A couple of weeks ago, I found myself reading one of those quizzes that get passed around MySpace. One of the questions asked my friend's preference for either independent films or blockbusters. Like most people, my friend preferred blockbusters.
That really got me thinking about the bad reputation indies have been getting through the years. But does the average person know what exactly constitutes an independent film? Are they aware that many popular films were independently made? Now, I'm not talking about experimental or underground films here...I'm just talking about your everyday indie.
Though I suspect most people think indies are poorly made, melodramatic, pretentious movies where unknown actors mug to the camera about their deepest feelings, the term "indie" is used to describe art films or lower-budget films, usually produced by a small studio. Almost every major studio has its own independent film division. To name just a few of those: Miramax, Lions Gate, and Fox Searchlight. In order for a film to be considered "independent", it must receive less than half its budget from a major studio. It's not so much a question of who distributes the movie these days, but of how it's produced.
Hollywood itself was formed out of the independent film movement when filmmakers moved west in order to defy the Motion Pictures Patents Company, who was attempting to gain complete control of the industry. Even still, only a couple decades later found Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith struggling to form their own company (United Artists) in order to better control their own work.
Indies are sometimes referred to as The Thinking Man's Movie and, for the most part, that's probably true. Like most people, I enjoy watching movies to escape from everyday life. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I want to turn off my brain!
I don't mind watching a good blockbuster or action flick on occasion, but good grief—give me something thought-provoking!
Typical Blockbuster Plot
The studios want to make money, and they'll throw out any film in order to do that. They will sacrifice character development or a good plot (or any plot, for that matter) so that they can concentrate on the Good Stuff—blowing things up and having Really Loud Bangs. They have the money for those special effects, and people really do want to see that. More power to them! (On second thought—no! Less power to them! But I don't begrudge them putting out these types of movies...on occasion...)
There are film-goers looking to escape into the effects, the great soundtracks, the "hot chicks!!! Hot chicks that kick ass!", as a friend of mine puts it. People want their action, and Hollywood's going to give it to 'em. And when you're really looking to get lost, forget everything about your life, and just veg out—this is the way to go! I guess the appeal might be that the audience knows just what they're going to get when they see SPIDERMAN...or anything with Vin Diesel. With an indie—who knows what you'll get? It's the suspense of it that starts to draw people in! The unexpected, if you will.
But you know what? Even the independent film is changing...we've been seeing that for several years now. Most people probably aren't aware that some of their favourite flicks are * gasp * INDIES! I could name hundreds of movies that people may not realize are indies, but I'll stick to just a handful: PULP FICTION (or basically anything Quentin Tarantino puts out), ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, THE GRADUATE, and FARGO. Still others have become such cult classics, nobody even thinks about the type anymore—DONNIE DARKO, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, ARMY OF
Hmmmm...I feel like watching an indie tonight...
My friend Jason thinks that "Kevin Smith was personally responsible for destroying any clear line between Hollywood and Indie films. Damn him and his effective story-telling." There's some merit to what Jason says...but any thoughts on that are a whooooole other column!
Here's a flip side to the whole indie debate: is there a big stereotype that all indies are intellectually stimulating? That they all have fabulous acting? They're all super-creative and artsy? (Or, as some consider all of this to mean: boring?) To that I say, for every cult-classic like CLERKS, there's the ultra-boring IN THE BEDROOM. For every gem like LITTLE VOICE, ONCE, or STRICTLY BALLROOM, there's the "ummm...riiiiight" of THE SINGING DETECTIVE. Or GARDEN STATE. (Yes, I said it. I even went to the premiere, but that didn't make it any better. Meeting the stars did, but not by much.)
Hollywood stars are now starting to flock to the indies, theoretically for the artistic expression and creative freedom that an indie will allow. While this is all well and good, do you suspect they're just looking to be thought of as a Serious Actor, so their chances of winning that Oscar are better? Or do you think maybe they're bored with the predictable plot lines of mainstream movies? And more importantly, how are the unknowns (AKA me?!) supposed to break out into films if the production companies keep getting famous names to attach to their film?!
Okay, so we all know my preference in choosing a movie. Unfortunately, mainstream America doesn't exactly think the same way. And that's okay. But seriously--the next time one of your friends starts talking smack about indies, slap 'em upside the head for me. Because chances are, they really do like indies, they just don't know it!
* Thanks to Kent, Jason, and Britta for their input!
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