Independent vs. Indie Cinema

film Alisa Perren’s Indie Inc. focuses on the rise and fall of Miramax in the 1990s, but it also discusses the distinction that needs to be made between “indie” film and “independent” film in the current film discourse. Perren uses the term “independent” to describe films that are truly independent of major media conglomerates. She uses “indie” to describe films that are viewed as and marketed as independent, but that are affiliated with major media conglomerates. Indie films are not traditionally independent, but they consist of niche films, seen as hip, edgy, or cool. They are not independent of mass media conglomerates and are usually mainstream films, but they usually have lower budgets and are marketed as being less mainstream than other large-budget blockbusters (Perren 7-10).

Thanks to cheaply available digital film technologies, it is now completely possible for an independent film to be made almost entirely for free (especially for people who already own cameras). More people are capable of creating films than ever before, however, these independent films can rarely compete with Hollywood indie films let alone the Hollywood blockbuster. Miramax and other indie film companies spinning off of the major studios have had large successes with their indie films and have created some great films. Independent films, however, are an entirely different can of worms from the Hollywood “indie.” Independent films are made with very low budgets, never get wide release, and if they are shown in theaters at all, they are shown at film festivals. At film festivals, these films are competing with the indie films as well, but at least film festivals give independent films a chance.

I think a huge tool of convenience in independent filmmaking these days is Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a websitecrew that accumulates independent creative projects (including films, games, music, art, design, and technology) with funding goals and deadlines where anyone can pledge money that will go towards reaching the creator’s goal and then into actually creating the project. One Kickstarter project that got a lot of attention last year was “The Veronica Mars Movie Project” which was pledged $5.7 million dollars from 91,585 backers (far over the goal of $2 million). The Veronica Mars fan power and fan funding was really what made the creation of that film possible.

A more recent, and lower scale, example of Kickstarter making independent film possible is with the film Lust For Love which was just released on iTunes last week. This independent film boasts the inclusion of five cast members from Joss Whedon‘s Dollhouse, including Fran Krantz, the star of the film, and a Felicia Day cameo. The Lust for Love Kickstarter campaign had a goal of a measly $70,000, but was eventually pledged $101,030. Without the support of Dollhouse fans, this Kickstarter project probably would not have been successful.

This is still an atypical Kickstarter campaign, but I think it is a good model for what I would like to see happen for independent filmmakers. Because of surpassing the Kickstarter goal for Lust for Love, the young Australian writer-director Anton King was able to create his first feature-length film, which is a huge deal. Without the Kickstarter fan pledges, this film wouldn’t have been able to created, maybe at all, but certainly not to the extent that it was able to with the Kickstarter funding.

I think Kickstarter affords a lot of young filmmakers and other young people trying to work in the creative industry a lot of opportunities. That being said, I’ve only ever checked out the Kickstarter campaigns that garner more attention than the average thanks to fan and/or celebrity involvement and endorsement, so I am unfamiliar with how successful smaller campaigns for funding have gone, but I can imagine filmmakers being successful in gaining at least partial funding for their projects with the help of Kickstarter. I think Kickstarter is a fantastic tool that is certainly helping independent film be successful. It is also helping independent film become stronger competition for Hollywood indie films, if we look at the individual case of the Veronica Mars movie which has the budget to compete thanks to its Kickstarter funding.

Perren, Alisa. Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s. Austin: University of Texas, 2012.



  1. Just out of curiosity, what do you think of Kickstarter’s “all or nothing” policy? There seem to be some obvious downsides and some less obvious but compelling upsides. Any thoughts?

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