Last night Nikki Finke posted Bill Mechanic’s keynote speech about the future of indies from yesterday’s Independent Film & Television Production Conference. Mechanic ran Fox from ’94 to ’00, is now an indie producer (Coraline) and owner of Pandemonium LLC. Here’s my favorite portion of the speech:
“It’s disrespectful if not downright dumb to think audiences can’t tell the difference between the original, which occasionally might even have some fresh faces, and the copy, which almost always is populated with retreads. It’s like thinking you can sell yesterday’s news under a different banner.
“The exception to the rule is District 9, which didn’t try to compete with the majors with special effects or stars or plot. Instead of feeling recycled, it was fresh and is now one of the year’s best and most successful pictures. But lot of credit has to go to Peter Jackson since it was undoubtedly his clout that got the film made.
“[Indies] following the lead of the majors presumes that the majors know what they want. It presumes they have a fix on their audiences. I would say that’s anything but true.
“Admissions are down over the past few years and, perhaps most troubling, the audience that Hollywood spends the majority of time focusing on, the under 25’s, are the ones finding other things to do.
“Take a look at this shift over the past decade. While use of the internet and video games have dominated leisure time activities, movie consumption is down or flat over the same period. And, more to the point, you can see that there is a 21% drop in film-going amongst the core target audience and a 24% drop in the next key category, 25-39 year olds.
“And yes, these charts beg another question: if the audiences are shifting, why isn’t the product shifting as well? Name five mainstream films this year that successfully targeted an over-30 year audience.
“In that way, Hollywood in the broadest sense of the word is much like Detroit. It’s a manufacturer’s mentality that reigns, seemingly indifferent to the consumers it serves. Ignore whether the consumer likes our product as long as they buy it. Market it and they will come.
“And don’t worry if they don’t come back. Accept 60% drop-off rates as the norm, saying it’s all about wide openings.
“When was the last time you heard anyone either from a studio or an independent talking about improving their product, of creating positive buzz and expanding the audience?
“Here’s one basic question to ask yourself: If the most popular film in history was Titanic and it did so by weaving together interest in all demographic pockets as well as pulling in non-filmgoers, why in the last 12 years has no one attempted to do the same?
An independent couldn’t and shouldn’t make movies of Titanic’s scale but it should make movies as individualistic and compelling. Certainly there are good examples among some of the smaller independent films — Slumdog Millionaire being an easy choice — that actually do stand out and succeed because of their quality and their uniqueness.
But the independent world [has been] no more concerned with the consumer than the studios. With the influx of hedge fund money, the past decade saw a glutting of product, again most of it with no idea of who it was for or how it could be sold. Whether some of these movies had artistic integrity or not, there is no question there was no audience appeal.
“From the low-water mark of 1990, there has been a 50% increase in the number of pictures and even since 2000, nearly a 25% increase. And most of the influx came from non-majors, rising from 150 in 1990 to 450 in 2008. That, my friends, is insanity.
“Remember that through this entire period, the only growth at the box office has been inflationary, which means more films were fighting for a share of a flat box office. Over approximately this same period, the biggest hits took even a greater share of the box office pie” — i.e., because of an increase in Eloi movie-watching patterns — “meaning the independents, even with a vastly greater number of releases, are taking a dramatically smaller percentage of the available money.”