IFH 066: What Really is an Independent Film?

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This is a question I’ve been asked many times.

“What is an Independent Film?”

Is George Lucas an independent filmmaker? He did make all his films outside the studio system and paid for them all out of his pocket. Is the $8000 horror feature created with the sole purpose to be sold an independent film? Is the five million dollar film starring a major movie star that worked for scale an independent film?

The Declaration of Independent Filmmaking written by Mark and Michael Polish is a book I’m currently reading and has an entire chapter dedicated to the topic. I discuss the question, in-depth, in this episode. We are all indie filmmakers but are we making independent films? Take a listen.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I wanted to talk about guys, what really is an independent film, it is something that I talk I talk a lot about with, with other filmmakers, and people in the industry and outside of the industry. And they always ask what is an independent film? And what is actual definition of an independent film. And I think it's something that we needed to talk about. And I also wanted to discuss so anything, I want to hear what you guys have to think in the comments of the show on Facebook, on Twitter, please send out what you guys think really an independent film is because I've been reading this amazing book called an in the declaration of independent filmmaking an insider's guide to making movies outside of Hollywood, by Mark polish, Michael polish, and Jonathan Sheldon. It's an older book that I just came across and been reading and it kind of blowing my mind a bit. It is based on the film making escapades of the Polish brothers, Mark, Polish, and Michel polish. And I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Polish a few weeks ago, and we will be having his interview coming out probably in about a week or so. And it's remarkable, a really, really great interview about how he was able to make his one of his movies. For lovers only a DSLR shot on a DSLR in 2011, I think, and the movie is grossed over I think half a million dollars. And it was a no budget film. But we'll get into all of that when we get to that interview. But right now, you know, the question is what is an independent film? What really, that is the definition of an independent film. And my definition at least as well as the Polish brothers is a film that is done outside of the Hollywood system. Now many filmmakers believe that it's based on budget so if it's a budget of you know it, can there be a movie an independent movie, that's $5 million dollars. Now that's just a studio movie that hiding underneath an independent title. And by the way, you know, in the 90s, when the independent film movement started growing, when Hollywood started seeing independent films making money, then they jumped in and they started to kind of brand it and now indie film is is basically kind of almost like, like Mike polish, like in the book, it says, They basically just say it's, it's kind of like the term fat free, it's so generic and just using it to sell more product. And that's what filming that's what studios are doing now, as well, as they'll they'll take a movie, call it an indie movie, it might be a little bit riskier than, you know, they're big studio pet temples, but it's still using the same method, the same system, the same machine, as you would in a studio in a full blown studio movie. So, you know, it's not based on budget, because you know who the biggest independent filmmaker of all time is. That would be George Lucas. I know a lot of people don't think of George Lucas as independent filmmaker, but he is the ultimate independent filmmaker, in the sense of he was able to create his movies his ways, outside of the outside of the studio system. Whether you agree with him or not, and if you like his movies or not, is irrelevant. The relevant part is that he was an independent filmmaker, he wrote the check for the prequels. He wrote the check for his movie Red Tails, he made those movies himself. I didn't got distributed by the by a studio, but he made it without any interference from anybody, and couldn't end and not change his cut or change his vision for any reason. Some of us would say that that would be a mistake with the prequels. But anyway, that's, that's beside the point. But so someone like George Lucas is a an independent filmmaker. So an independent film, an independent film is a movie that's done outside of the studio system system outside of micro studios, or major studios or Hollywood production companies. indie film is really about filmmakers telling stories that are not being told in the main Hollywood mainstream or in the main cinematic mainstream of the world. You know, that's how the French New Wave got started. That's how dogma 95 got started. These kind of movements, john Cassavetes, work all that kind of stuff. These guys were making movies and nobody else was making easy writer was a movie that kind of shook up Hollywood, it was an independent film. That made more money than any of the studio movies that year. And the studio's had no idea how to deal with it. So independent film should be an expression of the artist, the director, the filmmaker, and almost all studio films do these wonderful things called test screenings. And based on those test screenings, endings are changed, things are changed all the time because of these test screenings. Now in the business, this is the test screening or an ending that's been changed because of a test screening is called the San Fernando ending, which means that a lot of films are test screened here in I live in the San Fernando Valley here in Los Angeles. And they are basically everybody here in the San Fernando Valley, apparently is a representation of all of America, according to Hollywood, and this test screenings, and they are the ones that here in San Fernando in the San Fernando Valley will do test screenings, and based on those notes, they will change endings. So it's called the San Fernando ending, which is hilarious to me. But I've heard stories of you know, had a friend of mine, who, you know, won a bunch of awards, including Sundance and many other film festivals. And her second film, she signed on and had a bigger star attached and went through living hell, because of the producer and the production company with test screenings and changing the edit and not changing you know, and, and basically, this poor filmmaker was so beat up after the whole thing, she just decided to kind of walk away till Finally, the when they this, the producers changed the edit, and showed the Edit, they couldn't sell it. So they said, well, let's just go back to your original edit. And that was the one that sold but by then she was already beaten up so much. And I think that experience showed her what independence really means. And her next movie she did completely on her own finances herself, and to express the story that she wants to tell. And that's really the true essence of what independent filmmaking is all about. Guys, that's why we, what I try to do at indie film hustle is to empower you guys to survive and thrive in the film business. And I want you guys to be able to express yourselves as artists, as filmmakers, as entrepreneurs, within the film industry. And this definition of what independent filmmaking is, is or an independent film is is important to understand. Because not always, independent films are supposed to make money, I would hope that they do because there are real realities of life and you have to make money in order to continue to do your art because unfortunately, for better for worse, filmmaking isn't a very expensive art. It's not just a book and pen. It's not just a laptop, even it's it's not a canvas and paint. It is an expensive medium to express your art and, and remember, budget is not the definition of independent film, because of budget was the sole definition of independent film, then pornography softcore, porn, many other things that are budget related that shoot films would be considered an independent film. And I don't think that's what the term independent film really means. So the differences are, a Hollywood production company is adjacent to or attached to a Hollywood studio, or has a direct relationship to a Hollywood studio. So a lot of times they'll create a movie. And in that movie, you're gonna have to go through all the same crap that you would go through in a studio scenario, test screenings, trying to make the ending happy, trying to appeal to as mass of an audience as possible. Now, I'm not hating on studio movies because you know what, if you're spending $200 million dollars plus another $150 million on marketing on a feature film, you better be appealing to the most mass audience as possible. You have to be responsible with the budget that you're given. I'm talking specifically about independent films. We're an independent film really should be about an artist creating and expressing their vision. In today's world, there's no reason why you as an artist, as a filmmaker, go out with $5,000 like Mark duplass. Did, and or john Oh, Joe Swanberg did or Lynn Sheridan did and go out, make your movie and make it and tell the story you want to tell and get it out there. And if you make some money back, great, hopefully you will and continue to make movies that way. Joe Swanberg did that for a god probably about 10 features 10 to 12 features before he even started making real money, but he was popping them out like water. And he was doing it for five grand, 10, grand, seven grand, whatever, just to get them out there. And that's what he did. And that's something that you guys can do into today's world. If you start building up your community, you building up your following, you can sell your art to people and they can support you and you can continue to make the art that you want to make. And that's what it's all about man just being happy about what you're doing, and expressing yourself as an artist and as a filmmaker. So it's a really, really exciting time to be a filmmaker and Again, guys, I hope you got something out of this episode in regards to what an independent film really is. But I also want to hear from you guys, I want to hear from that tribe, I want to hear what you guys think really is an independent film. And, you know, please leave me comments in the in the show notes, leave it in on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever you can get ahold of us, email us. I want to hear what you guys have to say about this topic. And you know, as a community, we want to discuss things and get things out there and help each other and get different points of views on anything we're trying to discuss, especially something as broad of a question as what is independent film, this is just my opinion, as well as the opinion of the Polish brothers in their book. But I really thought that this is something that we should discuss, and get out there and just have that conversation and get that conversation started. So if you want the Show Notes for this episode, head over to indie film, hustle comm forward slash zero 66 I'll leave a link there for the the book the declaration of independent filmmaking, by the Polish brothers, as well as some of their work, the film northfork for lovers only northfork by the ways, in rodri ever called it a masterpiece. And it really is, it's a wonderful, wonderful, independent film and the story of how they made it is even more amazing, as well as for lovers only, which is that DSLR movie that I told you that made over a little bit over half a million dollars, with no budget, but definitely a pair of filmmakers that you should be watching and looking at how they've done things and how they're doing things currently in today's world as well. And don't forget to head over to filmmaking. podcast.com that's filmmaking podcast.com and leave us a review of the show. It really helps us out a lot. So as always guys, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive, and I'll talk to you soon.

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