Beating the Studio System: The Rise of the Independent Filmmaking Industry
Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the major studios – Warner Bros., Paramount, MGM, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Columbia, and RKO – had absolute control of the entertainment industry, especially films that people saw on the big screen. In other words, they had the last say in regards to casting, developing scripts, budgeting, managing crews, publicity, and distributing films, ultimately depriving filmmakers the creative freedom to express their own vision and ingenious storytelling. As a result, the rebels paved their own paths and entirely deviated from the studio system, later on identifying themselves as independent filmmakers.
The Inception of Independent Filmmaking
Independent films or simply indies are feature-length motion pictures produced outside major film studios. Its highly artistic styles and character-driven stories are the primary components that make it distinguishable, directly manifested by the filmmaker’s creative interpretation, visualization, and direction. Since indie films are not produced and backed by major studios, filmmakers have to make the most out of their limited budget and resources, which is often financed by private investors and if you’re fortunate enough, by independent production houses such as A24, Blumhouse Productions, and Neon to name a few.
Since indie films are not produced and backed by major studios, filmmakers have to make the most out of their limited budget and resources…
As early as 1919, brilliant filmmakers such as Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks frowned upon the restrictions that the studio system imposed, claiming that it hindered talents to pursue their interests, negotiate salaries, and manifest their creative ideas. Thus, they established an independent company known as United Artists that allowed them to create films based on their personal preferences. While there are various speculations as to when indie films started, most enthusiasts would argue that it truly began when Steven Soderbergh debuted his film Sex, Lies, and Videotape at the Sundance Film Festival in 1989, which was dubbed as the film that popularized and proved the success of independent filmmaking in the ’90s.
…Steven Soderbergh debuted his film Sex, Lies, and Videotape at the Sundance Film Festival in 1989, which was dubbed as the film that popularized and proved the success of independent filmmaking…
Film festivals are the stomping grounds of indie filmmakers, an event where they showcase their masterpieces to other film enthusiasts in and out of the entertainment industry across the globe. It has become an avenue wherein aspiring filmmakers and dreamers (oftentimes people fresh from film school), work tirelessly to get their short or feature-length films screened in hopes of attracting opportunities from reputable filmmakers as well as to make a name for themselves in the industry.
These highly-respected and illustrious festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and South by Southwest brought us our favorite films and directors, particularly Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), and Richard Linklater (Slacker). Not to mention, The Blair Witch Project turned heads at Sundance and the box office in 1999 for its brilliant storytelling, even if it was just made with a $60,000 budget. As a matter of fact, it grossed $246.8 million at the box office, earning them way more than they expected. These films were the turning point that made people believed that they had the power to create films on their own and more importantly, have their voices heard.
…The Blair Witch Project turned heads at Sundance and the box office in 1999 for its brilliant storytelling, even if it was just made with a $60,000 budget.
Turning Heads at the Academy Awards
As the years progressed, talented filmmakers started getting support from top-notch indie production companies, providing them the resources to create films that gave the same cinematic flair and impression as studio produced films at a fraction of a price. Indie films such as Moonlight (produced by A24) won an Oscar for best picture in 2017, surpassing high-budgeted films such as La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, and Fences. Other notable indie films that sparked interests and became cult classics include Lady Bird, Ex Machina, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Florida Project, and Get Out among others.
With the rise of accessible and advanced technologies, everyone is given the opportunity to capture a compelling story with just a push of a button. In fact, some of the veteran filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh and Sean Baker have defied the odds by making award-winning independent feature films with an iPhone. On the other hand, even budding filmmakers have proven that it’s possible to achieve a cinematic look simply by using your own compact DSLRs – saving you tons of money from renting or purchasing high-end Arri Alexa and RED cameras.
With the rise of accessible and advanced technologies, everyone is given the opportunity to capture a compelling story with just a push of a button.
Major studios and independent production companies may have differences as to the overall process of creating a cinematic masterpiece, but at the end of the day, both strive to capture stories that constantly hit the right spots of our fragile hearts. Moreover, independent filmmaking will undoubtedly continue to take the world by storm especially with today’s generation of risk-taking filmmakers and their desire to tell authentic stories as we evolve in an ever-changing society. The sky is the limit indeed.