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Long Live Those Who Choose The Independent Path In Film Production

It seems like the only films that are being made these days by major studios are sequels, comic book hero movies, remakes of classic movies and old television shows that have been turned into movies. Most of the projects of today’s film industry are chosen by Wall Street executives who could care less about artistic integrity. They only care about profits. This can be disheartening at times when you are standing in front of an eighteen-plex movie theater and you want to see an independent film with a story, but there are none to be found. However, just when you think that creativity is dead in the movie business a talented independent filmmaker will show up at one of the big film festivals and remind the big shots in Hollywood that the movie-going public values them more than they do Wall Street. 

The fact of the matter is that the Hollywood film industry is a business like any other in which the primary goal is to make money. Any deviation from that concept puts a studio at risk of having a movie that “bombs”, or in other words loses money.

When you are dealing with major studios like Warner Bros or Paramount you have shareholders to worry about, and that makes studio executives nervous. When shareholders get nervous they shine a bright light on their investment and look for anything or anyone that is not making them money. It spells disaster for inept executives, and their heads will roll in the aftermath of shareholder discontent. This is why executives who green-light film projects always try to cover their behinds with the safest investments possible. That is why you will not see them taking any chances on something or someone that has not already been proven to make money. It is quite hard for creativity to survive in an atmosphere like that.  

A big studio is basically defined by the value of their stock, not the quality of their films. This is why major studios appear to be creatively bankrupt these days. Decisions about making movies are being made by financial people instead of creative visionaries like Jack Warner, the co-founder of Warner Bros. Studios. He understood that filmmaking is a balance of art and commerce, not just commerce.

Today’s films are constructed around a host of commercial themes instead of artistic ideas. That is why you get a whole lot of special effects and very little storyline with the major studio films. When it comes to the financial bottom line, explosions and clever product placement in carefully packaged,  multi-million dollar budget movies make more money than independent films with unique stories.   

When you think about how heavily the odds are stacked against the financial success of independent films it is a wonder that any at all get made. It is a testament to the creative and irrepressible spirit of independent filmmakers around the world. While filmmaking is first and foremost a business these days it is still an art form too. This is why creative people are drawn to this industry despite the odds of success being heavily against them. Film production is and always will be a form of art no matter how commercialized it becomes. Artists are drawn to this business because that is what they do; they work with art.

You have to understand when you take on a career in film production you are rolling the dice with your future success. It is really hard to break into this field as a major player without connections. This is due to the fact that there is a great deal of nepotism involved in the hiring process. It is hard to get a break in Hollywood, but it is not impossible.

The best way for a nobody to become a Player in Hollywood is to make a big showing at  major film festivals like Sundance or Toronto. This always leads to some good publicity, and it can launch a career into the stratosphere. One day you are making a low budget independent film in your back yard, then before you know it you are making a big  budget film on a major Hollywood film studio back lot.

We all remember The Blair Witch Project and El Mariachi. These were truly independent films made in the late nineties with budgets of less than fifty thousand dollars. They crossed over from the film festival circuit to the major theater circuit and made the filmmakers rich and famous in the process. The were made by artists who put their budget second and their vision first. Persistence and an undying passion to make independent films was the fuel that drove them, and it paid off in the end. Big studios bought their movies and went on to make millions with them. It does not matter that the big studios made most of this money with these movies, for the publicity that these filmmakers received was enough to launch their careers in Hollywood. In both cases the makers of these independent films went on to create sequels with major studio budgets backing them financially for the second episodes of their stories. Their exploits on the film festival circuit in the world of independent film were a springboard to the big time. It worked out well for them.

It is good to see that every once in a while a really independent film makes it to the big time. Most films that are entered in film festivals never get to see the bright lights of the mainstream, but it does happen every once in a while. This is because passionate and creative artists will always gravitate to this line of work to tell their stories. No matter how hard the big studios make it for them to join their money-making party, independent filmmakers will continue trying to crash it. A truly great story teller cannot be silenced by nepotism. They will always find a way to get their story told. 

One thing is for sure; when it comes to the movie industry, the cream always rises to the top. Although the industry has been smothered by commercialism lately it cannot exist on money and test marketing alone. The main nutrient it requires to survive is creativity. Even the most heavily laden special effects movie needs some sort of creativeness to build their explosions around. Once in a while the big Hollywood studio executives open the doors to their party and let the creative people who make independent films join them. But... only if their financial advisors tell them that it is a good idea.

Michael Connelly

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