New York's Independent Film Community Goes From Boom to Bust

My Big Fat Greek Collapse

Richard Lorber, whose art-house label Lorber HT Digital recently merged with indie giant Kino International, characterizes the current situation as "unnerving," where "everybody is looking down field at the digital future, but the business models and the pricing structures have not crystallized in a way that anyone can monetize their assets effectively.

"We may be going back to the pre-boom era," continues Lorber, "where there was no safety net of home video or TV sales." As for Video on Demand, which many see as indie film's savior—including companies such as Cablevision's IFC Films and Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's Magnolia Pictures, which admittedly have had a strong year due to VOD sales—Lorber says it's relatively inconsequential for most art films. "The big VOD channels are controlled by a handful of cable monoliths that are limiting the access due to their bandwidth constraints and pushing their own content."

There may be some silver linings in the current period of downsizing and disorder. Without corporate meddling, indie films could get bolder, riskier, and more fun—like they were before the big studios noticed their market potential. The shared sense of befuddlement is also strengthening the ties among the industry's survivors. "There's a lot of vibrancy among the people that are still working," says David Fenkel, co-founder of fledgling outfit Oscilloscope Laboratories, one of the few art-house companies to emerge during this unhinged transitional period. And, collectively, everyone is looking for new ways forward.

To bolster the troops, Hope Twitters near-daily affirmations ("technological changes are propelling cinema into a new & glorious age of visual stoy-telling [sic], open access, and deep relationship w audience"). And even Urman is staying optimistic. After a stint in L.A. at another now-defunct company called Senator Distribution, Urman is back in New York working as a distributor-for-hire. "Given the cyclical nature of the business," he says, "the more homogenized and big and noisy Hollywood films get, the more people will want to see independent films. So we should be entering the greatest moment for independent film in a decade."

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