Is it still indie?

    According to Hesmondhalgh the relationship between the institution and the aesthetic in indie is the way that the institution lets the musician do what they want. They let the musician explore more compared to mainstream music. Yet, this usually only happens if the label isn’t under a bigger label company. Since, the bigger company will most likely want to focus on the music that will lead to bigger profit. Causing the musician to change its music sound to something more familiar. 


   This relationship, between the music and the institution, compared to the relationship that the film industry and production institution have is fairly similar in the sense that they both stay away form what is mainstream. They let the artist explore and usually try to send a message to the audience. Both try to build a reputation causing them to only focus on projects that revolve around their “theme/ type of indie genre”.


    Another similarity is the way that in both institutions of music and film, the independent industries get bought out by bigger companies in order to get more money to produce more and have a wider range in reaching  out to the public. Although they do get bough out they still try to keep their reputation. Some examples of this are Miramax which was bought by Disney for the film industry and Creation which was bought out by Sony. With being under their wing the indie industries are able to go on beyond borders to promote their creations in other countries. 


   We tend to categorize indie movies by their aesthetics more than anything.  Yet, indie, music, is now, “…generally used to describe a set of sounds and an attitude, rather than an aesthetic and institutional position.”



Major Independents: they want depth but they throw you in the shallow end

A large number of the directors who desire to make an indie film do so because of the freedom they are provided as a result of not having to listen to a large, commercial production studio. These directors will be in charge of the project so they can have the final say and it gives them much more creative control.  However, this same freedom is not given to the directors who work with a major/minimajor. The reasoning behind this is that even though the major studio desires to produce an “indie” film they still are more concerned with widespread commercial appeal, whereas a true independent film can focus more on niche populations.

Spike Lee’s success from She’s Gotta Have It put him in a situation where he could get backing from a large studio and potentially increase his profits. However, the studio he signed with, Paramount, was not satisfied with the film they signed him to do, Do the Right Thing, due to the amount of controversial content it possessed. This is a prime example of major studios trying to produce an indie film but not being able to do so because their sole motivation is their bottom line. While Lee could have tried to go the independent route and have full creative control another studio stepped in.  Since Paramount was unable to come to an agreement with Spike Lee, he ended up going to Universal who was more than willing to allow Lee to do the film how he wished.

Spike Lee

                The lack of backing from Paramount could be for an array of reasons. The main reason for the withdrawal of Paramount could simply be that they did not want to have such a controversial title tied to their brand.  There was talk that it could create racial tensions, that riots could ensue upon the movie’s release, and that it could also alienate anybody that isn’t of African American descent. This list of reasons could have caused Paramount to back out and let Lee go elsewhere. As for why Universal picked up the film, it was likely for financial reasons. Universal knew that the film would be controversial but they, much like what Soderbergh did with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, likely wanted to try and use this controversy as free publicity for the film. They knew that there would be lots of news coverage for the film which would likely result in lots of ticket sales and, in the end, a large profit margin.  Spike Lee always seems to push the envelope with his films because he is so outspoken when it comes to racial tensions and it was likely this reputation coupled with the controversial film that ultimately resulted in Universal picking up Do the Right Thing.

Judge’s Ruling: Indie or Not?

Prompt # 2

When Newman talks about the different way indie films are judged, he says, “In the case of indie cinema, depending on the nature of a given festival, its selection committee has the power to nominate films as indie or, more importantly, to establish which indie films and artists will be considered exemplary.”  What I think he means by this is that there are factors to be taken into account when judging an indie film. One of these factors is which festival the film is being screened at. Each festival has a different purpose to it, such as the Sundance festival, which is mostly just about indie cinematographers trying to make it in Hollywood. Then there are others, such as the Austin Film Festival, with a gentler attitude toward film. People come out just to enjoy the arts, it’s not so much about getting one’s name out. 145


Based on the categories a film can be nominated in (shown here), Austin Film Festival, as mentioned before, seems to be more interested in the arts, not the recognition (other than the award, of course). Although, the prizes do include cash and reimbursement for hotel stays and plane flights, so it’s actually more of a contest than just a gathering of film lovers. I think in this case, that this is how the films are judged on whether they are indie or “exemplary” or not.

Elephant’s Long Shots

As seen in the movie Elephant, Van Sant’s uses long tracking shots style not normally viewed in Hollywood Blockbusters. Some of his shots only featuring a character or two span for several minutes long being viewed from a single perspective. According to Murphy in his article The Temporal Complexity of Elephant these long takes are a method Van Sant uses in order to make the passage of time during the events we are witnessing feel approximate to the actual passage of time. He does so in an attempt to emphasize the duration of the events. Murphy also points out that Van Sant explains by drawing out the duration of the scene it effects the way you accept you events and makes the information you absorb more devastating.



I think the film benefited from these long shots in multiple ways, as Van Sant pointed out I feel it does make scenes have a greater impact. This greater impact is that the scene feels more like an account of events, by eliminating cuts from the scenes it adds to the reality of what is happening as though you were there yourself rather than seeing it through the camera lens. This kind of ultra-realism is something that indie movies strive for often and is one of the fundamental differences between Indie and Hollywood films, which helps distinguish this film as indie.

Murphy, J. J. Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work. New York: Continuum, 2007. Print


Think Indie and it Shall Appear

Similar to our discussion on highbrow/lowbrow culture this weeks reading selection contends again that the consumer of a particular media text is what puts the labels associated with it onto the work itself. This week’s discussion however took a look specifically at how audiences interact with indie movies that categorize them as such. Much like highbrow/lowbrow culture is created because of our need to categorize things hierarchically, I believe that the idea of an indie counter culture was created to explain the break in artistic strategies and creative flexibility that is commonly found between majors and independents.

Certain strategies can be used by consumers of indie movies that create a coherence within the diverse category that is “indie”. These strategies include viewing characters as emblems (think Brokeback Mountain), viewing form as a game (Memento for example), and reading the story as anti-Hollywood. While all these strategies are equally valid, I believe that the last point is especially helpful in linking his particular discussion of indie film to the highbrow culture arguments we are all familiar with. Viewing something as anti-Hollywood creates a good vs. bad mentality that pervades our society no matter if you stand on the major or independent side. The very existence of these strategies, however, serves to perpetuate the very idea he is trying to get across. Just by allowing yourself to believe that something is independent of an established order causes you to analyze every minute detail for meaning and depth, even if none existed originally.

Implementing these strategies earlier during our screening of Buffalo ’66 did prove to be quite an experience. I found myself questioning everything from shot selection to word choice. For some reason just knowing that this film was “indie”and “highbrow” made me dig deeper and take note of, for example, the overwhelming lack of character development of Layla or the creative use of flashbacks that both told their own narrative but related to the discussion at hand. 

Ultimately, I think that the very concept of “indie” perpetuates the image of “indie” which has led the genre and culture to merge with highbrow culture or maybe even vice versa. This argument seems strangely reminiscent of the silly argument of whether the chicken or the egg came first, and I have to admit that in this case I don’t know if i truly know the answer.

A Different Look at Film

Most of us (meaning the current 20-somethings), when we were young (-er), saw films that followed a general narrative pattern. To us, these movies were great because our minds enjoyed repetition, things that were different were uncomfortable, even scary sometimes, and this applies to things other than movies. However, this narrative has gotten old for us, we wish for something new. We’re tired of the guy always getting the girl and riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after….

In general, people who have interest in indie films are people who are looking for a different way of going about telling a story. We need something that makes us say, “Oh…that’s an interesting way to do it.” When I watched Chronicle (2012) earlier this summer, immediately I was surprised at the way the camera was set up. It was meant to be a “found footage” type of cinematography where the camera is shaky and (looks) unprofessional (somewhat similar to the “Marble Hornets” web horror/thriller series). I was, at first, put off by it, but the film became more intriguing when the major conflict was introduced.

When you watch a “found footage” film, you tend to think of it as a home-video or a class project type thing. Usually home-videos don’t really involve conflict, but when you throw it in there, you suddenly pay attention. I started paying attention at this point because the movie had just introduced its narrative. Up to this point, it was just a personal project someone had done, but now, things were getting serious. 

Because the conflict was unusual from the type that Hollywood generally presents, I was intrigued, and because there was no efforts made to mask the trials of real life, the characters were relatable. Every moment I spent watching the film, I bonded with characters even more. I felt their struggles, cried and laughed with them, etc. I think this is the true magic of indie films. For the most part, a sense of realism is maintained in order to help you bond with the characters.

Buffalo ’66 did the same thing for me as Chronicle did in both of these respects. It provided a new type of narrative along with different, more “class-project” (like, “I-did-this-on-iMovie” type of thing) like cinematography, as well as give a sense of realism. Another “breath-of-fresh-air” is the fact that while you can level with Billy’s feelings, you can also view his psychotic antics from a general social viewpoint through Layla. Although, this becomes complicated when she starts developing Stockholm Syndrome.

These strategies, looking for a different narrative, looking for differences in types of conflict, are just some of the viewing strategies that moviegoers keep in mind when they see an indie movie. Because indie movies usually have such a different way of showing their story, it attracts people interested in controversy and things breaking from social and business norms. In doing so, it has created a culture focused on breaking social boundaries, so that we might better understand ourselves.

It’s a Hit or Miss until Money Comes into Play

To get dressed, grab some popcorn, and catch the latest movie, or to remain comfortably unbathed eating chinese takeout at home with your TV…  The ultimate movie consumer question.  But what if you could combine the two?  This is where VOD comes into play.  It’s convenient, its cheaper than a movie ticket, and it gives viewers the satisfaction of being one of the first to see a new movie in the comfort of their own home.  Sounds like a dream come true right?  But just as video and the cable boom initially increased demands for movies, this too, will putter out in a way.  Let’s face it, when the honeymoon period of VOD fades, film companies will have to go back to catering to viewers wants and needs, which goes beyond the excited butterflies-in-stomach feeling that new tech like this can create.

Yet as time goes on, the success of VOD lies not in box office numbers per se, but in how well a movie is publicized and reviewed by critics. Your movie is either a hit or miss, if its not successful at the box office, it won’t be successful in VOD, the only saving grace for your movie is that while simultaneously debuting your film on VOD and in theaters, VOD can act as its own box office, with the perk that its at cheaper costs for producers.  The cheaper costs give the little guys of independent a chance, but when the big guns like Disney step in, that’ll be the time for independent films to consider yet another alternative for sharing their films with viewers.

In an article I found on GigaOm, it looks like the big dogs are stepping in sooner than we know it, and they are going to raise the costs for VOD, debuting the Premium VOD at a cost of $20-$30 compared to the $5 traditional VOD, making it another battleground for independent film companies to fail because they can’t keep up with the costs.

And on that note, I leave with Bills, Bills, Bills by Destiny’s Child:

I almost imagine this is the attitude producers feel when it comes to taking their independent films to film festivals.