|Top to Bottom: The Decade in Review: Halle
with Billy Bob Thornton, proved she’s not just another
pretty face in Monster’s Ball; Director Kevin Smith inspired
a decade of indie moviemakers with his offbeat comedies; Shows
like ‘The Sopranos’ gave indies a chance to direct
something meaninful and earn a paycheck.
Everyone loves a Top 10 List. Best
Movies. Safest Cities.
Worst Dressed. Letterman’s made a career
out of this fascination. With MovieMaker celebrating its 10th
anniversary (Dec. 1993-Dec. 2003), we decided to come up with
our own list: the Top 10 Most Important People, Events or Things
that have shaped the independent film world over the past decade.
Digital Technology: Moviemaking for the Masses
The good news: The advent of affordable,
high-quality DV cameras and home editing equipment has allowed
almost anyone with the dream of becoming a moviemaker accessibility
to the tools needed for making motion pictures. Films that used
to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars—much of which went into 35mm film stock
and camera rental fees—can now be produced for a fraction
of the cost.
The bad news: The advent of this technology
has allowed almost anyone with the dream of becoming a moviemaker—including
those with absolutely no talent—accessibility to the
tools needed for making motion pictures. There’s no denying
that this double-edged sword makes it harder on true moviemakers
who face a market glutted with inferior—and often unwatchable—product.
Tarantino: Inspiration, Babes, Money, Movie Cameras
MovieMaker began publishing in 1993. Sandwiched around
that year were the two most auspicious freshman and sophomore releases
by the same independent moviemaker in history: They were, of course, Reservoir
Dogs and Pulp Fiction. The former was a sensation and
the latter was, lest we forget, more than just another box office
smash. The movie was nothing less than a national cultural phenomenon,
responsible for turning a former videostore sales clerk into the
poster-boy celebrity for would-be independent moviemakers everywhere.
Single-handedly, Quentin Tarantino inspired countless other video
salesmen, gardeners, pool cleaners and cab drivers to dash off
clever scripts with lots of guns and cool music and enter the exciting
world of babes, money and movie cameras.
Besides inspiring a generation of moviemakers,
most important contribution to independent moviemaking was his
decision to direct an episode of ER. Until he did that,
there were ‘Episodic TV Directors’ and there were ‘Feature
Film Directors.’ His crossing the line made it legitimate
for less successful moviemakers to work in TV which, in turn, provided
much-needed income while they nurtured their pet projects.
Cable Television: New Source of Money, Markets
The proliferation of quality scripted shows
such as “The
Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and “Six
Feet Under” has allowed independent film directors a respected
arena in which to hone their craft. In addition, channels such
as HBO, Showtime, Starz, Encore and Sundance provide an alternative
to theatrical distribution for features and documentaries. Many
also offer financing and/or finishing funds. With the cost of distributing
a film often more than the film’s total budget, TV has become
an important outlet for indies to showcase their work.
Film Schools and Workshops: Learning Curve Made Easy
Not too long ago it was USC, UCLA, NYU and Hard Knocks U. But
over the past 10 years, hundreds of film and “new
media” schools have popped up from coast to coast. You can
now learn every aspect of the craft, from screenwriting to cinematography
to post-production, at a location near you. And if your lifestyle
won’t allow you to become a student, you can go to the weekend
warrior school of moviemaking—and take one of the dozens
of excellent workshops and seminars that tour the country.
With films, TV series, videos and commercials
being shot all over the U.S., it’s easier than ever for moviemakers to shoot
anywhere—and find well-trained, local talent to fill their
crews. Oh, and if you live on a mountain somewhere and can’t
find a film school, workshop or program near you, there are several
that offer courses online.
|TV Friendly: Tarantino’s contribution to indie moviemaking
didn’t stop with his feature films.
Film Societies & Festivals: Exposure Better
During the past 10 years almost every modest-sized city in America
has started a film society and/or film festival. Film societies
often support moviemakers by acting as liaisons, helping with permitting,
location scouting and getting the best rates on hotels and equipment
rentals. The film festivals provide moviemakers an opportunity
to screen their work for the public, for critics on the large screen
and possibly win awards. All this, we needn’t remind gentle
readers of this magazine, helps independents secure that elusive
The Academy Awards: Rewarding Indies, the Movies That Matter
Actors covet the Oscar, but they’re not
going to win one by starring in Scary Movie 3. As sequels
and remakes become more and more a staple of studio fare, performers
need to look to the independent world for the great role—and in the past
10 years they’ve been finding them. Hilary Swank in Boys
Don’t Cry (1999), Geoffrey Rush in Shine (1996),
Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball (2001)… The list goes
on. Because when the majors are willing to pay you $15 million
to be in a movie like Legally Blonde 2, you can afford to
spend a few months working for scale!
The Blair Witch Project & My Big Fat Greek Wedding:
Indies Can Make Major Money
Made for a mere $40,000, The Blair Witch Project, the
mother of all indies, went on to earn $140 million domestically
in 1999. Distributed by Artisan, it proved that a low-budget
indie could indeed compete with the big boys. Three years later,
IFC Films’ My
Big Fat Greek Wedding, made for $5 million, went on to earn
$240 million domestically, making it one of the highest-grossing
films of the past 10 years. Talk about inspiration. These movies
proved to thousands of parents that they were not throwing
their money away by paying for their children to attend film school.
The Internet: Not Just Because of Streaming Video
In the past 10 years, the Internet has made communication available
and access to information immediate. It has revolutionized the
way independent moviemakers see the world, and pretty much altered
the universe as we knew it, forever.
Indie Directors and Distributors: A Generation with a Vision
Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Michael Moore,
Allison Anders, Rebecca Miller, Sofia Coppola and a host of other
top indie moviemakers all came into their own during the past decade.
They produced their own style of off-beat films that exemplified
what independent moviemaking is all about.
And let’s not forget the distributors, especially Harvey
Weinstein of Miramax. Though he and his brother sold out to Disney,
his taste and passion were largely responsible for stirring up
the feeding frenzy that pushed up indie moviemakers’ stock
over the past 10 years. And rumor has it he’s still not afraid
to throw a left hook if it means beating out a competitor at Sundance
for a film he likes.
MovieMaker Magazine: America’s Quarterly
Diary of Independent Cinema
C’mon, you won’t find a list like
this in Entertainment
Weekly. The reason? MovieMaker is the one mag. that
speaks to you, the independent moviemaker and you, the
indie film fan. Entering its 11th year of publication, the editors
like to brag that MM is now the most widely-read magazine
on independent film in the world. Thanks! MM