Why Independent Film is Alive and Well

Not long ago independent moviemakers were the darlings of the mainstream media.

From 1989 when Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape was a surprise winner at the Sundance Film Festival, indies were off to the races. Everywhere, it seemed, charismatic, enormously talented independents began making news with their chutzpah and often breaking box office records with their original visions. Michael Moore, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Allison Anders… the Horatio Alger-happy go-go ’90s media had a field day with their underdog stories, which became increasingly outlandish when retold by the bourgeoisie, and even rank-and-file filmmakers. (Wow, this Rodriguez kid—he made this amazing movie for about $75 he got by being a human guinea pig—and now he’s a millionaire! And did you hear about that Linklater kid—he schlepped on an oil rig to get the hundred bucks he needed to make this movie about a bunch of nerds running their mouths—and now he’s a millionaire!

And this Tarantino guy—wasn’t he working in a video store just before he made this little cops and robbers movie—minus the cops—and now he’s a millionaire! And didn’t this Smith dude shoot his shakycam masterpiece at the convenience store where he worked—with the change he found while sweeping up at night? And now he’s a millionaire!)

Indeed, the stories were everywhere, and film schools were soon flooded. “Indiewood” developed to cash in. But like all urban myths, the stories got overtold, over-exaggerated, and eventually just meaningless. Flash forward to 2002. Like that great “rash of childnappings” plaguing the country last year, the story is dead and the media has moved on.

But lately, a few reporters have come back to cover the funeral.

Stories have been cropping up with predictable frequency that hail the demise of independent film as we know it, and the evidence seems hard to refute. Financing has dried up. Indiewood is floundering. And there isn’t an urban moviemaking myth to be found. But… couldn’t this just be another spin, calculated to concoct every journalist’s best friend—the Trend? As we enter this 15th year of the modern independent film movement, we decided to find out—by asking the only people who could possibly know the truth—Independent moviemakers and those who work directly with them. We asked a group of 40 to give us their assessment of the health of their industry. Like any good media outlet, we skewed the quesiton, though with a positive slant. We asked for three or more reasons why they believe that independent film is alive and well, and boiled several hundred responses down to seven categories—passion, distribution, talent, technology, audience, personal vision, and the x-factor… the “big fat greek phenomenon.”

Passion: The Indie Secret Weapon

Roger Avary

Independent film is alive and well as long as we have independence in this country, and world. As long as we have the human spirit—and visual storytelling—so too will we have independence.

—Roger Avary

Michael Apted

As long as there are directors, writers, producers, and actors, with singular voices and visions, with the passion to tell the stories studios have forgotten, there will be independent film.

—Michael Apted

Independent films come from the heart and the public knows this. Mainstream films are created by a committee who just do paint by numbers and force it down the public’s throat. Indie films are made not for profit, not for fame, but for one reason: the love of art.

—Lloyd Kaufman

Patrick Gorman

These are the only reasons why independent film is alive and well: The artistic passion, optimism, grit, and determination of the independent filmmaker defies economic cycles or trends. Filmmakers will see to it that their film is made one way or another, with or without stars, with or without money, and with or without help. I have never succeeded in talking a prospective independent filmmaker out of getting into the film business, though I have tried. Neither logic, nor business sense, nor horse sense, nor horrific war stories have daunted them. They just keep coming, and so do the movies.

—Patrick Gorman

People love movies. They love to watch them, they love to make them, they love to know people who make them, they love to be involved even in some peripheral way with their creation. And as long as there are stories to be told, people will find a way to tell them visually. Studios might not be throwing around acquisition money like they used to, but every year a small percentage of films is going to get scooped up and make us indie filmmakers think we have a shot at winning the lottery.

—Neil Turitz

Peter Baxter

It’s bollocks to think the “demise of Independent film” is based on the fall of companies like FilmFour, Lot 47 and Good Machine or even current dodgy economics within this sector when a bunch of no names make My Big Fat Greek Wedding show us all the dizzying heights attainable. But, if the mainstream media are sounding the alarm about the demise of independent film based on what they have been spoon-fed over the last several years by artful marketers and publicists, give me the ‘bleedin speaker system to plug it into. Since the mid-’90s many independent filmmakers and producers have matured not only in years but also in their decision to move up the film market chain. As a result, most filmmakers choosing this course have been co-opted by a studio or a mini major attached to a studio as well as being governed by marketing strategies before any production begins. Disney-owned Miramax shows how this is done. Often, a Sundance premiere and a huge press campaign will help complete the job. In other words, around the end of the last century, those who cleverly developed it into a marketing strategy castrated the independent film movement. And, in believing the film food chain is all linked together, that kind of promotion is a positive for moviemakers. The point is, the term “independent” at best has been fragmented and at worst, if you don’t particularly like change, destroyed. Today, there have never been so many low budget filmmakers working to create true independently made films (Slamdance received over 2,800 of them for its 2003 festival). Though the mainstream media might not find the term “low budget” as sexy as they once did with “independent,” it does prove useful in accurately depicting an environment full of passion, vigor and emerging film talent, three of the most important filmmaking elements. Just look and you will see.

—Peter Baxter

With the number of passionate young filmmakers coming out of this film school and others, there will always be people making films that mean something to them, if not to the distributors and studio execs looking for formula films. These personal indie films will find a market, if underground, on DVD, at festivals and word of mouth. Occasionally one will even take off and go mainstream. Personal passion is the driving force behind independent cinema. This kind of filmmaking is risky, yes, but that is where the art lies, within the risk. Only the indie filmmaker can afford to take that risk for they have little to lose.

—David Lyman

Albert Maysles

Each year in this country alone film schools are turning out 25,000 film students ready and eager to spread their wings. As the quality of TV and cinema continues to decline, the passion and higher quality of independent work will increasingly stand out in contrast, and commence to drive out the junk.

— Albert Maysles

Talent: Independence Attracts It

As long as studios are unwilling or unable to take chances with edgier material—as opposed to the formulaic stuff to which they have become so attached—independent film will exist. Indie film is a neccessity, not just to the unknown actors and filmmakers who struggle to reach that next level of success, but as an outlet for established artists. You’ll always see people like Jennifer Aniston taking far less money to do a movie like The Good Girl because it’s the surest way to show the world she is more than a nice sitcom hairdo.

—Neil Turitz

Movie stars are increasingly willing to trade in part of their hefty paychecks to do more work that challenges their acting skills—work that is provided by independent films.

—Jeremy Arnold

Established filmmakers and actors, whom audiences are genuinely interested in, drop everything, including their salaries, to do exciting, provocative, challenging work. Whether it’s Alfonso Cuaron, Gus Van Sant, Mira Nair, Matt Damon, or Jodie Foster, there are still numerous instances where everyone gambles and everyone wins—artistically and economically.

—Mark Urman

We all know actors steer the big studio boat. But they do a helluva lotta driving on the indie Greyhound, too. Most good actors don’t care about “financing in place,” they care about challenging work. They’re bored by formula scripts that come with shiny “offers attached.” Of course, you need a savvy producer who can get to the agent, and a script that said agent likes and is willing to pass along. And you have to approach actors who haven’t sold out to the irresistible tug of multi-million dollar paydays and myriad of agents, managers, lawyers, accountants, publicists, and spouses begging them to choose the $40 million film over the $4 million film. But such actors are out there if you’re timing is right.

—Steven Peros

Name actors will continue to be drawn to character-driven subject matter and therefore will lend clout to the smaller independents.

—Alexandre Rockwell

We have found that there is an increasing willingness by A-list actors to involve themselves in character-driven films perceived to be a worthy investment of their time and effort, to compliment their more obvious studio choices.

—John Penotti

Indepedent films will always occupy a crucial place in the industry because they provide a place where actors can take risks that are otherwise less available in traditional studio films.

—Lee Daniels

Lenmore Syvan

At the end of the day, the strength of the indie film community is the extraordinary talent level of producers, writers, and directors. That’s the reason independent films are here to stay.

—Lenmore Syvan

The Big Fat Greek Phenomenon

I still have yet to see it, but I put it under the category of Blair Witch Project. I detested that film, but thought it was great for the Indie world.

—Neil Turitz

If My Big Fat Greek Wedding was done at the studio level, it would have been My Big Fat Wasp Wedding. Targeting niche audiences as a starting point in distribution is smart for independent moviemakers.

—Doug Atchison

As funny and well-produced as Big Fat Greek Wedding was, much of its success was based on the ability to start small with P&A costs by focusing on the Greek community and allowing word of mouth to develop from that base. And there will always be a new cable channel seeking product for target groups. Indies can best capitalize on the growth of niche markets. If you can’t make a blockbuster film, you can only survive by catering to a niche. You don’t need a full page Sunday Times ad if your film is designed for a target market that loves a certain sport, type of music, devoted hobbyist, or tight-knit ethnic culture.

—David Albert Pierce

Steven Peros

As for Greek Wedding’s surface lack of “name talent”, look at the Hanks family names attached off-camera. You can hear the indie studio grumbling, can’t you? “A romantic comedy with no stars? Well… if it doesn’t cost too much and gets us in good with Tom Hanks, okay… But the guy who directed Bronson Pinchot and John Larroquette in that ’80’s turkey Second Sight? Alright, fine. We’re gonna take a bath on this one anyway, so it might as well be a cheap director.”

—Steven Peros

Steve James

How one defines “independent film” determines how healthy you think it is. A film like My Big Fat Greek Wedding stretches the definition of independent because while it was independently made, it’s aesthetically a very mainstream, Hollywood film. For different reasons, the same is true of Miramax and a lot of those other establishment indie distributors. Their films are often aesthetically more challenging, but to paraphrase Marx (and who does that any more?), their “means of production” very much fit the Hollywood model.

—Steve James

My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Memento and Blair Witch Project are not true indications of Independent Film’s health, even from a bottom-line perspective. They are aberrations—films with relatively big money backing (either in production or distribution) that hit the jackpot with entertaining (aka mass consumptive) concepts that were cleverly marketed. But Independent film is not about re-creating these aberrations or it immediately ceases to be independent.

—Jacques Thelemaque

New Technologies, New Opportunities

Jeffrey Abramson

Independent film is not dead, it is evolving. It has spun a cocoon and will soon emerge as something brilliant. In particular, I am referring to the digital movement. Independent film will influence the way mainstream films are made AND watched. There are more bar mitzvah kids than ever sporting mini-dv cameras and macs, running around shooting and cutting movies.

—Jeffrey Abramson

Technology is also helping to support the work of filmmakers who otherwise would spend many years with a script under their arm. Practically anyone can grab a DV camera now and shoot a script. Where these movies go depends on the talent of the people involved. On another level, digital intermediate technology now allows movies shot in Super 16 to have a very decent blowup, plus the ability to control the timing of the film in ways that we could only dream about until very recently. So I think that beyond the “Box Office”, which seems to be the only measure of a film’s success these days, there are good opportunities to get films done.

—Rodrigo Prieto

With the cheap means of digital production, there is more independent production happening now than in any other time in the history of cinema. With DVD and the internet as a delivery medium, there has never been a cheaper form of self-distribution available for first-time filmmakers.

—James Boyd

Indie Film is incredibly resilient. We won’t see films like Two Ninas made the same way ever again. When I made that film five years ago, the cheapest way to have it look remotely presentable was to shoot Super-16, then blow it up to 35mm. Today, I’m getting ready to make another film and it’s going to be on digital. Five years later and it’s a different format, bigger names, similar price. With stats like that, why spend the extra money on film unless you could easily afford to?

—Neil Turitz

The “democratization of technology” makes it easier and easier to make films outside the studio system. With the arrival of digital projection and distribution, the system will crack open even further. While none of this guarantees the quality level, the results have been encouraging, interesting, and fun.

—Jonathan Dana

Paul Bales

Dana Digital filmmaking has made it possible for almost anyone to make a movie inexpensively. As more people acquire the equipment and skills to create and edit their own films, the number of digital independents will increase exponentially. Over the last couple of years, SAG has seen a steady influx in the number of producers signing low budget agreements who are shooting in digital format.

—Paul Bales

Through our website and the massive amount of films submitted to the Tromadance Film Festival and our acquisitions department, we’ve learned that millions of young people have taken advantage of virtually costless digital technology. There appears to be a newly augmented worldwide group of youthful independent filmmakers who are making competent, profound, technologically-sophisticated and entertaining movies in their basements. It is clear to me that digital technology is empowering more independent filmmakers now than in previous cinematic history.

—Lloyd Kaufman

An attitude that embraces high standards will keep independent cinema vital. Independent film is sometimes synonymous with crappy-looking home movies. Don’t abuse the new technology. If you shoot on digital, be even more rigorous in your casting, rehearsal, lighting, editing than if you were shooting film.

—Doug Atchison

Ten-year-old kids are shooting, editing, and distributing their films on DVD. They’re editing in between classes on their i-Book, stealing SFX shots from the internet, and continually learning to make better movies. In 10 years, their moviemaking skills will mature beyond the gates of Sundance.

—James Boyd

The DV revolution and post-house programs for your home computer have eroded financial barriers in a way unimaginable 20 years ago. Granted, a number of DV films are made in haste without first fully developing their scripts and vision, but the revolution has made it possible for the serious student of film to create a lush feature for less than the cost of a film school tuition. It’s only a matter of time before the next John Cassavetes or John Sayles sets this format into overdrive.

—David Albert Pierce

Exhibition: A Transition Period

As is the case when any liberty is suppressed, it always bounces back strong. Film festivals are breaking box-office records. Our audiences are becoming more and more accepting as we stretch the envelope. And our cross-over audience is also growing. So are more or fewer indie films being made? Quantity is not an issue—as festivals like ours have gotten much more selective in our programming, the dividend has been fantastic.

—Gregory von Hausch

Joel Bachar

Independent cinema is alive and well because not only are microcinemas popping up all over the world every week, but audiences are filling up microcinemas all over the world every week to watch films they actually like!

—Joel Bachar

When the digital distribution systems become finalized, more indie product will be able to reach theaters. Alternative site venues are becoming a hot-bed of new talent, as more specialized films forgo traditional distribution routes.

—James Boyd

Smart, tasteful audiences will always be there, persistent, motivated, original storytellers will always be there, and valuable showcases like Sundance, Slamdance, and Avignon will always be there to bring them together.

—Jerome Henry Rudes

Alexandre Rockwell

Film festivals are filled with wonderful independent film product and have for all intent and purpose become an alternative source for exhibition. The difficulty is not so much in making independent film but rather in its exhibition. There are only so many screens in movie theaters and the promoter with the most money will dominate those screens. We are in a transition period where the audience is out there and I believe to a large extent dissatisfied with Hollywood fare. But the risk is high and it’s hard to find the small distributor who is willing to take it. There is probably some clever independent exhibitor out there who is as I write this figuring out some genius plan to get smaller indie product out to its maximum audience.

—Alexandre Rockwell

Distribution: Room for New Models

As companies fold, others will appear to fill the vacuum. Just as filmmakers want that magic check, distributors hope they’re buying the next sensation which can bring them respect, kudos and, most importantly, profits—because they were “visionary” enough to put the thing in theaters.

—Neil Turitz

Independent film no longer will be limited to production. Soon there will be much more access and options in distribution and exhibition. Distributors may be passed over completely by marketing-savvy filmmakers who sell their films directly to theaters and do co-op advertising and kick-ass public relations. This isn’t a new idea, filmmakers have been doing it for some time—but it will become more acceptable and a system will start to form around it and technology will better support it.

—Jeffrey Abramson

Distribution is another matter, but good movies have a way of growing legs and getting around.

—Rodrigo Prieto

With the stock market as tenuous as it is, we have found that several high net worth individuals and some aggressive private equity funds increasingly have an appetite for investments in this sector.

—John Penotti

Mark Urman

For every company that goes under, a new one seems to crop up. Last year marked the birth of THINKFilm, Magnolia, and Newmarket, each of which has already had at least one bona fide hit, meaning they get to renew for another year. As long as there are enough Don Quixotes out there willing to tilt at windmills, there is hope. But, then again, Don Quixote was mad!

—Mark Urman

As studios increase their focus on high-end, tent pole films, many stories will be overlooked. That’s why independent film is so important.

—Michael Apted

Independent producers are fortunate that, in addition to established labels like Miramax and Sony Classics, there are respected and thoroughly committed specialized distributors like UA, Focus, Lions Gate and Paramount Classics looking to back interesting films. In addition, outlets like Samuel Goldwyn, IFC and Newmarket, and specialized houses like Arrow, etc., provide even more options.

—John Penotti

Due to the volatility of the independent film business, companies will come and companies will go.

—Michael Apted

Unfortunately, because of the five or six devil-worshiping international media conglomerates that own and control all means
of distribution, we the public are often denied the pleasure of viewing fine independent works of art. Instead, we are being spoon-fed Hollywood baby food like XXX in thousands of cinemas all over the world.

—Lloyd Kaufman

More money than ever was generated by independent films in 2002. For every company that goes under, another pops up. This agency has committed more resources behind indie films than ever before—it’s become a major segment of our motion picture department and practically every client has an indie film they want to do. We made 15 films this year. William Morris Independent has the opening film of Sundance (Levity) and five other great films in the festival, and we received nine Spirit Award nominations for four of our films. The other agencies have followed our lead, which is flattering, but more importantly, they will help maintain growth in independent films by being more proactive in this arena.

—Cassian Elwes

The future of distribution will soon play a real role in the advancement of independent filmmaking. Online distribution and multiple Video On Demand Channels will be then next big boost to the indie film world.

—John Peterson

Edoardo Ballerini

Indie filmmaking’s current strength is being driven by a combination of the studios shying away from anything experimental, thus forcing riskier and more controversial material into its own, clearly defined arena. I believe that current events have spurred a need for a creative outlet. The artistic spirit will always test limits, and in the world of filmmaking, that will most likely occur in an independent setting.

—Edoardo Ballerini

Unfortunately, the commercial networks are still closed to outsiders, but other opportunities for distribution are greater than ever. There are cable networks, DVD and soon the Internet.

—Albert Maysles

The demise of “independent film” companies means the re-birth of truly independent film. Numerous companies jumped on the indie bandwagon in the late ’90s, greedy to cash in on its perceived profitability. Even well-meaning companies like Next Wave Films, which did indeed help numerous truly independent filmmakers, were funded by corporate behemoths obsessed with the bottom line. Sundance Channel is owned by Viacom. IFC is owned by Rainbow Media, which is in turn owned by Charter Communications. The Sundance Film Festival, funded largely by huge corporate sponsorship and studio interests has relegated true independent cinema to a minor sideshow called American Spectrum. IFP, funded by many of the same business entities behind Sundance, produces the Spirit Awards, the largest so-called “indie” awards show, which has become not much more than an advertising tool for IndieWood (my term for the Miramaxes, Fine Lines, Fox Searchlights and others of that ilk). Examining the numerous small distributors who have bitten the dust reveals that most, if not all, were operating within a classic studio paradigm—without studio financial resources. They spent their energy fishing for “hits,” and when they came up empty, their boats sunk. There is now a shaking out of wannabes and trendies and opportunists who have never really understood independent film, nor how it works in the cultural landscape, nor how to make it financially viable in any realistic way. Independent film, as a state of being, will only grow stronger under current cultural circumstances. There are audiences eager to be fed something other than the glossy but stale corporate propaganda they are forced to consume at the local cineplex. The flood of independent cinema will break the distribution dam. The apparent “demise” of independent film exists solely in perception, which has been created by this bottleneck in distribution. Truly creative filmmakers must continue to create. More and more work will push against this dam, eventually breaking it apart. Old modes and methods of distribution are falling apart and something will emerge to take its place that will service the flood of fresh indie work.

The challenge facing independent film has nothing to do with its loss of business viability and everything to do with its struggle for artistic credibility. Once we re-define in public perception the meaning of a successful independent film movement—a definition that focuses not on the bottom line, but on productivity and artistic ambition—we will see that it is indeed thriving. Independent film is not a commodity, it is a state of being. When people talk about the crisis in independent film, they’re usually speaking from an economic perspective. Business entities have worked hard to cash in on independent film’s sexiness and profitability. They worked to commodify it by packaging and branding it for easy public consumption. Visibility and dollars did indeed come, but independent film had to cease being independent for it to happen. This is because the very definition of independent film defies commodification. Truly independent film is not just indepdendent of studio dollars—but of any entities, business or otherwise, that would seek to control it.

—Jacques Thelemaque

James Boyd

With the sudden maturation, and eventual collapse of the Indiewood distribution system, moviemakers are finding alternative means of self-distribution. In terms of history, we’re just now at the beginning of a new artistic cycle. With digital cinema as the catalyst, a new world of production and distribution is at the fingertips of a new generation of filmmakers.

—James Boyd

Audiences: Can’t Fool Them All the Time

A sizeable audience can turn out for a three-hour-long, digitally shot, subtitled Inuit film. Whenever a success this unlikely occurs, it makes just about anything seem possible. Proving that every silver lining has a cloud, LOT 47 effectively shut down just as The Fast Runner became, by a wide margin, their greatest success. Anything is, indeed, possible.

—Mark Urman

Apparently some studios have come to realize the value of letting filmmakers achieve their vision without the hindrance of a “client” demanding things from them. I think that instead of fretting about the demise of “independent” movies, we should support independent thinkers and artists who are fighting to have a voice. There will always be an audience for movies that don’t depend on making $50 million on the opening weekend to survive.

—Rodrigo Prieto

Indies will never die because those predictable, manipulated popcorn eaters surprise us now and then by showing up for movies like The Crying Game, Y Tu Mama Tambien and Greek Wedding, and making them hits. They aren’t as predictable and manipulated as we think. Though by and large they do like popcorn.

—Steven Peros

The success of Monsters Ball, the film that I produced, demonstrates that independent films can still be extremely profitable.

—Lee Daniels

In writing for The New York Times, film director James Brooks called attention to the fact that my film, Terror Firmer, shows a movie director (played by me) urinating on a cameraman and two actors simulating bathroom sex. Mr. Brooks clearly did not feel that my art had much merit. Therefore, independent filmmaking must be very much alive if somebody like me is still, after 30 years, able to write and direct the deranged, gore-and-breast-infested movies that I make. Audiences want originality that the phalanx of the mainstream Gerber dealers can’t deliver. All the PR and marketing tie-ins can’t brainwash intelligent supporters of independent art. I’ve been in an auditorium that seats 2,000 people filled to capacity to see an obscure Catalonian film get a standing ovation. There’s an entire universe of independent film supporters who appreciate watching a meaningful movie.

—Lloyd Kaufman

Caveh Zahedi

People need art in their lives, and you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

—Caveh Zahedi

There are always highs and lows in the cultural life of a society. Sometimes audiences and distributors will gravitate toward the spectacle and, like ancient Romans, clamor to see the gladiators battle the lions. At other times we can afford to think for ourselves and enter into the dark cathedral of a cinema and dare to dream our own dreams of what magic and beauty the personal cinema still has to offer. Kurosawa, Truffaut, Vigo, Cassavetes, and Fellini are words that hold and the same power as water, fire, earth, and sky. It is my hope that a future generation will enter that cathedral and, as Ingmar Bergman once said, lay a brick in the construction of the great cathedral of world cinema.

—Alexandre Rockwell

As watered-down, event-driven films are crammed down the throat of Americans, audiences will splinter into the dark safety
of an indie film.

—James Boyd

Personal Vision and Independent Spirit

The best stories are still being told by the independents. The studios concentrate on big-budget tent-pole pictures, which are often fun and entertaining, but usually speak to the lowest common denominator. Indie film is still the place to go for thought-provoking, unique, controversial, and courageous storytelling. For the past three years, the SAG has signed over 1,600 independent films per year to the various SAG Agreements. The fact that this number has remained consistent, despite the economic downturn, the studio production slow-down, and the effects of 9-11, is quite remarkable and indicates a robust independent scene.

—Paul Bales

There will always be issues to uncover, places to explore, people with unique experiences. And there will always be a few controlling entities that will be fearful of investing resources into new topics or technology. This creates a fertile farmland for independent thought, and cinema is the world’s most engaging device to date for sharing ideas and stories. As long as there are creative, innovative and independent thinkers, there will be independent film.

—Jeffrey Abramson

These are exciting times for independent filmmakers because the line between “independent” and “studio” has blurred. I have been fortunate to work with directors who, while working within the studio system, have been able to keep their vision intact. While shooting 25th Hour with Spike Lee, I felt as if I were working on an independent feature in the sense that we basically did what we wanted (within the constraints of budget and schedule). I am now working on 21 Grams with Director Alejandro González Iñárritu in Tennessee with Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio del Toro. Focus is behind this project, and we have total creative freedom, no questions asked. I feel no different than when we filmed Amores Perros in Mexico, except that everyone is speaking English.

—Rodrigo Prieto

Beginning filmmakers are, by definition, not part of the system. As they mature, some of them maintain their interest in subject matter less “mass market” than the studio system prefers. Fortunately, there are moviegoers with similar sensibilities, so the system continues to go round and round as distributors act as the go-between between these two groups in search of each other. The studios recognize the value of both niche marketing and talent farming, not to mention the value of Oscars, which “independent” films seem to win in disproportionate numbers.

—Jonathan Dana

There will always be a need for personal films about specific characters in specific worlds. If indies fulfill that need, the market will always need independent movies. Focus on stories and characters the studios ignore.

—Doug Atchison

David Albert Pierce

Indies remain the lone bastion that can take risks. When major studios live or die by First Weekend Grosses, the choices concerning what gets made becomes far less daring and formulaic. Intelligent audiences will increasingly look for entertainment that delivers more than just popcorn fare.

—David Albert Pierce

More “commercial” directors are turning to independent films because it gives them greater creative flexibility and control rather than working within the confines and slower pace of the studio environment.

—John Penotti

I’m not a purist by any stretch, but when I think of independent film, I think of films that come out of left field, mostly from unknown or fledgling directors working against whatever wave everyone else is riding. For these filmmakers, independent film will always be a quixotic and tenuous undertaking. But that also gives the work its urgency and true independence. When I look at the current landscape of documentary films in America, I see an incredibly rich array of films that have broken through to garner real theatrical releases. The heart of it all is that truly independent voices always emerge and are still coming in significant numbers… Just ask Geoff Gilmore and his Sundance colleagues who bore the brunt of God knows how many thousand submissions this year.

—Steve James

Lee Daniels

Creative producers always find a way to get powerful films out there. I tell my team if we need to do it with popsicle sticks and lemonade, let’s do it!

—Lee Daniels

Independent Film is not show business. It isn’t even film business. It’s that spirit of self-determination, ingenuity, and innovation that exists outside the constraints of corporate cinema. It’s a state of being that reacts productively to corporate intrusion —which means the best of it may still be yet to come. As long as there are true filmmakers pursuing their craft, and sometimes, art—as opposed to corporate hacks feeding the profit pipeline—there will always be a healthy independent film movement.

—Jacques Thelemaque

Susan Leber

I came here to New York six years ago as an intern for Hal Hartley, and I’ve struggled, but it’s been worth every second. I may not be rich and I don’t expect my next film to be the next Big Fat Greek Wedding, but as long as people like me and the filmmakers I love and work with can keep making films, then we are truly lucky. Someone recently told me I couldn’t make my next film for the small sum that we are producing it for. He’s wrong—and that’s why indie film is alive and kicking.

—Susan Leber

Jeffrey Abramson, Director, Gen Art Film Festival • Michael Apted, Producer/Director (Enigma), Chair, DGA Independent Directors Committee • Jeremy Arnold, Writer/Director/Journalist • Doug Atchison, Screenwriter/Producer/Director (The Pornographer) • Roger Avary, Writer/Producer/Director (Rules of Attraction) • Joel Bachar, Microcinema Owner • Paul Bales, Director, SAG Indie • Edoardo Ballerini, Actor/Writer/Producer/Director (Good Night Valentino) • Peter Baxter, Co-Founder, Slamdance Film Festival • James Boyd, Founder, Nodance Film Festival • Lee Daniels, Producer, (Monster’s Ball) • Jonathan Dana, Producer/Producer’s Rep (Standing in the Shadows of Motown) • Cassian Elwes, Senior Vice President, William Morris Agency, Motion Pictures • Steve James, Writer/Producer/Director/Editor (Stevie) • Patrick Gorman, Entertainment Attorney • Lloyd Kaufman, President, Troma Entertainment • Susan Leber, Producer (The Technical Writer) • David Lyman, Founder, International Film & Television Workshops • Albert Maysles, Producer/Director/Cinematographer (Gimme Shelter) • John Penotti, Founder, GreeneStreet Films • Steven Peros, Screenwriter (The Cat’s Meow) • David Albert Pierce, Entertainment Attorney • Rodrigo Prieto, Cinematographer (25th Hour) • Alexandre Rockwell, Writer/Director (13 Moons) • Jerome Rudes, Director, Avignon Film Festival • Lemore Syvan, Producer (Casa de los Babys) • Jacques Thelemaque, President, Filmmakers Alliance • Neil Turitz, Screenwriter/Director (Two Ninas) • Mark Urman, Head of Distribution, THINKFilm • Caveh Zahedi, Actor/Screenwriter/Producer/Director (A Little Stiff)

MM

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