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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

What is Indie Film in 2012?

During a rather passionate discussion that I got embroiled in on Twitter yesterday, Ambrose Heron posited the question: What exactly is indie film in 2012? That’s an excellent question, and one that deserves a hell of a lot more consideration within our industry than 140 characters quips, so let’s discuss.

Like the silent film era giving birth to talkies in The Artist, the landscape of film as we grew up with it is changing. It is. Over the next five, ten years, while much about what we think of as “independent film” will still be recognizable, the way in which it’s consumed clearly will not be. The digital era is a game changer for our industry, just as it spelled the end (or near end) of film even as the Old Guard at Kodak fought to cling to those little yellow boxes like removable seat cushions after the plane’s taken a nosedive into the Atlantic.

Right now we’re still in a phase of people figuring out what exactly all this change is going to mean to how we make movies. Fifteen or so years ago, I sat in meetings at Kodak where old-school managers argued it was incomprehensible that consumers would ever not want to buy Kodak film in those bright yellow boxes, that mothers and grandmas in particular would never adapt to digital. They thought that K-Spot loyalty, that desire to physically put a roll of film in the envelope at the corner drugstore, to hold prints in your hand and arrange them in albums under sheets of cling film, was eternal. They were wrong. And much as many of us in this business may wish with all our might that the idea of “film” will always mean the communal experience of sitting in the dark of a movie theater that smells like buttered popcorn, with an audience immersed in the storytelling on a giant screen and kickass Dolby sound, things are changing.

More movies by more filmmakers will be consumed, but maybe they’ll be consumed over the internet on laptops, or on home tvs, or on smartphone screens, not on a big screen in a darkened theater. You may embrace this, welcome it, or you may, like me, view it all with narrow-eyed suspicion, but either way, we are going to all have to deal with it.

So what does that mean for indie film in 2012?

You just can’t compare the experience of watching a film in a theater versus watching it on a laptop or iPhone — and yet, we must. I recognize that many home entertainment systems are almost as good as a theater in terms of quality of picture and sound, but watching a movie on a laptop or iPad or iPhone is a very different experience, and if our films are as likely — or more likely — to be viewed on smaller devices, should we not consider this when we’re making them? I remember when the conventional wisdom was that people would never adjust to seriously watching movies on something as small as a phone, but these days people do, don’t they? My kids watch movies and TV show episodes on iPhones now without thinking anything of it. This is the world in which they’re growing up.

And I’m only talking “movies” in the sense that I think most people still think of when they say that term. Television, cable television in particular, is arguably becoming more and more the go-to medium for great storytelling. Will we see more and more of the best indie writers and directors migrating to that medium as demand for solid material increases and money for making “films” gets tighter and tighter? Yes, probably so. And then there are web series, and YouTube, and … so many things to consider that it makes your head spin. This is either a great time to be looking to tell stories cinematically, or a terrible one, depending, I guess, on your perspective.

From a film production standpoint, there will still be films made for the big screen, but as more and more film is consumed on smaller, even portable, devices, might we see a concurrent shift in how films are made, and to the priority we give now to certain aspects of filmmaking? Put another way: If you’re assuming the primary delivery system on which people will view your film is going to be, say, an iPad or smartphone, not a big screen, would that alter the importance you’d place on spending budget on details of production design, or a better camera package, or specialty lenses, if the difference in what people actually see wouldn’t be noticed much on such a small screen? Do you need to spend a lot on post sound if your audience is going to be listening to your film through ear buds?

What say you, filmmakers? How is technology shaping the way you think about not only film distribution, but the way in which you make a film?

One Response to “What is Indie Film in 2012?”

  1. I think this is actually two questions. First, due to technology, the definition of what is a movie is changing. It’s not necessarily on celluloid, and it may be viewed in a variety of different formats other than projected on a screen.

    As far as what is independent, I think that it is a work not financed by studio. In this regard, I reject the idea of films from the Weinstein Company, Focus Films, etc., as independent unless the work was made with no distribution agreement or financing in place. For myself, many of the Independent Spirit award nominees are not truly independent productions.

    That said, the relative cheapness of digital technology has allowed more people to test their filmmaking chops. A film like Road to Nowhere shows what you can do when pushing the limits of that technology. Also Night Fishing is an example of an established filmmaker, Park Chan-wook, making a film with an iPhone.

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“We don’t defy the laws of physics: There are no flying men or cars in this movie. So it made sense to do it old-school: real vehicles and real human beings in the desert. We shot the movie more or less in continuity, because the cars and the characters get really banged up along the way. The biggest benefit of digital technology for me was that the cameras were smaller and much more agile, so you could put them anywhere. We also spent a huge amount of time on spatial awareness—making sure the viewer could follow the action and understand what was happening. There has to be a strong causal connection from one shot to the next, just the same way that in music, there has to be a connection from one note to the next. Otherwise it’s just noise. Too often, if you just cram a lot of stuff into the frame, you get the illusion of a fast pace. But there’s no coherence. It doesn’t flow. It comes off as headbanging music, and it can be exhausting. We storyboarded the movie before we had a script: We had 3,500 boards, which helps the cast and crew understand how everything is going to fit together. Movies are getting faster and faster. The Road Warrior had 1,200 cuts. This one has 2,700 cuts. You have to treat it like a symphony.”
~ George Miller

“I was having issues with my script for It’s All About Love, so I called Ingmar Bergman and we ended up talking about everything but the script. He said, “Well, Festen is a masterpiece, so what are you going to do now?” At that point, I had not decided if I was going to make It’s All About Love, so I answered, “Hmmm, I don’t know. Maybe this, maybe that.” There was just a long pause, and then he said, “You’re fucked.” I said, “Well, how can you know?” “Well, Thomas, you always have to decide your next movie before the movie you’re doing presently opens.” And I said, “Why is that?” “Well, two things can happen. One thing is that you fail, and then you’ll feel scared and humiliated. It’ll get into your head. Second, and even worse, you have success, and then you’ll want more of it, or you’ll want to maintain it. But if you decide on your next film while you’re in the middle of editing, it becomes a very nonchalant choice. And then it’s shorter from the heart to the hand.”
~ Thomas Vinterberg

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