Learn more about Independent film
An independent film (or indie film) is a film initially produced without financing or distribution from a major movie studio. Often, films that receive less than 50% of their budget from major studio are also considered "independent." According to MPAA data, January through March 2005 showed approximately 15% of US domestic box office revenue was from independent studios. Creative, business, and technological reasons have all contributed to the growth of the indie film scene in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The roots of independent film can be traced back to when the early pioneer filmmakers at the turn of the 20th century resisted the control of the Motion Picture Patents Company, when filmmakers built their own cameras to escape the Edison trusts in order to relocate to Southern California where they laid the foundations of the American film industry as well as the Hollywood studio system.
The studio system took on a life of its own, and eventually became so powerful that some filmmakers once again sought independence as a result. Throughout the decades, independent filmmakers around the world have created a diverse range of filmmaking styles that symbolize their own unique cultures and subcultures such as experimental film and underground film.
Some independent filmmakers have even broken through technological barriers with the use of digital cinema.
Until the advent of digital alternatives, the cost of professional film equipment and stock was a major obstacle to being able to produce, direct, or star in a traditional studio-quality film. The cost of 35mm film is outpacing inflation: in 2002 alone, film negative costs were up 23%, according to Variety. Filming typically required expensive lighting and post-production facilities.
But the advent of consumer camcorders in 1985, and more importantly, the arrival of high-resolution digital video in the early 1990s, have since lowered the technology barrier to movie production considerably. Both production and post-production costs have been significantly lowered; today, the hardware and software for post-production can be installed in a commodity-based personal computer. Technologies such as DVD, FireWire connections and professional-level non-linear editing system software make movie-making relatively inexpensive.
Popular software (including commercial, consumer level and open source) includes:
- Avid Xpress Pro
- Adobe Premiere Pro
- Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Express
- Sony Vegas
Popular digital camcorders, mostly semi-professional equipment with 3-CCD technology, include:
Most of these camcorders cost between US$2,000 - $5,000 in 2003, with costs continuing to decline as features are added, and models depreciate. Additionally, open source software holds the potential for increasing high-level editing capabilities being available for also increasingly lower prices, both for free and paid software.
 Indie versus major
Creatively, it has long been increasingly difficult to get studio backing for experimental films. Experimental elements in theme and style are typically inhibitors for the Big Six studios.
On the business side, the cost of big-budget studio films also leads to conservative choices in cast and crew. The problem is exacerbated by the trend towards co-financing (over two-thirds of the films put out by Warner Bros. in 2000 were joint ventures, up from 10% in 1987). An unproven director is almost never given the opportunity to get his or her big break with the studios unless he or she otherwise has significant industry experience in film or television. Films with "unknowns" in the cast, particularly in lead roles, are also rarely produced by the Big Six.
Furthermore, another key expense for independent movie makers is the music for the film. The licensing fees for popular songs can range between US$10,000 - $20,000.
Anecdotal evidence for the difference between indie films and studio films abounds. The following example was taken from Alec Baldwin, commenting on his independent film The Cooler as a guest on David Letterman's talk show in November 2003:
- The scene "Amy opens the window" takes half a day and perhaps ten shots in a big studio production:
- Amy walks to the window,
- Window itself,
- Amy touching the handle,
- shot from outside the window, etc.
- For independent film makers, that scene is one shot, and done before 9 a.m.
Independent movie-making has resulted in the proliferation and repopularization of short films and short film festivals. Full-length films are often showcased at film festivals such as Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, the Slamdance Film Festival, the South By Southwest film festival, the UK's Raindance Film Festival, or the Cannes Film Festival. Award winners from these exhibitions often get picked up for distribution by major film studios, and go on to worldwide releases.
 North American Indie-producing studios
The major commercial film industry in the United States is in Hollywood, while much of the independent film industry is in New York City. The following studios are considered to be the most prevalent of the independent studios (as of August 2006):
- Lions Gate Films
- Fox Searchlight Pictures
- Focus Features/Rogue Pictures
- Sony Pictures Classics
- IDP Distribution
- Warner Independent Pictures
- The Weinstein Company/Dimension Films
- Magnolia Pictures
- Paramount Vantage
- Palm Pictures
- Newmarket Films
- Picturehouse (formerly Fine Line Features, before Time Warner acquired Newmarket's distribution arm, and merged it with Fine Line to form Picturehouse, a joint venture of HBO and New Line Cinema)
- Miramax Films
Note that many of the above studios are actually subsidiaries of larger studios - for example, Sony Pictures Classics is owned by Sony Pictures and is designed to develop less commercial, more character driven films, and Fox Searchlight (which released the surprise hit Bend It Like Beckham) belongs to the same company that owns 20th Century Fox. It is often argued that subsidiaries of major studios, as part of their larger, major studio parent companies, are not "true" independent film studios.
In addition to these higher profile "independent" studios there are thousands of smaller production companies that produce truly independent films every year. These smaller companies look to regionally release their films theatrically or for additional financing and resources to distribute, advertise and exhibit their project on a national scale.
 Further reading
- Lyons, Donald (1994). Independent Visions: A Critical Introduction to Recent Independent American Film. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38249-8.
- Pierson, John (1996). Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of Independent Cinema. Miramax Books. ISBN 0-7868-6189-4.
- Redding, Judith, Brownworth, Victoria (1997). Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors. Seal Press. ISBN 1-878067-97-4.
- Levy, Emanuel (1999). Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-5123-7.
- Merritt, Greg (2000). Celluloid Mavericks: The History of American Independent Film. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-232-4.
- Biskind, Peter (2004). Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-86259-X.
- Pierson, John (2004). Spike Mike Reloaded. Miramax Books. ISBN 1-4013-5950-7.
 See also
- Major Movie Studios
- The Movie Making Manual wikibook
- Experimental film
- list of video topics
- chroma key
- History of cinema
- List of 'years in film'
- Silent movies
 External links
- Independent films at the Internet Movie Database
- Official website of IndieWIRE
- Official website of SPOTFLIX
- iFilmConnection Online resource for independent filmmaking (a website dedicated for filmmakers, films and documentaries)de:Independentfilm