Dan Quackenbush, The Pendulum's opinions editor, is currently interning in California with the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Hollywood has gone corporate. The major studio blockbuster mentality has seemingly transformed the moviemaking business into more of a business than an art form, where dollar signs can be found in people’s eyes far quicker than cataracts. Meanwhile, incredibly well-written, gritty character driven films are given the cold shoulder, the other cheek and forced to sit on the sidelines to make room for a film like Fast and the Furious 6: Cars, Explosions and Product Placement (in case you didn’t get it the first five times).
Movie projects are no longer evaluated for their artistic vision, but for their marketability: their potential to generate massive amounts of money from toy sales, video games, theme park rides and of course, sequels. Sequels now run the gambit in American movie theatres. One good, successful film is usually pre-evaluated for its potential to carry a sequel, a trilogy, a "franchise". Last year, eight of the top ten highest grossing films were sequels to ongoing movie franchises originating from Hollywood. The sequelization of Hollywood is now complete. Or is it?
Over the course of this summer that I have spent in Los Angeles, I have been privileged to experience first-hand both sides of the film industry, from the studio and independent perspectives. From my internship with the Los Angeles Film Festival and my short experience with the major studio system, it has become clear to me that the industry has become a one-sided entity, where artistry and vision has become somewhat ancillary in the overall process of filmmaking. And while there are certainly plenty of past examples of brilliantly written and directed studio films, it seems to me that the true purpose and artistic depth of filmmaking today lies within the independent film genre.
What is an independent film? An independent, (often referred to as an indie), film is a project that is primarily funded and distributed outside of the major studio circuit (i.e. Disney, Universal, Warner Bros., etc.) Indie films are typically strong character-driven pieces, often produced with very gritty visuals and more naturalistic lighting and cinematography. Independent film scripts are usually written with the purpose of reflecting ongoing social struggles and issues. An excellent example of this typical indie movie is the award-winning film "Call Me Kuchu," a highly volatile but socially relevant film that explores the ongoing social and political struggles of the LGBTQ community in Uganda. And while it is unlikely to win any Oscars, "Call Me Kuchu" is an excellent example of the film industry functioning as it once was: creating films centered on the story, the characters, driven by a purpose to encourage thought and discussion on the part of its viewers.
However, every year, thousands of independent films with such enriching stories, solid acting and groundbreaking cinematography, struggle to get made and promoted due to lack of corporate interest or circulation. This studio versus indie, “us versus them” attitude has undoubtedly been the cause of so many promising, enriching films to never be played in a single movie theatre. And while the capabilities of the Internet are far-reaching, the vastness of the information super-highway and the amount of independent video files uploaded every day can lead to a film ending up in the depths of the virtual black hole that I believe the Internet is becoming.
[quote] Simply put, somewhere along the way, the film industry forgot its purpose.[/quote]
In this technological age, the flow of ideas and symbols between people has never been as important or commonplace. Independent films have the freedom to explore many subjects in society that are seen as taboo or unmarketable. Often, studios don’t feel that they have the freedom to explore these same thematic elements, for fear of alienating certain demographics or dissolving long-standing business relationships. Independent films have become the unofficial champions of encouraging public awareness and discussion of these ideas.
Simply put, somewhere along the way, the film industry forgot its purpose. The practice of making movies is still alive and well, but the essence and purpose toward quality filmmaking under a studio banner is fast becoming extinct. The seemingly insatiable need to increase volume rather than produce quality has led to the near-complete commercialization of the film industry.
Independent films have seen the light, and have taken up the torch to continue making films that hold true to the film industry’s original mission statement. Perhaps one day the ownership of Hollywood and the future of the film industry will be back in the hands of those who seem to care most about its future: the independents.