Texas Indies & The Problem of Star(under)power

Christopher Kelly’s article highlights an interesting problem for Indie filmmakers: The cast.
Picture it: You are an up-and-coming indie director who has a fantastic script, the scruples to direct it, and the will to essentially tour with that movie to film festivals in an effort to land a distribution deal. Your cast consists of unknowns; probably friends and family. But you’re an indie movie so that doesn’t matter to anyone, right? it is fascinating then, that the article points to the lack of star-power as a potential reason for an indie film not getting picked up.

I hadn’t considered it before this class, but it is actually something that has dawned upon me as we’ve gone through various indie movies: A majority of them have a pretty major star attached in some capacity. Wes Anderson’s first movie Bottle Rocket featured a then unknown cast of brothers Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson, but it also featured James Caan, an actor who had long been in Hollywood and has been in quite a few notable productionssex, lies, and videotape featured a fairly unknown cast, but Andie MacDowell had just come off a minor role in John Hugh’s St. Elmo’s Fire, and Peter Gallagher had a solid TV career before sex, lies, and videotape. Buffalo ’66 had the film version of Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family movies. Heck, even (500) Days of Summer, a so-called ‘surprise indie hit’ had the Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the starring role. So it is ironic but not exactly surprising that distributors are weary of a indie film that is “good” but doesn’t have the star-power to back it up. It seems almost hypocritical to pass financial judgement on a film that is by very nature a low-budget affair but at present it seems that getting at least one well-ish known actor will greatly impact the likelihood of obtaining distribution and thus a wider audience/recognition.

In all truth, whether or not an indie film is good enough to get picked up for distribution seems to be largely a secondary concern in the grand scheme of wider distribution. It is still a matter of finding someone in the right places that is willing to stick their neck out for you. As we’ve learned, indie films have to make money too, and business is still business. So ultimately if you, young indie filmmaker, were to go forth and make an indie movie with the intent of reaching a larger audience, it might be in your financial interest to enlist the services of an actor or actress with more experience than your brother-in-law with the Theater minor.

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2 thoughts on “Texas Indies & The Problem of Star(under)power

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I definitely agree with you that it seems as though for an indie movie to make it into the big leagues and become well popular among audiences then there needs to be a known star. I fell as though most of the well known actors seen in indie movies didn’t start off that way. The indie movies are kind of what started up their career in acting and becoming famous. As the actors have started to become famous and well recognized it is then that people notice the indie movies they have been in. So i personally agree that when it comes to indie movies, yes its true having a well known actor will help with your movie, however, you have to start somewhere and not all indie movies are going to have a well known actor but they still have the potential of becoming popular. Like you said its just waiting for that one person who is willing to stick their neck out for an indie movie that they think has potential.

  2. You make some interesting points in your post Kyle, and your point about the hypocritical nature of Hollywood is spot on. I would also have to agree with Alex’s assertion that even big name actors have to start somewhere, due to the nature of Hollywood being as unforgiving as it is. So I guess the real question is, where do you cultivate the talent you need? Do you fly to Hollywood and try to get your script into George Clooney’s hands? Or do you look around the local venues for less expensive, up and coming talent? In any case, the job of an indie film director is most assuredly not an enviable one. I suppose there’s some middle ground somewhere out in that vast sea of talent, the only problem is finding the right spot to lay anchor.

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