When Is Indie Not Indie?

Is This The Face Of An Indie Film Maker?

Some time ago “indie film” meant something quite different than it does now. It was not an all-encompassing term for vastly disparate products and methodologies. It was not a marketing gimmick. Kind of like the term “organic”. Originally it meant something outside of the existing power structure, produced by ‘the little guy’, untainted in that respect, honest and humble. Kind of like your local pottery maker at the farmer’s market.

In the same way that the term “organic” has been co-opted by the large, corporate food producers and turned into a wildly successful marketing tool, the term “independent film” has been hijacked by industry professionals and used as a banner under which products are made in the same old way, by the same old people, repackaged and called something different. It’s brilliant, and it pisses me off to no end.

At it’s most basic sense, independent means outside of the studio system. Fair enough. But if a film is made by professionals that just came off the latest George Clooney movie, and actually stars George Clooney…

You get where I’m going with this?

It’s independent in that Clooney is independently wealthy. That’s about it. What this means for us at the lower echelons of film making (and that means you and me) is that not only can we never break into the studio system of film making, now we can never break in to the independent system of film making, because the successful, financially viable independent film culture is made up almost entirely of people who have migrated out of the studio system and set up shop as independents, and/or drift in and out of the studio system.

I hope that paragraph makes you angry. Angry at me for saying it, angry at the system, angry at George Clooney, I don’t even care if you disagree with me. But I do need you to be angry.

We are not of their ilk, we are not royalty, we do not breathe the same rarified air. We are the other guys. The nobodies and losers. We are the bottom of the barrel, the unwashed masses, the faceless throng. Theirs is an elite club that we will never be allowed admission to. Ever.

Fuck them.

Do I sound bitter? I am. So are you, but you don’t lack the decorum I do to spew it out on a public forum. Relax, I’ll do the venting for you.

Another thing that bothers me is the big independent film festivals. I think festivals like Sundance and Cannes have done more to ruin indie film culture and it’s viability as a marketable art form than Kevin Smith’s films. I’m kidding, I loved Clerks. What I’m saying is, that if you look at the big winners at the big name film festivals you will discover a sordid truth: most of them have tie-ins with upper-echelon industry professionals, crew and talent, and are connected to a major studio or distributor in some fashion. And their budgets tend to be relatively high compared to what us lower level guys would consider an indie film.

What I would like to say to the big guys is: Stop shitting in our sand box.

You made it already. You’re already in the club. Do you really need to  steal the name and culture that was built by the students and first timers, the hobbyists and film geeks that do this for the simple love of doing it, and god forbid hope there is a place for them somewhere in the big bad world of paid film work?

I’m not trying to make this a bitter missive on the old chestnut of what constitutes “true indie”, but man, it’s annoying.

I think a lot of it is our own fault, those of us at the lower levels of film making. But I also think there is something we can do about it. We need to recognize our true position, that we are at a different level than the big wigs, and stop trying to be like them with our limited resources. Our culture and station are unique, valuable, viable, and should be celebrated at every opportunity. Why else would they be interested in stealing our cache’? We should refuse the big wigs the guise of existing at our level, and rebuke them at every opportunity. We need to band together.

Speaking of bands, indie film making reminds me a lot of having a bar ban. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, heck even having a garage band is a lot of fun, and listening to a local band wail their guts out in a dive bar is about the best way I can think to spend a Saturday night. But no bar band should think they are going to be Aerosmith some day. Never going to happen. But bar bands can be awesome, and many of them do make a living doing what they love.

An interesting phenomenon of the garage band is that the technology has progressed to the point where nearly anyone can produce professional sounding recordings in their basement for next to nothing.

Something similar has happened in the world of film making, and we are the recipients of that benefit. We can make films on shoe string that look every bit as good as the studio fare. The only limitation now is our own creativity, talent, and drive.

So rather than pine away for the day we can play with the big boys, let’s enjoy our station and journey, stand up tall and proudly say, “We are indie! Clooney can suck it!”


  1. I agree. I’ve been running a fundraising campaign on kickstarter for an indie in the truest sense and I’m sad to say that it isn’t doing well even though I believe the video to be top notch. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1111822369/the-heart-sees-no-color

    • Crowdfunding is tough. I just heard a talk by a Seattle guy who does a webseries called Journey Quest. They have a model that works. They’ve raised over a hundred thousand dollars to do the second season. I’m going to be doing an article on them here shortly.

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