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As the summer domestic Box Office threatens to creep over the $1B mark, there’s a lot of talk about the future of Indie theatrical releases. Has the theatrical space evolved to be tentpoles only? Or is this just the same kind of doom-and-gloom that had us believing theatrical releases were dead a few months ago? Today Brandon Blake, entertainment attorney at Blake & Wang P.A, unpacks the evolving art of marketing Indies in the modern theatrical market.
Carving Out Indie Space in Content Noise
Of course, it’s immediately obvious why many Indie producers feel left out of the recovering theatrical market. It’s no secret that the Box Office recovery we’ve seen has hinged on glittering blockbusters with massive hype and deep marketing products. How does one even begin to market smaller movies if that’s the only criteria for success?
Additionally, we’re seeing the looming presence of ‘bigger is better’ saturate even traditional Indie-only spaces. Film festivals once solely focused on the Indie market are becoming packed with awards, streamers, music genre crossovers, and ‘celebrity sightings’ that seem to have lost the spirit of the Indie market entirely. There’s a content boom in play, yes, but it seems that that content has forgotten the smaller film and TV space entirely, focusing on chasing aspirational Influencer dreams and ‘viral hype’ instead.
For movies that don’t have the sort of budget to include glittering marketing campaigns, this much noise can seem deadly at first glance. Critics and festival reception have long been the ‘in’ independent productions need to get those critical eyes on their work. If they’re drowning in a sea of ‘content’ instead, how will they ever get the prominence needed to drive their work to full theatrical releases?
We also can’t pretend that it hasn’t been tent poles and blockbusters that have driven the Box Office recovery to date. People wary of heading to the cinema for any old film have proven willing to flock in droves when it’s that IP they’ve been waiting for, skillfully marketed to them at every turn.
Currently, we’re looking at a 2022 Box Office that’s 70% up on last year, although it will still underperform pre-pandemic levels. And it’s hard not to notice the absence of Indie productions on the release slates. Without the hype and backing generated by reviews, theaters are reluctant to gamble on untested, small-budget movies. And the mainstream media is becoming increasingly short on meaningful reviews that might sell tickets. Plus, there’s something of a vicious circle involved. Typically, film distributors need a theatrical release (however brief) to merit reviews in key media like newspapers. Without critical buy-in, that’s a lot of money spent with no guarantee of reward.
It’s a harsh landscape- if you’re tied to traditional ideas of film releases. But let’s be brutally honest. Everything has changed in the entertainment industry, so clinging to old norms no longer makes sense. While this changed landscape can seem daunting for productions without mass backing, the market for Indies is definitely still there. It’s a case of needing to reinvent the genre for changing norms.
Instead of spreading doom and gloom, then, it’s time to relook at the Indie marketing cycle and how to make it better fit the changing movie landscape overall. And that the Indie space has always been good at doing. We’re far from the ‘death’ of the Indie release, just as we were from the ‘death’ of theatrical releases. It’s just time to reinvent how they sell.
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