Strategic observation

Spotlight: Will Hollywood indie films fade to black after Harvey Weinstein's sexual scandal exposure?

2017-10-12 04:31:33 (Beijing Time)         English.news.cn

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by Julia Pierrepont III

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- There is widespread speculation in the Hollywood film industry that the fall of Hollywood kingmaker, Harvey Weinstein, and the slow decline of The Weinstein Company (TWC) as generative forces in the independent film world may well spell the demise of the indie film industry as a whole.

Hollywood was startled last weekend by the sex scandal exposure on Harvey Weinstein, TWC's contentious co-chairman and co-founder.

The abrasive New Yorker reigned virtually uncontested for decades as the self-styled king of indies and, from the 90s on, helped to propel independent cinema into the mainstream with box office hits and awards galore.

Taking a page from Bill Feldman and Harry Clein's winning publicity playbook - the team that created the first successful indie award campaign to garner Oscar attention for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "The Trip to Bountiful" - Weinstein ran with it and added a few twists of his own.

His effective, award-season combo of celebrity-studded galas, ubiquitous screeners, and bare-knuckle brawling managed to net Miramax a legendary and unparalleled number of Academy Award nominations and wins: 249 Oscar Nominations and 60 wins in just 15 years.

In fact, when Vocativ.com published a survey in 2015 canvasing Academy Award acceptance speeches, they determined that that Harvey Weinstein was thanked more often than God.

But can the cash-strapped Weinstein Company carry on effectively without Harvey?

The LA Times expressed timely questions about the future of TWC: "Will A-list actors and directors worried about their public image refuse to work for the company? Will audiences shun future releases? Will business partners give it the cold shoulder?"

They quoted Danny Deraney, a prominent, Los Angeles-based public relations expert with clients in the entertainment industry, predicting, "The dominos are going to start falling right now. Awards season is where you will probably see the biggest effect, because people won't want to be associated with an act that would be poison for their careers," Deraney said.

So, can that powerful promotional engine for indies be replaced by other companies or will the entire indie industry suffer as it runs out of gas?

Yannis Tzioumakis of The Conversation predicts that the recent prominence and success of indie films is illusory and transitory at best. He contends that an increasing number of the "so-called'independent films'" are being "financed, produced and distributed by companies that belong to the same entertainment conglomerates as the major studios. They tightly control cinema on a global scale."

But others have a more positive outlook for indies: The Independent Film and Television Alliance, responsible for hosting the American Film Market, one of the most profitable film markets in the world, is bullish on indies: "Independents produce at least 500 films and countless hours of television programming each year generating more than 4 billion U.S. dollars in revenues annually. The number of independent productions each year - more than 70 percent of film production in the United States alone - creates considerably more job opportunities worldwide than the majors."

Lynda Obst, a successful industry veteran and the high-profile producer of the Academy Award-winning, "Interstellar," has produced both studio and indie movies. She feels the concern for the future of indies is unwarranted.

"The Weinstein Company hasn't released the top award-winning indie movies for the last two or three years anyway," Obst told Xinhua. "A24 had last year's Oscar-winning 'Moonlight.' Annapurna Pictures is doing excellent films, Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight put out great indies too."

There seems to be plenty of top companies ready, willing and able to step into Weinstein's shoes.

A24 rounded the bases at the 2017 Academy Awards, scoring an impressive eight Oscar nominations for "Moonlight," and another two noms for "20th Century Women" and "The Lobster." Moonlight slid home to snag the top honors of "Best Picture," "Best Supporting Actor" and "Best Adapted Screenplay." And Annapurna Pictures is the odds on favorite for 2018 Oscar predictions, swinging for the fences with "Detroit," "Phantom Thread," and "Downsizing" in Academy contention.

Amazon, Netflix, Oddlot Entertainment, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Open Road, FilmNation, 21 Laps, Lava Bear, and Black Label Media and others have also all recently fielded Award contenders, while studio subsidiaries, Fox Searchlight and Sony Classics pitch-hit for the indie team as well.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, prolific, Emmy Award-winning film and television producer, Jeff Most, took a positive view.

He told Xinhua, "Though Harvey Weinstein helped put independent cinema on the map, no one individual controls the destiny of independent film world. As long as there are film fans in the world looking for groundbreaking cinema, there is going to be a robust market for independent films."

As for the prospects for Award Season, he predicted, "The bulk of prestige films in Hollywood that make up the Oscar runners for "Best Picture," "Best Director," and "Best Actor" will continue to come from the realm of "independent producers and production companies."

IndieWire's Tom Bruggemann recently postulated an unlikely savior for the indie film industry- should it need one: Netflix. Bruggermann pointed out: "Netflix's dominance of streaming platforms is game changing... Netflix has become a - if not the - leading force in shaping the future of narrative visual storytelling. Their massive and global audience means there's interest in a significant variety of niche titles. Netflix's commitment to film can allow producers to argue for niche-audience titles that might struggle within the theatrical model."

Consequenceofsound.net, concurred. "Ever look at the lineup of a film festival and lament all the movies you'll miss, either because you can't go or a decent number of them will never see a wide release after that point? Well, Amazon has taken a big step toward bridging that gap, by cutting out a substantial number of middlemen and bringing those releases to audiences directly."

Jeff Most told Xinhua, "Although the (indie film) distribution model may change, it doesn't mean the business of providing the more mindful entertainment of independent films will not continue to thrive."

"There will always be indies as long as indie filmmakers get to make the films they want to make," Obst concluded to Xinhua.