Is there an “indie-film” stereotype?

I just got back from an aca­d­e­mic con­fer­ence on pop­u­lar romance stud­ies. It’s a fairly new dis­ci­pline, which is still fight­ing against the stigma of assump­tions made about the genre as a whole (i.e., that it is “trash,” “women’s pornog­ra­phy,” etc.). So, I’m pretty well sen­si­tized right now to the assump­tions made by schol­ars, crit­ics, and pretty much every­body about pop­u­lar romance (not only nov­els, but “chick flicks” too). Most of these assump­tions tar an entire genre with the same broad brush, despite the vastly dif­fer­ent prod­ucts con­tained within. (Jane Austen? Yeah, she was pop­u­lar romance…)

So when I read this review of a film called “Martha Marcy May Mar­lene,” one thing sort of leaped out at me:

Enjoy­ing the film will depend on how one reacts to the very inde­pen­dent film style end­ing Martha Marcy May Mar­lene pro­vides. For some it will be thought­ful, nat­u­ral­is­tic and pro­vok­ing, while for oth­ers it will be a ruse, a cop-out, feel­ing like a script that has no end (Empha­sis mine).

What. The. Hell.

A “very inde­pen­dent film style end­ing”? Did he actu­ally just say that? Yep, he did. I could act like I had no clue what Doc Rot­ten was talk­ing about, but instead I’ll just be a lit­tle insulted on behalf of every inde­pen­dent film out there.

But it did get me thinking–is there a per­va­sive stereo­type for inde­pen­dent films (this arti­cle makes me think ‘yes’)? Which begs a cou­ple more questions:

  • Is there the same expec­ta­tion of “Art” from a film made for $1 mil­lion, $100,000, and $10,000? If not, then why not?
  • If an indie film doesn’t come through on the “style” expected, does that hurt its chances to gain stan­dard distribution?
  • Con­versely, does throw­ing a weird, ambigu­ous end­ing onto a project make it des­tined for suc­cess? Because while that would be just lame, I kind of think that maybe that is the case…

As always, I have raised more ques­tions that I have no answers for. But I think these might be good ones to pon­der, if one is plan­ning a project.

9 thoughts on “Is there an “indie-film” stereotype?

  1. Inde­pen­dent film mak­ers pre­fer being per­cieved as dif­fer­ent from main­stream ones. They dis­dain the so call ‘for­mula’ approach that the audi­ence too has come to expect of main­stream cinema.

    Ardent Indie film view­ers don’t want the end­ing to be spelled out. They like it when the film has let them man­tain some sort of story con­ti­nu­ity in their minds leav­ing it to them to exam­ine deeper issues.

    • I think that inde­pen­dent film mak­ers of a cer­tain genre def­i­nitely eschew the ‘for­mula’ of con­ven­tional cin­ema. But I also think that there are a whole lot of film­mak­ers who want to ‘make it big,’ but don’t have the con­nec­tions to get a big-budget film off the ground. Those work­ing in the mil­lion dol­lar range are prob­a­bly the for­mer. Those who mort­gage their house, likely the lat­ter. The ques­tion becomes: does the stereo­type of being an ‘inde­pen­dent’ film help or hin­der peo­ple, and if it does either, which does it do at what bud­get level?

      In gen­eral, I also like not being spoon-fed. But I’ve seen films that gave the impres­sion that there should have been (or was) a more cohe­sive end­ing that was scrapped in lieu of an inten­tion­ally ambigu­ous one. Not hav­ing seen the film above, I don’t know which type that one is by my stan­dard. I sup­pose that I like to have the chal­lenge of ambi­gu­ity for the whole movie; if I’m being “chal­lenged” as an affec­ta­tion, because it is required of the genre, I think a work (movie *or* other art form) is pretentious.

  2. I’m actu­ally part of a “chick-lit” book club here in Seat­tle and very often we run into the issue of whether or not the lit­er­a­ture we read should be rated any less than Hem­ing­way or Dick­ens. For instance we just read two dif­fer­ent Jane Austen nov­els which for all intents and pur­poses is con­sider high literature…yet we as women love these roman­tic sto­ries and are includ­ing them in our “chick-lit” genre.

  3. I sup­pose there is a cer­tain type of indie film maker who feels they must have an incon­gru­ous and inex­plic­a­ble end­ing to their films. We call these peo­ple bad writ­ers. It’s a cop out, and a nasty trick to play on the audi­ence. Bad writer! Bad, lazy writer!
    What does indie mean, any­way? An under-produced, icon­o­clas­tic prod­uct that has zero chance of mak­ing a profit because ‘we care about the art and aren’t going to sell our souls to the man, ya hear me, bro?‘
    I don’t know what indie means, despite the fact that I write for inde­pen­dent film mak­ers and make indie films myself. For me what it boils down to is, “story will out.” If the story is good it doesn’t mat­ter which for­mula it fol­lows, if any. The audi­ence will con­nect, and that’s what matters.

    • Well, what do you sug­gest, then, to get your prod­uct seen in the first place? A great story can’t con­nect to an audi­ence that never sees it…

  4. I think the label indie film, while applic­a­ble is vague at best. Con­sider that Films like “The Hours” is labeled as such. It def­i­nitely had a bud­get, 3 “A-list” stars and a dis­tri­b­u­tion deal before it went into pro­duc­tion. Yet it’s still con­sid­ered an indie film because its not a main­stream story.

    If appear­ance and story are all it takes for a film to be labeled indie, then there is an injus­tice in the label. Those of us who are not union, not con­tracted to a stu­dio and sim­ply work to work are con­sid­ered as indie as the next stu­dio film with out the sup­port sys­tem to succeed.

    There are “art” film­mak­ers out there who flaunt end­ings and story struc­ture, but as Ben said they are more often poor writ­ers, and give the rest of us the avant garde image that makes it dif­fi­cult to succeed.

    Of the last 4 films I’ve watched (all labeled indie) the bud­gets ranged from $600-$10K and not one of them copped out in their story or pro­duc­tion. Not one of them was any less qual­ity than a stu­dio film and in many cases more provoca­tive and inno­v­a­tive while main­tain­ing what I call main­stream appeal. They could all eas­ily be sold. But because they are labeled indie, thus the cards are stacked against them.

    The brush­stroke “indie” does not do the indus­try jus­tice as it sim­pli­fies and bar­ri­cades qual­ity sell-able film from reach­ing a broader audience.

    • Vague at best”–exactly!! I am begin­ning to believe that the label itself is some­thing that needs to change. Even the ‘sub-genre’ labels such as “micro-indie” or “guer­rilla” have dis­tinct (and broad-stroke) con­no­ta­tions, both within and out­side of the ‘indus­try’ (such as it is).

      Erin, I really love your last point. What do you think might help change that prob­lem (which I agree is the case)?

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