Variety reports that Universal has frozen development for the rest of the year — if your project wasn’t already realistically getting made, there’ll be no more cash for rewrites and meetings. Disney’s allegedly doing the same, and Warner Bros. is dealing with its financial woes by stiffing writers. Meanwhile, indieWIRE‘s Anne Thompson calls this year’s Toronto an “indie bloodbath,” with only one big-name title sold for seven figures — Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” — and the days of releases for all long over.
Now, Universal’s been having an infamously bad year, but why is every other major freaking out? Prudence, for once, or sheer paranoia? And the indie market is in panic because this year doesn’t have a “Slumdog Millionaire” type sensation — but it’s never been the norm for a little “indie” to take in $377 million worldwide?
Indie film’s always had its boom-bust moments; think back to the ominous predictions of doom unveiled for Sundance in the late ’90s, when high-profile busts like “The Spitfire Grill” and “Happy, Texas” threatened to kill the acquisitive spirit. Thompson predicts that, at least for now, anything above a micro-budget level is going to have a hard time getting into theaters. My basic reaction to that is something between a shrug and a cheer: that the dismal-looking “Creation” is the kind of movie that’s getting shut out of this new climate isn’t the most terrible thing I can think of.
It’s fascinating that a quirky comedy like “Get Low,” a Toronto crowd-pleaser that stars Bill Murray as a mortician and that sounds like the kind of film that normally would’ve been a distribution slam-dunk, is suddenly a “challenge.” It seems like distributors still underestimate the potential of nakedly commercial fare like “Slumdog” for needless reasons, all the while putting out less-than-stellar fare simply because it seems broad and has a name actor attached — like one of this week’s releases, the Clive Owen male weepie “The Boys Are Back,” whose gooey trailer I’ve heard audiences repeatedly openly laugh at. There’s a whole world of movies made whose target niche seem to be middle-aged couples who can’t be bothered to research what they see before they head off to the theater. Is that really how you play it safe?
[Photo: “The Boys Are Back,” Miramax Films, 2009]