Real Independent Film

Not so long ago there was an article in the New York Times that discussed how the genre of romantic comedy has now become the domain of independent films. The example the Times used in this article was a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe.

That’s right. The star of the billion plus grossing Harry Potter series. There’s no way a real independent filmmaker could afford to hire Daniel Radcliffe. His salary alone would fund a whole slate of indie movies. And once Daniel Radcliffe is in your movie, it has automatic distribution. That’s not the case for real independent movies.

There’s a huge disconnect these days between what is classified by “independent” by the industry, the press, and the public, and what us independent filmmakers experience in the trenches. The industry term for independent simply means a movie that isn’t funded by a major studio. It can still be a multi-million dollar movie and have bona fide movie stars in it. It can have a studio attached to distribute it, and it can be directed by a celebrity like Angelina Jolie or Jon Stewart, just to name a few “independent” directors.

What does that mean for independent filmmakers like me and my colleagues? Our work is once again moved down a notch, shoved out of the film festival circuit to make room for the well-funded “indie” features of the connected, and left aside by distributors who are now primed to expect independent features with names attached to them.

This has gotten me thinking about what it really means to be independent. I was at an independent film festival recently with my feature Spirit Cabinet, and all the films there (mine included) seemed to be simply lower budget versions of mainstream commercial films. But we can’t compete with Hollywood. We can’t even compete with most of the so-called independent films out there. So why even try?

Sure, if you want to guarantee wide distribution for your movie before you make it, do whatever you can to get someone famous to star in it. But good luck with that – you’re setting up such odds that you have a slim chance of ever getting the film made.

If, on the other hand, you simply have to make films, if you’re consumed with passion about filmmaking, creating, writing, editing, shooting, storytelling, then as an independent filmmaker you are obligated to ignore all of this and, to borrow a phrase from the unstoppable Lloyd Kaufman, make your own damn movie. And be as fiercely creative as possible. Don’t pull punches. Don’t worry about what you think the market may or may not be looking for. If you’re a real independent filmmaker, the truth is the market isn’t looking for you anyway. Be true to yourself, serve your vision, and make a good movie.

The industry is in such a shambles right now, and the climate has never been this bad for us truly indie filmmakers. But we have a choice. We either make movies or we don’t. And for some of us it really isn’t a choice.

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One Response to “Real Independent Film”

  1. Celina Says:

    I have never met someone like you Jay, who has such a compulsion to make film despite the odds. As someone who lost passion for her own art, I am impressed with such a blinding focus on simply what needs to be done next, driven by an artistic vision.

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