Thursday, March 31, 2011

Independent Filmmaking

                                           (500) Days of Summer--Dir. Marc Webb--
                                                                                      Dist. by Fox Searchlight Pictures

What does it mean to be an independent filmmaker? Does it mean that I have little to no budget, or that I work with no name actors, or that I have no chance of making money? Not really, as many independent films these days have budgets in the millions, work with actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and George Clooney, and have at times made large amounts of money. So, moving past the superficial aspects of the independent system, we can now look into what it means, at least to me.

Independent filmmaking for me is the ability to create what you what, whenever you want, however you want. Its the ultimate rejection of authority, the biggest ‘fuck you’ to an establishment that I can imagine. Independent film allows me to challenge an establishment such as Hollywood and show them the truths that they forgot as they were churning out crap movies just for a small profit margin. That sounds poetic, and it is, but it goes deeper than just pathetic garden poetry and reaches the darkest emotional expressions of the human psyche. Within independent film, I am able to express what I am feeling, without the need to worry about brand executives bitching and big actors whining and studios freaking out. I can make a film about the birth of a child conceived from a rape to point out the stupidity of anti-abortion activists or write dialogue that has no place except to relieve me of some emotional burden. I can do all of this, because its not about the money.

That is the crux of the whole matter. Money forces people to be cautious within their storytelling, and deprives audiences of the richness of emotional relief. In order to be a happy, well adjusted human being we have to occasionally clear out the scars and glass that go along with trying to form relationships, and forgive ourselves for the mistakes we have made. Far too often, we are denied this by big budget movies, whose idea of emotional pain is a spatter of dialogue and someone dying in another’s arms. But it rarely feels real. It almost always feels like the lead is being an irrational bitch and the leads emotional other is a useless cryer. Money, in my opinion, forces studios to make concessions in areas that are vital to a films quality.

I’m not saying money is bad, because it isn’t. Money is the driving force behind nearly everything that is done, so it would be stupid to call money bad when money motivates people to create better products. But not always, and that is never truer the case as in the second Transformers movie, ‘The Fallen.’ In ‘The Fallen’, Sam Witwicky is killed while running in the middle of a firefight between American soldiers and Fallen Transformers. His parents are in this scene as well, which, if you’ve seen the movie, is retarded. Look, I know there might be a “logical” explanation to why they are in the middle of a desert during the middle of a war, but it was really just a set up in order to create a idiotic emotional response from parents in the theater, who would hug their kids just a little bit harder after the film mercifully ended. Anyways, Witwicky is dead, lying in front of whateverthehell Megan Fox’s characters name is, and she’s crying and the parents are crying and the soldiers are in shock at seeing someone dead in a war zone and everyone is standing around because its appropriate for a group of soldier to let a bunch of civilians with no combat training stand RIGHT WHERE THE IDIOT DIED, and ignore the battle around them. It was the biggest, most cheesiest sack of dog rape that I have ever seen, and the sad thing is that I felt a little, teensy twinge, as if I was so desperate for an emotional connection that I would look for it in a Michael Bay movie.. And then it hit me: this is what we have become accustomed to, so this is all we look for. Rare are the days when a film like ‘Good Will Hunting’ invoked real emotion in the scene with Robin Williams and Matt Damon, and common as a Zubat in Mt. Moon are the moments when a movie like ‘Transformers’ tries to pull the heartstrings but instead closes us off to real emotional connections.

I guess the best way to sum this all up is to say that independent film is the antithesis of what I just wrote. And before you get angry and point out there have been terrible independent films, I agree with you. I have seen, and made, some crap independent films. But, unlike many big movies that are only concerned with making money, independents can create without fear, because they don’t matter within the financial realm. Because they don’t matter, they end up mattering, because they’re made with the creators happiness in mind. And seeing true joy within the confines the medium of film allows us to become attached to the meaning of it, and allows us, for a moment, to relieve the pain that we all share.


  1. I approve of the Pokemon reference. In other news, this is about indie filmmaking and not the merits of the studio system, but I do want to briefly say that I don't think putting scenes or scenarios into a film just for narrative standards of emotional height or comedy makes it bad. When I saw Transformers 2 in theaters the audience absolutely loved all the scenes with his parents. And maybe the purgatory scene wasn't actually emotionally scary (we all knew he would live), but I do know that the huge ass explosion before it was amazing. I don't regret the ticket price. I went for entertainment and was entertained. There have also been a ton of studio movies that were absolute amazing and fascinating and emotional, etc. There are good/bad films in each camp. I don't think the same standards can be used all around. Motivations and expectations have to be taken into account.

    Anyways, I'm not trying to start a debate about studio pictures. That can be another blog post. Where it concerns indie, I think that you might be overestimating the amount of... artistic freedom, I suppose, that comes with it. Yes, there is a lot of freedom in the indie industry, but at the same time indie films in the past decade have become just that: an industry. It's actually somewhat counterintuitive to the "idea" of indie, which makes the entire subject interesting to debate just what is and isn't indie. I suppose you could be a free roaming filmmaker or makes films and always self distributes, but... I really see that as unlikely.

    For example, if you make a film yourself but then contract with a production company to distribute it to theaters or (easier) just DVD, is it still independent? Isn't one of your responsibilities as a filmmaker to get your product shown to as many people as possible? That will probably require distribution (Relativity Media) at some point. Going along with that, is Kevin Smith still indie? His movies may not be huge blockbusters like Transformers, but a lot of people know his name. Probably as many people who know Michael Bay. Where it concerns Smith, I think he's really struggled these past few years with this dilemma of what he is now and what he wants to be.

    Staying hardcore indie as it's originally conceived is hard because everyone, especially artists, want their audience to grow, but with that growth comes money, power, and responsibilities in the form of standards, so on. You can be the indie rebel filmmaker, but it's a tough life. I'm not bashing that. I'm just saying that there is more overlap in today's film industry between what we're calling here "independent" and "studio" then there was in the 1990s and it's continuing to shift around.

    So... really the part that I'm arguing against here is your statement of indie films being created "without fear, because they don't matter within the financial realm." There's always fear and risk on both sides, no matter the level of budget involved. Because at the end of the day, I think, even if you want to say you make films in order to express emotions and thoughts about this or that you're still expressing them through film because film allows you to show them to other people. Having a message isn't worth much if no one hears it.

  2. Independent films make money, and independent filmmaking has become an industry. What I am saying is that independent filmmaking is not done with those ideals in mind. They are created to express the inner desires of the filmmaker, instead of being designed with just profit in mind.

  3. You make it sound like profit is 0% of indie filmmaking, though, and I disagree with that. I'm not sure someone would make a film knowing that it's going to bomb just to express feelings (you can argue about the delusions of what film's expectations for success, but that's another story). The idea of just making a film (and here I mean around 15+ minutes, or something that would take months and months to make) to just make it is... I don't know.

    What you're saying also makes it sound like studios can't make a film to express themes. I'm sure that's not what you're saying, but at the same time I feel I again should defend the studios in that they make a lot of really good product every year.

  4. You should know exactly what it feels like to spend months and months working on a 15 minute + film and not expect any money. That is what we are in the middle of right now. And yea you could say that we are trying to get our feet wet, but I think that this project is more than that. It is us wanting to "express our feelings" and it is definitely not about profit because we are not expecting any.

  5. My disagreement is mainly with the supposed line between indie and studio being the motivation based around profit or freedom, because I don't think that line is right. Indie films answer to responsibilities just as studio films do, and studio films can be about expressing a thought over something with the big budget backing of a studio. I feel like all of the stated "pros" of indie can just as well be applied to wider distribution films. I suppose it's less my disagreement over how Hunter portrayed Indie and more my disagreement over how he portrayed studio.

    And personally, I do film because it's fun. I enjoy it. I enjoy the experience of it. Especially when doing it with a group of friends.

  6. Studios will go Transformers before they go Memento. Why? Because Transformers has a lot of explosions and fine ass women while Memento has Guy Pearce and a convoluted story line.

    Sex and violence sell better than artistic expression. I'm not bashing studio; just pointing out independent film is much more geared toward the artist.

  7. Are you saying Bay isn't an artist? The idea he puts together for those films is certainly his "artistic vision?" What about Spielberg, a studio owner? I think I do see what it is you're getting at, though, and I can understand the division you're making. If you want to say both sides are artistic but indie is maybe "more" artsy... ok, but what are we calling art? Is "King's Speech" a piece of art while "The Room" is not?

  8. Actually, is King's Speech indie? I don't know... let's change that example to "Avatar" or "The Dark Knight," heh.

  9. No, its not. That movie was not created with art in mind; it was created for profit. I believe I said that studio films can create the artistic values that indie films have much more of, but its much rarer.

  10. Are paintings done on commission not art? They only exist because the job was paid for. The same goes for commercials, which can be quiet artistic.

  11. Transformers was made with money in mind. I can nearly guarantee you the film "Brick" was not made with money in mind.

    Paintings are not a fair comparison. Painting is always a personal experience; you literally have no choice in putting a little bit of yourself into the work. Film is different. How many times have actors just phoned it in for a paycheck? I mean, everything Nicholas Cage has done in the last few years has been for cash.

  12. But is Brick actually a good movie?

    Nick Cage has also fairly recently been in Matchstick Men, Adaptation, and Lord of War, all excellent movies.

    Sorry, but EVERY movie released by a studio is made with hopes that it'll be profitable. How else do studios stay open? It's naive to hold precious indie films close to your heart without realizing they were only greenlighted 99 times out of 100 because people in charge thought they'd be profitable. I mean if you're talking about amateur/truly independent stuff with a budget below like $50,000, sure. Brick was released by Focus Features. The budget matched what was in the movie. Do you think they intended to make no money from it? If so, why in the world fund and release it??

    From wikipedia, on Brick-
    Budget $475,000
    Gross revenue $3,919,254

    How is that not profitable??

    Both big budget "Hollywood" stuff and low-budget "indie" stuff can both be artistically expressive. To obsess with a distinction can be kind of naive and snobby. And hahaha I think Hunter Furnish bringing up The Room (though I haven't seen it... yet) is pretty apt here.

    Unless they're like Clooney and can afford it, too, actors work for money like anyone else.

    THIS is the distinction- is a movie made **ONLY** with money in mind? Are there no other redeeming qualities? Then, yes, it's garbage. But "loads of big name stars and a huge budget and loads of advertising and a safe, profitable director" and "engaging and important and relevant and worthwhile" are not mutually exclusive.

    My favorite movie was made for ~$15 million and it's amazing. It made over ten times its budget in theaters.

  13. Brick is a fantastic film, actually.

    I've said numerous times in this section that a big budget Hollywood film can be both artistic and profitable. I also didn't say Brick wasn't profitable. But it was made with profit in mind. Transformers was.

    Independent filmmaking has more freedom CREATIVELY because they don't have to worry about money, and therefore public opinion. Very few people are going to sponsor a film about lesbians (Boys don't Cry), but will sponsor a film that has little to no social commentary, like, once again, Transformers.