The Film Department and Other Wrecks

Very interesting analysis of the recent announcement that “The Film Department” is closing its doors:

Film Fund-amentals: The Film Department and Other Wrecks

By Dennis Toth | Published: May 11, 2011
Sometimes experience just isn’t enough. That appears to be the immediate lesson provided by the announcement this week that The Film Department will call it quits by the end of May. In one sense, this doesn’t mean much. During its incredibly brief history (a mere three years), The Film Department barely produced three movies (only one of which even got wide release).

But The Film Department was the indie company with a strong pedigree. Co-founded by former Warner Independent Pictures and Miramax president Mark Gill and former Yari Film Group Chief Operating Officer Neil Sacker, The Film Department had experience on its side. It also had the ironic sense of Gill testing the Fates, since the company was founded barely a year before he delivered the keynote address at the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival film financing conference, making his spiel a pretty brave show for an indie honcho with no new titles to show. In a speech entitled “Yes, the Sky Really is Falling,” Gill gave a succinct outline of almost everything that is currently wrong with the modern state of indie film production.

On paper, Gill and Sacker looked to be the best and the brightest. The most solid couple of guys you could get. Total troopers. So what went wrong? According to Gill, it was the credit crunch. No doubt he is half-right. In fact, he is easily three-fourths accurate. Despite rumors of an economic recovery in process, no one is all too clear just where exactly this recovery is taking place, and the effects are very few and extremely far between. Money is tight and the people with money are even tighter about handing it out and extremely quick at taking it back, which is the story Gill told The Wrap.

However, there are some other issues worth noting. For example, of the three movies produced by The Film Department, only one actually got widely distributed (Law Abiding Citizen). It was a hit. Sort of. Well, not exactly. Produced for an estimated $40 million, the film took in $82.4 million worldwide. By the old guard procedure for making estimates, this flick barely broke even. The other two films (The Rebound and A Little Bit of Heaven) have barely received a limited run in Britain (two to three weeks each) and so far have grossed a mere $3.13 million. I cannot locate a budget for these movies, but a reasonable guess would suggest each film was made for at least $20 million a pop (probably something more like $25 to $30 million for The Rebound).

With the exception of Law Abiding Citizen, the other movies were both star-driven romantic comedies. Of course, Law Abiding Citizen was basically a star-driven action movie. Stars like Kate Hudson and Catherine Zeta-Jones can be expensive and they do not offer any real return at the box office. Oh, by the way, romantic comedies (at least of the old school order) are pretty much dead these days. Likewise, the return made by both films during their limited run in Britain actually wasn’t that bad (the totals were okay, though the per screen averages were less than impressive). But the distributor (The Weinstein Company) did not seem inclined to a more aggressive approach in distribution.

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