The Last Independent Frontier?
I wrote this blog at the beginning of 2016, and surprisingly little has changed since that time. Sadly, the distributor in the blog is now no longer trading, and Metrodome also closed their doors 6 months after this film was released and Koch Media also stopped releasing films a year earlier. in 2018 Icon Films also finally left this space....
I was eager to see how Bone Tomahawk performed this weekend in UK cinemas as it represented a real shot for The Works, with a buzz film, critically acclaimed with a strong, on-form cast. It's been a while since a release like this has been supported at theatrical by one of the smaller indies, so it represented a proper market litmus test. There was a time, in the not too distant past, when a film like this could go out and reach £300k to £500k cumulatively - starting from 52 sites. Some London Underground posters, a sprinkling of broadsheet and magazine press ads and some nice reviews could achieve that without having to invest too deeply in your P&A budget.
So I was disappointed to see it average only £566 from its 52 sites. A few years ago this sort of release would have achieved at least 3 times that much. Is this a blip, or a one off, for other reasons - like it being too close to The Hateful Eight, for example? I don't think so. After Koch Media departed the UK theatrical scene over a year ago - supporting over a dozen similarly sized releases, and mini-majors like Entertainment Film Distributors, also struggling with smaller films (like Self/Less) I think this is now where it is at for the indie film.
It's not at all a terrible result in the current market but that is the issue - it's how it is now that matters.
As ancillary sales are less and less affected by box office totals (under £1m), the theatrical investment model just doesn't add up to much anymore, especially as TV and SVoD deals are scarcer than ever. It seems that direct to video or premium video on demand models are far less risky, even if the subsequent awareness adds up to less. The investment required in pulling off a theatrical release even at this level is just too prohibitive - even if your lifetime numbers won't end up stretching so far.
It's the same, if not worse, for world cinema - with audiences all but evaporating. Even 'Youth' has only just reached £800k - less than the directors own The Great Beauty achieved - and that was a less commercial prospect - being in the Italian language and with no major internationally recognised stars in it.
This audience is seemingly devouring subtitled TV box sets on DVD or Netflix or turning to iTunes for their foreign language fix
Fast-forwarding to summer 2018 and not a lot has changed. A good indie film can still breakout. 2017 saw a surprising ray of light in God's Own Country, Lady Macbeth and The Handmaiden, but those were to prove to be exceptions, not the rule. And the PVoD model is lessening and theatrical as a landscape is more unforgiving than ever.
Future blogs will look at the future of independent film releasing in the UK and what can be done to overcome this rather drastic downturn.