Independent films are frequently regarded as an antidote to Hollywood blockbusters. Initially, independent films were everything that the major studio films were not. While Hollywood promoted films that were safe, escapist, and expensive, independents promoted films that were risky, escapist, and expensive.
On a shoestring budget, an independent film can be made. Many of the best independent filmmakers have raised funds for their films in unusual ways. In order to fund his first film, Robert Rodriguez sold his body to medical trials. One director staged a car accident in order to secure funding for his independent film from insurance proceeds. Credit cards, family and friend loans, and savings will all be used to fund a director’s dream of making his own film.
Independent film underwent a significant transformation in the 1990s. Major studios would normally avoid independent films because they were not profitable, but Miramax, a small film company, was instrumental in changing the studio’s mind. Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the owners of Miramax, realized that they could make a lot of money buying films from independent filmmakers.
Small-budget films like Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Pulp Fiction, and Good Will Hunting influenced public perceptions of independent cinema. In comparison to studio films, indies were made on a shoestring budget, quickly, and with first-time directors and screenwriters. Independent films began to gross hundreds of millions of dollars around the world, causing studios to take notice.
The first screenings of indie films were held at the Sundance Film Festival. Studio executives began to show up, eager to buy the hottest films from the hottest new directors. Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Gus Van Sant were all independent filmmakers who produced some of the highest-grossing films for a small budget.
Independent filmmakers are devoted to their projects. Barbet Schroder’s production money was suddenly cut off and the film was shut down while he was working on it. According to legend, Schroder stormed into the producer’s office, brandishing a chainsaw and threatening to cut off his own fingers if the film was not restarted. He was successful in gaining the attention, respect, and funding for the film from the producer.
Independent films have believable plot lines and realistic characters, and they frequently explore darker aspects of life that studio films avoid. However, it appears that creativity has been stifled now that studios have a hand in the financing of many indie films. Many indie films have their endings cut, reshot, or changed studios in order to make them more appealing to a mainstream audience.
There will always be independent filmmakers who snub Hollywood studios. Hopefully, these filmmakers will continue to exist and bring unique perspectives to the screen. If not, it may be up to the film student shooting with his or her friends on a digital camera to bring something fresh to the screen.