There's an old saying that if you stand in the middle of the road, you'll get knocked down from both directions. It's looking like an extremely relevant piece of advice for the film industry.

At the top end of the scale, the current economic conditions are uncomfortable and in recent weeks, cuts have been announced at Time Warner, Paramount and NBC Universal. The global, mostly diversified conglomerates that own the studios will no doubt be assessing the value of their film assets. Nonetheless, it's possible to see business logic in concentrating efforts on fewer but smarter global franchises.

At the other end of the scale, the small-budget film also has a direction. Many budgets will slip from small to micro but technology is making that transition possible while retaining - some might argue enhancing - the creative process. What's more, a squeeze on theatrical potential is forcing a shift towards online distribution that is surely inevitable. Sound business models will emerge because the need is too great to avoid it.

So at the top and bottom of the budget scale, it's now clear there will be pain but at least there are credible goals. However, in what Miramax president Daniel Battsek called the 'middle ground', it is a different story.

This is where we have found the kind of films that have defined cinema for a great many cinema-goers. When people talk enthusiastically about 'quality film', they tend to mean the kind of ambitious movie that needs a strong infrastructure of producers, sales agents and distributors. And it is here the industry has already been feeling the pain and where a prolonged recession may have the most effect.

A number of specialty divisions of studios in the US have already left the field despite their one-time position as the great Hollywood hope. Universal this week is preparing to sell specialist arm Rogue Pictures to Relativity. The closure of Warner Independent Pictures, Picturehouse and the restructuring of Paramount Vantage was disorientating, but there was also a feeling that when the smoke cleared, ground would be left vacant for new businesses.

One of the stories of the last year has been the construction of new international distributors, often with production interests, which will be able to overcome the restrictions of single-territory deals. These companies, each summoning the ghost of PolyGram, were always going to be facing a tough market. Players such as the Alliance group, Entertainment One and most recently Stewart Till's acquisition of the Icon international arm all acknowledged they had a fight on their hands.

A simple calculation of the amount of product each company was promising to put into an already crowded market suggested casualties were inevitable. But now we're in a much more cautious financial climate. Today, banks and financiers are filling out risk-assessment forms to finance the morning cappuccino.

These new, would-be lords of the middle ground have other factors counting against them. They do not have the advantages of scale and they have no refuge in critic-proof sequels or comic-book franchises.

And there are other factors that may count, perhaps including the very real danger of the loss of large numbers of theatre screens as the cost of digital switchover becomes apparent. The decline in screens for specialty films makes Battsek's warnings of over-production look even more of an understatement.

It may be that Darwinian market forces will cull the weaker businesses, leaving the overall market stronger. Over-production has been an issue for film for some years, even if the industry is still shy about using the term. But the economics of the middle ground have always been fragile. The reason this area of the sector has attracted such big personalities is that it requires a mental strength and vision to drive through success.

The industry is in danger of losing the ties that bind the blockbusters to the YouTubers. A long tail and a giant head do not make for a healthy film industry. Film needs its middle ground.