Hollywood appears to have the upper hand regarding the movie industry.
However Independent films are making wider in-roads and appear to be having a deeper stake in the business.
When it comes to profiting from film, Hollywood may be able to claim victory in this area but actors, like Jake Gyllenhal admit to purposefully seeking out independent projects that “pushed him out of his comfort zone” according to a September variety.com article surrounding Gyllenhal’s 30 pound weight loss for the film Nightcrawler.
So with actors like Jake Gyllenhal, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper becoming more involved, is the independent film industry free to cut ties with Hollywood?
I wanted to learn more from the thriving local independent film culture in the Washington, DC metro area. I reached out to filmmakers, a talent coach, and manager, producers and actors who willingly chimed in with their thoughts on the subject.
Meet Jason Baustin; filmmaker, and a Discovery Communications veteran based in Maryland. He recently released his
crime drama short film City of Lost Souls at AFI, Silver Spring and has subsequently submitted the film to several film festivals including Tribeca and South by South West (SXSW).
Jason is of the opinion that Indie Film is not dependent on Hollywood to thrive, much less survive. He believes that it will require a large amount of work from the filmmaker, and their team, but it is certainly attainable.
Jason informed me that although it may appear that Indie filmmakers are often at a financial disadvantage to Hollywood, the industry can indeed be self-sufficient, and exist together with, but separate from Hollywood, through focused attention to building an audience. Jason asserted that filmmakers must make marketing; including direct-marketing and social media a priority. “Be creative, do the work, create a buzz, and once you get the notoriety from obtaining more press, winning films festivals, getting awards etc, people will know your work. People need to know who you are, and that you are a good filmmaker.”
He advises that although it will be taxing, those who are willing to put the necessary work in, will become the filmmaker whom audiences eventually seek out as a result of the initial labor invested.
For some independent moviemakers it’s about doing what they love, there are a cross-section who are not motivated by financial gain or fame. Those who hold this disposition are often propelled to keep writing, keep fundraising, and keep cranking out quality moving pictures. This is the sentiment of Eulonda Kay Lea, Writer and Filmmaker based in Washington, DC. Eulonda recently premiered her short film; Ode to Rosa. She also has a feature in the works. Following the completed screenplay and table read session, the next step is fund raising and shooting. As far as Eulonda is concerned, Independent Film will always be around. Eulonda’s goal is to “make films that enlighten, and entertain.” According to her, “If they are not doing either it’s not worth money or time, it’s a God given gift”. To Eulonda independent film represents being able to tell a good story, which ultimately carries more weight than being popular, or wealthy to her. It is about creating an art form which is born out of a divine gift. As a filmmaker, Eulonda also wants to be able to maintain the control of her work. She’s of the opinion that although raising the finances to produce independent films can be laborious, acquiring an Executive Producer, or Hollywood investor, ultimately leads to tailoring the project to please these entities. As a result, Eulonda is of the mindset that she does not need Hollywood. “It would be nice to have the money, but if that money comes with the cost of losing control of what the finished product looks like, well I am fine with making short films, and plugging along”. Eulonda intends to continue to write worthwhile, and valuable stories, execute short films, and put in the work to share her pieces with her community. She is content in the belief that the recognition will come eventually. She went on to reference actor, film producer, and director, Lee Daniels, as an example of a filmmaker who wrote strong scripts, and stories he believed in, and took the time to “build his name”.
One of my other colleagues had another interesting perspective. Talent Manager and founder of Bello Talent Inc., out of Takoma Park, Maryland, Manuel Poblete, is of the strong opinion that the independent film industry is able to stand on its own two feet. He asserts that with the expansion of technology, in these modern times, that filmmakers have a buffet of choices with regards to distribution of their passion projects. Manuel informed me that, “Technology has made it possible for Indie film makers to part ways from Hollywood because Filmmakers no longer need Hollywood to be famous or make money. Youtube, and all web-portals like Netflix, Hulu and movies being streams are reaching larger audiences than Hollywood could ever do by TV and Movie theaters. Hollywood still controls movie theaters because they can afford to pay to have their movies played, but indie filmmakers are passing up hollywood distributors and going to web-portal companies that love new content. The only time Hollywood and Indie film makers meet is at the Academy Awards.”
Prominent DMV Actor, Writer, and Director Altorro Prince Black also believes that the indie film industry can stand strong apart from Hollywood. Altorro offered, “”indie” film means “anything created outside of Hollywood” then the indie film industry might very well dwarf Hollywood. Not in terms of gross sales and view-ability, but definitely in terms of creativity, chance or risk-taking, and content. ” Altorro went on to educate me that indie films are all about creating something new, whereas in Hollywood, you’re guaranteed to see the same thing repackaged as something new.
Like Manuel, Altorro also believes that new technology provides story tellers larger opportunities. Altorro informed that, “the technology shift has catapulted movie-making into the hands and minds of millions, instead of just a select few who could afford large sound stages and state-of-the-art equipment. The challenge now is no longer the equipment, it is storytelling, writing ability, actors that know how to act and most importantly, directors that know how to actually direct and communicate.”
However, the areas in which Altorro perceives can hurt the the indie film industry is a lack of professionalism, and insufficient training. With regards to training Altorro sees a critical need to improve, from properly using technical equipment, to one’s acting technique. Altorro is also calling for more professionalism on set; “Professionalism and the idea of getting work done and done correctly. I see indie films needing more professionalism. I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of folks who have that down very well. And others who might think that they did, but they did not. Also, more self-education for actors, directors, crew, etc. And more honesty with audiences about the finished products (and availability). This is how independent films can start to become taken seriously, and can start becoming films that people want to actually go watch as much as they want to watch the next Hollywood blockbuster.”
In conclusion, in the words of the sought after Maryland, and DC actor Johnny Christos, “When it comes to making a film; a chain is as strong as its weakest link, and no matter what position you have in the process of making that film, you have to be great!“