Long Live Those Who Choose the Independent Path in Film Production

Michael Connelly asked:

It seems like the only films being made these days by major studios are sequels to comic book hero movies, remakes of classic old movies and old television shows that have been turned into movies. Most of the projects of today’s film industry are chosen by Wall Street instead of by some cigar chomping studio executive sitting behind a desk on a studio lot in Hollywood. It can be disheartening at times when you are standing in front of an eighteen-plex movie theater location and you want to see a movie with a story. However, just when you think that creativity is dead in the movie business a talented filmmaker will come along and remind the big shots that they ultimately depend on them for their product.

The fact of the matter is that the film industry is a business like any other in which the primary goal is to make money. Any deviation from that concept puts a studio at risk of having a movie that “bombs”, or in other words loses money. When you are dealing with a major studio like Warner Bros or Paramount you have shareholders to worry about, and that makes studio executives nervous. When shareholders get nervous they shine a bright light on their investment and look for anything or anyone that is not making them money. This spells disaster for inept studio executives and their heads will roll. This is why they always try to cover their behinds with the safest investment, and that is why you will not see them taking any chances on something or someone that has not already been proven to make money.

A big studio is basically defined by the value of their stock, not the quality of their films. This is why major studios appear to be creatively bankrupt these days. Decisions about making movies are being made by financial people instead of creative visionaries like Jack Warner. Today’s films are constructed around a host of commercial themes instead of artistic ones and that is why you get a whole lot of special effects and very little storyline. Explosions and clever product placement sell more tickets than gripping stories.

When you think about how the odds are stacked so heavily against the financial success of a truly independent film it is a wonder that any at all get made. It is a testament to the creative and irrepressible spirit of independent filmmakers around the world. While filmmaking is first and foremost a business these days it will always rely on its creative aspect to keep the customers happy. This is why creative people are drawn to this industry despite the odds of success being heavily against them. Film production is and always will be a form of art no matter how commercialized it becomes. Artists are drawn to this business because that is what they do; they work with art forms.

You have to understand when you take on a career in film production you are rolling the dice with your future success. It is really hard to break into this field as a major player without connections due to the fact that there is a great deal of nepotism involved in the hiring process. It is hard, but not impossible.

The best way for a Nobody to become a Player in Hollywood is to make a big showing at a major film festival like Sundance or Toronto. This always leads to some good publicity, which can launch a career from independent to mainstream.

We all remember The Blair Witch Project and El Mariachi. These were films made in the late nineties that cost less than fifty thousand dollars and crossed over from the film festival circuit to the major theater circuit. They were made by artists who put their budget second and their vision first. Persistence and an undying passion to make movies was the fuel that drove them, and it paid off in the end. Big studios bought their films and went on to make millions with them. It does not matter that the studios made most of this money, for the publicity that these filmmakers received was enough to launch their careers in Hollywood. In both cases the makers of these movies went on to create sequels, but with major studio budgets backing them financially for the second episodes of their stories. Their exploits in the world of independent film was a springboard to the big time. It worked out well for them.

It is good to see that every once in a while a really independent film makes it to the big time. Most films that are entered in festivals never get to see the bright lights of the mainstream, but it does happen every once in a while. This is because passionate and creative artists will always gravitate to this line of work to tell their stories, no matter how hard the big studios make it for them to join their money-making party. A truly great story teller cannot be silenced by nepotism. They will always find a way to get their story told. One thing is for sure; when it comes to the movie industry the cream always rises to the top. Although it has been smothered by commercialism lately it cannot exist on money and test marketing alone. The main nutrient it requires to survive is creativity. Even the most heavily laden special effects movie needs some sort of creativeness to build their explosions around. Once in a while the big Hollywood studio executives open the doors to their party and let the creative people inside, but only if their financial advisors tell them that it is a good idea.

© 2006 Copyright. Michael Connelly

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