Indie Films in Hollywood: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Indie Theater Image from Brandon Cirillo’s PhotostreamBy now you’ve probably already read the Wall Street Journal’s take on the state of independent film in Hollywood. If you haven’t, I’ll sum up: Hollywood studios are finding that lower budget indie flicks are not paying off at the box office. No matter how many movies you make (and it looks like they’re making quite a lot of movies), there aren’t any more screens to show them on than there were before. Small movies, no matter how star-studded, aren’t inspiring people to amble on over to the multiplex.

As someone pointed out at the always fabulous Boston Media Makers session Sunday morning, the movie industry is just catching up to the same issues that have plagued the music industry for years.* I think that’s a pretty fair summary of the situation. The old ways of doing business are not as profitable as they used to be. The WSJ focuses largely on the financial problems this creates, but I’m also wondering how this will change the storytelling landscape.

If funding is drying up for people who want to make small family dramas and slow-paced coming-of-age fables, where else will they go? Are viewers genuinely uninterested in smaller stories, or are they just getting their fill elsewhere? Television seems to be flush with nuanced drama, and fascinating things are happening with graphic novels these days – not to mention the rapidly evolving universe of web-distributed film. Is the feature-length indie film never again coming to a theater near you, or is it just in hibernation?

*I cannot recall who said this at the meeting, please comment if you remember!

Steadicam for Indies

Steadicam Operator
Photo by Reinis Traidas

B&H has an video interview with the inventor of the Steadicam, Garrett Brown. The Steadicam, for those who don’t know, is a stabilizing mount for a camera that isolates the camera’s movement from the camera operator’s movement. On terrain that is too rough, or other situations where a track and dolly are not practical, Steadicam allows smooth, moving shots.

Interestingly, Brown focused specifically on the drive to bring the Steadicam to smaller scale productions:

“The things that the Hollywood guys with their $50,000 rigs have, someone wants with a little HDV camera,” says Brown. “It’s our job not only to supply the gear, but also to help educate people to use it with the same degree of freedom and panache that the big boys have.

Brown’s mission to bring the Steadicam to the masses fits within the general trend of democratization of technology and it is particularly exciting, if not altogether unexpected, that stabilized camera mounts are becoming more widely available. Guerrilla filmmakers in particular may find great value in being able to get stable, smooth shots without the burden and setup of a dolly.

Akiva Goldsman says. . .

This weekend, as a part of the reunion/commencement ceremonies at my alma mater, I got to see Akiva Goldsman talk about life as an Oscar-winning screenwriter. I also got to see a certain presidential candidate, but I’m going to be a good blogger and stay on topic.

I’ve seen a lot of writers come back and give advice to the masses. Goldsman talked a lot about failure. He was a failed novelist, a mostly-failed textbook writer, and he happened to, by accident, sell the first screenplay he ever wrote. His advice was, in a nutshell: “Write write write write write write write. And then write.”

Someone asked him about going to Hollywood. He said that Hollywood was a club of “about 500 people, with everyone trying to make sure it’s not 501.” He advised aspiring filmmakers, writers, and actors to develop their skills elsewhere, and then bring those skills with them. He said that LA was no place to find yourself – you have to bring something to the table to have success.

The talk reminded me why I chose a small market like Boston, where I can form bonds with people at all levels of the production process. I once was trying to coordinate a shoot with a woman in LA, who tried to get me to sum up where I wanted to be in 5 years. I gave her a very vague, philosophical answer, and she said “No. You need to KNOW now. Do you want to be a technical director? A location manager? What?” I’m lucky enough that I’ve been a location manager, a script supervisor, a producer, an editor. . . all from the same desk chair. I should hope that if I ever get to make money solely as a writer or producer, knowing the whole process from start to finish will serve me well.