Yesterday, The Wrap presented a virtual panel comprised of “legends” (as the panelists laughingly preferred to “veterans”) in the independent film industry to discuss the current financing, production and distribution landscape—and what it might mean for rising writers, directors and producers. Moderated by producer and former agent Cassian Elwes of Elevated Films, guests on the panel include iconic indie producer and co-founder of Killer Films Christine Vachon, Blacklist founder Franklin Leonard, 30West co-president and CEO Micah Green (a company which Green describes as an “investment business focused on the independent arena”) and Rena Ronson, Partner & Head of Independent Film, UTA.
The 40-minute panel covers a wide array of topics, from Vachon’s current stay in Paris for a complete retrospective of Todd Haynes work (all of it she’s produced since his debut, Poison, also the first film she produced) at the Centre Pompidou ahead of the Cannes premiere of May December to what COVID unveiled about at-home viewing trends.
“I don’t know about easier or harder, it’s just different,” said Vachon about the current state of indie film production. “If you’re going to succeed in the business for this long, it’s all about getting a good sense about how things are shifting and shifting with them.” She also shared the mantra she’s been telling herself and others: “Out of great disruption comes great opportunity.”
Financial opportunity is certainly what all panel participants—and the industry at large—is fixating on, and Leonard offered a fascinating statistic as it pertains to the Blacklist: According to a study from Harvard Business School, “controlling for all other factors, movies made from Blacklist scripts—some of which, admittedly, were distributed by studios—made 90% more in revenue than movies made from scripts that were not on the Blacklist.” Franklin asserts that this has to do with one simple factor: “You start with a good screenplay—and talented people around that screenplay who are going to go the extra mile for it—and you end up not only with the great cinema we all love, but also really good financial results.” He also added that moving “in opposition” to the studios is a sound business plan for an independent film project, namely because studios are “so traditionally bad at identifying what audiences want.”
When it comes to the financial stability of theatrical distribution, Ronson admits that even she has had a hard time “breaking the habit” post-COVID of relying on streamers for content, and that the pandemic has unfortunately flipped the “streamer as a last resort” mentality among distributors. However, Ronson also noted that theatrical audiences skew heavily toward Gen Z and millennial demographics, meaning that it’s largely “boomers” who need to work on getting off the couch and into cinemas.
Green added a helpful anecdote about the dominance of streamers in the current landscape: “They all got so aggressive in their competition to grab anything that could be good that they started pre-buying and financing independent movies at a really high volume…and a large chunk of the community of filmmaking talent started relying upon, ironically, streamers and studios for the financing and distribution [of their films]. We can debate whether that was ever a good thing, but it’s over.”
However, even amid a period of uncertainty in the independent film landscape, the overwhelming optimism among the panelists dominated the discussion up until the very end. “I wake up and go to sleep thinking about films,” concluded Elwes, with Vachon emphatically adding that “cynicism is the kiss of death.”
Watch the full video above.