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The Quick Death and Roundabout Resurrection of Indie Film

13 December 2012

Let’s time travel back for a moment to 1997, and not just because that’s the brief window of time when I was still cool (if I was ever cool). One of the huge stories I remember in the news back then was James Cameron’s Titanic, and how it was the most expensive film ever made (at that point). It cost $200 million to make, and while there have been movies more expensive since, there really hasn’t been as big a deal made of the budgets (unless those movies fail miserably).

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The same year, a little movie that cost $250,000 to make came out — Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. While you can argue all you want which is a better film (I always come down on the Amy side of that argument), it’s kind of interesting when you look at both films. Chasing Amy made back about 48 times its budget; Titanic made back about 10 times its budget. Granted, that’s 12 million or so dollars in one case and more than 2 billion in the other, but Amy was technically more profitable. Also, both are rated the same on IMDB — 7.4 stars — 15 years after their release.

I remember 1997 as kind of the golden age of indie film. It seemed like, for a couple of years up to that point, you could go see a low budget film with fantastic writing and off-the-wall directing choices, or, if you wanted, you could go see a ginormous studio blockbuster with outstanding effects and stunts. The two didn’t meet very often, but that was (and is to this day) fine with me — I like both kinds of movies for different reasons.

But then, it seemed, indie film went away for a while. The blockbusters didn’t go anywhere, but they never do. IFC and Sundance went from showing interesting short films and indies you’d never ordinarly hear about to re-running Malcolm in the Middle for some strange reason. Most of what you could find online fell squarely into the “Star Wars Parody” and “Star Wars Fan Film” genres (which was great if you were into Star Wars).

Then, all of a sudden, it came back in a big way. People started realizing they could put together films on their own and put them out online, or on VOD. The technology hit that sweet spot of affordability where folks who would never be able to get even Smith’s $250K from a studio could start assembling something on a shoestring budget. Crowd funding happened. A bunch of stuff came together to make this — right now — kind of the best time ever for indie filmmakers.

So what am I saying here?

Simple: Go out and create. Don’t worry about what you don’t have — budget, flashy equipment, a chase scene where a dinosaur chases down a Bugatti Veyron (which is chasing down another Veyron at the time) — and focus on what you do have. Drive. Creative spirit. Robert-Rodriguez that shit, like when he made El Mariachi because he knew he had access to a jail, and he could have someone push him around in a wheelchair to get tracking shots.

Because as 1997 proved, you can be madly successful even if you don’t think you have all the “advantages” the big guys have — and I’m not just talking about film here. Publishing has been democratized too. There’s no reason not to get your stuff out there.

So, what’s your favorite indie?

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