The recent coverage by the Hollywood Reporter of the independent film business included an article by by Steve Zeitchik on the current state of the industry. While Steve starts with a lot of doom and gloom, implying that the entire industry may be on the brink of collapse, he ultimately paints a fair picture that I found somewhat positive.
His ultimate conclusion is that producers need to keep their budgets tight and focus on "commercial" films in order to succeed. In other words, make movies that people want to see at a price that distributors can pay and still make a profit. Honestly, that just sounds like good business to me.
Just like the Internet companies of the '90's ultimately learned that revenue does matter, perhaps the independent film business is learning that profit matters. If you want to stay in the business, the people who finance your films need to make a profit on their investment. This is nothing to lament. Perhaps more than anything, this indicates that the independent film industry is maturing into a real business instead of a glamour investment or a vehicle for benefactors to underwrite their favorite flavor of creativity.
An industry that operates on the basis of profit will be more stable and predictable, and allow solid careers to be built over time instead of riding a roller coaster of popularity based on fortuitous circumstances. I have always counseled my clients, whether producers or investors, that the film business is an excellent investment when you make the right picture at the right price. There is nothing wrong with that.
While many filmmakers may disagree with me, I don't think that making money and making art are antithetical pursuits. If you make a film that lots of people will pay money to see, your art has likely impacted the society to a significant degree. If an artist's only goal is to craft a strong message from his or her heart, but that tree ultimately falls in the forest where very few hear it, then this pursuit is arguably not a part of the "business" of film -- at least not in my mind.
Those of us who pursue film as a career know that we must find an audience for each project, not just a benefactor. If that philosophy is becoming more pervasive, I have no problem with that. And that's why I find Steve Zeitchik's observations to be encouraging. He paints a picture of a business environment in which many film professionals will feel comfortable and will ultimately succeed.
I welcome and encourage other points of view. I know there is a valid discussion to be had here, and I know my perspective is not the whole picture. Please feel free to disagree with me.