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Movie Musings… Indiewood

Once upon a time, independent films were just that – films produced outside of the studio structure that emphasised the development of characters and thought-provoking stories. However, following the boom in demand for VHS in the 80’s and the substantial box office successes of particular indie films over the subsequent decade (sex, lies and videotape (1989), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Fight Club (1999)), major studios were quick to jump on the indie wagon. By the early 2000’s, ancillary arms specialising in the production and distribution of “independents”, such as Fox Searchlight (21st Century Fox), Mandate Pictures (Lionsgate) and Paramount Vantage (Viacom), were founded.

Though the birth of Indiewood somewhat contradicted the original notion of “independent films”, co-productions between traditionally independent production companies, individual filmmakers, and the indie studio subsidiaries have become increasingly popular, resulting in a growth in low to mid budget films.

“Will this lead to the gradual replacement of Hollywood blockbusters with Indiewood films? Probably not”

As much as some indie loyalists may want to deny the very idea or need for Hollywood studios to intervene in their territory, Indiewood has its benefits. With the advantage of greater global marketing and distribution opportunities, films such as Lost In Translation (2003), are able to reach wider audiences and profit in foreign markets. Indiewood also offers audiences a chance to see and experience alternative story worlds in cinemas – mainstream and arthouse – an escape from the SFX-packed, explosion-guaranteed Hollywood blockbuster, particularly the recent overdose of perpetual superhero franchises.

Nonetheless, these very films, such as Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), remain the highest grossing films in the global box office. Box office revenues are not the most reliable figures, yet alternative indicators, such as industry awards, reveal a similar story. Beside 2015, it has been several years since all nominees for Best Picture for the Academy Awards were purely Indiewood films. Although it is not always the case that low to mid budget films are able to compete against the Hollywood giants, the “cult” and “classic” statuses that arise and persist from Indiewood fandom is testimony to the protracted life span such films can have, thus advocating the need for their existence. In regards to the scale of financial returns and prestige, appealing to the niche indie audiences for studios is like taking candy from a giant. Numerously-nominated Boyhood (2014) and The Imitation Game (2014) earned revenues far exceeding not only their budgets (over tenfold), but the performance of the top three blockbusters in the 2014 worldwide box office.

“As much as Indie loyalists may want to deny the idea, Indiewood has its benefits”

Will this lead to the gradual replacement of Hollywood blockbusters with Indiewood films? Probably not. An attempt to truly compare Indiewood features to blockbusters is redundant overall because ultimately it’s like comparing a fridge to a freezer – despite one being more powerful and more expensive to operate than the other, they each function perfectly well on their own, and even better together, plus it’s useful to have both in your kitchen. The guaranteed profitability of films like The Hunger Games contribute, in part, to the ability for studios to finance further films, including Indiewoods. Likewise, the disregard for action-packed, fantasy-filled blockbusters creates demand for a range of alternative films, a demand which independent filmmakers and Indiewood studios can attempt to satisfy. If recent events are an indication of anything, it is that the quality and appreciation for Indiewood is very much alive and it is a branch of Hollywood that is by no means going to be chopped down anytime soon.

Madz Abbasi

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