Business vs Art in Film: Irony and the Independents - Part 2

August 26, 2006

Written by guest contributor Jason Kaleko

Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi

Part 2 of 2 | The Era of the Sequel - Part 1

From its conception, the film industry has been a non-stop tug of war between two sides: business and art. Any Film History 101 class will tell you that. Hollywood attempts to extract the maximum possible profit while directors and actors complain about having their "vision" stifled and demand more "creative freedom." And until now, this dichotomy has provided America with the most prolific and successful film market in the world.

However, in the last 30 years, originality in film has slowed dramatically. As Hollywood races to find the quickest way to make a buck (by sequeling every movie it can get the rights to) the business side of film has crushed the artistic into near nonexistence. But as Hollywood continues to rot and the war between art and business is slowly won by the latter, a new system of filmmaking is emerging: independent films.

Indie films have always been considered the artsy alternative to the average Hollywood blockbuster. They rarely find a wide release in theatres but usually there's a theatre somewhere that'll play them.

Ironically, the system through which independent films go to reach the big screen is much more capitalistically sound than in the Hollywood system. Independent filmmakers, unlike in the Hollywood system, are forced to raise the money for their films by themselves before shooting. This may be through personal funds (John Sayles' style), experimental testing (Rodriguez) or via a more commonplace source such as venture capital. To achieve venture capital, an independent filmmaker must first sell his idea to a group of investors and show that the film can be made with a certain amount of fiscal responsibility. This is just phase one of weeding out the non-hackers.

After the finances are secured, the film is shot, cut, and a final product arrives hot in the hands of the filmmaker… but it's not on the big screen yet. The film must be marketed to a distribution company (such as Lionsgate, New Films, First Look, IFC Films, etc.) who in turn delivers the film to the audience via big screen or DVD release. This is where the independent filmmaking process stands apart from the Hollywood system the most. Films must compete to make it to the audience. Competition, the cornerstone of any capitalist society, forces films to be great before they achieve a major release.

Ironically, while the business side of film slowly drained much of the art in Hollywood-made films, it's the same side that is forcing art and superior filmmaking to emerge in the independent system.

It seems that unless some sort of major change occurs, the Hollywood system of filmmaking is nearing an end (along with the previously mentioned "Era of the Sequel") and independent filmmaking, due to its superior business, is primed to take over the film market in America. It's also interesting to note that in other countries, such as England and Italy, independent films have always flourished because there simply isn't a Hollywood system aside from American imports.

So don't fret if you look at the roster of upcoming films with disappointment. Change is on the horizon. Artistic quality and originality in films will resurface in the near future as the whole way that films are made is turned on its head.

Have a thought, or remark, or disagreement in the battle between business vs art? Please comment below and state your opinion!

[tags]Hollywood, creative freedom, originality, independent, indie, filmmakers, Sayles, Rodriguez[/tags]

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Interesting posts. I've felt the same about this for a long time, and even wrote a book looking at this topic: The End of Celluloid. My latest project is an even more radical way of dragging film into the digital age, which embraces P2P, remixing, and is DRM free. Hope you enjoy it, we are progressing nicely. We still have room for Angels, to participate in the film and subscribe. A Swarm of Angels

Matt on Aug 27, 2006


this website jus taught me alot.I agree wit the fact that indie films are artistic,but disagree that audiences are sick and tired of hollywood films.I mean this has been the summer of talladega nights and snakes on a plane.

David on Aug 28, 2006


Maybe Hollywood films have died, symbolically at least (beside the whole sequel mania), however they have not been replaced by the independent film sector, on the contrary independent films have been hollywoodized into the same capitalist money-making machines as their so called nemesis. Since when does a film such as The Gangs of New York, directed by Sundance kid Sodenbergh considered as independent? A film which had a budget of hundred millions, starring big-names and produced by a major studio be referred to as truly independent? I think the real concern here is the death of independent cinema. Independence has become a way of thinking rather than a way of filmmaking, one just needs to looking at the blurring of lines between the Hollywood and independent sector to realise this. Independent cinema has become the Hollywood, i.e. the term Indiewood.

Meltem on Mar 11, 2007

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