In any list of over-rated virtues, suffering for one's art should come pretty high. Of course, there's the great myth of the tortured artist - slicing off the occasional ear or slaving in a cockroach-ridden garret is meant to get the juices flowing.

Most, however, find it possible to operate effectively with a distinct skewing towards the second part of the pain-gain equation. And that is surely true of the film business.

This is one of the few industries where heroism is expected from the person stumping up the money, who cannot even enjoy the cachet and fringe benefits of being the suffering creative genius.

A good many producers have to bet the kids' tuition fees on the business equivalent of a 100-1 shot at Longchamp. And then he or she is expected to hand over their project's destiny to a third-party who may not share that initial creative vision. It's like putting the baby in a basket and placing it at the door of the local mansion.

So a report this week from analyst Oliver & Ohlbaum about the state of independent distribution makes for an interesting read. What it confirms is what we've all been saying for some time: the industry emphasis is shifting from production to distribution.

At one level that could be a good thing for our stressed-out producers, fed up with relying on state incentives to produce a film that disappears into a black hole. The report points to a professionalised and consolidated independent sector with the muscle to reach customers around the world and to break through the restrictions of national borders.

These companies face challenges in the next five years: the slowing of DVD, piracy and competition from other forms of entertainment. The report also says a rolling back of tax incentives will make life tough.

But these choppy waters can be navigated by increasing the scale and diversity of bigger entities built out of mergers and takeovers. Some of this week's Cannes Competition titles, for example, may have a greater potential reach than many in previous years. This is, after all, a process that is well on its way, as news on over the last year has frequently confirmed.

Distribution is also changing because Hollywood studios' interest is shifting to the global independent sector.

That producers might be able to work with distributors who can maximise their audience reach has distinct attractions at the right price. But let's remember, a number of would-be mini-majors are into production as well as distribution, so they can exploit the economies of scale.

Consolidation increases efficiency. As the report intimates, change is essential in a globalised, digitally enhanced future. Smarter, bigger distribution promises to confront two of the most important restrictions of the industry: the inability to match product with customers and the hopeless fragmentation along national lines.

But the more successful this is, the more choice will be squeezed out of the market. If one sees production and distribution as two ends of a see-saw, then for years there's been an elephant carrying the customers of a Midwest burger bar at the production end and an anorexic hamster at the other.

Too many films, nowhere to see them, is unquestionably bad. But could the opposite throw up new problems'

It certainly could. Concentration of distribution muscle in too few hands has its dangers. Each will have a sense of what might work commercially - and that's no bad thing in itself, as poor distribution of independent cinema has for too long been lazily ascribed to a lack of customer appetite. But the sense of the commercial can lead to homogeneity.

Watching most studio films, it's possible to recreate the pitching session in your head and see the cogs whirring in the executive brain. While for much independent film, it's amusing to wonder how the producer would have been allowed past the parking lot. Commercial cinema is also not easy; the genius of Working Title has been recognised for years but its imitators have nearly always fallen flat.

The acid test for the new distributors is whether they can deliver the real selling point of the film industry: the ability to surprise. And that might mean quite a bit of pain for its gains.