Kids: Indie, or Independent?

kids

Alisa Perren’s case study Indie, Inc. examines the important roles that the Weinstein brothers and their company, Miramax, played in changing the cultural, political and economic landscape of Hollywood in the 1990s. In the book’s first chapter, she makes an intriguing distinction that I believe is worth noting here: “a film or company will be described by me as independent if it is unaffiliated with a major media conglomerate. If a conglomerate has invested in it, I label it indie.” (8) Based on this statement, Miramax, which was acquired by Disney in the early 90s, is considered by Perren to be an indie studio, which produces and distributes indie films.

Although the distinction she makes between independent and indie is more heavily informed by differences in economics and/or marketing capability between independent companies and the conglomerates, her tone and usage of these two terms would suggest that indie films are, in her eyes, just another scheme employed by media conglomerates to target and make money off of a specific audience. I was quite intrigued, then, to learn more about the scandal surrounding Miramax’s purchase and distribution of Larry Clark’s first feature film, Kids (1995), and Perren’s subsequent labeling of the film as indie. Yes, Miramax was owned by Disney, a media conglomerate, when the Weinstein brothers decided to buy Kids; therefore, based on her distinction between what is independent and what is indie, this film would fall into the indie category. I, however, have trouble with placing it in this category, based on what the Weinstein brothers went through to be able to distribute and have the film be exhibited at all in the U.S.

When Kids received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, Miramax was no longer allowed by Disney to hold on to the film, due to Disney’s policy against films with a higher-than-R rating. This led the Weinsteins to create a new entity through which they could keep and distribute Kids to theaters throughout the country: Shining Excalibur. Perren discusses the controversy behind Kids and shining Excalibur at length in chapter 5, entitled Another Dimension to the Miramax Brand:

“In a press release announcing the formation of Excalibur, [the Weinsteins] declared that this “financially and structurally independent company” would release Kids in order to “remove speculation about the rating that would otherwise overshadow this important motion picture.”  (120)

When the MPAA again chose to give the film an NC-17 rating, the Weinsteins opted to release the film without a rating and were able to do so in July of 1995, only a month after Excalibur was created. It worked out in their favor, too, because “in terms of its cost-to-revenue ratio, Kids was among the most profitable films of 1995.” (120)

Perren’s discussion of Miramax and the Weinsteins’ refusal to let go of Kids initially instilled within me a sense of pride; what the brothers Weinstein had done, in my opinion, was take a film that was produced with a non-Hollywood budget and aesthetic and made it possible for it to be seen in the U.S. despite not being affiliated with one of the big-name media conglomerates. As I read on, though, I couldn’t get my feelings straight. Was it that the Weinsteins actually cared about showing this film to American audiences, or was it that they had proven to themselves that films like Kids could appeal to niche markets and make them money? I’m still grappling with this thought, and would love to get people’s opinions either through this blog or in class Thursday. All in all, Perren’s Indie, Inc. proved to be quite an interesting read, and I look forward to our discussion of the book!

Image found through Creative Commons.

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Comments

  1. Near the end of your post you describe the confusion that I think many feel when it comes to making sense of how independent films like Kids find their way to screens and from there (hopefully) to audiences:

    Was it that the Weinsteins actually cared about showing this film to American audiences, or was it that they had proven to themselves that films like Kids could appeal to niche markets and make them money?

    You conclude by inviting others to weigh in on this, either via comments on your post or in our seminar discussion. Since we didn’t really get to have this conversation during our discussion of Perren, I hope you’ll remind us all at some point down the road, as the questions you posed — to us and to yourself — are important, and will continue to be pertinent to the material we’re working through in the coming weeks.

    In the meantime, although it may seem like a bit of a dodge, I’d also encourage you to think about whether the two scenarios you envision are, in fact, irreconcilable, or if both options might be possible (or perhaps even if the latter is an unfortunate but necessary adjunct/precondition of the former).

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