Will 3-D Kill the Indie Film?

05/20/2010 12:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's good news and bad news about technology for independent filmmakers. The good news is that continued improvements have led to what Michael Cioni, co-founder of Light Iron Digital in Culver City, and a panelist at the recent Whitewater Roundtable, called a "democratization of technology." Now, it costs very little to make a film. Anyone can make a movie with a cheap camera and a laptop.

The bad news is, independent films are competing for distribution and exhibition screens with big budget studio movies - and those movies are benefiting from nifty advances in technology, too -- primarily, innovations in 3-D.

Worldwide, cinema admissions and exhibition profits are up, and 3-D films are a big reason why. With Avatar and Alice in Wonderland (especially in IMAX), exhibitors broke out a new practice we can expect from now on: charging a premium for admission. "We still don't know how much they are willing to pay," David Passman, chief executive of Carmike, told the Economist.

Since 3-D technology is beyond the reach of most independent producers and probably of little importance to their movies, is there still room at the multiplex for the personal storytelling and character-driven drama of indie film?

I say yes, and the filmmakers who've written to about the future exhibition prospects for independent films agree.

"Pricing films differently isn't the worst idea," writes filmmaker and blogger, Michael Walker, but how do you price them? With 3-D, you're getting something tangible for the extra money. Without it, what are you paying for? The budget? The quality? More for high-brow, less for low-brow?"

Maybe. You might have experienced "luxury" or "over 21" screenings in your neighborhood (we have lots of those options in Los Angeles) and these innovations, along with an increase in the number of multiplexes around the world, could provide additional opportunities for more "grown up" fare.

No one is rushing to make low-budget indie films in 3-D? Fine, but will anyone pay extra to see Despicable Me in an elegant screening room with a glass of good wine?

If you're on a budget (which almost everybody is these days), then lower-priced indies and dramas may be a great catch-all for independent distributors and specialty exhibitors. "People want to go to the movies," writes filmmaker Scott Hillman. "In some ways I think theaters are the future for indies. Bottom and top will be fine. The middle I could see getting tricky."

The second technology change the Economist cites could also be a boon to indie films, and that's "the digitisation [sic] of cinema." Digital projectors make it "easier for multiplex owners to shuffle films around screens to cope with surges in demand."

Indie producers: this is where your rabid following on YouTube and your ability to martial the forces of the Twitterverse could really help your movie. Exhibitors want to make money, and, usually, they can demand a bigger share of the box office split from indies than they can from studio films. If a film has a strong turnout in a few key markets, why wouldn't exhibitors want to extend a run or even open on additional screens in other cities?

Regardless of how high or low the budget, technology isn't the ultimate factor in a film's success. My friend and fellow Huffington Post blogger, Cotty Chubb, says, "There's still a barrier to success. Talent." It'll take that and the entrepreneurial edge of independent producers, but the indie will thrive.