Star Wars, Cinerama Dome, and TarantinoDecember 19, 2015

This week was the punch line, the kiss of death… the single event that will forever mark the official death of indie filmmaking. Articles, blogs, tweets, posts, pages, interviews had all warned us indie filmmaking was on its death bed, including a recent article in Variety about the 5 Trends Making the Movie Business Lose Sleep

Extract from the Variety’s article: “The Indie Filmmaking Crisis – Arthouse cinemas are beginning to feel like ghost towns. Sundance favorites like “Dope” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” scored big deals, only to die at the box office. In response, distributors kept their checkbooks closed at the Toronto Film Festival. Plus, there are fewer buyers after Relativity Media went belly up and the Weinstein Co. cut the number of movies it will release in half.”

Little did we know that death would come so quickly after the Variety’s article as Tarantino’s movie, The Hateful Eight, is being pushed out of one of his beloved theaters in favor of Disney’s Star Wars.

The cynicals will tell me, “get a life, it’s only for one theater, so what?” True. Or “Tarantino’s movie isn’t that original anyway.” Maybe. But that’s not the point.

All revolutions start with a single event – the Symbol of it all. And what is happening between Disney, Cinerama Dome, and Tarantino is that so important Symbol. The revolution has started and now we – indie filmmakers – have got to figure out what needs to be done to get our original stories out there to audiences who will actually buy tickets to see the movie in a theater (while there’s a decrease in the number of moviegoers who prefer to watch movies online or other at-home media).

So, in view of the changing landscape in movie watching habits, distribution channels, and other film biz practices, what’s next? First, allow me to tell you a little story about an indie film project called The Kiss, a psychological/horror thriller.

The idea for The Kiss was created in 2009 and started off as a short film. The Kiss as a short film was then submitted to several film script contests to gauge the feasibility of the story as a feature film. In spite of its originality and darkness, The Kiss got thumbs up all around, even winning first places in contests and getting glowing reviews. So off I went to write The Kiss as a feature film. Working with peers in the biz, renown script doctors, distributors, I wrote rewrite after rewrite until The Kiss won awards, got “consider” coverages, and many positive review notes. Armed with what I knew was a very good script, my core team put on their business hats determined to getting this movie made.

For three years in a row, we attended film markets in the US (AFM) and Europe (Cannes); we participated in pitch sessions in California, on-line, etc; we got distributors and investors signing up LOI’s (Letters of Intent); we attached two leads; we signed up award-winning crew members… year after year, we thought we were close to wrapping up the deal. Year after year, we were asked to reduce the budget, from $7M, down to $5M, further down to $3.5M, and now way down to $2.5M… not mentioning those producers, distributors, and others who told us indie movies should really be made for less than $250,000 – OK, so you get the gist of it all.

So, what is next for The Kiss – and for all other indie filmmakers?

Honestly, I don’t know – yet. With my team, we’ve been brainstorming ideas so we can get this movie made – anything goes, from corny to wild to futuristic. No censorship. But what I know for sure is that I want to maintain the originality of the story, the production design values, and the overall quality. Short of begging for freebies in above- and below-the-line budget items, it’s all about demonstrating that The Kiss can provide our investors an ROI (Return on Investment) regardless of the distribution model.

Perhaps the answer is not about making a feature film, but a pilot for a potential TV/web show with ten episodes over three seasons. Possible to do? Yes, of course. Will The Kiss concept get a better shot at being made if it’s transformed into an episodic show? Maybe. Can it be made as a game? Maybe. Can we convert the idea into a novel or a comic book first and then make it a feature film? Maybe… etc. and etc…

So, it’s up to us, indie filmmakers, to lead this revolution together – and maybe, just maybe, we can streamline the production process, remove the costly fat (read the middle-men in-between our movies and audiences), define our own distribution model (outside the Hollywood’s tent-pole model) that can generate revenues and profits for all involved. But one single indie filmmaker can’t go it alone – “Un pour tous. Tous pour un.”

In the end, this event (aka., the Symbol) is pure avarice on Disney’s part as well as a lack of respect for what Tarantino wants to do with his movie. Today, there are very few 70 mm projectors out there, and The Hateful Eight was shot in 70 mm – not Star Wars. So, now the 70mm projectors will sit idle to give Star War one more screen.

Time to close with this wise statement from Darla Shelby: The Indie Filmmaker is dead. Long Live the Indie Filmmaker!

Best always,

Remi Vaughn