December 04, 2014

10 Questions to Understand What 'Indie Films' Are

Independent Films or Indies are widely abused terms a lot of people use without really understanding what they mean. I hope the post below helps you understand the concepts better. Do comment if you disagree with any of my opinions.

Q1. What are Independent Films?
A. Independent films are those that are produced (almost) without any funding from major film studios. Once produced, these films try to reach out to their audience on their own, often also involving alternate distribution channels like the internet, unless they are picked up by a bigger distributor, with or without the backing of a studio.

Q2. Why the term 'independent'?
A. Movie-making has always been expensive. During the early decades of the last century, when cinema turned into a business, it were big production and distribution companies that soon started dominating the market. They were called studios. RKO, MGM, Warner Bros. etc were some of the major studios of Hollywood. It was almost impossible to make a film outside of the studio system and getting it released was even tougher. However, several factors around the 40s and the 50s, including the gradual weakening of the studio system and development of new aesthetics through film revolutions like the Italian Neo-Realism, saw the rise of film-makers who made their films outside of the control of the studios. These film-makers did not have to conform with the notions and formulae of the sudios and thus exerted greater control over their medium than even the most successful of directors working with the studios. This gave the feeling of a new-found freedom, to be able to make movies, and make them on your own terms. Hence, the term 'independent'.

Q3. Does 'independent' always mean low-budget? Also, if my film has no stars, is it an indie film?
A. Not necessarily. If you are a rich man (and not a studio), you can produce a big-budget film on your own, with your own money. That big-budget film will still be called independent. However, since not many are that rich to be able to make movies to fulfill their whims and fancies, and since several rich men are sensible enough to not get into this misadventure, most indie films are low-budget. And I think it will remain that way. It should. Similarly, if a studio funds and distributes a film that does not necessarily have stars, it is not an indie film. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) was not a star-studded film. But it was not indie either.

Q4. Does 'indie' mean 'art-house' or 'experimental'?
A. Not at all. Most art-house and experimental films fail to attract studio financing and hence have to raise money on their own and thus be made independently. But an independent film can be as, if not more, entertaining and commercially viable as a manistream, studio film. Remember, Pulp Fiction (1994) was an indie film. It was super-successful financially, and is among the most watched films of all time, apart from being so critically acclaimed and a major landmark in film history.

Q5. Why do 'indie' films look poor and unattractive?
A. Not all of them look poor and unattractive. I just named Pulp Fiction. But since the production budget of these films is typically low, several of them cannot adopt the gloss that big-budget movies possess. In fact, the success of the indie movement is based on the conviction of the film-maker to rely on content, performances, and a new sense of aesthetic that goes well with the limited budget. The hand-held camera and shooting in natural light or with non-actors are widely popular trends in world cinema. These were all developed when cinema broke free from the absolute control of the studios. Most successful indie films either manage to look 'good' despite the low budget, or come up with an original and exciting design to please our senses. The really timeless indies, like all successful films, are big on content than anything else.

Q6. Is it easier to make an indie film than a big-budget film? If no, then why do some film-makers choose to go independent?
A. No way. How can it be? Arranging so much money on your own can never be easy. And even if you do manage that, making films on small-budgets is always tough. Most importantly, it is film-making at the end of the day, something that is a difficult job anyway. I don't believe any film-maker would choose to go independent if a studio/producer assures him of funding, complete creative control, and distribution. But since that does not always happen with all film-makers and with all films, going indie is the only way out.

Q7. What is the most important ingredient for a successful indie film?
A. The script.

Q8. I have managed to develop/acquire a kick-ass script. And I have crowd-sourced the funding for the film. Guess, now I am sorted, right?
A. That depends on how sorted you are in your head. Is it really a kick-ass script or your passion is too blind to judge it? Is the funding actually in place or these are just promises? Is your budget realistic? Is there a mechanism in place to use that funding in the most economical way? And most importantly, is your director (even if it is you) really capable of directing a film? Does he/she have the undertanding of the craft and the technique?

Q9. Why do so many indie films fail?
A. For the same reason why most films fail, indie or studio-backed. Because most of them are really bad films. Very few films, indie or otherwise, are really good. Plus, even several good indie films fail to reach out to the audience. Those that do manage that suffer from low publicity budget and fail to create awareness in the audience about their release. But the biggest reason is that most of them are bad.

Q10. When will we witness the prophecy coming true - a real indie revolution in Hindi cinema?
A. No one can really tell when and if it will happen. But I am hopeful that the change is already visible. To be honest, a real successful and long-lasting impact will be created only when we have a really handsome number of films that tell essentially good stories in interesting and involving ways, forcing the studios and the distribution model to take notice of us, backed by some important steps taken by the government, and the industry, to nurture the most deserving indie films. I very stongly believe that the easiest barrier to cross is support from the audience - reaching them might be tough, making them love a good movie is really easy. The toughest step in the entire process is to make that good movie. And finding the right script is the single biggest challenge film-makers are going to face, today and tomorrow, indie or not.

'Sulemani Keeda' is an indie film directed by Amit Masurkar and produced by Datta Dave and Chaitanya Hegde. It releases on 5th Dec in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, and Ahmedabad. I have written a song called "Door" for the film. Please watch it and share your comments with us. Cheers! :) 

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