Though indie films do not have a single or succinct definition, indie films are most commonly defined as films made outside the influence of the major Hollywood studio system. Typically, indie films are made with an extremely small budget or sometimes no budget at all. These films are known for being alternative to mainstream Hollywood films and therefore are not usually aimed at or enjoyed by the same audiences (Newman, 2011, p. 2). Furthermore, indie films are known for unique and three-dimensional characters and often have more alternative and mature content. That being understood, indie films have created some of the most iconic and well-known films of all time.
The term independent film has been around since the creation of films. It first appeared in the early 1910s when smaller filmmakers were trying to separate from the control of Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company (Newman, 2011, p. 24). However, the term “indie” did not emerge until the 1990s. Though indie and independent are truly synonymous in content, the idea of the indie film carries a more stylish and socially conscious connotation (Newman, 2011, p. 4). Despite the nuance in title, they both are essentially the same type of film.
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Due to that fact that indie films are produced outside of the Hollywood, they are exhibited in various other ways, rather than a standard movie theater experience. Indie films are usually debuted by arthouse theaters, or often on college campuses and recently indie films have a had a rise in viewership due to being streamed on various popular streaming services like, Netflix (Campbell, 2017, p. 231). Indie films are most importantly distributed through film festivals, like the Sundance Film Festival or South by Southwest. Furthermore, with the rise and success of film festivals, like Sundance, has led to some distribution companies to expand operations through distributing popular indie films like Pulp Fiction (1994), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), or Lost in Translation (2003) (Campbell, 2017, p. 231). The rise in popularity of the indie film cannot be without the help of these various film festivals. By having films be selected based on their indie status or lack of Hollywood influence, creates opportunities for new talent, as well as being one of the highest honors for artistic cinema (Newman, 2011, p. 27). Film Festivals have helped expose a variety of well-known classics that were once considered indies and are such an integral part to the exposure and importance of indies.
Looking at the common characteristics of indie films, they are often and easily defined and recognized by its unique characters within their stories (Newman, 2011, p. 30). Characters in indie films are usually more developed and have a realistic depth to them, compared to those in major Hollywood studio films. However, though this is a simplistic way to categorize indie films by complex characters, there is a considerable emphasis on characters and the way characters interact in these films. Furthermore, indie films can explore topics that are often too mature or not as openly explored as the themes seen with the Hollywood big budget films (Newman, 2011, p. 5). Looking at the indie classic, that went on to win many awards, Juno (2007), discusses teen pregnancy at a time when it was taboo and a topic that was not represented on screen. Moreover, Juno explores the topic not in a negative way, but at times has heart and a funny side to it as well (Newman, 2011, p. 240). Juno (2007) is not alone in the variety of indies that have explored taboo topics, however they way that it was explored was also fresh. Furthermore, indie films aim to make their films more realistic or, on the other side of the spectrum, are defined by their auteur styles. The goal of some indie films is to make the movie as close to real life in a movie form as possible, making the reason why so many characters are lifelike and stories are often not a glamorized Hollywood story (Newman, 2011, p. 28). However, on the other end of the spectrum directors like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino have made films in such particular styles that they are so far from realism, that they developed their own style that can be easily recognized by audiences. All these characteristics are unique to indies and what can define an indie film.
Many successful directors and actors have started with creating an indie film. Indie films can provide a big break for many prominent directors or actors, which have moved on to make successful Hollywood careers, like the Cohen Brothers, Wes Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino. Additionally, some successful indies have even gained a cult like status of fans behind it like Napoleon Dynamite (2004) or like other indies like Little Miss Sunshine (2006) has gone on to gross millions of dollars as an indie blockbuster (Newman, 2011, p. 233).
For educational use.
Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. (2017). Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age (11th ed.). Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Little Miss Sunshine Movie Poster [Photograph]. (n.d.).
Napoleon Dynamite Movie Poster [Photograph]. (n.d.).
Newman, M. Z. (2011). Indie: An American Film Culture. New York: Columbia University P. r. p. Press.
Written by Ruby Baden, 2018.