Thanks much to John August for his very informative yet terribly sobering wrap up to his journey that was The Nines. And because his feature directing debut and its subsequent theatrical/DVD release was so firmly rooted in the world of the small independent film, thus making it like pretty much all Canadian feature films, I thought it worth excerpting some of Mr. August's wisdom.
A quote from Mark Gill in the LA Times last week would seem discouraging for independent filmmakers:Of the 5,000 films submitted to Sundance each year — generally with budgets under $10million — maybe 100 of them got a U.S. theatrical release three years ago. And it used to be that 20 of those would make money. Now maybe five do. That’s one-tenth of 1%. Put another way, if you decide to make a movie budgeted under $10 million on your own tomorrow, you have a 99.9% chance of failure.
There are lots of ways to criticize his logic. For starters, most Sundance movies are way under $10 million. Many are under a million. And he seems to omit a figure for how many indie films are getting a theatrical release now as opposed to three years ago.
We need to ask, “Failure for whom?” Even a movie that doesn’t earn its budget back will likely make money for its distributors, once you factor in video and TV sales. More crucially, a good indie film generates future work for its stars and filmmakers. So there’s a lot of success to be found in that 99.9% failure.
All that said, he’s kind of right.
He's kind of right...shiiiit. That's some bad odds. August goes on to say that his movie turned out just the way he wanted, but the release of the movie was deeply disappointing. Thankfully though, he doesn't do a lot of finger pointing but instead lists several crucial stages in the The Nines release, from Sundance screenings to the DVD hitting the shelves, and then explains what he might have done differently at each stage vs. what actually went down.
Take Sundance for example --- August lists all the other films in addition to his that had buzz when he was there, and then lays out how they ultimately performed.
Eighteen months later, it’s fascinating to see how little the festival buzz mattered. Prices for these movies — a key component of buzz, as in, “Did you hear how much it sold for?” — were all over the board, from the low six-figures to $7 million for Son of Rambow.
But it made no difference. They all pretty much tanked.
Waitress sold quickly, was released quickly, and made the most by far at the box office ($19M).3 Second place was Under the Same Moon ($12.5M), followed by Once ($9M) and How She Move ($7M). Son of Rambow will likely end up in fifth. It’s currently in release, and made $8M overseas.
In terms of box office, none of these are hits in the way Little Miss Sunshine was. But you’d be happy being any of them, because beyond those five, the other movies on the list fell off a cliff. None of them made a million. In fact, most didn’t make it over $100,000. The Nines didn’t, despite opening well.
But at least we opened. At least we sold. For our year, 3,287 feature films were submitted to Sundance, of which 122 played. Roughly 20 played in theaters.
Wow. That's some kind of seriously depressing numbers game going on. And here I was last week criticizing Canadian release Young People F**king for only mustering up around a 300,000 gross over the past month (this considering all the free publicity surrounding the film and Bill C-10) ...but damn, perhaps I was a little harsh.
Or maybe, as August says later in his post, "(for the small independent feature)...theatrical release is kinda bullshit."
I get a lot of questions every year from students or up and comers about why does the Canadian feature film biz suck... or why aren't more Canuck features in theatres... or how easy or hard is it to make a low budget feature film... and the takeaway is it's really f**king hard for everyone. And then you have to try to get people to see it, which in many ways can be even harder than making the damn thing.
Thanks for sharing John...the post in all its honest and straightforward entirety is entitled 'Sundance, The Nines, and the Death of the Independent Film', and you can read it HERE.