INDEPENDENT FILMS


While you're casually dropping fries in your mouth, you're date leans forward and explains that it's been an exciting time for independent films. In the recent Academy Awards, independent films captured four of the five nominations for best picture, led by Miramax's "The English Patient" with 12 nominations. "The English Patient" was also the big winner with nine Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.

Not only did Miramax win big with "The English Patient" -- the nine awards were more than "Forrest Gump" and "Schindler's List" won -- but it also released 40 movies in 1996, the most of any distributing company, including the major studios, and grossed $250 million in total box office (Klady 52). But Miramax's on-screen success does not translate to computer screen success. Miramax's Web site, the Miramax Cafe, looks antiquated compared to other film sites. It has a promising home page, that include links to Miramax movies currently playing in theaters, a contest, news about upcoming films, e-mail, and has a scrolling news bar at the bottom that reminds visitors about "The English Patient's" success at the Academy Awards.

With arms raised, your date emphasizes that the promise ends when you open a movie's link. For instance, "The English Patient's" site is a dry rundown of the cast and crew, and synopsis of the film. And if that's not a turn off, the background is dark blue and the text is black, making it increasingly hard to read. All of Miramax's sites are like that. For those who have older monitors, it's virtually impossible to read. You politely nod while sipping water while your date continues.

Despite Miramax's subpar Web site, your date reassures you that it is still important for independent films to be marketed on the Web. Then your date recalls another snippet of Ryan's New York Times article. "It's not just the big studios that are expanding their virtual empire .... Independent distributors, which usually lack the resources to spend heavily on television or newspaper ads, have been among the first to push the technology envelope." (Ryan HM21). You're told that besides being a cheap, yet cutting edge way to advertise films, it is also an excellent way for independent films to reach their target audience. Because most computer users are college educated and have the cosmopolitan and intellectual views that many independent films express.

A great example of an eye-catching, interactive independent film Web site is the October Films Web site. Miramax could be described as the big toe of independent distributors, while Ocotber Films is merely the pinky toe. It's a very small company but had a promising 1996, with the critical success of "Secrets & Lies" (Seven Acadamy Award nominations) and "Breaking the Waves" (Best Actress nomination).

Instead of using just a production still and a text list of the awards the film won like Miramax's, October Films' site uses bold letters and colorful design to toot their films' horn. And it gives a synopsis of the film broken down into four pages, each one having one or two stills from the film attractively layed out on the page. A couple problems the October Films site has is due to the graphics and images it includes throughout the site, the download time can be long, and depending on how modern the users' computer equipment is, the graphics can appear "broken" or not as crisp as intended.

Your date stands up, and reinforces that both the Miramax and October Films Web sites have audio bytes of music and dialogue from their films and gives you the link to access the appropriate audio software if a users computer has the audio capability, but a computer doesn't have to have audio capability to view the site. Then heads for the restroom. You yawn and notice that it's now the wee hours of the morning, but you feel compelled to hear the rest of your date's Web page discussion. You order a Mountain Dew for an early morning pick-me-up.

Your date returns and doesn't seem tired at all, and continues to discuss independent film Web sites. You discover that your date's favorite Web site is for the film "SubUrbia" [sic]. With eye's bulging, your date emphatically describes the nine-panel layout of the home page and the vibrant colors. The neatest item is the panel will change different colors when the mouse arrow travels over it.

"SubUrbia" is aimed at 17-30 year olds, another juicy market for computer users, and includes sound bytes from the movie, and music bytes from the soundtrack. The site provides information about the story, cast, production, history, ticket information and a contest constructed as a choose-your-own-adventure story. The graphics are complex enough to offer a choice before the home page appears. A user can choose either the nonshock format or shock format, depending on the user's computer capability.

After slurping the last of your Mountain Dew, your date explains that not only is "SubUrbia" one of the best looking sites for independent films but it has a distinct advantage over other independent film sites. "SubUrbia" is linked to it's distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, Web site, which is a part of the Sony Pictures Entertainment Web site. That is vital, because Sony Pictures entertainment is one of the biggest studios in the world and is very much a Hollywood player, funding current huge movies like "The Devil's Own." That is an excellent way to attract "blind" users. Your date explains that "blind" users find a site without searching for it, they basically happen upon it. For example, if a user opens the Sony Pictures site to investigate "The Devil's Own," that user is then exposed to the Sony Pictures Classics site, perhaps without realizing it was even there.

You're now supporting your head with your hands as your elbows are planted on the table while your date mentions that Sony Pictures Classics is in a luxurious position because of their association with the mainstream Sony Pictures division. This would seem to put Miramax and October Films at a disadvantage. Not to mention that Miramax and October Films do not have an advertising budget as large as Sony Pictures to flood TV and print ads. But that didn't translate into box office or critical success for Sony Pictures Classics, as Miramax reigned supreme in the independent film market, and October Films released two of some of the most critically acclaimed films of 1996. A feat that Sony Pictures Classics didn't come close to.

That example perfectly illustrates the fog that surrounds movie Web sites: how effective are they in attracting ticket buyers? Unfortunately, independent distributors and the big studios can't. "Studios can only measure interest in the home page, not potential ticket sales." (Barboza D6). While it seems Sony Pictures Classics would have the online advantage, it did not appear to significantly improve the box office of their films, because Miramax was the clear-cut independent distribution winner in 1996.

Of course, none of the independent distributors could hold a candle to their Hollywood studio counterparts when it came to a film's budget, advertising and box office gross. But that doesn't necessarily mean the studios' Web sites were better.

Sensing, another long discussion on Hollywood studio films' Web sites, you stand up, stretch, and make a visit to the lavatory. Mountain Dew does it every time

Sit back and absorb the Hollywood films discussion.
Cut to the Conclusion.
Go back to the Introduction to clear up some points.
Go back Home.