The odds against making the indie filmIn the wake of the dissolution of Ten Manipulations, it was almost comforting to read this piece in the New York Times [reg. req.] by a National Geographic films producer.

To quote:

As an example, let’s take the 2,613 feature films – up 29 percent from 2,023 last year – that were submitted to what has become the primary portal for new filmmakers seeking an audience, the Sundance Film Festival, which begins on Thursday. These completed movies make up the collective hopes and creative output of tens of thousands of talented people. But only 120 of these films -fewer than 5 percent of all submissions – were selected for screening at the festival.

If it’s a good year, maybe, just maybe, 10 of these movies, or 0.3 percent of the submissions, will be picked up for distribution within the United States. What will happen to the remaining 2,603 movie submissions? For the most part, nothing. You’ll never see them, not even at your local video rental store. Without the marketing push, awareness and word-of-mouth that’s generated by a theatrical release, it’s not feasible for video chains to stock your picture.

Of course, Sundance isn’t the only festival. In fact, there are at least 2,500 film festivals around the world, so theoretically you could enter your movie in each of those festivals, and hope that it is accepted at one. But getting your film considered at all 2,500 festivals will require a fair amount of dedication: you would have to send out about seven letters of inquiry or DVD screening copies of your movie to different festivals each day for a year, with no days off.

Still, let’s say you beat the odds to this point. Miracle of miracles, your movie gets accepted by a festival and then is picked up for distribution. The question now becomes: Will it ever have more than a minuscule audience? Approximately 450 movies are released in the United States every year by about 30 recognizable distributors. Of those, major film studios release about half, and independent distributors release the others. But the numbers are even tougher than they look, because roughly 90 percent of the box-office receipts will be sucked up by the studio releases, leaving about 225 independent releases – most likely including your picture – to compete for the remaining sales. When you realize that there will be only a few independent movies that genuinely captivate the popular imagination every year (in 2004 those included “The Passion of the Christ,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and, perhaps, “Supersize Me”) you’ll see what a thin sliver of pie is left for everyone else.

Dour. The article goes on to quote the worse odds of trying to break in as a screenwriter. But the odds are steep any way you want to tell a story these days — theater, poetry, novels, puppets. The only open medium appears to be cellphones.