American Independent Cinema: An Introduction

By Yannis Tzioumakis | Go to book overview

8

THE INSTITUTIONALISATION OF AMERICAN
INDEPENDENT CINEMA

INTRODUCTION

Orion's fall and eventual bankruptcy demonstrated to the other independents that economic survival depended heavily on 'cooperation' and 'symbiosis' with the conglomerated majors, the only companies with the power to release a product in every possible exhibition outlet and therefore maximise its profitability. Furthermore, the conglomerates also had the financial muscle to absorb any losses at a time of box office dry spells like the one Orion experienced in the late 1980s/early 1990s. The symbiosis between majors and independents has primarily taken two forms. First, it has taken the form of corporate takeovers, whereby independent companies were bought out by the majors but were left to operate as semi-autonomous units (Miramax, New Line and a number of the socalled 'neo-indies' such as Morgan Creek, Castle Rock, and so on).1 Second, it has taken the form of distribution contracts, whereby independent production companies became satellite companies for major distributors (much like Orion with Warner [1978–82]). Whatever the form, commercial independent film production and distribution have become increasingly 'dependent' on the entertainment conglomerates, to the extent that the label 'independent' has become even more contentious than it was in the previous decades while the discourse on independent cinema has expanded to such an extent that the vast majority of films produced in the US can be considered independent.

The majors, moreover, have not controlled the independent sector only through their close ties with independent producers and distributors. They have also utilised their 'classics' divisions, subsidiaries that were

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