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December 2, 2007 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Independent Filmaking: Kafkaesque Nightmare? Tom DiCillo's new film Delirious stars Steve Buscemi, is currently rated at 85% at Rotten Tomatoes, and yet, it only made $200,000. DiCillo asks Roger Ebert why.
posted by zabuni (44 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
A big part of the problem is that the studios permit the theaters to take little to none of the box office revenue (I think the studios basically take all of the opening weekend gross, and the percentage then decreases each week). This makes the theaters basically dependent on concession sales for their own revenue, which somehow puts a high premium on films that appeal to young people. Another part of it is that theaters have to charge the same price for every film, which puts a premium on films that appeal to as large an audience as possible, instead of letting independent films charge higher prices to match their smaller, more passionate audience. It's a weird contrast to the music business, where the publishers like being able to charge different prices for different products, because there's a ton of people that will buy the latest U2 album no matter what the price... part of the reason they hate the iTunes pricing system (I don't use iTunes, but assume it still uses the $0.99 flat rate).
posted by gsteff at 12:41 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I thought movies like this made most of their money through DVD releases. And, obviously if something isn't marketed, it won't get noticed: Unless it's the greatest thing ever made.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 PM on December 2, 2007


I thought movies like this made most of their money through DVD releases.

Yup.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:54 PM on December 2, 2007


Could it be Buscemi exhaustion? Seriously, that guy is in everything. (He's good, but sheesh.)
posted by telstar at 1:01 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Roger pretty much nailed it...

Thanks for the post, I'll watch for the DVD (hopefully it WILL come out on DVD)
posted by HuronBob at 1:05 PM on December 2, 2007


"A big part of the problem is that the studios permit the theaters to take little to none of the box office revenue (I think the studios basically take all of the opening weekend gross, and the percentage then decreases each week)."

I think it works out to about a 50/50 split overall. Also, this ratio is negotiable, and actually independent films end up with a split that favors exhibitors (theaters). In fact, if an independent film has favorable per-screen-averages, a theater would RATHER show that than a studio film because they keep a higher percentage.

There are reasons why this film didn't do well, but I don't think the percentage of the box office that the theater keeps is a reason.
posted by kcalder at 1:09 PM on December 2, 2007


A big part of the problem

Problem? Why would people who claim to be in it for art, not money, obsess over money?

Give me a fucking break. If your sole preoccupation is box office grosses, make blockbusters, or for that matter, start a hedge fund.

If you're an artist and not just another "indie" poseur, make art and let the chips fall where they may.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:10 PM on December 2, 2007


DiCillo asks Robert Ebert why.

I would turn the question around and ask 'why should it have made more'? If it was poorly marketed, poorly distributed, and completely unsupported during its release, why should it have made more than it did?

Much of this problem is inherent in the art form, I think: movies are expensive, even to make cheaply. By contrast, creative artists who craft substantive, rich, meaningful works of art in other media (music, writing, painting, etc.) can afford to labor in obscurity more easily, because it doesn't take nearly as much capital up front.

This seems nothing new to me; plenty of great artists worked in relative or complete obscurity for much (or all) of their lives.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:15 PM on December 2, 2007


I think it works out to about a 50/50 split overall. Also, this ratio is negotiable, and actually independent films end up with a split that favors exhibitors (theaters).

I saw that asserted in a Slate article while trying to check that just now, but don't think it's accurate. I've read more than once that the split is much, much higher in the opening weekend... this article seems to confirm that ("Industry officials say as much as 90 percent of the ticket revenue goes to the studio in the opening weeks of a movie's release"). But I guess it makes sense that independent distributors have less leverage, and get worse deals.

Regardless, yeah, it sounds like marketing is what doomed this film.
posted by gsteff at 1:17 PM on December 2, 2007


Why would people who claim to be in it for art, not money, obsess over money?

Because without money you aren't going to be able to make any more art.
posted by grouse at 1:18 PM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Your lack of hate for money betrays you as an indie poseur.
posted by found missing at 1:20 PM on December 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think releasing simultaneously on dvd and theatrically makes sense for movies, like this and bubble, with appeal among a limited audience. I think most indie pictures should adopt this strategy. That way the movies get one review one advertising campaign. Maybe people won't be as likely to go to the theater and because of this theaters will be even less likely to play them. That might be mitigated by people actually hearing about the movie.
posted by I Foody at 1:20 PM on December 2, 2007


If your sole preoccupation is box office grosses

I see nothing in the linked material that suggests that DiCillo is at all preoccupied with box office grosses other than to the extent that those allow him to make his next film.

If you're an artist and not just another "indie" poseur, make art and let the chips fall where they may.

That's my point above: in movies, if your art doesn't generate some revenue, it becomes quite difficult to find people willing to fund your next project. A big part of the problem here is that movies are a tremendously expensive art form. Look back a century or so to the greatest popular entertainments circa 1875-90: Wagner's operas. If his first couple had flopped completely, where would the money have come from to produce the Ring cycle, or build his digs at Bayreuth?
posted by LooseFilter at 1:21 PM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Dr. jimmy, like many an "indie" dude, favors black and white.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:25 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you're an artist and not just another "indie" poseur, make art and let the chips fall where they may.

Yeah. So many architects talk about wanting to actually, you know, "build buildings", but then they bitch about not having the cash to do that. Why not just do your blueprints, make your art, and move on?
posted by suckerpunch at 1:29 PM on December 2, 2007


If you're an artist and not just another "indie" poseur, make art and let the chips fall where they may.

a person's got to at least break even or have deep pockets (or backers with deep pockets) for this kind of art

don't compare this to music, which doesn't take THAT much investment, or writing, which takes practically none, as far as cash is concerned - you need money to do this
posted by pyramid termite at 1:32 PM on December 2, 2007


One of my local theatres was one of the few that screened this movie. It's within walking distance from home and work, and I've been there 4 or 5 times in the last six weeks. I'm the prime target audience for this movie. I saw it listed when it played and considered going to see it, but didn't know much about it and went to see something else. The film only played for a week (maybe two?) so the next time I went, it wasn't even there anymore.

If you read DiCillo's questions closely, he's not pissed his movie didn't make any money. He seems more upset that people (like me) didn't get a chance to see it because it didn't perform according to the Hollywood blockbuster model*, which shouldn't be applied to indie movies like this.

* What I mean by "Hollywood blockbuster model": Everyone in the target audience knows exactly what the movie is about and whether or not they want to go see it by the day it opens. They will then go see it that opening weekend or likely never see it in a theater. So, small opening receipts equals failure.
posted by dogwalker at 1:38 PM on December 2, 2007


This thread will Laswell.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:41 PM on December 2, 2007


I was kind of surprised that Ebert wasn't angrier in his responses. Reading up on The Castle and Me and You and Everyone We Know makes it clear I've got to see these movies, but this is the first I've heard of them. That makes me spitting mad, and makes it clear to me that distributors don't know what the hell they're doing. (And anyone chiming in with "But their job is to sell Transformers to a legion of teenage boys," sarcastically or not, will get a punch in the jaw from me.)
posted by JHarris at 1:59 PM on December 2, 2007


The reason the movie didn't succeed? I've never heard of it. When I find the time, I like to take in independent movies, and I generally keep an eye on ones that get high marks at rotten tomatoes. The lack of marketing killed this. Had I seen a preview, maybe I would've been interested. Had I seen an ad, maybe I would've been intrigued.
posted by graventy at 2:01 PM on December 2, 2007


So many architects talk about wanting to actually, you know, "build buildings", but then they bitch about not having the cash to do that. Why not just do your blueprints, make your art, and move on?

My personal favorite thing is to find struggling Architecture students and give them a copy of The Fountainhead.

"It all makes sense now! I do poorly because I'm BRILLIANT!"

[NOT OBJECTIVIST]
posted by anifinder at 2:08 PM on December 2, 2007


MORE ADVERTISING PLEASE!!
posted by srboisvert at 2:31 PM on December 2, 2007


There's definitely nothing whiny about this. They're both just trying to explicate why the movie marketplace as it currently exists is so hostile to independent movies.

My hope is that something akin to what's happening in the music industry will happen to the movie industry maybe in ten years from now or so.

Once both the production and distribution of music became no longer dependent on the big labels, we started to see huge cracks in the machine - cracks which hopefully and going to bring the whole, pitiful beast down.

Distribution - in the age of bittorrent and home theatres - really isn't much of a problem for movies anymore. Production, however, is. I think there's room for this to change though. Equipment will certainly become more affordable to a point, but what will really matter is losing our taste for absurdly high production values.

For projects which involve at least 20 or 30 people, movies can still be made relatively cheaply. What we need to ween ourselves off of though is big budget actors, computer graphics, expensive sets, etc. and learn to reconnect with makes movies truly special - cinematography, music, cinematography, close-ups, cinematography, etc. (sorry, I am biased).

Anyway, I think the cracks are already showing in the movie machine. Video games do spectacle way better anyway. Hopefully our tastes for movies will become more refined, as we realize spending 200 million dollars on a movie is unnecessary. I dream of the day when actors, directors and crews will bloody tour with their movies. Ten dollars a show, and a Q&A with them afterwords!
posted by Alex404 at 2:37 PM on December 2, 2007


Much of this problem is inherent in the art form, I think: movies are expensive, even to make cheaply. By contrast, creative artists who craft substantive, rich, meaningful works of art in other media (music, writing, painting, etc.) can afford to labor in obscurity more easily, because it doesn't take nearly as much capital up front.

This is exactly why I left the film world for the music world.

It's unrealistic to expect that someone will subsidize your personal creative vision when it costs millions of dollars (and takes hundreds of people) to bring to fruition.

That doesn't mean I don't like independent films driven by unusual creative visions. It just means they are inherently unlikely to succeed. The odds are against you.

As a musician, I own most of the means of production (= my computer and a couple thousand dollars' worth of other gear), and have easy, virtually free access to the means of distribution (= the internet, mostly).
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:00 PM on December 2, 2007


Wow, I've seen DeCillo's two other movies, Living in Oblivion and The Real Bonde, and I loved them both. Both movies I saw totally by accident.

Living in Oblivion I saw because the other movie we wanted to see was sold out and it was playing at the same theater.

I saw posters for The Real Blonde and thought there was no way in hell I wanted to see that movie, but a friend talked me into going with her (she's blonde and was intrigued by the title). There were about five people in the theater.

I'm pretty sure that both of those movies were around for more than two weeks; Living in Oblivion had some buzz, but the ad campaign for The Real Blonde was terrible.

I guess it's obvious to everyone that these movies need to be marketed and they need to play in the theaters for a while to build buzz, the question is why *don't* they get better marketing and extended engagements?

It kind of makes me want to open a theater like the one Roger talks about, that they went to no matter what was playing, they just knew the movie wouldn't star Frankie Avalon and they served free coffee.

Does anyone here remember the old St Mark's Theater on St Mark's Place in NYC? I saw many old French movies there. It used to be a great first date spot, nobody cared that much what movie was being shown, it was just a great place to be...
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:02 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


One of the things I like to do is hit the foreign film section of the video store. Simply put, they are usually low-budget films that are the absolute best of an entire country, as they often bypass language barriers, borders and even continents to get to the shelves I'm browsing.

The same sort of filtering needs to happen to independent films...the weak will be weeded out and the strong will be available for viewing. Unfortunately for the producers and directors of films, that process can't happen in the movie theatres. Much more likely it will eventually happen via downloads, as the scale of filtering potential is considerably larger.
posted by Kickstart70 at 3:14 PM on December 2, 2007


Why would people who claim to be in it for art, not money, obsess over money?

*piles on*
posted by Wolof at 3:19 PM on December 2, 2007


only if Fred Siskel was still around..
posted by ianaces at 3:25 PM on December 2, 2007


"...if your art doesn't generate some revenue, it becomes quite difficult to find people willing to fund your next project."

I don't see a problem with this.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:26 PM on December 2, 2007


A big part of the problem is that the studios permit the theaters to take little to none of the box office revenue (I think the studios basically take all of the opening weekend gross, and the percentage then decreases each week). This makes the theaters basically dependent on concession sales for their own revenue, which somehow puts a high premium on films that appeal to young people.

This is also why a lot of urban arthouse theaters are now starting to look like Starbucks. They know that their films don't appeal to the popcorn-and-jujubes crowd, so they have to have other concessions that would appeal to the arthouse crowd (e.g., lattes and biscottis).
posted by jonp72 at 3:29 PM on December 2, 2007


Why would people who claim to be in it for art, not money, obsess over money?

Umm...artists have been obsessing about money for a long time. See Bertolt Brecht. See Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt. See Fellini's 8 1/2.
posted by jonp72 at 3:32 PM on December 2, 2007


It's all about the marketing, isn't it. I see tons of deserving movies disappear without a trace every year while the same handful of mediocrities get all the play. It's a winner-take-all culture, and good reviews be damned. And it's not just the blockbusters: at Oscar time, it's fascinating to see which films are pushed to critics with screeners and soundtrack CDs and little picture books, and which ones are completely ignored. Day Night Day Night, anybody? Colma: The Musical? Rocket Science? Dans Paris? Syndromes and a Century? And that's just off the top of my head.

You'd think that the net would have changed this. Word about the good stuff can get out easier, and there are plenty of places online to keep up with quality movies. And yet, a surprising number of people here say they care about film but have never heard of Delirious...

(Hey, we reviewed Delirious. We have a newsletter and a feed... and links to lots of other indie/foreign film blogs.)
posted by muckster at 3:33 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


By the way, Di Cillo has a great eye for acting talent. His film, Johnny Suede, had Brad Pitt, Catherine Keener, and Samuel L. Jackson, long before any of them got famous.
posted by jonp72 at 3:36 PM on December 2, 2007


"...if your art doesn't generate some revenue, it becomes quite difficult to find people willing to fund your next project."

I don't see a problem with this.


Yes, god forbid someone spend money on art because of its intrinsic value. How disgustingly non-capitalist.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:14 PM on December 2, 2007


Also, maggiemaggie: I guess it's obvious to everyone that these movies need to be marketed and they need to play in the theaters for a while to build buzz, the question is why *don't* they get better marketing and extended engagements?

Well, because the people--for the most part--who are producers and distributors are interested in making money, not art. To believe that a great, independent movie should get better marketing and more patience in developing it in the marketplace one has to value the movie as art. The business structures, and most of those who run it, only care about movies as commodities, as something to generate return on investment. Thus, if a movie doesn't quickly produce ROI, a company moves on to the next product.

(It's a profoundly anti-art view, IMO, but one understandable from the perspective of the investors. Hence my other comments above.)
posted by LooseFilter at 4:22 PM on December 2, 2007



This thread will Laswell.


There'll be an art-dub remix?
posted by Kinbote at 5:03 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's my point above: in movies, if your art doesn't generate some revenue, it becomes quite difficult to find people willing to fund your next project.

That's why most (smart) people don't work that way. They ask investors for the money to make TWO pictures. They tell the investors that the first money is a long-shot, but it is the movie they really want to make. THEN they will make the second movie (generally a "safe" horror film, which is a sure-fire way to at least get the investors their money back). Sometimes, the first movie becomes a home-run. Napoleon Dynamite's newbie producers followed precisely this path.
posted by spock at 8:15 PM on December 2, 2007


I think the fact that Napoleon Dynamite/horror movies have become the model for US indie filmmakers is reason why audiences are staying away.

These days there is more life in documentaries
posted by dydecker at 9:07 PM on December 2, 2007


I don't think that's quite true, dydecker. Yes, there have been a lot of great documentaries recently, but I don't think Napoleon Dynamite is much of a model, and it's not why anybody is staying away. Even discounting the boutique indies like Juno ("this year's Little Miss Sunshine"), No Country, I'm Not There, or the upcoming & utterly awesome There Will Be Blood, small movies can still do ok -- mumblecore took off this year, we just discussed Great World of Sound on mefi, and Once is still going strong. All in all, it's been a great year for movies.
posted by muckster at 11:26 PM on December 2, 2007


Yeah, you're right. I am just out of the loop (I haven't seen any of those films you recommend.) I think the problem is that unless of you follow film very closely, you won't even hear of the decent stuff, because the culture is all gunked up with, like Ebert says, "the stupid & brutal" and the independents variations thereof. Like the front page of Metafilter today - there's lotsa interest in filmmaking which is screengrabs of videogames for christ's sake, or even more interest in the culture of gaming reviews than filmmaking. It's like a combination of Weinstien marketing and fanboy blather has squeezed out any space for the real thing to exist.
posted by dydecker at 3:23 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I got to see Delerious while it was playing here in NYC. I'm pretty glad I got to see it. It's a great film, though a shade on the depressing side. Buscemi is a great actor, and DiCillo did a superb job of the film itself.

When a film like Delerious does so poorly at the box office, and I see things like this:

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=DragonWars.htm

I put my face in my hands and wonder how the fuck directors like DiCillo don't hang themselves.
posted by Mikey-San at 10:24 AM on December 3, 2007


Maybe he should find alternate forms of distribution and marketing? IFC OnDemand maybe?
posted by destro at 10:40 AM on December 3, 2007


So "indie" in the context of filmmaking is very important to me (we did a fair bit of coverage of "Delirious" as well.) I think the key here is to think for a minute about what independent means.

Peace Arch isn't a big distributor. There were always be unsuccessful distributions. At the same time, hopping into the multiplex marketplace makes a small distributor a risk, an even bigger challenge than the normally risky release strategies.

The distributors that used to champion small-film releases now say those days are over. The cutting edge of indie is thinking about ways to avoid those kinds of deals entirely. The only aspect of indie film that might be dying out is the idea that your default exit strategy is "sell the film to a distributor and wait for the money to roll in."
posted by bclark at 12:37 PM on December 3, 2007


I'm a huge Dicillo fan and never heard of this. Whoever was in charge of promoting the movie failed.
posted by skechada at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2007


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