Racking Focus: Indies Have Found an Unsaturated New Niche
A number of indie film commentators have been pointing it out, and after this past weekend, anyone who isn't pointing it out deserves to be chastised: there is a real dearth of adult programming happening in independent cinema, and because of that, intelligent films geared for the 40-and-up demo are having a quite comparatively easy time of it at the box office these days.
The news I'm referring to, of course, is that Nicole Holofcener's well-reviewed new film, Enough Said, debuted to a massive $60K per-screen average on four screens this past weekend. That's without a colossal amount of buzz or a hyped-up big festival sale or giant movie stars, though James Gandolfini certainly generated some interest, as this is - sadly - his last screen role.
We are seeing an increasing demand in the movie-consumer market for intelligent films geared specifically toward middle-aged and older adults.
Certainly Gandolfini's presence and the fantastic reviews the film has gotten (along with Holofcener's consistent, stellar track record as a talented filmmaker) helped make the film's release a successful one. But $60K per screen on four screens is a massive number - one of the best limited debuts of the year - so there's got to be more to it than that. Is there? There is.
We are seeing an increasing demand in the movie-consumer market for intelligent films geared specifically toward middle-aged and older adults. This is for two reasons. One is the fact that Hollywood studios are increasingly skewing younger with their offerings, and comic book tentpoles don't exactly provide for the kind of thoughtful stimulation your parents or grandparents particularly care for.
The second is that the filmgoing audience is itself aging. Hollywood may figure out how to attract increasing numbers of young people soon enough - whether that's by changing the content of the films they make or (more likely) changing the content of the filmgoing experience itself (making it more interactive, incorporating transmedia elements and/or second screen technology), we have yet to know - but in the interim, what we're seeing is young people's media attention being divided between an enormous number of outlets, meaning less space for filmgoing.
Older audiences aren't distracted to the same degree, and folks in their 40s and older are old enough to have grown up in a time when going to a movie on a Friday night (and discussing it with your date or friends afterward) was an integral cultural experience, one they're clearly unwilling to give up in favor of sitting around at home watching YouTube videos.
So with the cinephile contingent aging and the offerings for that audience decreasing, it makes sense that intelligent adult dramas (like Enough Said, like Blue Jasmine - the year's biggest specialty hit - like The Exotic Marigold Hotel, like Midnight In Paris, etc.) are doing relatively well when they find good distributors.
What are the implications? One is obvious - independent filmmakers deserve to know that the seemingly "unhip" idea of making an intelligent, mature character study for older audiences may not be the career-suicide move it was perhaps considered to be only a few years ago, when seemingly every indie film was some kind of genre-hybrid offering.
Additionally, perhaps it's time for filmmakers and film industry professionals to start considering a reshaped film landscape, a future in which (if Hollywood and/or the indie world does not succeed in capturing a major, younger audience) going to the movies becomes a standby for a cultured, older audience, not dissimilar from the experience of going to the theater or a classical music concert today.
This may lead to a world in which cinema no longer has the stranglehold over popular culture that it once had (a stranglehold it is already in the process of relinquishing), nor would it rake in the kind of money it currently does, but it might become a landscape in which a greater number of thoughtful, insightful films - like Enough Said - are given the chance to reach, and move, audiences. And isn't that the goal filmmakers are always striving toward?