In recent years, the state of independent films has been marked by a troubling trend: the decline of minimum guarantees paid by all-rights distributors.
Since minimum guarantees have traditionally been a necessary lifeline for independent filmmakers, this downward trend has raised concerns about the financial viability of indie filmmaking and the future of these diverse voices in the film industry.
Causes Attributing to Lower Minimum Guarantees
The decline of minimum guarantees in recent years can be attributed to several key factors:
- Market Oversaturation: The digital age has democratized filmmaking, leading to an influx of entertainment options. With so much content, distributors are more cautious about which films they invest in, leading to reduced minimum guarantees for most.
- Changing Distribution Models: The rise of streaming platforms has disrupted traditional distribution methods. While this has expanded opportunities for indie films to reach wider audiences, it has also altered how films are monetized. Streaming platforms often pay licensing fees rather than providing upfront minimum guarantees, impacting the financial stability of filmmakers.
- Risk Aversion: In an era of uncertainty, many distributors are more risk-averse. They prefer to invest in established franchises or films with known star power, leaving smaller, innovative projects with lower minimum guarantees or no guarantees at all.
- Socioeconomic Factors: Economic downturns after COVID-19 lockdowns reduced demand and alienated many film-goers, further strained the distributors’ resources, leading to reduced spending and an increased emphasis on cost-cutting.
Netflix’s Global-Only Distribution Policy
Any list addressing the opportunities and challenges facing independent filmmakers wouldn’t be complete without discussing streaming services, particularly Netflix.
Netflix’s implementation of a global-only distribution rights policy had significant consequences for smaller independent films, resulting in the loss of their chance for a theatrical release. The decline in independent and specialty films in theaters was further exacerbated by the lockdowns, which forced many independently run theaters to shut down for good.
In recent years, this situation has been compounded by Netflix and other streaming services reducing their acquisition of independent films, making it increasingly challenging for smaller films to secure distribution.
As a result of these challenges, independent filmmakers are increasingly exploring alternative financing and distribution strategies to navigate this changing landscape.
Notable Distribution Deals (2017-2023)
|2019||TIFF||A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood||$20,000,000||Sony Pictures|
|2017||Sundance||A Ghost Story||$2,500,000||A24|
|2023||Sundance||A Little Prayer||$2,200,000||Sony Pictures Classics|
|2022||Sundance||Am I OK?||$6,500,000||Warner Bros. (HBOMax)|
|2020||Cannes||Armageddon Time||$15,000,000||Focus Features|
|2019||Sundance||Blinded By The Light||$15,000,000||Warner Bros. (New Line)|
|2018||Sundance||Blindspotting||$1,500,000||Lionsgate & Summit|
|2020||Sundance||Boys State||$10,000,000||Apple TV+ & A24|
|2019||Sundance||Brittany Runs A Marathon||$14,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2017||Sundance||Call Me by Your Name||$6,000,000||Sony Pictures Classics|
|2022||Sundance||Cha Cha Real Smooth||$15,000,000||Apple TV+|
|2018||Sundance||Colette||$5,000,000||Bleecker Street & NEON|
|2018||CinemaCon||Crazy Rich Asians||$30,000,000||Warner Bros.|
|2018||Sundance||Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot||$4,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2022||Sundance||Fire of Love||$4,500,000||NatGeo|
|2023||Sundance||Flora and Son||$20,000,000||Apple TV+|
|2017||Sundance||Get Out||$3,500,000||Universal Pictures|
|2022||Sundance||Good Luck To You, Leo Grande||$7,500,000||Searchlight Pictures & Hulu|
|2019||Sundance||Honey Boy||$5,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2020||TIFF||I Care a Lot||$10,000,000||Netflix|
|2017||Sundance||Ingrid Goes West||$3,000,000||NEON|
|2017||Sundance||Jim & Andy||$3,500,000||Netflix|
|2020||TIFF||Joe Bell||$20,000,000||Solstice Studios|
|2021||Sundance||Judas and the Black Messiah||$26,000,000||Warner Bros.|
|2019||Sundance||Knock Down The House||$10,000,000||Netflix|
|2019||Sundance||Late Night||$15,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2022||Sundance||Living||$5,000,000||Sony Pictures Classics|
|2019||Sundance||Luce||$5,000,000||NEON & Topic Studios|
|2020||TIFF||Malcolm and Marie||$30,000,000||Netflix|
|2020||Sundance||Never Rarely Sometimes Always||$3,000,000||Focus Features|
|2020||Sundance||Nine Days||$2,000,000||Sony Pictures Classics|
|2021||Sundance||On The Count Of Three||$2,000,000||Amazon (United Artists)|
|2020||Sundance||Palm Springs||$17,500,000||NEON & Hulu|
|2019||Cannes||Parasite||$11,000,000||NEON & CJ Entertainment|
|2018||Sundance||Puzzle||$5,000,000||Sony Pictures Classics|
|2019||Sundance||Sea Of Shadows||$3,000,000||NatGeo|
|2019||TIFF||Sound of Metal||$4,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2021||Sundance||Summer of Soul||$12,000,000||Searchlight Pictures & Hulu|
|2020||Sundance||Sylvie's Love||$12,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2023||Sundance||Talk To Me||$8,500,000||A24|
|2019||Sundance||The Amazing Johnathan Documentary||$2,000,000||Hulu|
|2017||Sundance||The Big Sick||$12,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2017||TIFF||The Death of Stalin||$4,000,000||IFC Films|
|2017||SXSW||The Disaster Artist||$10,000,000||A24|
|2017||Cannes||The Florida Project||$2,000,000||A24|
|2022||TIFF||The Holdovers||$30,000,000||Focus Features|
|2019||Sundance||The Mustang||$5,000,000||Focus Features|
|2020||Sundance||The Night House||$12,000,000||Searchlight Pictures|
|2019||SXSW||The Peanut Butter Falcon||$20,000,000||Roadside Attractions|
|2019||TIFF||The Personal History of David Copperfield||$15,000,000||Searchlight Pictures|
|2019||Sundance||The Report||$14,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2017||Venice||The Shape of Water||$20,000,000||Searchlight Pictures|
|2019||Sundance||The Tomorrow Man||$12,000,000||Bleecker Street|
|2023||Sundance||Theater Camp||$8,000,000||Searchlight Pictures|
|2017||TIFF||Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO||$12,000,000||Searchlight Pictures|
|2020||Sundance||Uncle Frank||$12,000,000||Amazon Studios|
|2017||Sundance||Wind River||$3,000,000||The Weinstein Co.|
|2023||TIFF||Woman of the Hour||$11,000,000||Netflix|
Filmmakers Adapt to Evolving Distribution Dynamics
The decline of minimum guarantees paid by distributors has presented significant challenges to the independent film industry. While this decline poses significant challenges to independent filmmakers, there are potential solutions to address this issue:
- Diversifying Revenue Streams: Filmmakers can explore various revenue streams, such as merchandise sales, sponsorships, and partnerships, to supplement their income and fund their projects.
- Collaboration: Co-productions and collaborations with streaming platforms, production companies, and other filmmakers can help secure financing and increase the chances of successful distribution.
- Advocacy: Filmmaker associations and industry stakeholders can advocate for fair compensation and support for independent filmmakers, encouraging distributors to invest more in minimum guarantees.
- Bifurcating Distribution Rights: discussed below
Worldwide Film & Television Distribution Intelligence
Get unparalleled access to market intelligence reports that draw on financial data and insights from dozens of content distribution deals worldwide between key industry participants, including — Distributors, Producers, Broadcasters, MPVDs, Pay Television Providers, and Streaming Exhibitors.
Film and Series distribution rates and terms deriving from dozens of agreements for rights to transmit films and episodic television via PayTV and SVOD.
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Licensing Terms & Included Programs:
Pay-1 & SVOD Rate Cards for Motion Pictures and Series Exhibited Worldwide in Multiple Availability Windows
- Motion Pictures: Pay-1, First Run, Second Window Features, Recent Library Features (Tiers AAA,A,B,C), Library Features (Tiers AAA,A,B,C), Current and Premium Made-For-TV Films and Direct-To-Video Films, covering many license periods over the last decade
- Episodic TV: Current, Premium, Premium Catalog (1HR & 1/2HR), Catalog Series (1HR & 1/2HR), and Catalog Miniseries + Case Studies on Current Mega Hit, Catalog Mega Hit, and Premium Catalog, covering many licensing terms from 2012-2024
- Because most-favored-nation rates operate in practice, the rates and terms apply to a diverse range of content and distributors worldwide in multiple availability windows.
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