Saturday, May 22, 2010

Contemporary Independent Filmmaking

Ever since my time as an undergraduate film student, I have struggled with the idea of independent filmmaking and the state of contemporary independent films. The current state of indie films came to mind again while working on my final paper, which focused on the work John Cassavetes. His status as the pioneer of American independent filmmaking still resonates with filmmakers today.

It seems as though indie filmmaking has become an aesthetic style more so than a way of creating a film. During my presentation, Sam mentioned the cinematography of indie films. The use of the hand held camera has become the ubiquitous amongst indie films these days. This was used for very specific reasons by previous influential indie filmmakers, but it should not characterize a film as independent. Although indies lack major studio funding, they often have the advantage of more creative freedom. This does not only apply to the overall content of the film, but for the crew as well. I often found on professional sets that the people who had a background in film had the most difficult time adjusting to a lack of creativity on set. However, there are instances in which, even as an intern, I was given some creativity freedom on an indie film. These creative allowances were rarely given to anyone except heads of department on studio films.

Although there is more creative freedom, there also seems to be a pre-packaged style that has developed even for indie films. I cannot completely disregard film school since I attended one, but it is obvious that film schools have a tendency to instill a pre-packaged concept of the “perfect” film in its students. This applies to both studio and indie films. Indies have developed their own format for the “perfect” film over the years. However, this format often emulates that of earlier filmmakers without taking into account the best aesthetic choices for each specific film. Just because you are an indie filmmaker, does not mean that you have to make a serious art house film with your friend’s digital camera.

I am interested to see how the future of independent filmmaking evolves in years to come. In recent years, there seems to be an emergence of interest in indie films again thanks to events such as the Sundance Film Festival. Indie films have taken on an aura of being “hip” and “artsy.” Hollywood certainly did not fail to notice this trend in the popularity of indies. Currently, indie filmmakers have more possibilities for having their films seen than ever before. The internet has provided a perfect platform to showcase their work. The plight of the indie filmmaker is as relevant today as it was in the previous decades, except for the ability to have a film seen more easily due to technological advancements. Jonas Mekas created The New American Cinema Group and subsequently the Filmmakers’ Cooperative, which still distributes films today, to help aid the underground filmmakers in the production and distribution of their films during the 1960s (the manifesto for The New American Cinema Group can be found here, and is definitely worth reading). Thanks to the advent of digital film equipment and the internet, filmmakers do not have to rely as heavily on the help of others to have their films seen and distributed, and they may not have to spend money on film stock or processing fees.

Obviously there have been a lot of generalizations made here, and my thoughts are merely my constantly evolving opinions on the subject. Many of these opinions do not apply to every indie film, of course. I think that overall my issue with indie films is that they have taken on an aesthetic style that is not always necessary or relevant for each film. They often try to emulate the stylistic choices of previous independent directors, thus somewhat disregarding the greatness the indie film’s ability to have more creative freedom than studio films.

- Stephanie Class

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