introduced as the indie wing of 20th Century Fox and it went on to produce some of the most successful "independent" films of the 1990s. NBC Universal followed suit in 2002 with Focus Features. Not surprisingly, these smaller sectors of major studios have had more staying power than their more authentic counterparts.

Top Reviewed Limiteds

Opening last week in limited release: "Shut Up & Sing," a rockumentary about the Dixie Chicks, is at 93 percent with 30 reviews; "Exit: The Right to Die," a documentary about assisted suicide, is at 88 percent (8 reviews); "Absolute Wilson," a documentary about avant-gardist Robert Wilson, is at 82 percent (11 reviews); "Cocaine Cowboys," a documentary about drug smuggling in Miami in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is at 78 percent (23 reviews); "Babel," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s globetrotting film about despair and interconnectivity, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, is at 74 percent (61 reviews); and "The Bridge," a doc about suicides on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, is at 64 percent (28 reviews).


Dixie Chicks flick: a hit with crits!

Top Performing Limiteds

"Babel" was the biggest indie winner this week, grossing $366,000 for a big per-screen average of $52,258, despite playing in only seven theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Stephen Frears‘ "The Queen," starring Helen Mirren, continued its strong performance, grossing $1.9 million, with a $12,638 per-screen average (it’s made $6.3 million during its theatrical run). "Shut Up & Sing" made $51,000 in four theaters, for an average of $12,750. But something of a disappointment was "Death of a President" which, despite the hum of controversy, made only $167,000 with a per-screen average of $1,835.


Why so blue, Cate? Critics and audiences like "Babel."

Tag Cloud

TNT indie RT History Adult Swim USA Musicals Nominations richard e. Grant sports all-time Premiere Dates TCA 2017 Heroines dc BET Awards USA Network Winners Amazon Pixar WarnerMedia Music Disney+ Disney Plus latino sequel period drama Lifetime Christmas movies disaster werewolf HBO Max kids TV renewals Election PBS parents Certified Fresh CBS All Access science fiction ESPN YouTube El Rey critics Starz TCA reviews Tarantino Cosplay mockumentary Star Trek slashers FX Syfy children's TV romantic comedy mutant doctor who a nightmare on elm street Black Mirror unscripted E3 Shondaland Amazon Studios technology Apple Box Office cars Marvel spider-man elevated horror Drama Elton John Paramount Network Disney Channel First Look series Comics on TV Black History Month TruTV SXSW comiccon war Interview crime thriller facebook Acorn TV Tubi documentaries 71st Emmy Awards Opinion independent chucky canceled TV shows 2017 Baby Yoda BBC Extras 45 The Walking Dead 2020 Apple TV Plus breaking bad stand-up comedy CMT YouTube Premium History Marathons video on demand TBS 2016 Mystery BAFTA OWN what to watch Amazon Prime Mudbound Mary Tyler Moore Calendar AMC Awards Tour SundanceTV free movies Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt based on movie Christmas harry potter true crime Dark Horse Comics dark toy story Emmy Nominations news Summer Winter TV Britbox Cannes anthology Podcast halloween adventure quibi X-Men Animation spanish language Disney Travel Channel Discovery Channel Rock 2019 Ovation cancelled TV series VICE Quiz dogs miniseries Universal versus Rom-Com Endgame Anna Paquin screenings DC Comics President Shudder movie Western justice league VOD Horror ABC VH1 NBC concert Binge Guide Valentine's Day Super Bowl supernatural green book Trivia ITV mission: impossible HBO Go Disney Plus Set visit Biopics Schedule witnail CBS talk show Cartoon Network WGN Fox News BBC America thriller biography Oscars Film Festival FXX Family anime Grammys The Arrangement crime drama GoT revenge stoner MCU Musical DC streaming service cinemax National Geographic Trailer First Reviews serial killer Countdown Ghostbusters Mary poppins Superheroe TCM GIFs CNN adaptation DC Universe Hear Us Out films The Witch 4/20 finale scary movies streaming Captain marvel Vudu ABC Family Mindy Kaling space Chilling Adventures of Sabrina universal monsters travel medical drama Trophy Talk ghosts Star Wars Stephen King jamie lee curtis Spring TV die hard APB canceled Comedy Central Avengers blockbuster Best and Worst Epix Spectrum Originals indiana jones 2018 TV Land Fall TV Emmys Tomatazos cancelled TV shows hist casting DirecTV game of thrones romance singing competition Awards TIFF dragons hispanic GLAAD crime Toys BBC One animated RT21 criterion Video Games tv talk Reality Competition A&E 007 cancelled ratings comics docudrama Esquire Fantasy twilight SDCC Disney streaming service Creative Arts Emmys sag awards crossover cancelled television name the review Action Comic Book theme song Spike diversity transformers binge MSNBC 24 frames HBO YA Warner Bros. Sneak Peek Pop TV Hallmark Christmas movies FX on Hulu sitcom 20th Century Fox Marvel Television award winner FOX Chernobyl Arrowverse Academy Awards christmas movies Rocky Sony Pictures Ellie Kemper BET blaxploitation The Purge Lifetime spain comic Lionsgate Pirates 2015 Pet Sematary E! San Diego Comic-Con TLC Nat Geo robots dceu Year in Review MTV political drama cooking Sundance TV American Society of Cinematographers TV Holiday psychological thriller Sci-Fi vampires Turner book batman reboot Marvel Studios New York Comic Con television Peacock Red Carpet cults Nickelodeon Polls and Games cops asian-american Crunchyroll Amazon Prime Video foreign Showtime IFC spy thriller boxoffice 21st Century Fox child's play Television Academy Pride Month game show satire Food Network The CW zombies movies Infographic Film CW Seed Rocketman Superheroes documentary Tumblr Hulu Columbia Pictures composers golden globes YouTube Red joker politics NYCC Netflix Holidays Kids & Family See It Skip It Sundance IFC Films Women's History Month DGA spinoff Mary Poppins Returns natural history directors zombie Classic Film Thanksgiving Walt Disney Pictures Country Hallmark LGBTQ Bravo Paramount A24 comedies Photos Masterpiece festivals Song of Ice and Fire cartoon police drama social media Freeform south america zero dark thirty nature Comedy Netflix Christmas movies strong female leads Brie Larson Martial Arts Crackle screen actors guild PaleyFest aliens PlayStation Character Guide Logo Turner Classic Movies Teen TCA Winter 2020 rotten movies we love teaser Apple TV+ Reality historical drama cats Lucasfilm video best franchise OneApp discovery Sundance Now LGBT psycho Funimation Pop renewed TV shows dramedy Watching Series Writers Guild of America