June 10, 2008

Only the beginning of an end?

There's an article in the New York Times about the risks involved in selling the upcoming family feature Kit Kittredge: An American Girl® — a movie deeply bonded to toy maker Mattel's American Girl® franchise. (Patricia Rozema, of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing fame and Mansfield Park notoriety, is the director here.)

Tucked inside the article was the word that the studio responsible for the movie — Picturehouse, one of two "boutique" imprints owned by Time Warner — will be shut down later this year.

On the one hand, it was a little surprising to me. After all, Picturehouse has had a lot in common with Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, NBC–Universal's Focus Features, and Disney's Miramax Films. They're not mass–market brands, but niche ones. Special films are supposed to be their speciality, and loss leaders are an inevitable part of showbiz.

On the other hand, Picturehouse was staffed partially by people from two other Time Warner components, Home Box Office and New Line Cinema (the long–shuttered Fine Line Features arm). When Time Warner declared back in late February that New Line would be eliminated, I had a funny feeling Picturehouse would follow, despite the success of El labrinto del fauno (a/k/a Pan's Labyrinth).

When I learned that the New Line name would be used as a sort of "grindhouse" imprint in the context of Warner Bros., my thought was that Picturehouse would be folded into the other TW boutique operation, Warner Independent Pictures.

Not so: Warner Independent is being eliminated, too.

From Warners' President and Chief Operations Officer Alan Horn:

With New Line now a key part of Warner Bros., we're able to handle films across the entire spectrum of genres and budgets without overlapping production, marketing and distribution infrastructures...After much painstaking analysis, this was a difficult decision to make, but it reflects the reality of a changing marketplace and our need to prudently run our businesses with increased efficiencies. We're confident that the spirit of independent filmmaking and the opportunity to find and give a voice to new talent will continue to have a presence at Warner Bros.

How can anyone be sure about that?

All I am seeing at this point is more like the beginning stages of in–studio consolidation. Considering the unavoidable fact that celluloid and video discs are indeed made from petroleum by–products — and by the way, how much are you paying to get entertained at the pump? — I would expect more, not less, contraction to happen in Hollywood and elsewhere. It could well mean the end not only for Hollywood boutiques, but some genuine indie companies as well.

And it could force an across the bow question about what we all would prefer to have on the big and little screens.

Not even Mattel, with properties it seeks to exploit on a repeated basis, would be immune.

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