What Is Independent Film?
You hear the term all the time, but you aren’t really sure what it means. What is independent film? Sometimes called “indie” film, independent film is a simple word used to refer to films that are made outside of the realm of Hollywood’s major studios. Independent film is seen as a more pure version of film, as it is separated from the cheapening and immoral influence of Hollywood’s deep pockets.
Independent movies are the perfect antidote to the kinds of films being made by mainstream Hollywood studios. Blockbuster films are starved of the element of truth–shlockfests full of explosions and big name actors making millions of dollars by memorizing lines.
At the beginnings of independent film, they were seen as being “everything that the major film studio films were not”–that means artistic and small as opposed to huge and commercial. Hollywood sells films that are “safe”, devoid of true emotion, meant to let the film’s viewer escape into the hugely expensive special effects the film provides. Indie films are the opposite, small-scale movies meant to show life as it really is. In other words–independent films are films as art rather than films as distraction.
Small Budgets, Big Dreams
An independent film is usually made on a tiny budget. The great independent film directors are well-known for financing their movies in very unconventional ways. The director Robert Rodriguez started his indie career by taking part in medical trials. One-time indie director turned major studio director Gus Van Sant faked a car accident to get his financing from the insurance company. Indie films are made on money that comes from credit cards, loans from family and friends, and pretty much any other financial source, legal or not.
Why Are Independent Movies So Huge?
In the nineties, independent film gained the popularity of mainstream film. Major studios in the past would not come anywhere near indie films because they lack profitability. A small film company called Miramax was instrumental in changing the studio’s attitude toward Indie– the owners of Miramax, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, realized that they could buy films on the cheap from independent film directors and make large profits.
The success of a number of small-budget indie films in the late 80s and 90s (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Pulp Fiction, and Good Will Hunting being pretty good examples) changed Hollywood’s attitude toward independent film.
Compared to the studio pictures, indies cost nothing at all, can be shot quickly, and use lots of first-time artists who command lower salaries. Independent movies started grossing in the hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide, and the studios sat up and paid attention.
Film Festivals and Indie Films
The Sundance film festival and other film festivals became the place to see indie films. Big name studio executives from LA began to show up to try and buy up the hot indie films from the festival circuit. Big names like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Gus Van Sant were all broke indie film directors who made some of the highest grossing films for very little money. They were all discovered first on the festival circuit.
Indie Film Directors
The stories of the passion of independent movie directors could fill a book. When indie filmmaker Barbet Schroder was busy making the film Barfly, his production cash was cut off and the film was shut down. According to legend, Schroder visited his producer with a chainsaw, threatening to cut off his own fingers if the film was not refunded. The film was made, and whether or not the producer was convinced by the chainsaw or not we’ll never know.
How To Tell If a Film Is Independent
It is harder to tell an indie apart from a big-ticket film these days, especially because huge studios are now making indie pictures.
In general, independent films have more lifelike plots, gritty and “realistic” characters and dialogue, and their subject matter is usually darker or more mysterious than with big-ticket films.
List of Independent Movies on DVD
You can find a list of independent movies on DVD at almost every online DVD rental service website, but we recommend Greencine for this.
See also: Odd Films