3 Examples – SWINGERS + LOST IN TRANSLATION + THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT: What Exactly is an Independent Film?
Hollywood is great, but sometimes the glamour and the glitz can become a little samey and stale. So, today I want to look at some independent films that do things a little differently. First things first though, what exactly is an independent film?
What Makes a Film Independent?
It can be tough to put your finger on exactly what it is that makes a film independent - after all they sometimes still have a-list celebrities in starring roles and high profile directors at the helm. As a rule of thumb though, and independent film is a film that is not financed and produced by a major Hollywood studio. This means that invariably an independent film will have a budget far smaller than your typical superhero movie.
You might think that less money to throw around means a lower quality film. It is certainly the case that you won’t see huge set-piece action scenes in an indie film, and while there may be some a-list talent, an indie film will not be packed full of all the most famous actors. However, because they are made outside of the standard Hollywood system and therefore carry a much smaller investment, the people behind independent films are free to take risks and do things a little differently. This can result in a far more original, creative film, a film that endures in people’s memories in a way that many Hollywood blockbusters do not.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some examples of independent films from the 90s and 00s...
A cult comedy from the 90s, Swingers was shot on a shoestring budget and is a great example of an independent movie. The plot revolves around a wannabe actor who moves from New York to LA who struggles to adjust to the West Coast lifestyle following a breakup. His friends take it upon themselves to cheer him up with a road trip to Las Vegas.
The scenes that take place in and around the casinos of Vegas are the highlights. The hapless characters are shown to be utterly useless at a host of casino games. The awkward scenes are at odds with the expected Hollywood image of glamorous Vegas and is a classic example of an indie film playing with the audience’s expectations.
Lost in Translation (2004)
When people talk about the best films of the 2000’s, or the best indie films of all time, you can expect the name Lost in Translation to come up. Directed by Sofia Coppola, and starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation is a masterclass in subtle film making. It is a great example of how indie films give everyone involved the freedom to make something a little different, and how this freedom can lead to something truly special.
At first glance, there isn’t much to Lost in Translation. It’s basically about two Americans who are alone in Tokyo and strike up a friendship. It isn’t very dramatic, there isn’t (much) of a love story, and to be honest, not that much happens. There is no way a Hollywood production company would touch it with a bargepole! Yet, a combination of beautiful cinematography and wonderfully paired back acting from both Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray create a haunting film that lingers on in viewer’s memory long after they have seen it.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
When talking about indie films, you have to mention the Blair Witch Project. This is perhaps the greatest example of a film done on the cheap that completely changed the horror genre in cinema.
In some sense, the Blair Witch Project is the greatest example of the independent film genre: it was shot entirely on a single handheld camera, with a total budget of $60,000 (to put that in perspective, the latest Avengers film will probably come in at around four hundred million dollars).
To be honest, the less said about the plot the better, you just have to watch it! It is psychological horror at its absolute best: there is no gore, no monsters and yet you are on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.
This film had a lasting impact on horror, with the use of handheld cameras and ‘found footage’
A common sight in modern horror films. It truly is the king of indie films.
Sometimes it isn’t true that you get what you pay for. In the case of indie films, small budgets often mean big heart - actors and directors working more for the love than the money. So, next time you are scrolling through Netflix, maybe give an indie film a shot, you won’t regret it!