Oscar-winning producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman knew their movie “Lion” was a gamble when they took the script to Cannes in 2014. The first 30 minutes of dialogue was in Bengali and Hindi, the kind of thing that studios normally shy away from, and they had no cast attached.
“People were really excited about the story, but those types of films are still risks,” Sherman said.
Although there was interest from some of the major studios’ specialty divisions, indie stalwart Weinstein Co. bought the rights for $12 million. It was a lucky bet.
“Lion,” about an adopted boy who finds his Indian birth family through Google Earth, became a box-office success and is up for six Oscars, including best picture, at the 89th Academy Awards gala Sunday at the Dolby Theatre.
Adult-oriented films such as “Lion” have dominated Oscar races in recent years. However, they’ve become an increasingly endangered species in the traditional Hollywood studio system as the major studios have turned their attention to franchise pictures that generate multiple sequels and spinoffs. That has created a big gap for independent producers to make movies targeted at grown-up audiences, the kinds of films that typically attract Oscar attention.
“It’s become much more pronounced as we see studios headed toward ‘Transformers 99,’ ” said Jonathan Wolf, executive vice president of the Independent Film & Television Alliance.
Indeed, 78 of the Oscar nominations this year are for movies produced by companies outside the six major studios, according to the Independent Film & Television Alliance. That’s 31 more than last year and 20 more than in 2015. (The data include the record-tying 14 nominations for best-picture favorite “La La Land,” the $30-million musical made by mini-major Lionsgate).
Even as studios produce fewer adult dramas, new deep-pocketed buyers have emerged, notably A24, Amazon Studios…