November 3, 2015 at 11:17PM

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What defines an Independent Filmmaker?

The first thing that usually pops into somebody's head when they think of an independent filmaker, is usually an image of people like us (the ones using this website). Or, typically anyone who uses Vimeo, Kickstarter, Short Of The Week, or even YouTube as an outlet for their work, could also be delineated as a self-sufficient director as well. But sometimes, the idea of one also varies among the budget that's incorperated into the production (primarily under $500,000 or $1,000,000 in today's standards), the company that's producing via distrubuting the director's work (Focus Features, Miramax, Sony Classics, and other subsidary corperations), or possibly the mindset, style, and overall nature of the filmmaker's work. This contemplation of mine started when a couple of my friends were discussing the oeuvre of Wes Anderson, who they consider to be the all-in-one definition of modern independent cinema. And of course, there's plenty of contradiction to that if you look at other masterminds like Shane Carruth and Jeremy Saulnier. But, there's also the other significant contradiction over the fact that some of his films have had a pretty high budget, at least in comparison to the independent standard (Rushmore - $20 million, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - $50 million). Despite the money, because of Anderson's artistry and distinctive use of mise-en-scène, I for sure consider him independent. Although, to some of the filmmakers on this website who choose to be autonomous in every aspect of their production (such as myself), Wes Anderson might not cut it. Neither does Gus Van Sant, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, David O. Russel, Steven Soderbergh, or even Richard Linklater because they've all worked with Hollywood, or have used budgets that defy the idenpendent standard at some point in their careers. Nevertheless, I know that the majority of today's best American directors were once dissociated from Hollywood and big financial plans. And some of which can still be classified as 'Independent' for the tonality they delivered in their earlier work, or because they've oscillated between these two standards of filmmaking. There's no better example than Steven Soderbergh, who would go from low-budget classics like Gray's Anatomy and Schizopolis, to Ocean's Eleven. Yet, he still has a very elegant passion for working outside of the mainstream, and he does a pretty damn good job at it as well. And looking back at all the filmmakers I've mentioned so far, I don't always consider them to be completely independent directors, but I definitely wouldn't classify them as Hollywood directors either. To me, it mainly depends on their adaptation to their limitations, their mentality, their composition of filmmaking, their ability to work around alterations (espicially if they're spontaneous), and their ability to stay more organic with source materials such as props, locations, and action. Even though that's a fairly merticulous, yet broad statement, it has the potential of collecting plenty of modern and classic artist who can clarify what it means to be truly autonomous. And if you think that's full of shit and you need a better example of what it means to be an independent filmmaker, then just go to Kickstarter to see how many upcoming directors are looking for support to help share their bold new vision. The majority of the films screened at Sundance provide perfect illustrations of sovereignty in cinema, as well as other festivals such as Slamdance, Black Maria, and South By Southwest (I know there's way more than that, but for the sake of finishing this post, you probably get idea). Not to mention Short of The Week, which is practically a curation system that collects some of the most beautiful contemporary shorts online. In general, we all know where we can find an independent filmmaker, and since you know what my classification of what one is, than what's yours?

2 Comments

There are so many definitions for a "independent filmmaker", that it's hard to discuss things in objective terms.

My definition of "independent filmmaker" would probably hold up Shane Carruth as an example of what truly is independent filmmaker. Here are some key points to consider.

1- All work is funded outside of the Hollywood system

Either it's your own money or the money from your own independent investors.

2- All work is independently distributed

This is a really hard one, as it's very difficult to make money outside of the traditional film distribution channels. Shane Carruth was successful but it looks like it was a LOT of hard work to make this happen.

3- You own the work you produce

At the end of the day your projects belong to you and you are free to do as you please with them.

...I think that many people consider Hollywood auteur filmmakers to be "independent", but they aren't spending their own money and the finished work belongs to the studio that funded the project. To me this is NOT what I would consider to be an independent filmmaker. They are Hollywood "artist" filmmakers that produce amazing films that have a very distinctive look and flavor to them, but they are still part of the giant Hollywood money-making machine and have to play by the rules that other people have set.

November 4, 2015 at 2:16PM, Edited November 4, 2:17PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
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That's pretty insightful I must admit. The other thing that got me thinking about this topic was this WatchMojo video I saw called"Top 10 Independent Filmmakers" or something. I know some say that WatchMojo is typically filled with shit, and I kind of agree, but they only mentioned two filmmakers that have authentically done their best resisting Hollywood: Jim Jarmusch and John Cassavetes (even though John was produced by Hollywood once or twice in his career). But besides the mainstream aspect, both of them were proud to be self-funding. There was a quote said about John from one of his most personal friends that; "He used his own money. He didn't take shit from anybody." And that's pretty impressive for an artist to have this type of capacity that can almost lead to your own self-destruction (because trust me, I've been there).

Jimbo Jarbo

November 4, 2015 at 4:49PM

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