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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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MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

INTERVIEWER
Do you outline plays before you start to write them?

PINTER
Not at all. I don’t know what kind of characters my plays will have until they…well, until they are. Until they indicate to me what they are. I don’t conceptualize in any way. Once I’ve got the clues I follow them—that’s my job, really, to follow the clues.

INTERVIEWER
What do you mean by clues? Can you remember how one of your plays developed in your mind—or was it a line-by-line progression?

PINTER
Of course I can’t remember exactly how a given play developed in my mind. I think what happens is that I write in a very high state of excitement and frustration. I follow what I see on the paper in front of me—one sentence after another. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a dim, possible overall idea—the image that starts off doesn’t just engender what happens immediately, it engenders the possibility of an overall happening, which carries me through. I’ve got an idea of what might happen—sometimes I’m absolutely right, but on many occasions I’ve been proved wrong by what does actually happen. Sometimes I’m going along and I find myself writing “C. comes in” when I didn’t know that he was going to come in; he had to come in at that point, that’s all.
~ Harold Pinter

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