Yannis Tzioumakis, Hollywood's Indies: Classics Divisions, Specialty Labels and the American Film Market

By Raw, Laurence | Post Script, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Yannis Tzioumakis, Hollywood's Indies: Classics Divisions, Specialty Labels and the American Film Market


Raw, Laurence, Post Script


Yannis Tzioumakis, Hollywood's Indies: Classics Divisions, Specialty Labels and the American Film Market Edinburgh: Edinburgh UR, 2013. 234 pp. Cloth, $96. ISBN: 978-0748640126. Paper, $30. ISBN 978-0748685936.

Geoff King, Indie 2.0: Change and Continuity in Contemporary American Indie Film. London and New York: T. B. Tauris, 2014. 301 pp. Paper, $30. ISBN 978-0231167956.

Mark Duffett, Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Fan Culture. New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2013. 342 pp. Paper, $29.95. ISBN 978-1441166937.

It is a commonplace in film studies to assume that there exists a distinction between "mainstream" and "independent" cinema--one catering to mass tastes, the other attracting more discerning audiences, even though its products might receive limited distribution. With the acquisition of small companies by the major Hollywood studios, as well as the establishment of studio-sponsored independent film divisions, that distinction no longer appears so clear-cut. The advent of new cinematic platforms, as well as new forms of communication through the Internet prompt us to question whether different types of audience still exist for 'independent' films--or, indeed, whether the genre itself still has any particular significance for producers and viewers alike.

Yiannis Tzioumakis argues that it is a common misconception to assert that "mainstream" and "independent" cinema were ever easily distinguishable. The notion of "independent" cinema is now outmoded: scholars and filmmakers alike prefer to use the term "specialty" to describe products geared to specific markets--areas for which the major studios have little no interest (47). Hollywood's Indies tells the story of specialized film as shaped by a select group of studio "specialty divisions" from the early Eighties to the present. They include United Artists Classics, Fine Line Features, Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight, and Warner Independent Pictures. Tzioumakis identifies three distinct waves of development: the first, dating back to the early Eighties, played a small but significant role in supporting what was then termed "independent cinema"; the second witnessed a convergence between independent and mainstream cinema; while the third demonstrates how "independent cinema" has become almost impossible to justify, leading to the rise in popularity of "specialty" films instead. The book is particularly concerned with the business practices of the "specialty divisions," and how they differed from those of the parent companies: Tzioumakis's media industry study approach uses material from trade publications, publicity leaflets and online ads as well as interviews to look at issues of authority--how company practices affected the ways in which films were made--rather than discussing the filmmaking process per se.

Initially the major studios adopted a cautious approach to independent film production and distribution. United Artists Classics (renamed MGM/UA Classics when the two amalgamated) used the security of the parent company to offer higher profits for producers if their work succeeded at the box office, even after the distributor's advance had been subtracted. Three more companies--Triumph, Universal Classics and Fox Classics--enjoyed short lives during the Eighties, but they were among the first to move out of film distribution into financing small-scale projects for specialist distribution. Orion Classics--one of the best-known outfits at that time--had several successes as a distributor (of Eric Rohmer's films, for example) and backed hits such as End of the Line (1987). They pioneered an economic model of distribution that involved no more than 60-70 prints on first release; if the film attracted sufficient audiences, more would be struck, but Orion customarily budgeted for profits firmly under the $10m. mark for all their products. The company continued trade even after its parent organization filed for bankruptcy in 1991, but five years later it merged with the Samuel Goldwyn Company to form the Metromedia Entertainment group. …

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