Film Fund-amentals: Warner Suspends Independent Production

With Warner Brothers’ recent decision to cut their ties with the production of low budget films, 2008 is widely seen as the year that independent filmmaking died. However, this obituary may be a tad premature.

The truth of the situation is that Hollywood’s love affair with mega-buck blockbuster productions is now reaching its preordained self-destruct point. Like a bad French movie, it is a romance doomed to turn sour. The logic for such productions simply isn’t there, despite the occasional success story.

Granted, a tall handsome stranger named The Dark Knight made it all look good. The film was made for approximately $185 million and took in (last count and still climbing) a whopping $531 million at the US box office alone. In turn, it will easily take in another huge chunk of change in DVD sales. Such figures are striking enough to turn more than a few heads at Warner’s.

On the other hand, the same studio spent $120 million on Speed Racer and took in barely $43.9 million. OK, you can’t win them all, and Speed Racer was an exceptional bomb. No wonder Warner’s was so amazed by the wild success of The Dark Knight.

Unfortunately, Speed Racer is a lot closer to the standard box office model (it defines the low end of the model). Movies like The Dark Knight are rare, freak exceptions to the rule. They cannot be emulated; only envied. But with its new production approach, Warner has decided to limit itself to four or five such massive productions per year while the concept of low-budget independent productions has been scrapped.

That means Warner Brothers will end up producing one possible hit, two or three movies with mediocre returns, and several outright box office fiascos. Then the policy will change yet again, especially when product demand from other media holdings results in a need for more material.

Or they could just skip media altogether and simply focus on the casinos.

— Dennis Toth