Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Bad Trend On The Horizon For Independent Film

By Lars Trodson  

I wanted to go to the movies today, but I have a problem. A big problem. I live in New Hampshire. Over the years I’ve grumbled slightly that most of the movies that I really want to see never arrive here. Or they arrive months later to play at the one of the local art houses, but by then I’ve probably seen the thing on another format. Or, worse, I've simply forgotten about it.

Maybe that’s the strategy for these smaller movies. Give them a limited release, get all the press you can in the big markets, and milk everything you can out of the home release.

But what it does, of course, is make me not go to the movies. I'm beginning to not even know what's out there, and this might be a problem for movies in general as we move away from renting movies from the video store to just ordering the movie online.

The release of a movie to the theaters now only really serves as a marketing function for the later home release. It may make a helluva lot of money in the month that it's in theaters, but that's nothing to the huge numbers it'll potentially pull down when you can view the thing at home.

After all, even if a movie makes a $100 million at the box office in its first weekend, that means fewer than 10 million people (domestic alone) have seen it. With 350 million people in the U.S. alone, never mind foreign markets, it still means that most people haven't even seen a HIT film by the time it's available on Netflix or OnDemand.

But there might be a gap in this marketing plan. If a movie doesn't even come to a place like New Hampshire, and I can't see it on the shelf at the local video store to remind me that a certain small movie was even made, then how will I know to choose it when it's only available online?

I think, then, there is going to be an even wider gap between the blockbusters and the smaller movies than there is now.

We have something called the Regal Fox Run Stadium 15 here in Newington, NH. It is a phenomenally ugly movie theater, with a lobby that resembles a decrepit ice skating rink. It’s all concrete, bad acoustics, video games and monstrous pop-up marketing items designed to scream THOR! with a giant cardboard hammer coming at you. It makes me not want to go to the movies. But I'll go if I want to see something.

"Midnight in Paris"
So I wanted to see “Midnight In Paris” recently -- the best reviewed movie of his late career. Or I wanted to see Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”, which recently took the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

So I go to Fandango to see what times these movies are playing. I should have known. “The Tree of Life” was only opening in LA or New York, but Woody’s movie was in wide release more than a week ago, and of course it was not in New Hampshire.

What was in New Hampshire were multiple screens showing “Pirates of the Carribbean”, the fourth installment of that franchise. There was “Thor” -- which I am sure is a franchise in the making. There was something called “Something Borrowed.” There was something called “Rio The Movie”, the title of which I am sure gives this cartoon some much needed stature. There was, of course, the monster “The Hangover Part II” -- a sequel lacking even a funny sequel title. There was “Kung Fu Panda 2” -- which I don’t think I’d appreciate because I missed “Kung Fu Panda 1.”

(I am almost certain that the highest function of a movie like “Kung Fu Panda 2” is to provide a much-needed shot in the arm for Jack Black, who was last not seen in the 3-D “Gulliver’s Travels”, and who has slummed his way through roles ever since his truly brilliant turn in “School of Rock.” But he better get on the stick quick because I don’t think “Kung Fu Panda 3” will do the trick.)

There was also the long-anticipated “Priest 3D” which is projected to lead the pack when Oscar nominations come out early next year. There was a movie you can’t really call a sequel because it seems to be just a remake of the other movies in the same series: “Fast Five.” There is “Bridesmaids” -- a movie I can’t seem to find a reason to go to, and there is perhaps the one adult film in the bunch, “Water For Elephants”, but I’m not sure I want to go see that when I read that Robert Pattinson said he “cried” after doing a love scene with Reese Witherspoon. I lost all interest.

There wasn't a small independent or truly indiosyncratic movie in the bunch. I probably won't see any of these even when they're available at home. And when I read about all the foreign films and smaller American films in the movie section of the New York Times, I know they'll never get here. And then I literally, quite literally, forget about them so I don't rent them later. They're just gone from my mind.

This is a trend I think we're going to have to watch out for in the future. Because if the little movies -- with no exposure at the box office and no exposure in the new release section at your local video store -- can't literally be seen, where are you going to hear about it? What's going to jar your memory to rent it?

And if these small movies don't even make any money on their home release, fewer and fewer will get made, or they will get made by a premium cable channel such as HBO, furthering diminishing why we even have movies in the first place.