Modern American Independent Cinema FIS 497.002 Instructor: Rob Goald



Modern American Independent Cinema FIS 497.002 Instructor: Rob Goald
Modern American Independent Cinema
FIS 497.002
Instructor: Rob Goald
 ‘Independent adj 1.Free from influence or control of others 2.not
dependent on anything else for function or validity 3. not relying on the
support, esp. financial support, of others.
 ‘Cinema n 1. A place designed for showing films. 2.the cinema the art
or business of making films.
Collins new English Dictionary
 Independent film is a term that contemporary cinephiles may
associate with the relatively recent phenomena of Sundance
& Miramax, but the concept has existed since the dawn of
A Brief History of American Independent
1910-1954: the beginnings
 At one extreme was United Artists formed in 1919 as an
independent by Fairbanks, Chaplin, Pickford and Griffith.
 At the other extreme was Oscar Micheaux(1884-1951) who
made and distributed his own films.
 Micheaux was the D.W. Griffith of race cinema.
 Also its Edward D.Wood, Jr.
Early Independents
 Brothers Roy and Walt Disney ran a little animation studio
in the back of a real estate office in Hollywood in the 1920s.
 David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind, 1939) and Samuel
Goldwyn (The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946) thrived as
independent producers.
Poverty Row Studios
 In 1935, Republic Pictures was formed as a merger of several
“Poverty Row” Studios.
“Poverty Row”: low budget, B grade genre pics made by indies
at Sunset and Gower in L.A. called “Gower Gulch”.
Monogram Pictures (1931-1953)made Westerns, actionadventure and Jackie Chan pics.
Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) under Leon
Fromkess backed pics in the 1940s by Edgar G. Ulmer
known as the Mayor of Poverty Row.
Director/writer Samuel Fuller left Warners to direct for
Lippert Productions and hit it big with Steel Helmet,(1951)
The 1950s and 1960s: Do It Yourself
 Little Fugitive (1953)becomes a hallmark of the NY-based school
of indie and an archive of 1950s Brooklyn.
The film is a key link between Italian neo-realism and The French
VillageVoice film critic, Jonas Mekas called the film the start of
The New American Film Movement
On the Bowery(1956): Lionel Rogosin’s film was loosely structured
around a new arrival to Manhattan who loses his suitcase and
Real improvs from tramps and drug addicts of the Bowery
employs documentary techniques and inspired Cassavetes.
John Cassavetes:
Indie Godfather
 There’s an old line about Andy Warhol’s TheVelvet
 John Cassavetes(1929-89)similarly had a
disproportionate influence on indie filmmaking
compared to his commercial success.
 His oeuvre is the foundation stone of the First Wave of
American independent filmmaking and the ultimate
declaration of independence.
 “Patron Saint of independent filmmaking”
……… Manohla Dargis of NY Times
Oeuvre of John Cassavetes
 *Shadows(1959): a family portrait and an interracial
love story.
 Faces(1968): hit a groove with explosive, action driven
portraits of personal and domestic crisis.
 A Woman Under the Influence(1974):2nd mortgaging
his house, the portrait of a loving but disturbed wife and
mother went on to earn $16 million and Oscar
nominations for actress Rowlands and Cassavetes
Shadows(1959) 81 minutes, B&W
 Cassavetes’ directorial debut revolves around an
interracial romance between Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), a
light-skinned black woman living in NYC with her two
brothers, and Tony (Anthony Ray), a white man.
 Shot in and around Times Square and evolved from
Cassavetes’ acting workshops.
 The raw spontaneity and emotional volatility
 The dialogue: erratic rhythms of real speech.
 Shot on location with a cast and crew made up primarily of amateurs.
 Film broke every rule of how a film should be made
 Cassavetes raised the $40,000 budget himself
 Appeared on a radio show( “Jean Shepard’s Night People”) and urged listeners to send $2
for an “advance ticket”.
$2,500 raised in a week according to Ray Carney.
To shot quickly Cassavetes flooded the set with light and fitted performers with battery
powered mikes.
Guerilla production techniques made possible by more portable camera equipment.
He lacked permits to shoot in NYC and small crews had to stay one step ahead of the
He gave inspiration to a new generation of filmmakers that you could make a movie on
your own
The film is a visionary work that is widely considered the forerunner of the independent
film movement.
American International Pictures(AIP)
 Founded by a lawyer, Samuel Z. Arkoff and a sales manager,
James H. Nicholson in 1956.
 Dedicated to releasing independently produced, low-budget
films packaged as double features and attracting the teenage
demographic(18-24 yrs.)
 Films aimed at the 19 yr old male!
The ARKOFF Formula
 Action (exciting, entertaining drama)
 Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
 Killing (a modicum of violence)
 Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
 Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
 Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)
Roger Corman: “King of the Bs”
 Pumped out scares and titillation at record speeds for drive-in
specialists AIP.
Genres: Sci-Fi Schlock and soapy youth gone wild dramas.
“Little Shop of Horrors”(1960)shot in two days and featured a
young Jack Nicholson
Corman is probably best known for his filmings of various Edgar
Allen Poe stories.
In 1970, Corman founded New World Pictures which became a
small independently owned production/distribution studio.
Roger Corman School of Film includes James Cameron, Joe
Dante, Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola etc.
Herschell Gordon Lewis:
“Godfather of Gore”
Known for grisly drive-in shockers such as:
1. Blood Feast(1963)
2. Two Thousand Maniacs(1964)
Independent Directors of New
American Cinema
George A. Romero’s: Night of the Living
Dead(1968): stunned audiences with visceral horrors
Russ Meyer: Known as the “Soft Porn King”: Faster,
Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Andy Warhol: Lonesome Cowboys(1967)
Paul Morrissey: Flesh (1968)
Independent Documentarists
D.A. Pennebaker: Don’t Look Back(1967)
2. Frederick Wiseman:Titicut Follies(1967)
3. The Maysles Brothers: Salesman(1967)
4. Barbara Kopple:
Harlan County, USA (1976)
The Late 60s
and Early 1970s:
New Hollywood
The 1970s: New Hollywood
 Young directors were recruited to infuse new blood into the
ageing studio system.
 Leftist director/cameraman Haskell Wexler shot Medium
Cool(1969) for Paramount using footage of police brutality
at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
 Director Robert Altman’s Mash(1970) was released by Fox.
First Wave of The Modern Indie
 Indie film came into cultural and economic prominence with the
release of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s biker odyssey Easy
 Produced by Bert (“The Monkees”) Schneider for BBS Productions.
Story was a road trip about two hippies riding across the USA with a
stash of “coke” concealed in their gas tanks.
Fonda had appeared in Wild Angels(1966 d. Corman)
and edited by Monte Hellman.
 Hopper, while granted creative autonomy, still depended on a company
with a Hollywood connection (BBS) funding the 340k pic (estimated)
Easy Rider(1969)
 Traded studio shooting and rigid scripting for real
locations, improvised dialogue, episodic narrative.
 As theorist Bela Balazs explains:
“The camera carries my eye into the picture itself. I
look at things from within the space of the
film…..My consciousness is identified with the
characters of the film and I look at the world from
their POV”.
BBS Productions
Bert Schneider’s company became a key player in the
NEW HOLLYWOOD producing:
Bob Rafelson’s: Five Easy Pieces(1970)
Bob Rafelson’s: King of Marvin Garden’s(1972)
Jack Nicholson’s: Drive He Said(1972)
Peter Bogdanovich’s: The Last Picture Show(1971)
Peter Davis’ doc.: Hearts and Minds(1974)
Universal’s Youth Unit
Set up in 1969, following the success of Easy
Rider(1969) produced:
Dennis Hopper’s: The Last Movie(1971)
Peter Fonda’s: The Hired Hand(1971)
Monte Hellman’s: Two Lane Blacktop(1971)
Francis Ford Coppola
 Coppola met Corman at UCLA film school and got
the chance to direct a murder mystery called Dementia
 Coppola formed American Zoetrope in 1969 and put
up 20k of his own money to fund his breakthrough film,
Rain People(1969)
 He then went on to make The Godfather films and The
Conversation(1974) for Paramount during the reign of
Robert Evans.
Martin Scorsese
 Another Corman apprentice, won entry into the DGA
via AIP funded Boxcar Bertha(1972), but was reamed
by Cassavetes {“you just spent a year of your life making a
piece of shit”} who he had worked for as a sound editor on
Minnie & Moskowitz(1971)from Universal’s Youth
 Scorsese proceeded to make Mean Streets(1973)his
breakthrough film.
Cassavetes With Up & Coming
 Steven Spielberg worked as a PA on Cassavete’s
 Another of the 1970s “Movie Brat” generation was
Brian DePalma who blew up the Indie Godfather at
the end of The Fury(1978)
 Brian DePalma made 3 movies in the late 60’s and
early 70s with $ from friends and family:
(2)The Wedding Party(1969)
(3) Hi, Mom(1970). He discovered DeNiro!
Brian De Palma
 Foremost an Alfred Hitchcock acolyte, his boldly
derivative breakthrough film: Sisters(1973) had a score from
Bernard Herrmann.
 Phantom of the Paradise(1974)produced by Edward R
Edward R. Pressman
 Producer extraordinaire.
 Discovered director/writer/ producer Terrence
Malick and funded his breakthrough movie
 Produced many mainstream films, but is known for
supporting Indies such as:
(1)Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger(1990)
(2)Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992)
(3)James Toback’s Fingers (1978)starred Mean Streets’
lead Harvey Keitel.
Bob Shaye & Ben Barenholtz
Barenholtz ran the Elgin Theater in the Chelsea
district of Manhattan
Shaye, bought for 10k John Water’s Pink
Flamingos(1972) for NEW LINE PICTURES
(founded in 1968) and it became the first “Midnight
Movie” sensation at the Elgin.
Sympathy for the Devil & Reefer Madness
Barenholtz started LIBRA FILMS and released two
landmark indies:
David Lynch’s Eraserhead(1977) and
John Sayles’ Secaucus 7(1979)
Overlooked Masterpieces of the ’70s
Cinephiles regard the 1970s with awe and reverence
preceding the blockbuster age, however, a few
masterpieces have not received their due including:
1. Robert Kramer’s Ice(1969)
2. John Avildsen’s Joe(1970)- Sarandon
3. John Berry’s Claudine(1974)-blacklisted
director’s return with Diahann Carroll
Beyond Blaxploitation:
The LA School
Melvin Van Pebbles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song (1971)
kicked started a string of Blaxploitation movies including:
Gordon Parks’ Shaft(1971) & Superfly(1972)
UCLA’S young black filmmakers made the honest look at
African American culture stand up to the test of heartfelt,
serious filmmaking:
Charles Burnett: Killer of Sheep(1977)
Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Billy Woodberry, Bless Their Little Hearts(1984)
Haile Gerima, Bush Mamma (1979)
A Decade Under the
Produced and Directed
by Richard LaGravanese
and Ted Demme
Plot Summary/1 Decade Film
 A compendium of interviews and excerpts from the films of the late sixties and early
70s that were a counter movement to the big Studio Films of the late sixties. Directed
by Ted Demme, it is obviously a labor of love of the films of the period, but it gives
short shrift to the masterpieces of the times.
Many of the filmmakers of this period were influenced by Truffaut, Antonioni, Fellini,
Bergman, and of course John Cassavetes. Unfortunately the documentary logging in at
138 minutes is too short!
The film is rich with interviews and opinions of filmmakers. Some of the people
interviewed are: Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Robert Altman, Peter
Bogdonovich, Ellen Burstyn, and Roger Corman, Bruce Dern, Sydney Pollack, Dennis
Hopper, and Jon Voight.
Plot Summary/2 Decade
 Bruce Dern has a moment of truth when he says that he and Jack Nicholson
may not have been as good looking as the other stars that came before them but
they were "interesting". This summarizes the other areas of this period of
filmmaking in American history.
The filmmakers were dealing with a lack of funding from the Studios because
they were expressing unconventional attitudes about politics, sex, drugs, gender
and race issues, and Americas involvement in overseas conflicts like the Vietnam
An interview with Francis Coppola is enlightening with his saying that he got
the chance to make The Conversation because the producers knew he had been
trained by Roger Corman to make a movie with nothing so they bankrolled his
Plot Summary/3 Decade
 Another interview is with Jon Voight who was directed by Hal Ashby in Coming Home
a clear anti-war film about a crippled soldier immersing himself back into society after
his facing battle. Voight talks about how his working methods helped him achieve an
emotional telling point when Ashby said that they were doing a rehearsal take and it
ended up being the take used in the film- it was better because it was so un-rehearsed
and not drained of its freshness by being over-rehearsed.
There are also many fine excerpts from Al Pacino's break-through film The Panic in
Needle Park, and interviews from Dennis Hopper on the making of Easy Rider, and
interviews from Sydney Pollack about making films.
The documentary is a jumping off point for any film lover who wants to see examples
of what the new voices in film were like in the Seventies. Many of the Sundance Folks,
where this film made a big splash, are unaware of just how much the Independent Film
Maker today owes to the films of John Cassavetes, Milos Foreman, William Friedkin,
and Roger Corman.
The American
New Wave
1984: The Second Wave
 John Sayles, David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee,
and the Coen Bros. all examples of directors of The
Second Wave aka The American New Wave (as opposed
to The French NewWave)
 Stranger Than Paradise(1984): Jarmusch’s not
much- doing film, but a milestone in the
developing indie scene, cost only $110,000 and
cheapest film to win Camera d’Or at Cannes.
-Distributed by Island-Alive.
Selected Oeuvre of Jarmusch
 Down by Law(1986)107 min, b/w
This is his true breakthrough film, a comic road movie
about 3 Louisiana jailbirds which was a key moment in
the new American Wave/Cinema.
“It’s a sad and beautiful world”– Benigni
 Mystery Train (1989)a meditation on storytelling
which featured Japanese Elvis fans and Screamin’ Jay
Selected Oeuvre of Jarmusch
 Night on Earth(1991)oddball taxi rides in L.A., NYC,
Paris, Rome Helsinki
Dead Man (1995)
Ghost Dog:The Way of the Samurai (1999)
Coffee and Cigarettes(2003)
Broken Flowers(2005)
As Jarmusch Puts It:
 “In a film when someone takes a taxi, you see them get in, then
there’s a cut, then you see them get out. So in a way the content of
this film is made up of things that would usually be taken out. It’s
similar to what I like about Stranger than Paradise or Down
by Law, the moments between what we think of as significant.”
Jarmusch on Independent Film
 “Independent films are completely controlled by the
film-makers artistically, and commercial films are to
some degree controlled by financial investment.
That’s the difference. And it’s not about quality
because there are great films that are commercially
orientated-Blade Runner,The Terminator, Lawrence
of Arabia-and there are a lot of bad independent
Jarmusch on Independent Film
 “We are outlaws, because we don’t do it for a studio,
we’re not there to make your product for you, we’re there
to make films for our soul. If people find them we’re
happy. But if they don’t that’s not our problem. We’re not
Different Than Hollywood Style
 Narrative obliqueness is part of a broader aesthetic of the
minimalist and deadpan that became the Jarmusch
 Influenced by various works of international art cinema.
 What a mainstream feature would show with flourish is often
left implicit or at a degree of remove.
e.g. Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer(1986)
Second Wave Philosophy
 Second Wave found directors carving out their own niche
within a limited market from which they could build proper
 Earning critical acclaim but not actively pursuing financial
reward, thereby ensuring their ‘independent status’ as their
films did not challenge their studio rivals
More Second Wave Stuff
 Emergence of home video as a competitor of theaters meant
there was a greater need for product.
 Indies helped swell the coffers of video retailers with new
product beyond the ‘B- movies’ and allowed indies to be seen
in smaller cities that lacked art-house cinemas.
John Sayles (1950-)
 Known for conscience raising cinema
(e.g. Return of the Secaucus 7, 1979)
Lone Star(1996)
$32,000/year for 5 years started 1983 from MacArthur
Foundation Fellowship.
Liberal humanist filmmaking with shaggy ensemble narrative that
doubles as an oral history of a community.
Started as a screenwriter for Corman-wrote Piranha(1978) and
even wrote Jurassic Park IV.
Showed a penchant for stories of the estranged.
Lianna(1983) stale marriage solved by lesbianism
Sundance Rising
 The U.S. Film Festival, later to take the name of Robert
Redford’s Sundance Institute formed in 1978.
 Miramax Films formed in 1979 by Bob abd Harvey
 Independent Feature Project (IFP) formed also in 1979
by producer Sandra Schulberg to aid, develop and promote
indie film talent.
Independent Feature Project (IFP)
 IFP's role in independent film.
After debuting with a program in the 1979 New York Film
Festival, the nonprofit IFP has evolved into the nation's oldest and
largest organization of independent filmmakers, and also the
premier advocate for them.
 Since its start, IFP has supported the production of 7,000 films
and provided resources to more than 20,000 filmmakers' voices
that otherwise might not have been heard. IFP believes that
independent films broaden the palette of cinema, seeding the
global culture with new ideas, kindling awareness, and fostering
Independent Film Project
 Currently, IFP represents a network of 10,000 filmmakers in New
York City and around the world.
 Through its workshops, seminars, conferences, mentorships, and
Filmmaker magazine, IFP schools its members in the art,
technology, and business of independent filmmaking (there are
special programs to promote racial, ethnic, religious, ideological,
gender, and sexual diversity).
 IFP builds audiences by hosting screenings, often in collaboration
with other cultural institutions-and also bestows the Gotham
Awards™, the first honors of the film awards season. When all is
said and done, IFP fosters the development of 350 feature and
documentary films each year
IFP West
 Similar to its counterparts in New York and other cities,
IFP/West provides support, information and resources to
indie filmmakers. Workshops and panel discusssions such as
the "Producer Series," "An Evening With ..." and
"Independent Focus" draw a wealth of talent eager to share
 The group maintains a list of member scripts (Script Project),
key contacts (Skills Bank) and a library. Other benefits include
screenings, access to an afffordable health plan and discounts
on everything from lab work to legal services.
Independent Spirit Awards
 The IFP/West's annual Independent Spirit
Awards rewards "visionary filmmaking" and
is held just before the Oscar ceremony in
 The Swatch Someone to Watch Award,
doled out at the same time, is worth
$20,000 and goes toward a young talent's
future endeavors
Amerindie & La Nouvelle Vague
 NewWave directors fancied themselves as auteurs.
 Films of this movement have a common look: hurried, full
of motion and authentic.
 As with the Italians, films were shot on location and quickly
but unlike Neo-realism, editing jumps around and is very
Good Business on a Small Scale
 As the ’70s waned, a domino row of blazing young talent
crashed and burned with over-budget, underwhelming flops.
 Michael (“Deerhunter”) Cimino flopped biggest with
Heaven’s Gate,1981 bankrupting UA.
 New Hollywood was drowning in megalomania and cocaine
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
How The Sex, Love & Rock n’ Roll Generation Saved
Hollywood (2003)
D. Kenneth Bowser
Plot Summary/1 Biskind Film
 Peter Biskind's Easy Riders/Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-
and Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood was one of the
most entertaining movie books to come along in years.
 First published in 1998, it offered a mostly insightful overview of
those tumultuous years in the film biz, roughly between 1966 and
1981, when desperate studio heads gave unprecedented freedom
to a new generation of filmmakers: Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg,
Bogdanovich, Altman, Milius, Ashby, Lucas, Friedkin.
Plot Summary/2 Biskind Film
 Biskind rightly recognized the degree in which the personal and
professional lives of these budding directors and their actor friends
and associates intersected.
 Instead of a book of film theory or one dominated by behind-thescenes histories, he zeroed in on this weird scenario, exploring
how studios entrusted millions of dollars to unproven, unstable,
and in some cases completely out-of-control talent.
 He documented how, for a brief dozen years, they were able to
make a series of incredibly daring, watershed films, and how drugs
and alcohol contributed to the decline of what might have been a
new Golden Age of American cinema
The Edge of Hollywood
 Founded in1981 by Robert Redford as a non-profit to
develop and promote the work of “artists of independent
 Best known for sponsoring the U.S. Film Festival since
1985(renamed Sundance Film Festival in 1991)
 Although highly competitive, Redford says the Institute
provides hope for artists.
The Laboratories at The Sundance
Screenwriter Labs
2. Directors Labs
3. Native American and Indigenous Labs
4. Composers Labs
5. Producers Summit
Artists work under the close watch of seasoned film veterans
The IFP Independent Filmmaker Labs
 Maintaining a much lower profile than Sundance, The IFP
accepts submissions for two labs:
1) The Documentary Lab
2) The Narrative Lab.
Documentary Lab – April 12–16, 2010; Application deadline FEBRUARY 12
Narrative Lab – June 7–11, 2010; Application deadline MARCH 26
The IFP Independent Filmmaker Labs
IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs is the only program in the U.S. supporting first-time feature directors
at the crucial rough cut/post production stage.
The Labs play a pivotal role in helping emerging filmmakers to realize the full potential of their stories –
and their careers.
Through five days of workshops, mentorship, networking opportunities and creative guidance on their
project, Lab filmmakers are able to gain editorial feedback, assess strategic partnerships & marketing
opportunities, and evaluate their options for maximizing the reach of their film via festivals, traditional
theatrical roll-outs or through innovative, DIY distribution methods.
Drawing from a national candidate pool, 20 projects (10 documentaries and 10 narratives) are selected
for this year-long Lab fellowship which, includes the five-day Lab in New York City, one-on-one
mentorship with industry innovators and icons, and during IFP’s Independent Film Week in September pre-scheduled meetings with potential buyers, sales agents and festival programmers and inclusion in a
Lab “Sneak Preview” Showcase presentation.
Criteria, additional information, and online applications available at
Writing Assignment #2
 Using the “Inside Sundance Institute Magazine” I’ve provided
you write 600 words that summarize a history of the
Sundance Film Festival and discuss any two of the five
Sundance Institute Labs.
 Do you think you will ever take a project to the Sundance
Institute or IFP for assistance? Optional: describe the project.
 Due March 1st.
NYU Film School Alumni
 Joel Coen, Susan Seidelman, Spike Lee and Jim
Jarmusch ---NYU Film School Alumni who made their
mark in the indie world.
 Seidelman’s Smithereens(1982) was made for $100k and
went to Cannes.
 Spike Lee, who counted Scorsese as an instructor at NYU,
broke out with She’s Gotta Have It(1986)
Producers’ Representative
 John Pierson “Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes” helped push the
“I Can Do That Films” of:
1. Spike Lee She’s Gotta Have It(1986)
2. Michael Moore Roger & Me(1989)
3. Richard Linklater Slacker (1991)
4. Rose Troche Go Fish(1994)
5. Kevin Smith Clerks(1994
Indie Directors of the’80s
 Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead(1981)
 Wayne Wang’s Chan is Missing(1982)
 Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames(1983)
 Joel Coen’s Blood Simple(1984)
 Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense(1984)
 Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March(1986)
 Errol Morris’The Thin Blue Line(1988)
Jeff Lipsky & Bingham Ray
 Lipsky as an employee of Samuel Goldwyn got distribution
for Stranger than Paradise(1983) to the tune of $2.5
million. He started out working on Cassavetes’ Woman
Under the Influence(1974).
 Later founded the late, great October Films with Bingham
 Formed in 1982 and went on to produce:
1. Stop Making Sense(1984).
2. The Brother From Another Planet(1984)which grossed
$3.7 million on a $400k production cost.
The Brother From Another
Planet(1984) d.John Sayles
 In this endearing comedy, actor Joe Morton plays a mute alien whose
spaceship lands just off hospitable Harlem.
 A slave from outer space escapes to earth. Except for his three-toed feet,
he looks like an ordinary young black man. He crash-lands on Ellis Island,
appropriately enough, and ends up in Harlem.
 There he makes friends with the owner and the regulars of a bar. Because
he can fix any machine (by simply touching it), he's able to make money.
He's mute, which proves more of an advantage than a disadvantage.
 And he can heal himself and others with nothing but his hands. His real
troubles begin when two extraterrestrial bounty hunters attempt to
recapture him and bring him back to where he came from.
Written by: J. Spurlin
 They also distributed some significant British indie imports in
1986 including the highly acclaimed and original:
1. Sid & Nancy, d. Alex Cox.
2. My Beautiful Laundrette, d. S. Frears
3. Mona Lisa, d Neil Jordan
4. Room with aView d. Merchant Ivory
an art-house blockbuster =$23 million
The 1980s: Studio Wasteland
 Creative control in Hollywood was wrested from the auteurs
and was back in studio hands.
 Mainstream films in the’80s hit a nadir with many action
schlock sequels.
 Indie films were given a nice opening!
 Miramax founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein becomes
the 800lb gorilla!
Miramax (founded 1979)
 Like Cinecom, picked up UK indies and scored a hit with The Secret
Policeman’s Other Ball (1982). Other imports:
1. Cinema Paradisio (1988)
2. My Left Foot(1989)
3. The Cook,The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
 Also domestically:
1. Working Girls (1986)
2. The Thin Blue Line(1988)
Miramax & 1989
 Miramax released two auspicious American feature debuts:
1. The Unbelievable Truth(1989) Hal Hartley’s wonderful
film sank w/o a trace
2. Sex, Lies & Videotape(1989) Steven Soderbergh’s film
became a cultural milestone!
The 1990s:
The Amerindie
1989: The Third Wave
 Sex, Lies & Videotape (1989) is the film that changed the
way that Hollywood perceived independent cinema in the
early 1990s.
 It was a semi-autobiographical film that asked questions
about the nature of human relationships without offering
 It won at the U.S.Film Festival and The Palme d’Or at
1989:A Watershed Yr. for Indies
 Artists of independent vision went on to commercial as well
as critical success.
 Besides Soderbergh we saw the rise of:
1. Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy)
2. Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing)
3. Michael Moore (Roger & Me)
Money $ Changes Everything
 Into the early 1990s, a formidable array of film talent came to
the fore including:
1. Richard Linklater: (Slacker,1991)
2. Greg Araki: (The Living End, 1992)
3. Carl Franklin: (One False Move, 1992)
4. Todd Haynes: (Poison,1991)
5. Allison Anders: (Gas, Food, Lodging,1992)
6. Quentin Tarantino: Reservoir Dogs,
Gus Van Sant(1952-)
 Drugstore Cowboy's exploration of the lives of those living
on society's outer fringes, as well as its Portland setting,
were mirrored in Van Sant's next effort, the similarly
acclaimed My Own Private Idaho (1991).
 Only with the success of Cowboy was Van Sant now given
license to make Idaho (a project he had originally pitched
but was knocked back several times as the script was
deemed 'too risky' by studios).
My Own Private Idaho(1991)
 Now New Line Cinema had given Van Sant the green light, he
was on a mission to get the Idaho script to his first choices for his
two young leads. After months of struggle with agents and
managers over the content of the script, Van Sant finally secured
River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in the roles of Mike Waters and
Scott Favor.
 Centering around the dealings of two male hustlers (played by
Phoenix and Reeves), the film was a compelling examination of
unrequited love, alienation, and the concept of family (a concept
Van Sant repeatedly explores in his films)..
My Own Private Idaho (1991)/2
 The film won him an Independent Spirit Award for his screenplay
(he had won the same award for his Drugstore Cowboy
 Film uses film time in a manner similar to Cassavetes letting
scenes play long.
 The film also gained River Phoenix best actor honors at the
Venice Film Festival
 Keanu Reeves gained critical respect
New Queer Cinema
 In 1991 &1992, Sundance launched several superb gay themed
Critic B. Ruby Rich’s VillageVoice article, announced the shortlived movement’s signature film, Gregg Araki’s The Living
End(1992) a nihilisitic gay road movie.
Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning(1990)
Tom Kalin’s Swoon(1992) Leopold & Loeb
Alex Sichel’s All Over Me
The Living End(1992)
 Billed as "An Irresponsible Movie by Gregg Araki," this was
maybe the first U.S. narrative feature that responded to the
AIDS crisis with ACT UP-style radical rage rather than
lamentation or case-pleading. It’s also (still) intensely sexy,
funny, and romantic.
 Having just discovered he’s HIV-positive, L.A. alternative-weekly film critic and
Smiths fan Jon (Craig Gilmore) goes into a depressive tailspin. He’s jerked out
of that insular funk by an abrupt path-crossing with hunky, impulsive,
borderline-psycho drifter Luke (Mike Dytri)—whose initial appearance in a
Jesus & Mary Chain T-shirt signals their musical/temperamental differences.
The Living End(1992)
 When pistol-wielding Luke’s tendency to magnetize
trouble—particularly homophobic jerks he must then erase
from the Earth’s slate—risks police manhunt, he persuades
Jon to scram with him in a fatalistic Bonnie & Clyde road
trip. En route, they encounter characters ranging from
performance-art star Johanna Went and Warhol Factory/Bmovie icon Mary Woronov (as a murderous lesbian couple) to
late Frameline/SF LGBT Film Fest director Mark Finch as a
sympathetic doctor.
The Living End(1992)
 While still demonstrably a low-budget (at about $20,000
total) product of its era, and to an extent (as Araki admits) an
L.A. art-scene time capsule, the movie remains visually,
sonically and emotionally dynamic.
 . Among Araki’s revelations are that film’s working title was
Fuck the World—and that a conceptual inspiration was the
Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn screwball classic Bringing
Up Baby.
More on New Queer
 Gay themed films had come out of the experimental films of
Andy Warhol, Jack Smith and the features of German
director Fassbinder and Derek Jarmen’s work, particularly
Edward II(1991)
 Poison(1991) was an allegorical response to the AIDs crisis.
 Go Fish (1994) featured lesbians
New Queer Producers
 Christine Vachon’s Killer Films was a driving force in
disobedient and thought provoking films.
 James Schamus & Vachon worked on Swoon(1992),
Poison(1991) and Dottie Gets Spanked (1993)
Good Machine(1990)
 James Schamus teamed with Ted Hope to form Good
Machine in 1990.
 Schamus currently on the film faculty at Columbia U. also is
the head of Focus Features and has produced many of Ang
Lee’s films including the enormously successful gay oriented
The Wedding Banquet(1993)
October Films
 Acquired The Living End(1992) and distributed it.
 Lipsky and Ray also distributed the buzz worthy:
1. The War Room(1993) d. Pennebaker & Hegedus
2. The Last Seduction(1994) d. John Dahl
3. The Addiction (1995) d. Abel Ferrara
Public Funding in Early 1990s
 NEA, PBS, and its offshoot American Playhouse and NYSCA
helped fund:
1. Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
2. Todd Hayne’s The Karen Carpenter Story(1987)
3. Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March(1986)
4. Gregory Nava’s El Norte(1983) and films by Julie Dash, Hal
Hartley, Tom Kalin and Errol Morris
Public Funding of New Queer Cinema
 Todd Haynes’ Poison(1991) and Marlon Riggs’ Tongues
Untied (1990) stirred up the right wing and pushed the first
George Bush to cripple NEA funding by slashing its budget
for indies by $9M in 1994.
 By 1996, all of the money for filmmakers was gone.
American Playhouse shuttered its doors in ‘95 when a deal
with Sam Goldwyn “went south”.
Friends, Family & Credit Cards
 Financial support for indies in the early ‘90s was mostly from
friends and maxed out plastic as was the case with:
1. Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi(1992)
2. Eric Schaeffer’s My Life’s in Turnaround(1993)
3. Kevin Smith’s Clerks(1994)
The art component was gone and the indie film was a “calling
card” for a Hollywood gig.
The term “dependie” began its tenure.
The 20 Something Gangster Film
Boyz N’Hood
Menace II Society
My New Gun
Laws of Gravity
Reservoir Dogs
Rather than trying to be the next Cassavetes the industry has
become a farm team for Hollywood
 In 1993,Disney bought Miramax and founded a $7 million
gangster pic that changed the paradigm.
 Miramax forms Dimension Films headed up by Bob Weinstein
and released Scream(1996)d.Craven, Scary Movie and Spy Kidsall cash generators
The Third Wave: Modern Indie
 Pulp Fiction (1994)created the ‘independent blockbuster’, an
oxymoron of sorts, but now a cultural and economic
possibility providing that the ‘vision’ of the flashy filmmaker
(Quentin Tarantino), the economics of the studio
(Miramax)and the demands of the audience were in
 The triumph of Pulp Fiction ensured that all major studios
would either acquire or establish a specialty film unit to make
award caliber movies on a tight budget.
Studios Form Specialty Film Divisions
 At the midpoint of the 1990s , Miramax and New Line
were considered part of a quintet of “mini-majors”(Kevin
Smith called them the “five families” in reference to The
Sony Pictures Classics: Hartley’s Amateur, Zwigoff ’s
Samuel Goldwyn: Burnett’s Sleep with Anger, Troche’s
Go Fish
October Films: Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise, Dahl’s The
Last Seduction
 20th Century Fox set up Fox Searchlight in 1994.
 Time Warner acquired Turner Broadcasting and Fine
Line in 1996.
 October + Gramercy=USA Films which by 2002 =
Focus Features of NBC Universal
 Paramount formed Paramount Classics in 1998.
 Time Warner formed Warner Independent Pictures in
Independent Film Channel
 Launched in’94 as the first TV network devoted to all things
 In’97 they started a production wing and funded Kimberly
Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry(1999) and films by Linklater,
Soderbergh and Almereyda
Lions Gate
 Sprung from the Canadian Company Cinepix, the
distributor of mid ‘90s indies from Hal Hartley, James
Mangold et. al.
 Distributed Kirby Dick’s Life and Times of Bob Flanagan,
 Distributed 1998 Oscar winners Gods and Monsters and
 Company distributed Dogma(1999) when Kevin Smith’s
film was deemed too controversial for Disney owned
 Distributed Pi (1998) a jittery B&W thriller from Darren
Aronofsky, but the film that put them on the map was Blair
Witch Project(1999) a cheap and terrifyingly efficient
horror movie was partially shot DV and was in the Midnight
Madness at Sundance.
 They also picked up Chuck & Buck(2000)at Sundance the
following year.
Blair Witch(1999)
& Paranormal Activity(2009)
 Blair Witch Project(1999)is in the horror genre but shot as a
mockumentary. Cost to make $35,000, grossed $140 million.
 Ditto Paranormal Activity(2009)which cost under 15k but
grossed $108 million
 “Blair just happened to be the best low- budget idea we had
at the time. It used all the weaknesses of independent filmused them in its favor-like shaky camera work, no lighting,
no-name talent”
…………co-director Eduardo Sanchez,
The New Millennium
Digital Streams
 As the century flipped, digital video(DV)had arrived,
inspiring scores of optimistic think pieces about the
democratization of filmmaking.
 Also “Death of Film” and intense discissions of the “fantasyveil look” of cinema.
 Which eventually progressed at the end of the decade to 3-D
and “the lucid dream”of James Cameron’s Avatar(2009) or
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland(2010)in the new
 When they couldn’t find a distributor for Christopher
Nolan’s Memento(2000) they went ahead and distributed it
 Mounted a superb campaign with Bob Berney
 Distributed, what would become a cult classic, Donnie
Darko(2001)from director Richard Kelly
 And, Mel Gibson’s self-financed The Passion of the
Christ(2004) which became the most financially successful
indie of all time!
The quiet man: Bob Berney
 Behind a spectacular array of Amerindie films from the ‘90s to
the 2000s.
Started out as an arthouse programmer and theater owner in
His career breakthrough happened when he was chosen to
head marketing and distribution for Todd Solondz’s
The year after Memento, IFC started a theatrical division and
lured Berney away to distribute the smash indie: My Big Fat
Greek Wedding(2002)
Then back to Newmarket for the indie blockbuster Passion of
the Christ(2004)
More Bob Berney
 Monster(2003)the serial killer melodrama that won
CharlizeTheron an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
 The Woodsman(2004):a story of a convicted pedophile
starring Kevin Bacon
 Went on to head Picturehouse(replaced Fine Line in
2005) which Time-Warner shut down in 2009.
Harmony Korine(1973-)
 The enfant terrible of indie film, screenwriter of Larry Clark’s
Kids(1995)made Julien Donkey-Boy(1999) according to
the spartan dictates of the Dogme ‘95 Collective.
 This influential group of Danish filmmakers composed a
manifesto-cum instruction manual known as the “Vows of
 The cheap-and-dirty doctrines of dogme cohered with
millennial Amerindie trends.
 Films of the New Wave find analogues in more modern films.
 More realistic acting and directing styles are best seen in the
Dogme 95 movement of Lars Von Trier and Thomas
Dogme 95’s “Vow of Chastity”
All shooting must be done on location instead of a studio
No sound dubbing permitted (even music).
No camera tricks are allowed.
No “superficial action” like explosions and murder is
The film must take place in the location where it is shot.
Steven Soderbergh on Dogme
 Full Frontal (2002)adhered to Dogme rules and members
of his cast were responsible for their own wardrobe and
styling, had no drivers, trailers of craft services.
 Improvisation was encouraged
InDigIt (1999-2007)
 Gary Winick, got the idea for InDigEnt from the Dogma
95 movement and started the company with John Schloss
as a way for indie filmmakers to finance small, cheap
 Many of the movies produced by InDigEnt aren't too
appealing to the eye, but a few of them were great showcases
for actors, such as Aaron Stanford, who broke out by
appearing in Winick's Tadpole(2002), and Patricia
Clarkson, who received an Oscar nod for Pieces of
 But while the company started off well, gaining notice for
decent pics like Tadpole, Pieces of April, PersonalVelocity:Three
Portraits and Richard Linklater's Tape, it eventually fell to
near-obscurity with forgettable titles such as Kill the Poor,
Puccini for Beginners and Steve Buscemi's Lonesome Jim.
The Whole Truth: Indie DV Docs
In 2004, Cannes’s top prize went to Michael Moore’s
Fahrenheit 9/11
Spellbound(2002) d. Jeffrey Blitz
Capturing the Friedman’s(2003)d. A. Jarecki
Fog of War(2003)d. Errol Morris
Super Size Me(2004)d. Morgan Spurlock
Why We Fight(2005) d. Eugene Jarecki
Walmart:The High Cost of Low Price(2005)d. Robert
What Are We Talking About Anyway?
Executive Producer: John Schloss,
 “I define independent film as a product of a singular vision. I’m in
the financing business, and financing can come from a million
different places. To define it by financing is completely irrelevant,
especially as financing evolves. To me, independent films are not the
product of a committee but the product of a person….we’re talking
about auteurism; otherwise it’s a slippery slope.”
From IFC Website
 “Independent films stand the test of time.They are not reliant on
the latest fad, trend or special effect. Instead they are
provocative, challenging and enlightening---representing a POV,
the personal vision of the filmmaker. This vision remains valid,
the stories remain relevant, and the emotional connection is still
as real years later as it was the day it was released.”
Co-President of Sony Pictures
Classics: Tom Bernard
 “The ‘independent’ should be taken out of
‘independent cinema’; commerce and
capitalism have pretty much taken over”.
Director Jim Jarmusch
 “I’m so sick of that word. I reach for my revolver when I
hear the word ‘quirky’ or ‘edgy’.Those words are now
becoming labels that are slapped on products to sell
them. Anyone who makes a film they want to make,and
it is not defined by marketing analysis or a commercial
enterprise, is independent”.
Introduction: How Independent?
 The course is organized around three main points of
 The position of individual films, or filmmakers, in terms of:
(1)their industrial location.
(2)the kinds of aesthetic strategies they adopt.
(3)their relationship to the broader social, cultural, political
or ideological landscape.
The Industrial Realm Defined
 It is the single, defining characteristic.
“An independent film is “any motion picture financed and
produced completely autonomous of all studios,
regardless of size”.
Greg Merritt, Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American
Independent Film, c.2000
Independence Today
 Indies today are mirror images of the audience it caters to, a
crowd that is seeking novelty and quality.
 The audience for indies today is not necessarily seeking to
revaluate its socio-political values.
 Modern Indies are an alternative version of mainstream
Popular Perceptions
 Indie films are made by individuals, not committees.
 Cinema made for audiences that appreciates and absorbs
rather than consumes and forgets.
 American Independent Films encompass everything from
horror pics (Blair Witch) to socially conscious dramas
(Dead Man Walking) to avant garde exercises in formal
experimentation along the lines of Gummo or The
Living End.
More Perceptions
 Economically, indie is a term that encapsulates a variety of
films, directors, themes, genres.
 Culturally, the term is vague, as the indie sector has produced
titles such as The Usual Suspects, My Big Fat Greek
Wedding or In The Bedroom-films that fit the Hollywood
production mould.
Hollywood Production Mould
Classic narrative structure
2. “Star” casting
3. High production values.
e.g. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was escapist and offers
the aesthetic sensibility of a television sit-com whereas
Gummo was made with non-pro actors and does not fit
into a genre and has rudimentary production values.
Subordinate to The Giants
 The film industry is an oligopoly controlled by giant
corporations such as Time-Warner, Fox, Paramount, Sony
and Universal.
 All of these ‘giants’ invest in cinematic product to maximize
profit from vertically related markets.
“Advertising expenditure has always played an important role in the
oligopolistic control of markets. It stimulates demand and maintains
market shares…it further serves to defend the market against new
entrants by raising the price of entry.”
N Garnham Capitalism and Communication, Sage Press, London, 1990, p201
Value to Society
 While indies rarely threaten the economic prominence of
their studio counterparts, they are more valued by the
critical establishment as they address serious issues and
themes, making them more intellectually prominent
examples of America’s cinematic output.
Supply and Demand
 For a period in the mid-1980s, the home entertainment boom
(VCRs) provided filmmakers with financing & distribution.
1987: first year VCR rentals exceeded the theatrical box-office.
The home video mkt.& cable created a need for product, so indie
companies such as New Line, Island, Cannon, New World, Orion
andVestron funded $3 to $5 million dollar films.
(vs. $15-$50 million at the Studios)
Studios recognized these films were courting an audience they
had forgotten about.
Differences Between Indie & Corporate
 Indie films are from self-originated material
 Concept- driven studio filmmakers start with an idea,
pitch it, and then develop screenplay.
 Casting (packaging) and marketing strategies earlier
than indie films
 *Crucial difference is that indie projects develop much
quicker because they are not working with high
maintenance talent
More Differences
 There are occasions when stars reduce their fees to work
on indies, but often producers hire the most suitable
actor available
 Low budgets cause filmmakers to think on their feet
 Films are finished in coordination with festival deadlines
 American indies are well received in Europe
 Indie films discover young talent and take a chance on
young writer-directors with vision
Why Indies?
 Indies are a cinematic movement against the corporate
 With low production budgets and inexpensive marketing
costs, indie films are a means of discovering the shifts in
popular sentiment that will shape the direction of
modern film.
 Young directors, working in their 20s and 30s, are
perceived to be more aligned with their generational
sensibilities than older directors.
The Top Ten Indie Films
A Woman Under The Influence (1974)
Mean Streets (1973)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Safe (1995)
Do The Right Thing (1989)
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Eraserhead (1977)
Before Sunrise(1995)
Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Sex, Lies, andVideotape(1989)
Jessica Winter ,The Rough Guide To American Independent Film, c.2006
Top Grossing Indies of
The Naughty Aughties(2000-2010)
 1. The Passion of the Christ, 2004 (Newmarket) $370,274,604
2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 2003 (IFC Films) $241,438,208
3. Juno, 2007 (Fox Searchlight) $143,395,265
4. Slumdog Millionaire, 2008 (Fox Searchlight) $141,319,928
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000 (Sony Pictures Classics)
6. Traffic, 2000 (USA) $124,115,725
7. Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004 (Lionsgate) $119,194,771
8. Paranormal Activity, 2009 (Paramount) $107,753,000
9. Brokeback Mountain, 2005 (Focus Features) $83,043,761
10. March of the Penguins, 2005 (Warner Independent) $77,437,223
11. Coraline, 2009 (Focus Features) $75,286,229
12. Sideways, 2004 (Fox Searchlight) $71,503,593
13. Burn After Reading, 2008 (Focus Features) $60,355,347
14. Little Miss Sunshine, 2006 (Fox Searchlight) $59,891,098
15. Hero, 2004 (Miramax) $53,710,019
16. Atonement, 2007 (Focus Features) $50,927,067
17. 28 Days Later, 2003 (Fox Searchlight) $45,064,915
18. Lost In Translation, 2003 (Focus Features) $44,585,453
19. Napoleon Dynamite, 2004 (Fox Searchlight) $44,540,956
20. Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, 2009 (Lionsgate) $42,004,270
First Short Paper (400-500 Words)
 Prepare a report on the state of The American
Independent film scene circa 2009. Put your
report together using the articles I’ve provided you
from(1) Ted Hope, (2)Thomas Ethan Harris (in the
Filmmakers Alliance Magazine, Spring 2009)
(3)Sharon Swart (4)Manohla Dargis
 You may add more sources but the four above are
 Simple footnotes to your sources and Works Cited Page
at the end.
 Due 2/1/10
Short Paper: Extremes in Indie
 Q: Discuss why some indie filmmakers have embraced
controversial topics and taboos as the focus of their work?
 Be sure to identify the filmmakers, the taboos and the films
that pushed the boundaries of film art.
 Why was Ken Park(2002) considered unreleaseable in the
USA? Discuss the taboos in the film and how they were
presented by screenwriter Korine and directors Clark and
400-500 words Due 19th of April
Introduction: Four Trends
o The diversity of independent work makes it hard to
categorize, but 4 main trends can be identified from the
1980s through the 2000’s:
1. The Arty Indies. {most avant-garde}
2. Off-Hollywood Indies.
3. Retro-Hollywood Indies.{most traditional}
4. DIY(do-it-yourself)Indies.
1. The Arty Indies
 The success of “Stranger Than Paradise”(1984)recalled
the European art cinema of the 1960s and 1970s. Jarmusch’s
portrayal of cool bohemians recalled Beat cinema of the 1950s.
 The success of Stranger launched an indie trend towards
artifice and stylization.
 Hal Hartley brought a philosophical and literary bent in tales
of Long Island anomie in Trust(1991) and Simple
1.The Arty Indies(continued)
 Arty indies are often episodic in structure opposed to
Hollywood’s tightly plotted 3 Act structure.
 Arty indies explore fractured storytelling as in the daisy
chain monologues of Richard Linklater’s “Slacker”(1991).
 Todd Haynes’s first feature Poison(1991)presents 3 distinct
AIDS related stories in a different cinematic style.
 Arty Indies have a European art-cinema sensibility.
1. The Arty Indies(continued)
 Arty indies to use Jarmusch’s term were “hand-made”.
 Arty indies showed that offbeat films made on a minuscule
budget could play theaters.
 Haynes offered the tinted melodrama pastiche Far From
Heaven(2002)and “I’m Not There”(2007) a multi-leveled
collage of Bob Dylan’s career.
 Gus Van Sant’s Gerry(2002)tailors his approach to small
budgets with a minimalist art film
1. The Arty Indies(continued)
 Larry Clark turned to cinema from still photography after
seeing the work of Van Sant.
His first film made from a script by Harmony Korine called
“Kids”(1995)was an arty indie and controversial as it focused
on amoral, promiscuous, drug addled, confused teenagers
who came of age in the early 1990s.
 Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy(1999)was an
experimental arty indie shot on dozens of consumer grade
digital cameras and followed the Dogme 95’sVow of Chastity.
1.The Arty Indies(continued
 David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers(1988) and Crash(1996)
push the taboo envelope as they take the horror genre and
mix it up with S&M sex.
 Larry Clark & Ed Lachman seek reality in their portrait of
the sex lives of teens in Ken Park(2002) and make a film
that is beyond the art-house circuit.
 John Waters, Baltimore’s “Pope of Trash” made an arty indie
that was campy and outrageous with Pink
Flamingoes(1972)featuring cannibalism, incest and even a
transvestite ingesting fresh dog shit.
1. The Arty Indies(continued)
 New York theater sensation, John Cameron Mitchell turned
his Obie- award winning Off-Broadway musical about an east
German transgendered rock musician, chasing after an exlover who plagiarized her songs, into a Sundance Award
Winning film called Hedwig and the Angry Inch(2001).
 Mitchell’s follow-up to Hedwig is a New York relationships
comedy, Shortbus(2006), in the vein of Cassavetes and early
Woody Allen but with a gay, ambisexual thrust that
incorporates explicit sex in a naturalistic way.
 Shortbus is a weekly art/sex salon in a warehouse under the
Brooklyn Bridge (named after the short school bus for the
‘gifted and challenged’ kids)hosted by a brothel madame,
where the film’s characters convene and solve their
 According to Mitchell, the film attempts to "employ sex in
new cinematic ways", and it includes a variety of explicit
scenes of sexuality.
 The film was distributed by ThinkFilm
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 Some indie films were less avant-garde and used recognizable
genres and sometimes featured stars.
 What pushed them off-Hollywood were their low budgets,
risky subjects or storytelling strategies.
 The careers of Woody Allen and the late Robert Altman
exemplify this trend. Started as highly praised studio
filmmakers they were forced to work as independents in the
1980s and 1990s.
 A key example of the off-Hollywood trend is David Lynch’s
BlueVelvet(1986) but his later films like Mulholland
Drive(2001) were Arty Indie.
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 Steven Soderbergh skewed genre conventions with sex, lies
& videotape(1989).
 Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction(1994)was the milestone
off-Hollywood movie for the 1990s. His vulgar caper film
was a stew of old genres-gangster film, prizefight film,
outlaw movie.
He wrote scenes of arch wit and visceral violence.
 Gus Van Sant mixed seedy realism and noir stylization in
Drugstore Cowboy(1989) and My Own Private
Idaho(1991)a gay grunge movie based on Shakespeare
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 Joel and Ethan Coen offered hyperbolic versions of film noir
with Blood Simple(1984)Their oeuvre pushed many genres
to the brink of absurdity.
 Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It(1986)resembles a classic
romantic comedy as three men pursue a self reliant woman.
The twist is that all the men are black and the woman makes
no secret of her sexual appetite. A touch of Godard as well.
 John Sayles whose low key scrutiny of politics infused
Return of the Secaucus Seven(1980) or Matewan(1987)
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 Off-Hollywood filmmakers designed their fare for
overlooked audiences.
 On the whole the Majors ignored minorities.
 Gay and lesbian films of the 1980s and 90s often adapted
comedy and melodrama genres to alternative lifestyles.
1. Parting Glances(1986)
2. Longtime Companion(1990)
3. Go Fish(1994)
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 African American, Asian American and Hispanic directors
eventually cultivated by studios started as independents.
 Reginald Hudlin moved from House Party(1990) to
 Wayne Wang went from microbudgeted Chan Is
Missing(1982) to The Joy Luck Club(1993).
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, off-Hollywood filmmakers
earned critical acclaim.
 Billie Bob Thrornton’s Sling Blade (Miramax,1998) won
 Darren Aronofsky’s hectic Pi(1998) proved a prelude to the
drug trip of Requiem for a Dream(2000)
 Todd Solondz’s Happiness(1998)was a cross section of
middle class misery from phone sex to pedophilia.
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 Multimedia artist Miranda July’s first feature Me and You
and Everyone We Know(2004) also looked a t middle class
misery with humor.
 Christopher Nolan’s “puzzle film” Memento(2000) uses a
novel storytelling tactic by presenting the plot in reverse
order with the last scene first.You might think this “arty” but
the film is a complex riff on tradition. The reverse order
obeys Hollywood three act structure and familiar storytelling
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 Arguably the most gifted Off-Hollywood indie to debut in the
1990s was Paul Thomas Andersen.
A Sundance Institute grant allowed him to transform his short
into his first feature, Hard Eight(1997).
 New Line funded Boogie Nights(1997) and his films such as
Magnolia(1999) established him as an actor’s director.
 Punch Drunk Love(2002)was clearly a different film for
Adam Sandler fans
 There Will Be Blood(2007) was brilliant study of the oil
industry of the 1900s, Daniel Day Lewis
2.Off -Hollywood Indies
 The independent companies marketed their films through a
new auteurism.
 “I’m in the business of selling directors” stated one indie
 The aspirations of the 1970s auteurs had been taken up by
the Off-Hollywood independents.
 Yet, by the mid-2000s, with the creation of the Majors’ niche
divisions, many of those independents found themselves
“dependents”, boutique Hollywood brands that diversfied the
studios’ access to audiences.
2.Off-Hollywood Indies
 But, as the recession hit in early 2008, the Majors got lean
and mean eliminating many boutique labels:
1) New Line{Time Warner}
2) Picturehouse {Time Warner}
3) Warner Independent Pictures{Time Warner}
4) Paramount Vantage{Viacom}
5) Miramax(scaled back){Disney}
 As of 2010, Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics,
Universal’s Focus Features remained.
2.Off-Hollywood Indies
 The tumult continued in the indie world in 2009 as the sector
highlighted some new survivors.
Leading the pack at $455 million was Summit
{Twilight(2008), New Moon(2009)Hurt Locker(2009)}
Bob Berney/Bill Pohlad bounced back with his newbie called
Apparition (Boondock Saints II, 2009)
Weinstein Company had Inglourious Basterds
Liberty Media’s Overture Films hit paydirt with The
Visitor(2008),”Men Who Stare at Goats(2009), Law
Abiding Citizen(2009)
2.Off-Hollywood Indies
 There are about a dozen U.S. distributors outside of the 6
Major Studios and the mini- majors(LionsgatePrecious(2009) to cross into the double digit millions
 Small indie distributors such as Magnolia and IFC Films
released films across platforms.
 Their ability to cherry-pick titles on the festival circuit and
push them through VOD models made for good business.
3. Retro-Hollywood Independents
 Modern Hollywood narrowed its genre base.
 Studios focused on SFX extravaganzas, action pictures, star-
driven melodramas and romances, and gross-out comedies.
 This allowed Indies to exploit many traditional genres that
Modern Hollywood ignored.
e.g. Low Budget Horror trend:
1. The Evil Dead(1983)
2. Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream(1996)
3. I Know What You Did Last Summer(1997)
3. Retro-Hollywood Independents
 Indie neo-noir could be edgier than studio fare:
John Dahl’s Red Rock West(1993)
2. John Dahl’s The Last Seduction(1994)
3. Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects(1996)
4. Wachowski Bros. lesbian heist Bound(1996)
3. Retro-Hollywood Independents
There also remained the intimate, unpretentious dramas
with smooth storytelling:
Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise(1993)
Victor Nunez’s Ulee’s Gold(1997)
Kimberly Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry(1999)
Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me(2000)
David Gordon Green’s George Washington(2000)
James Mangold’s Heavy(1995)
James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted(1999)
3. Retro-Hollywood Independents
8. Todd Field’s In the Bedroom(2001)
9. Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson(2005)
10. Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River(2008)two single mothers
struggle to make things work for their children in barren
and desolate terrain.
“This film put my heart in a vise and squeezed
it”……..Quentin Tarantino, Chair of Jury-Sundance 2008
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in 2008 at Sundance.
3. Retro-Hollywood Independents
 After the 1960s crisis, Hollywood had abandoned most
historical drama and literary adaptations-those prestige
pictures like Lawrence of Arabia(1962) andWhose Afraid
ofVirginia Wolf?(1966) which made profits and awards.
 As Majors moved away from middle- budget projects, there
opened a market for independents.
3. Retro-Hollywood Independents
 Director James Ivory and his producer Ismail Merchant were
making small urbane films since the 1960s-the new indie
market opened up for the production of prestigious
adaptations of novels:
1. The Bostonians(1984)
2. Howard’s End(1992)
3. The Remains of the Day(1993)
 Independents pursued this path more aggressively after
Miramax won the Oscar for Best Picture with Anthony
Minghella’s English Patient(1996)
3. Retro-Hollywood Independents
 Several modestly budgeted Indies were based on theatrical
works by David Mamet, Sam Shepard and other
contemporary playwrights.
1. Glengarry Glen Ross(1992)
2. American Buffalo(1996)-actors such as Dustin Hoffman
and Alec Baldwin took pay cuts.
If the Majors fed off the Indies, independent
companies benefitted from niches left vacant by
the rush to mega- pictures.
4. DIY Indies
 The selling points of a DIY pic are its unprofessional look and
its lack of budget.
 At a time when the studios were starting to notice the
independent wing of the industry, two films were committed
to grit and grunge:
1. Robert Rodriguez’s gunfest, El Mariachi(1993)
2. Kevin Smith’s slacker-life comedy Clerks(1994)
Neither film was experimental as an Arty Indie, nor as
plush as a retro-Hollywood exercise.
Both drew on classic genres but their cheap look put them
outside of off-Hollywood tradition.
4. DIY Indies/The Blair Witch(‘99)
 DIY films are the cinematic equivalent of garage band MP3’s
 A minor twist on the teen horror genre, The Blair Witch
Project(1999) pretended to be an unfinished student film
and was brilliantly marketed on the Internet.
 “You watch Stranger{Than Paradise}you think I could really make a
movie”….Kevin Smith
4. DIY Indies
 In response to the mainstreaming of indies, a new do-it-
yourself filmmaking emerged in the new century.
1. Tarnation(2003)director Jonathan Caouette compiled
Super- 8 and VHS home movies to create a portrait of his
unhappy family life. It won a prize at Cannes and
2. Primer(2004)nerdy, time-travel story made for 7k won at
Sundance and got distribution.
3. Old Joy(2006) Director Kelley Reichardt-two friends
reunite and discover they’
4. DIY Indies/Mumblecore
 A broader manifesto, named by a sound recordist, was
another DIY aesthetic called Mumblecore. Also jokinglySlackovettes or Baghead Cinema.
 In various cities, young filmmakers were converging on a
similar approach.
 Centering on college-educated twentysometings trying to
sort out their lives, their films consisted of long, often
fumbling conversations about love, sex, work and everyday
 Most of these films were shot on mini-DV.
4. DIY Indies/Mumblecore
 Though scripted Mumblecore films counted on actors to
 Like Neorealism of the 1940s and the New American Cinema of
the 1950s, the low-tech aesthetic of Mumblecore tried to
appear more faithful to reality than studio gloss.
 Some critics saw Mumblecore as sustaining the tradition of
John Cassavetes and returning to the roots of American
independent cinema.
4. DIY Indies/Mumblecore
 “The films feel more like dialogues between filmmakers and their
audience and less like calling cards to the studios”….Scott
 The Mumblecore group, had largely been ignored by
 Because virtually no distributors would touch their films,
they pioneered direct Internet marketing.
 They created websites and posted video blogs, podcasts,
trailers and promos on You Tube.
4. DIY Indies/Mumblecore
 Some Mumblecore features sold thousands of copies on DVD.
 On the demand curve for movies, Hollywood was going for
the peak while Mumblecore was going for the long tail.
 This included the niches created by Web 2.0 for self published books and indie bands.
 Jay and Mark Duplass’s Baghead(2008), a Mumblecore take
on teen slasher films, premiered at Sundance and was
distributed by Sony Pictures Classics (SPC)
Last Words
 As long as there’s been a Hollywood, there has been an Off-
Hollywood, outsiders and mavericks who show their movies
any which way they can, at film societies, art houses and
ethnic theaters.
There was always overlap between these worlds, but it wasn’t
until the 1990s and the ascendancy of Miramax Films that the
two became so interdependent as to be at times, near
 History was on Miramax’s side: In the 1980s, while
Hollywood was bringing on blockbusters things changed.
Last Words
 The sleepy independent film world was jolted awake by Jim
Jarmusch’s downtown cool, Spike Lee’s urban style and the
provocations of other DIY free-thinkers offering something
new, different, electric.
 They were punks with cameras and they shook the dust off a
moribund scene and paid homage to John Cassavetes, the
patron saint of independent cinema.

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