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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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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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