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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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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas