Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hollywood going indie for big budget remakes/sequels not such a bad idea

Hollywood is often branded as a world bereft of creativity and original ideas. It is not a hard case to make especially with the weekly onslaught of sequels, remakes, half-baked action movies and cheap horror flicks.

And yet once in a while those Hollywood executives get clever and try something so crazy it might just work: hiring a independent filmmaker known for low budget work to helm a big budget, sequel or remake.

But wait, that makes our hypothetical executive seem like the redeemed anti-hero of some clichéd Hollywood movie. In truth, it is a far more calculated risk, but still a risk none-the-less and in the business of moviemaking that is a big deal.

The move is an attempt to add credibility to a project that may otherwise be shallow. It gives the illusion that is not just about the money. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Hiring an indie director, who is more willing to take risks, may raise a film above its clichés. In the best examples, what could otherwise be trash can approach something resembling art.

The shining example of this is last year’s Batman Begins, in which Warner Brothers hired Christopher Nolan to reboot the studio’s lucrative, but dead franchise. They allowed him creative control and to rewrite the script.

Nolan wrote and directed the stylish, psychological thriller Memento and remade the Norwegian film Insomnia. Both films got into the heads of their protagonists and were deeply introspective. Nolan ultimately brought this same edge to his take on the Dark Knight. It made for a film with long stretches of little to no action. In its place were such novel concepts as atmosphere and character development.

Nolan is not the only indie filmmaker to be tapped for a super hero adaptation. Miramax brought in writer and director Kevin Smith (Clerks) to write and direct Green Hornet, but ultimately he passed realising his skills as a director were lacking in the action department.

Sadly, not all directors realise their limitations and get in over their heads. John Singleton, who got his start with the much-lauded Boyz in the Hood, has struggled since. He was hired to remake Shaft with moderate success, but could do little with 2 Fast 2 Furious the sequel to The Fast and the Furious.

Still, when it works, it can work beautifully, as is the case with Steven Soderbergh. Since his debut film Sex, Lies and Videotape, Soderbergh has balanced Hollywood with indie work. His studio work like Erin Brockovich and Traffic is always solid, even great, while his more personally inspired work is experimental and adventurous.

Working for Hollywood allows filmmakers like Soderbergh a chance to play with someone else’s big money and to pay for their smaller films. Take for example Soderbergh’s slick and fun remake of Ocean’s Eleven, which was followed by the extremely low budget Full Frontal, a dissection of Hollywood archetypes.

Richard Linklater the director behind indie favourites like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Waking Life and Tape also plays the Hollywood/indie balancing act. Last year Linklater remade The Bad News Bears, but this year he has two politically mind book adaptations on the way: A Scanner Darkly and Fast Food Nation.

In the case of both Soderbergh and Linklater, the key to their Hollywood projects is that they bring they same freshness that applies to their smaller films and slightly subvert convention, but still make films that please studio executives.

The latest film to head down this path is The Wicker Man an Americanized version of the 1973 British cult classic. It sounds blasphemes to fans of the original, and may prove to be, but there is hope in the film’s writer/director Neil LaBute.

LaBute (In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors) is a filmmaker that deals in the darker side of humanity and goes where Hollywood rarely treads. If he brings these same qualities to his take on The Wicker Man, the shift in setting from Scotland to Maine should not matter.

The above are sadly isolated examples, but at least they represent a step in the right direction. It would be better if Hollywood would stop wasting their and our time with endless sequels and remakes. If we are stuck with them at the very least, let’s hope there is a continuation of risky decisions that allow indie filmmakers to play with Hollywood’s big money.

How digital is changing filmmaking

The digital age is upon us and film is dying or at least that is the mantra that has been shouted from the Hollywood hills for years.

In 2002, George Lucas thought he had put a stake in the heart of film by shooting and editing Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones using only digital equipment.

“Because he’d been able to make a stiff, crummy-looking, overblown faux-epic on a new plaything, Lucas felt completely justified in foretelling the death of film,” wrote Stephanie Zacharek in Salon magazine in 2003.

Four years later film is still around, but digital filmmaking is becoming increasingly more mainstream. In the wake of Star Wars several more films have been made using digital cameras including Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Michael Mann’s Collateral and Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon Time in Mexico and Sin City.

But before proceeding let us take pause for a clarification of terms. The digital camera is a cousin of the video camera, the same one your neighbour used to make those cheesy home videos or that you use to shoot your child or younger sibling’s recital, play, etc.

“The buzzword is ‘digital,’” cinematographer Wally Pfister told Zacharek in her article “Film is not dead, damn it!” “It’s the same buzzword that’s used in the consumer world, the same word that was used to sell CDs and DVDs and anything for home computers. But it’s not an accurate way of describing it.”

The chief difference is that the images are captured and processed digitally, but are stored on a video chip. In other words, a digital camera is really a digital video camera.

As these digital video cameras improve, they are increasingly the preferred method of production for blockbusters that are heavy on computer-generated imagery (CGI). This summer sees Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns going that route, but digital is showing up even in the most unlikely places, namely Adam Sandler new comedy Click.

There was a time when digital video was of a noticeably lesser quality, but as the cameras improve digital video it is becoming harder and harder to tell the video and film apart.

Film is still the norm for shooting, but digital is the new standard for editing, which in the past consisted of the splicing and reassembling of film stock by hand. Now whether shot on digital video or on film that is later transferred to a digital format, editing is done with computer programs.

“You can have multiple cuts made of something without having to re-splice film, take a lot of time and have a lot of prints made,” says cinematographer/editor Jeff Clegg. “You can see things back to back, change them easily as well as making things easier once you have everything transferred.”

Michael Dana an indie filmmaker and assistant cameraman on such films as Once Upon a Time in America and Sweet and Low Down agrees that it give the editing process more freedom.

“The process of cutting film was so deliberate and it took so long, if you cut you didn’t just say, ‘Oh let’s now try doing the whole film in reverse,’ but you can do that now,” says Dana.

While in Hollywood the digital is just starting to take off, the independent scene has been using the technology from its inception. For the struggling filmmaker trying to get their vision across it can open doors.

“I was always a film purist, but then they came out with digital cameras,” says Dana. “I could just shoot and it cost me barely anything.”

Anyone who has switched from a film camera to a digital one for taking their snap shots knows how much is saved in film and development costs. Now imagine the costs that could be saved by making the same switch on a film production.

“The marginal cost per minute is trivial in the digital format,” says Patrick Towell, Chief Executive of Golant Film. “Where before if you had not done it quite right or if you’d wanted to change something the risks and costs associated with that were just too high. Now you’d be more likely to say let’s try this another way, let’s try that another way.”

However, Clegg warns that with this new technology and drop in production costs there can be a lose of accountability.

“There are a lot of people who because they have an idea for a film just sort of assume because DV is so cheap they don’t have to raise money,” says Clegg. “If you’re spending let’s say even 20,000 dollars on a film you’re going to be rechecking yourself and being sure this is going to come out great.”

Towell also believes that the technology while a great tool for aspiring filmmakers does not automatically mean everyone can create professional level work.

“It is great that it has enabled so many people to try this out as an option, either as a compelling hobby or as something that is part of their career. But you still have to learn the language bit,” says Towell. “Just because you can hold the pen doesn’t mean you can write War and Peace.”

Dana, who had years of experience working with film, encountered one such young digital filmmaker that let the technology do all the work.

“I asked him, ‘What are you trying to do here? What shots do you need?’ He told me he didn’t like to tell the crew what to do,” says Dana. “I used to get crazy about that. How are we supposed to bring his image, his vision to the screen. He didn’t even know what his vision was.”

Coming from a background of setting up shots, lighting and composition this guerilla-style filmmaking was a shock to the system for Dana.

“Hitchcock was the other end of this,” says Dana. “He didn’t even need to shoot his films because it was all so carefully calculated. On paper, in his mind, every edit, every scene, every image was done. Now you get a couple cameras with a bunch of people, you run around and you shoot a bunch of stuff.”

Towell compares a young filmmaker getting a hold of a digital camera for the first time to experimenting with cooking. In both cases, the results can be a bit messy, but you learn from your mistakes.

“When you first learn cooking you discover herbs and spice and kinds of ingredients and you wind up with something with about 75 ingredients,” says Towell. “Then you realise you exercise judgment and you exercise choice. You develop a sense of the aesthetics and what works communicatively in that medium.”

It is hard to say whether digital will eventually kill off film, but it does not necessarily mean the old aesthetics of the film camera will die with it.

“You still may wind up with directors who have plotted every second, but I suppose what it may affect is the smaller budget things more,” says Towell.

In Clegg’s experience, the new technology does not necessitate a change in methods.

“A lot of general things are the same as far as how you’re going to have work your crew and work your camera,” says Clegg.

What digital video camera and digital editing is doing is creating more options and opportunities whether it is the Hollywood executives or the guy in his backyard just trying to get his first film completed.

The struggles of a film student

Jeff Clegg graduated from the film program at Keene State College in 2004, two years later, he still lives with his parents and is just trying to get the next job and build his CV.

“There really is no normal day,” says Clegg. “If I’m not doing something [film related] at the moment I could be working some other small job to make money or getting material, looking for jobs, trying to contact people, keep up on potential projects.”

The struggle to find work after university is hard for just about anyone, but the challenge for a former film student is up a hill with a distinctly steeper slope.

“A lot of guys I went to school with are working in banks, car lots, or in Starbucks. They are trying to do more short films to get into festivals because that seems the route to go,” says John Schimke, who started his film school education in 1999 at California’s Azusa Pacific University (APU).

Keene State College and Azusa Pacific University are hardly the first names that come to mind when one discusses film school. Institutions like the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), University of New York (NYU) and University of Southern California (USC) are normally the ones that first spring to mind.

While those schools have the reputations as the premier film schools, it does not necessarily mean Clegg and Schimke were left at a disadvantage as they set out to make it in the film industry.

Keene State College (KSC) is a small liberal arts college in New Hampshire and the only state school in New England with a film department. While it and other small schools may not have the prestige of some bigger schools, they still can offer a worthy, if not better, education.

“When you are at a larger institution or a more well known film school, such as UCLA, USC, NYU, it is harder to make yourself, your work and your creative interests known,” says Mike Merli, a film production and film critical analysis double major at KSC. “It is harder for you to make a name for yourself because you are just one film student in hundreds or thousands of film students.”

For Merli the most valuable part of his film education thus far has been the accessibility to his instructors, something he doubts he would have at a larger school.

“I feel perhaps more so than the production courses themselves, the department and the direct advice and wisdom and guidance that the faculty members can offer students is more valuable and more helpful in leading a student to having a more grounded base to go off and try to find a job in the industry,” says Merli, who is entering his junior year in September.

On another level, the smaller school can offer more access to equipment and therefore more hands on experience.

When Schimke started at APU their film program was also just starting and had a lot of equipment.

“There is a really strong advantage at being in a small film program that has equipment that enables you to shoot as much as you want,” says Schimke. “My freshman year I must have made seven short films as opposed to going to a bigger film schools like USC.”

While APU has the advantage of being in California, KSC is far from the glitz of Hollywood and glam of New York. But when Merli was touring the campus, he was told that a couple former students wound up working for Steven Spielberg. That sold Merli.

“It made me grow even more excited because hearing Steven Spielberg you realise this is no joke, that even if you are going to a small liberal arts college and not a big name film school that you can get a job in the industry and work for recognisable names,” says Merli.

While such claims are encouraging and enticing Schimke warns that stories like that are rare in the film industry.

“Coming out of school stories about people finding deals and getting hired to do films, especially features are very slim,” says Schimke. “Nobody wants to take a chance on you, you’re young, you really don’t have experience, why hire you when I can hire someone who has way more experience.”

After graduating for APU in 2004, Schimke went on to the directing program at the American Film Institute, a large organisation in Los Angeles dedicated to film preservation with board members that include Spielberg and Robert De Niro.

Schimke took part in a conservatory program at AFI with a small group of about 20 other students, many of which were coming from bigger schools likes Columbia and USC. Much to Schimke’s surprise, he found that he had more experience in his small school than they had at their more prestigious named schools.

“I talked to people who only got to make one film during their whole four years at USC and it wasn’t until their senior year because seniors get seniority on equipment,” says Schimke.

Transitioning into a program that while not bigger in student body, but in clout and stature naturally did offer Schimke some advantages. The biggest being AFI had the facility to display student film projects on a large screen, which allowed Schimke to experience the films he was making as they were meant to be.

“A small mistake on small television doesn’t seem like that big of a deal until you get into a theatre and it is huge, 20 times or 40 times larger than how you have been watching and editing it,” says Schimke

In perhaps an interest commentary on the American university system itself, whether it be at small or larger institutions for Clegg, Schimke and Merli their film school experiences were somewhat disappointing.

“In a lot of ways there is a sharp learning curve out of a school where there are things that were just never discussed, never brought up. I’d never known to ask about them because I didn’t even know about them because they were never mentioned,” says Clegg.

While Clegg did learn it was not necessarily because he had courses that taught him, it was more trial and error than guided teaching.

“The one thing I can say about my film school experience is that it was sort of a safe place to do things,” says Clegg. “You know you make mistakes and maybe a little money or a grade suffers, but you’re not necessarily losing 100,000 dollars of someone’s money.”

Schimke’s film school experiences ended with similar feelings that it was not so much the courses, but the opportunity to just work on films in a safe environment that allowed him to learn.

“It wasn’t the fact that I went to film school, that I had a lot of this knowledge that gave me the ability to tap into the industry it was actually the fact that I had a lot of experience in production,” says Schimke

As for Merli, his first experience in a film production course left him feeling alienated and unsure of himself as many of his peers were making action and horror films.

“The reaction was usually a good one from the professor I had the course with,” says Merli. “He was into into action and horror and films that showed crime or some sort of violence occurring and that became sort of the thing to do.”

The problem was Merli had little interest in making those sorts of films and instead had a desire to makes films that dealt with relationship issues and analyzing human behavior.

“Both my peers and my instructor did not really get or understand what I was doing and that was a little jarring. As a student in a college course I did expect the instructor to have a little more understanding and a little more of an open mind than he did,” says Merli.

It was in his film critical analysis courses that Merli believed he was deepening his understanding of the world of cinema.

“The courses I have taken in the critical studies end of the film program at Keene State have enriched me in the sense that now when I watch films I readily apply the concepts, ideas and terms I learned through taking these courses. They have given me a broader worldview of not only cinema, but art in general,” says Merli.

With two more years ahead of him, Merli is still hopeful and excited for his further film education and his potential film career.

“I hope to be able to work on the production end of the film industry, working on sets, starting out probably as a production assistant on any set I can get on or through connections in an office job somewhere and work my way up there to someday to perhaps be a writer/director.”

While Merli is still in the safety net of school, Clegg and Schimke have already been living in the real world for years, but both are not losing hope.

“When you first get out of school you know people who want to do it, but you don’t know that many people who are. People six months, a year out of school have dropped it and are doing something else,” says Clegg.

Clegg is not packing it anytime soon. Since graduating, he has been working as a director of photography and editor and has worked on two features and two television pilots.

“It does seem like that things are getting better, I can see a progression in my work, in the quality of it because you’re always learning, always doing better. And I’m moving to bigger and better things a lot of the times”

Clegg is essentially a cameraman and editor for hire right now, but there are worse places to be within the industry. The key is that during this whole time Clegg is making contacts.

In Schimke’s case, he wanted to direct sooner rather than later, but realised rather quickly that no one was willing to take a risk on an untested commodity.

“I discovered if I wanted work as a director and no one is going to give me work as a director I need to create work for myself and figure out a way to sell it because the reason movies are made is because people pay to watch them,” says Schimke

With that in mind, Schimke teamed up with a couple of friends to form a company to make a series of short film of Jesus’ 36 parables.

“I knew a lot of churches were starting to show more media content in their services and there wasn’t a lot to choose from,” says Schimke. “The content was really bad and the acting was really bad and what I wanted to do were modern adaptations as short films and market them to churches.”

Schimke has found funding for the project and has completed several of the films already.

“I’m able to do what I want to do and I know that it is going to open a lot of doors for us in the future because studios, production companies, other people who invest in films don’t want to take a chance on you they want to see other people taking a chance on you first.”

For both Schimke and Clegg it is just a matter of seeing if what they are doing builds to something else. For the time being, they are just happy to be doing what they love.

Behind the scenes of film festivals

It is a wrap. Your new film is in the can and is ready for the world to see. Now it is time to hit the film festival circuit where cinematic dreams can come gloriously true or turn into dreary nightmares.

Hundreds of festivals are available to filmmakers to submit films to that span all genres: comedy, drama, horror, short, animation, documentary and so on. Every year more are popping up.
“There are more festivals in the world because there is more product,” says Nancy Schafer Managing Director of the Tribeca Film Festival. “More product has been created primarily because technology has changed and it is easier for more people to make movies.”

For a filmmaker the idea is to get their film seen by as many people as possible. For the un-established, film festivals are often the only routes.

“Theatrical distribution has changed and there is less room for smaller films in today’s marketplace. Many festivals can capitalise on that by showing their audiences different kinds of programming during their festivals,” says Schafer.

Michael Dana, an independent filmmaker who has gone through the film festival process believes there are two ways of getting a film seen through festivals.

“There are people that hit every film festival that’s out there, sort of blanket market their film,” says Dana. “You’ll look at their web site or their printed materials of everything they get into and the list is just humongous.”

While this may get a film wide exposure, Dana believes the broad marketing method offers filmmakers less of an opportunity to learn because their film is playing in markets it may not belong in.

Dana suggests that there is a more effective method of getting more focused attention. “You can do research to which film festivals you think will allow your film to shine the way you conceived it.”

By doing this it allows your film to be seen by like minded filmmakers and audiences. Other filmmakers who work in the same genre may see things in a film that the director missed. “It is like playing tennis with someone who is a little better than you,” says Dana.

Another important aspect that festival provide is the opportunity it to mingling with other filmmakers.

“It’s a nice chance to meet some other people who have done something and sort of talk back and forth to them,” says cinematographer and editor Jeff Clegg. “Most likely you never would’ve seen each other’s films if you all hadn’t been at this festival.”

Hopefully, if a film is good enough it will start picking up festival awards leading to bigger, better festivals. But the film festival circuit is hardly all sparkle and shine. It is a long road to the big fests and to possible distribution deals.

While the filmmaker certainly have their own headaches to deal with when it comes to festival, the organisers of these festivals have their own long mirgrane inducing procedures they need to go through.

In the case of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, John Cooper, the festival’s head of programming, Geoffrey Gilmore, the festival’s director, and three other programmers, handled the daunting selection process. They had to narrow down over 3,000 feature length films and over 4,000 shorts to a final list of 120 films.

No matter the size of the festival whether it be the Toronto International Film Festival or a small regional festival like the New Hampshire Film Expo the process behind the festivals are the same.

Filmmakers submit their films, which then go through an extensive review by a committee or team of programmers before they even reaching the festivals.
For Toronto it takes a team of 16 programmers either travel to festivals around the world or view submissions in Toronto, while The Tribeca Film Festival has three programmers and two associate programmers.

For some critics though these big festivals are nothing more than flash and have lost focus on showing films that truly indie and attempting to discover fresh talent.

In a Variety magazine article, Derek Elley looked at what he called the big five film festivals: Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto and Sundance. These are the festivals notorious for finding and breaking fresh filmmakers. As Elley sees it the so-called big five do not quite live up to their hype.

“Look to Cannes for legitimisation rather than discovery, Sundance for occasional patches of perspicacity, Berlin for dogged persistence and Toronto as a North American showcase rather than a pioneer. And Venice? Well, the Lagoon looks great at sunset.”

Cannes and Sundance and the rest may get the glory, but according to Elley “a lot of the donkey work is done by smaller fests before the big boys jump in and leapfrog over each other.”
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone magazine’s film critic is similarly disillisioned, specifically with Sundance.

“Once upon a time the Sundance Film Festival, tucked away in snowy Park City, Utah was all about movies – raw, low budget movies with no star egos and studio suits to screw with the independent spirit of untried young filmmakers. That is over,” wrote Travers.

Sundance has become a festival where Hollywood star and even faux celebrities like Paris Hilton flock. For film purists it is the smaller festivals that attain the raw, low budget films that critics like Travers yearn for.

Nicole Gregg the festival producer of New Hampshire Film Expo strives to create that sort of atmosphere at her festival. “We have just really created a very unpretentious and nurturing environment and people are just excited about celebrating filmmakers and independent films.”

For Gregg sometimes the festivals in smaller cities have their own energy.

“I’ve gone to film festivals in New York and two, three people have shown up for it. The size of the city doesn’t necessarily to determine the success,” says Gregg.

Still it is at the bigger festivals the distribution companies make their acquisitions, but even there, according to Dana, it is extremely rare that a film would be sold at film festival. Still, Dana stresses that there is nothing better have a film shown on a big screen to an appreciative audience.

“Now if you get a buyer in that room, that’s a thousands times more effective way to have them relate to your film than if you sent them a DVD that they see in their office with a stack of other DVDs,” says Dana.

So, filmmakers will keep hitting the film festival circuit waiting for the big break that gets them in like Flynn.

24 Hour Film Festival hits New York

Independent films, short, long and everything in between converged in New York City for a day of nonstop films at Downtown Community Television’s (DCTV) 24 Hour Film Festival.

Starting at 7:30 p.m. 7 July at the landmark fire station at 87 Lafayette Street, the non-profit organisation DCTV highlighted a mix of documentaries, animation and narrative films from around the world.

Founded in 1972, DCTV provides classes and workshops, rents equipment and provides editing facilities to aspiring filmmakers. DCTV productions have been shown on major networks such as PBS and HBO and have won numerous awards, including 12 Emmys.

“We have independent filmmakers coming in on a daily basis working on their projects and when they finish they always say, ‘Well, now what do we do with them,’” said Jamie Boylan, DCTV’s director of marketing, distribution and sales. “We finally thought why don’t we just put up a showcase of our own and create a venue for people to show independent films.”

The festival opened with Jem Cohen’s Chain. In his introduction of the film, the filmmaker jokingly admitted it is a slow film and that it is good that it was not playing at three or four in the morning.

“We should occasionally have to feel slowness, so I made it that way on purpose. It asks for your patience, so I hope that is rewarded,” explained Cohen.

The film, a look at consumerism and globalisation, focuses on two separate plot lines: a Japanese women trying to get funding for an amusement park and a 20-something homeless American girl who splits her time cleaning motels and hanging at malls.

“It is a documentary, it is a fiction feature film and it is also, very much a political film,” said Cohen, which made it a fitting opening to the festival. Many of the films that followed were documentaries, but even many of the narrative films had a semi-documentary feel.

The festival took on serious subjects as varied as gun violence, race issues, Wal-Mart, military recruitment and arranged marriages. It was not all somber, far from it. The festival also featured amusing takes on identical twins, the worst chair in America and the cartoon series GI Joe as well as an assortment of riffs on love.

Darien Sills-Evan’s X-Patriots, which won the audience award for Best Feature was a film that bridged both the serious and the comedic. The film focused on two African Americans looking for love and identity in the Netherlands. Imagine a hybrid of the filmmaking styles of Spike Lee and Woody Allen filtered through European art house.

While most of the festival’s films were made within the last year, Sills-Evan’s film is a couple years old, and no longer traveling the film festival circuit. Nevertheless, for Sills-Evan it was important to have X-Patriots at the 24 Hour Film Festival because he believes it is a rare breed.

“Festivals like this, with movies like this aren’t really introduced anywhere, so that’s why I am here,” said Sills-Evans. “I like to see inexpensive movies that make things worth changing the world and I think that needs to be encouraged more and more.”

The festival was broken up into 12 time blocks and audience members could either come for individual time slots or for the whole 24 hours with an all access pass. Most of the sessions were in a small screening room with folding chairs, but one block of horror films was projected on a screen that was setup on the building’s roof.

Most people came and went, but a few die-hards decided to go the distance. A steady flow of free coffee was provided along with Rockstar energy drink at 1 a.m. and Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast to help the diligent fans make it to end.

“I came for inspiration as well as ideas and approaches, to see how people approach different subjects,” said Douglas Simpson an aspiring filmmaker and one of the few to brave the long hours and lack of sleep to take in the whole festival.

For Simpson, who wants to make documentaries about and for families, but is studying film late in life, the festival was an opportunity to absorb a variety of different styles in one crash course.

“I look at it as learning a new language, so that’s how I am approaching this, it is a different learning, but in doing that you have to expose yourself to everything,” said Simpson.

The films were not the festival’s only entertainment. Between blocks, there were 15-minute breaks to stretch your legs and, for some, dance. Lack of sleep can make people do strange things, including busting dance moves at four in the morning

The festival was put together in a relative short six months and for Boylan that is the only drawback to what they did. Boylan believes the festival could have been even better had they taken double the time in planning.

“I wish we had a little more time to advertise and just get an audience, that’s our biggest hump for next year. How do you get that audience in and let them know what is happening?” said Boylan.

Film as an industry: A look at how films are bought and sold

Do not be fooled. The film industry is just like any other industry. Hollywood makes products churned off an assembly line just as Henry Ford first did with the Model T in 1913.
There is a wide range of models for the consumer to choose from: bloated action, humourless comedy, phony drama and for the kids a bit of mind rotting family friendly entertainment. Occasionally, a Mercedes Benz or Rolls Royce is produced, and they shine brightly as they pass through the junkyard. As with any business it is about what you can sell.

Perhaps that outlook is too cynical and pessimistic, but the point to be garnered is this: for production company executives and studio heads, a film is a product that must be sold. It does not matter if it is Deuce Bigalo: European Giglio or Schindler’s List, money has been invested and it must be made back. This holds true even in the independent world.

“Independent film is dead, it really is,” says Darien Sills-Evan, an independent filmmaker, who also makes educational programming within the studio system. “As someone who is working in the system now I can tell you it is a deathtrap out there.”

So, how is it possible that films that are different, challenging or confrontational even get distribution? Why take the risk when the safe route would be a better guarantee for film company executives of getting their money back?

“Small amounts of money can be made off particular programming strategies, particular types of films. If you add up all those niches, you wind up making a whole lot of money,” says Adam Hodgkins, a film professor at the University of Westminster. “It is no different than the supermarkets doing a Jewish range or a health range, those are niche areas of food consumption and the supermarkets realised they could cash in on that.”

If film is merely a product, what it comes down to is supply and demand and as long as there is a demand for cinema counter to the mainstream than it will be provided, although it may not always be under the best terms.

“There’s a volume of stuff that needs to go through the distribution and exhibition machine, so part of the job of the mainstream filmmaking business is to provide that volume,” says Patrick Towell, the Chief Executive of Golant Films. “The distribution and exhibition parts of the industry don’t necessarily make money off of individual films, what they make money off of is a collective.”

Most mainstream films made within the studio system have a distribution package drawn up in the planning of the film. Often for potential blockbusters, a date is already in mind for the film’s release.

However, for independent films, this is not the case and filmmakers will have to seek distribution. This is where distribution companies such as THINKFilm, which deal solely in art house, independent, foreign and specialist films appear.

“You have to identify potential films where the rights are available, then you have to analyze what it would take to best exploit the film,” says Daniel Katz who works in acquisitions at THINKFilm.

According to Katz, how well a film sells depends on how many distribution companies, television broadcasters or video distribution companies are interested in it. The more interest the higher the price.

It is rare that a film’s producer or director will be representing the film themselves. A representative, usually a sales agent, is the one trying to get the film sold. It is the sales agent calling up the various companies stirring up interest in a film.

“The sales agent takes a cut of the fee paid to the filmmakers, between five or ten per cent, but generally that’s well spent. A good sales agent will get you a higher price,” says Hodgkins.

Once a film is acquired, the real fun begins: marketing. This is where a film becomes a product that must be processed, packaged and advertised. Katz explains that a film is placed in various “windows,” the first being theatrical, followed by DVD and television. Each new window acts at getting exposure to the next.

“If you look at the market of other things, not films, what we all do is we rely on packaging,” says Towell. “The reality is most people are non-expert buyers of that product, they just want to have a good time. So then it all comes down to the unspoken things about the advertising.”

How a film is sold to the public can make or break it. Marketing that is too narrow can miss the opportunity of finding a bigger audience. Advertising that is too broad could isolate a core audience leery of Hollywood films.

Take the case of Brokeback Mountain, which was marketed to a wide audience, despite a potentially controversial subject. Towell recalls hearing a radio advertisement that sold the film as one with broad appeal.

“There was nothing to scare the horse about gay issues and it was very particularly planted to be, ‘this is a feel good movie, you’ll have a good time,’” recalls Towell. If Brokeback had been sold to a more niche audience as the gay cowboy movie it most likely would not have become the phenomenon it did.

The way films are marketed can even change the very way we think of them. How audiences perceive independent and mainstream is being blurred by the way both are advertised. Hodgkins, as the former manager of the Plymouth Art Centre saw this blurring first hand selecting films to screen at the centre.

“Miramax are the kings of that confusion. They were an independent and now they’re Disney,” says Hodgkins. “They were an independent making big, old fashioned Hollywood films, to be honest. Golden Era of Hollywood- type films, studio system looking films.”

This left Hodgkins having to begrudgingly show films like The English Patient because that was the film his audiences believed he should be screening. “That is independent according to Hollywood and according to the popular press that is independent,” says Hodgkins

For the daring, independent minded filmmaker who just created something that they believe is a piece of art the idea of trying to package and sell it as if it were a new flavour of cereal can be a harsh reality.

“You can make a film, but if no one is willing to put it out there, no one will see it and cinemas won’t be able to buy it,” says Hodgkins. “Distribution is the pivotal point and in truth it is where the money is made, it is the controlling force.”

Sadly, what finds distribution sometimes has little to do with quality, and more to do with what executives think they can sell. This is what happened with Sills-Evan’s film X-Patriots, which focuses on two African Americans dealing with issues of race, love and infidelity in the Netherlands.

“At the time it was doing the festival circuit there weren’t that many films being made for 200,000 dollars getting distribution,” says Sills-Evan. “At the same time, what we met with, was there was no other ‘black films’ to compare to it on the market to create a strategy behind it, so how do you sell that to an audience that doesn’t know anything about it?”

The film was not fluffy enough to be sold as a romantic comedy, nor was it as edgy as a Spike Lee film. “We basically made a European art movie and there isn’t much of a market if you’re an American director, an American black director specifically.”

Hence, despite getting strong reviews and picking up awards at film festivals, the film did not get distribution in either the states or Europe, even though it was set in Europe and made with a European sensibility.

“No matter what they say, European distribution still has a lot to do with American distribution,” says Sills-Evan.

If studios or distribution companies cannot fit a film into a certain demographic, it is like trying to fit a square peg into a circular hole, it will not happen.

“It depends on who it is and what the film is, what they can sell, the idea of any movie is what they can sell, what can they market,” says Sills-Evan. “If they can market Napoleon Dynamite you’re going to get a better deal than trying to market whatever other obscure movie you haven’t heard of.”

According to Katz, there are one or two indie films a year in the states like Napoleon Dynamite or March of the Penguins, which will achieve box office success.

“On one hand it is very fortunate for something like Napoleon Dynamite, but on the other hand it makes everyone else have to now change that new corporate genre of indie,” says Sills-Evan.

With every indie hit, the studios and distribution companies will start looking for similar films. For example after the success of Quentin Taratino’s Pulp Fiction there was an onslaught of hip, stylish crime thrillers. The studios are desperate for the next sleeper hit, a film that no one expects to be a big moneymaker.

“Anyone who tells you that they know exactly what is going to take off and what’s not is lying to you and I think that is one of the interesting salient points. It is very hard to tell what the consumer will embrace and what they won’t,” says Katz.

Therefore, the studios keep taking chances on the indie films, at least the ones they think they can sell, hoping to find the next big thing.

“For the close to half a billion or so you spend on a Pearl Harbor, how many small independents can you make?” says Hodgkins. “If once every ten years one of them does a Blair Witch just think of the business sense of that.”

And business is the key word. Even for a company like THINKFilm that does provide different and unique films to the market it will always come down to money. After all, it is an industry we are talking about.

“Ideally we’d love to do films that we are passionate about and that is certainly part of the process, but at the end of the day it is a business decision,” says Katz.

The importance of the art house cinemas

Ever week the latest barrage of films from Hollywood will make their appearance at the chain cinemas across both the United States and United Kingdom. However, there is an alternative to multiple screens and Hollywood fare.

Just around the corner or tucked a few streets away from the local multiplex is a smaller theatre, an art house theatre, showing independent and art films.

“Art houses movie theatres are a vital part of the lifeblood of American cinema and American art,” says filmgoer Judith Grophear of Greenfield, New Hampshire. “If you’re lucky, you walk out of an art house thinking about issues and tapping into an area of thought that aren’t being presented by what the mainstream studios put out.”

These so called art house theatres are run and owned by those with a genuine love of cinema and who want to show the best films made outside of Hollywood.

Independent or art films, whether in the US or UK, typically only receive what is known as a limited release. Films will open in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and London and then slowly go to other corners of the country.

“Most of the demographic of people that want to watch those kind of films, educated, affluent, middle classes are living in and around London,” says Adam Hodgkins, a film professor at the University of Westminster and the former programmer for the Plymouth Art Centre. “Once you get outside of London they start getting fewer and far between.”

The same is true in the states, but there is an oasis where indie cinema can flourish. They are known as college towns. Areas with a university or college in them typically feature the sophisticated audience Hodgkins described.

The Colonial Theatre in Keene, New Hampshire, is one such theatre that benefits from having a college nearby and the theatre executive director Alec Doyle plays to this audience.

According to Doyle the theatre is able survive because the theatre has “a small, devoted audience who love what we do and come to a lot of films and then occasionally we draw a much larger crowds when we are able to land a March of the Penguins, Sideways, Fahrenheit 9/11, etc.”

In the U.S. it is a purely a commercial conflict, but for Hodgkins he had to deal with being subsidised by city, county and national funding bodies.

“Firstly, I need to consider the existing art centre audience and their tastes because I have to turn over a certain amount of money to keep the art centre in the black and secondly, I have funding bodies,” says Hodgkins of his experiences as the programmer of the Plymouth Art Centre.

These considerations often meant having to make compromises to make money and to keep the backers happy.

“I wanted my audience to see the latest, most up to date and the most marginalised of film culture,” says Hodgkins. “I didn’t want them to see Shakespearean trained actors loving it up in costume. I showed those films because they made me money, but they were also showing in the mainstream cinema in Plymouth so I wasn’t adding to the cultural value of the city in which I was working.”

Hodgkins explains that often people would come to see a film playing at his art centre that was playing down the street at the multiplex because it made them feel as if they were arty.

“They wanted their art centre to show those films. They wanted to sit in a cinema with worse seats, worse sound to watch those films that were already playing in the Odeon down the road because it makes them feel good.”

For Brenden Denehy of Brookline, New Hampshire he attends art house cinemas to support something independently owned rather than a corporate entity. Denehy’s theatre of choice is Wilton, New Hampshire’s Wilton Town Hall Theatre because of its atmosphere and cheaper tickets and concessions.

“Most of the time when I go to the chains I don’t buy concessions, but when I go to Wilton I make sure to buy something,” says Denehy. “With a ticket price of $5 and cheap concessions, I can feel like I'm doing good and being cheap at the same time.”

Denehy also believes there’s more of a sense of community at the Wilton Town Hall than at other theatres.

“I’ve tended to notice that the audiences at Wilton seem to have a sense of ‘belonging’ to the theatre, more so than when I’m at other theatres,” says Denehy. I’ve actually gotten into conversations with other patrons before the show, and listening to people talk to each other, it’s clear that many of them make the conscious choice to watch films there.”

For the owners, providing these venues and films for audience can prove to be a challenge.

“With the exception of a few metropolitan centres, I'm not sure that being an indie/art house is ever easy,” says Doyle.

There are some cases though where the art house cinema may be better than the local multiplex and therefore can secure a bigger audience. This was the case of Conway, New Hampshire’s Majestic Theatre.

“We had the only 8 track digital system in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. We had the largest screen in Northern New England and the best lens in the world from Schneider, we had all the bells and whistle to run any mainstream film, says Joe Quirk, the owner of the Majestic.

Occasional the Majestic would run a blockbuster and it would often do twice the business than when the film played at the multiplex because according to John Favreau the owner of Brunswick, Maine’s Evening Star Theatre, a partner theatre of the Majestic, the competing multiplex is in poor condition.

“Joe tends to want to show more commercial type films. He’d try to get Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings type things, I don’t even try for those things,” says Favreau.

In the wake of a fire that destroyed much of the theatre, Quirk has had to start over. A smaller 50-seat auditorium was built next to the out of commission 400-seat theatre as well as a cafe/deli. Though this is a set back for Quirk he has not changed the way he programs.

“We tend to have a social conscience, as I say we have a judicious blend of films,” says Quirk. “We’ll get what we call the first run commercials, commercial art and art. We tend to run a lot of commercial art, art and an occasional commercial film.”

The method behind the selection for the Majestic, Colonial and Evening Star is similar. Using a booker or a film trade journal, the owners or directors of the theatres would research months, even years in advance, what films are in production.

“We try to tune into what the story line is, who the producer is, what actors are in it and then you can get an idea of how the picture is going to come out,” says Quirk.

Favreau has a similar process in addition to which he also read reviews of upcoming films. Favreau is doing research so far in advance it is hard to know what will hit or not. In the case of Fahrenheit 9/11, which he booked for political reasons, the film went on to be the Evening Star’s highest grossing film.

“I knew it was a political documentary, that could’ve just as soon been a dog, but it turned into this phenomenon,” says Favreau.

As for Doyle at the Colonial, while he says he would not say no to the occasional more broad appeal films, he realises that with only one screen they could never be the main venue for mainstream movies in Keene.

“Our mission dictates that we provide the public something else, an alternative to mass culture and mass marketed product,” says Doyle.

Another factor that the owners and programmers of art house cinemas have to deal with is being locked out of getting first run films because they are not part of a cinema chain.

“Typically distributors just don’t care,” says Favreau. “If they know they have a multi-screen that is going to take everything they have to offer including their garbage films they will just send them over there.”

This is the nature of the system and those behind the art house cinemas know this. Their job is to provide an alternative.

“That’s just the way the game is played. After 10 years of doing this you just stop fighting and you just take what you can get,” says Favreau.

It is not always easy, for the Favreau’s, Doyle’s and Quirk’s of the world, but it is too their credit they struggle on. They are the keepers of the magic of cinema. If not for them, audiences would be stuck with the latest cookie-cutter Hollywood film.

“With an art house it’s much more of an intimate setting,” says Grophear. “Time sort of melts away and you’re transported to another place when you walk in the door. They have old time music playing, the a/c is humming and you can smell real butter from the popcorn maker. All of a sudden you realise, with relief, you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Monroe Mann and Patrick Towell: Chief Executives

It is 10 am as I call Monroe Mann’s mobile phone. I get his voice mail. This is no surprise. Mann rarely picks up his mobile. The outgoing message greets me with Mann’s enthusiastic voice letting me know: “This is Monroe Mann and the Unstoppable Actors Business School. I’m off making history, so I can’t take your call right now, but leave your name, number and message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you so much for calling and I look forward to meeting you… at the top.”

The message ends with an Al Pacino-like hoo-ha. I hang up and decide to call his office in Westchester, just outside of New York City. I do get Monroe Mann on the phone, but I have the wrong Mann. Monroe senior is at the end of the line. Monroe junior may be Chief Executive of Loco Dawn Films, but both enterprises are currently run out of his home, or more specifically his parent’s home.

As I leave a message for Mann, I imagine that across the pond, in Queens Park, just outside of Central London that Patrick Towell, the Chief Executive of Golant Films, is about to leave his office for afternoon tea. This is not a difficult task for Towell, simply a venture down the stairs to his kitchen. Like Mann, not only is the house on Galton Street the base of Golant Films it is Towell’s home.

Do not let the humble bases of operation fool you. As Mann and Towell set forth on their respective company’s first major productions, their previous experiences and passions make them stand out amongst sea of production companies. Even if they are still new to the production company business, that hardly counts them out of the film industry.

For Towell, this is not his first company. He was previously the founder and chief executive of an award winning New Media agency that dealt in setting up systems and creating services that delivered content to people in the education and culture sectors.

Towell always wanted to work in films. It is an itch he has been meaning to scratch ever since he was a runner for a post-production company in one of his first jobs out of university.

“I did the time-honoured part of making the tea and the tomato soup and lunch and stuff like that,” says Towell.

His next job had him the manager of a production company working with mixed medias including film, video, and graphics created using a Mac computer, which Towell describes as “radical stuff in 1992.”

This experience in the early development of New Media allowed him to start his own company. “In a sense I was working literally on the cusp of the major change of post-production,” says Towell. Now with Golant Films, which went public in July, Towell wants to return to the dream that he says was always a glimmer in the back of his mind.

As for Mann, he may be 28-years-old and still living with his parents, but the stigma that goes along with that hardly applies to him. In addition to starting Loco Dawn Films, Mann is the founder and president of the Unstoppable Actors Business School, a published author and was a National Guard intelligence officer stationed in Iraq for a year.

Mann has gone to great lengths to paint a picture of success that while perhaps an exaggeration of reality is not too far from the truth. A trip to his website will have you believing he is the next big thing.

“I know a lot of people shy away from bragging about what they have done and I’ve received a lot of flack for it from many people,” says Mann. “‘Why do you brag so much? Why do you have to tell everyone what you are doing?’ Why? Because if you don’t tell people what you are doing, nobody is going to have faith in you to support you.”

Mann founded his business school in 1999 after successfully teaching a class on how to break into student films for the New York branch of the Learning Annex, a seminar centre in many of the major cities across the United States and Canada. After the course, someone suggested he should teach such courses for a living and the idea struck a cord in Mann.

“I realised, wow I’ve got this ability to inspire and motivate people and I love show business and the arts. Long story short, seven years later it is Unstoppable Artists Business School,” says Mann.

Loco Dawn came out of a desire to get better acting roles. Although Mann was successful getting small roles on TV shows like Third Watch and the film swimfan, he longed for a role to truly show off his talent.

“I got tired of auditioning and trying to prove to people that I am the right person for the job,” says Mann. “After the film swimfan I said I am just going to write my own screenplay and cast myself in a supporting role.”

That screenplay is In the Wake of Identity, a film about the little known sport of wakeboarding. The film was set to go into production, but came to a halt when Mann was deployed to Iraq. According to Mann, the film was on the Internet Movie Database website (, but was removed due to members protesting against it because of Mann’s involvement in the war in Iraq.

“When you’re in Iraq and you are trying to make a film and you see that’s the stuff that is happening it is kind of depressing, not because I started losing hope, but that everyone else was losing hope and faith and that was kind of disappointing,” says Mann.

Now Mann and Towell are at the same point, trying to get their first productions mounted at their young production companies.

In the case of Golant Films, while the company worked with Film Education on an learning website for Roman Polanski’s recent adaptation of Oliver Twist, they have yet to make their first video or film project. That is about to change as Towell has found funding for the first of a planned series of educational videos. The series would help with the planning and the health and safety issues of off-site school trips to historical castles, museums and attractions like the London Eye.

“They will show the teachers and the parents that none of these are going to be exhaustive academic work,” says Towell. The videos, which will be distributed to schools via DVD and the internet, will also emphasize the cultural and social aspects of the trips they cover.

Recently, Mann has found interest in packaging his film In the Wake of Identity from industry heavies like Creative Artists, Endeavor and William Morris. Various production companies interested in the script have also contacted Mann.

“Things are really humming, getting a lot of interest behind it, a lot of people want to help put this thing together,” says Mann.

When running a production company you cannot only have one project in the works, it is important to have the next project in line.

For Mann that project is Fobbits…And Other Tales from the Lighter Side of Combat. Although he describes the film as the first comedic documentary about the war in Iraq he stresses it would in no way make fun of the war, but merely show how humour can be a survival tool.

“When people say how did you survive the war, I think the answer for most people is you’ve got to stay light and you’ve got to laugh,” says Mann.

Back in London, Golant Films’ script associate Alan Pollock, an award-winning playwright, who lectures on screenwriting in the UK and has a popular TV background, is writing a short film.

“I have an objective to get a short made by the end of the year,” says Towell. “It would be quite nice to get that made.”

Towell and Pollock are also looking into finding a literary work that would be ripe for a feature film adaptation. Golant Films is also continuing a partnership with Limelight Studios, a New Zealand-based content development company.
Having previously represented digital and educational spin-offs for the children’s series Fifty the Tractor, Towell hopes to continue developing projects with Limelight.

“We are working together to develop new kinds of licensing that have animation at the core of the product,” says Towell, who, as with all Golant projects, hopes these projects would increase the quality of life for people in the world.
Towell believes it is his background in the New Media that gives him an edge and that makes it difficult to pigeonhole Golant Films.

“I am a funny mixture and I think that helps, so I’m not Mr. longstanding TV, Mr. longstanding film,” says Towell.

It is a similar case for Mann, who says it is versatility that makes him appealing to potential backers.

“I credit a lot of where this film has gone so far, and where it is going to be, to the fact that I let people know, ‘Hey this thing is going to be a success, here are some of things I’ve done,” says Mann.

So, Towell and Mann will continue to struggle on, but while the sizes of their companies are modest, it does not leave them out of the game.

“I don’t think it really matters if you are big or you are small, I think what really matters is the breadth and depth of your vision,” says Towell.

What is the definition of independent cinema?

For years, the mainstream perception of independent cinema was of a film made on the cheap with a group of unknown actors and a quirky story. Classic examples include Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Robert Rodriquez’s El Mariachi. But now things are becoming muddled.

The media claims that the 2006 Academy Award nominations were stacked with what they referred to as indie films including Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, Crash and Syriana. While these films are certainly daring and challenge Hollywood conventions and themes, in their scale can they really be considered indie?

“What is truly independent are the ones out there self funding and scrapping money together and making films with their mobile phones and whatever else,” says Adam Hodgkins, a film professor at the University of Westminster.

Patrick Towell, the Chief Executive of Golant Films, voices a similar sentiment saying, “I always thought independent meant independent of a large vertically integrated studio type company.”

The confusion has been brewing for a decade. After the announcement of the nominations in January, Richard Corliss of Time magazine noted that the Oscars had not been as dominated by non-blockbusters since 1997, when four so-called indie nominees The English Patient, Fargo, Secrets & Lies and Shine were in the running.

“Then as now, an ‘independent’ company was a subsidiary of a big studio,” wrote Corliss. “The division, though, remains clear: studios make their regular movies to earn money, and their indie movies to earn prestige.”

In the last decade or so the major studios have been establishing companies like Fox Searchlight, Warner Independent and Paramount Classics to produce films that if are not truly independent at least want to seem as if they are an alternative to Hollywood.

“You can have a kid from a posh family that ends up being a Goth as a good analogy for an indie film that comes out of a studio,” suggests Towell.

The mission statement that appears at Warner Independent’s web site paints a noble, even awe-inspiring image of what they want to put into the world.

“More and more, serious film makers are drawn by story and character, not by genre or budget or the potential for mass popularity. Warner Independent Pictures aims to be a home to films that are adventurous, intimate, personal, taboo breaking and experimental and to artists who explore the unexamined with courage and insight and in ways that shed light on the human condition.”

How much of that is true and how much is just spin is up for debate. It all sounds fine and dandy, but for many the word independent is a wincing point. Zeb Ian, one of many of aspiring filmmakers trying to make it in the industry is frustrated by the confusion of terms.

“Independent used to mean below a million, now even five million dollar budget movies get into ‘independent’ film festivals. What’s independent about that? Perhaps independently rich, but at that cost the movie is already being backed significantly,” says Ian.

It is not that Warner Independent and the like are not making provocative, thought-provoking films, it is whether these films can be considered indie.

“It depends why you are defining independent. What’s your purpose?” says Towell. “If you are looking at it from a cultural point of view and you’re kind of talking about an independent voice and an independent point of view, are those kind of major funded independent labels culturally independent? Politically independent?”

In the case of Film Independent, who puts on the Independent Spirit Awards they are defining it for the purposes of deciding which films are eligible for nomination.

The nominating committee defines a film as being independent if it has a uniqueness of vision and an original, provocative subject matter. As for where the money comes from, to be considered independent a percentage of the financing must come from independent sources.

However, as of 1994, Film Independent stopped defining independent strictly based on financing. They have placed their budget cap at $20 million, which many would claim is hardly independent of anything.
The Independent Spirit Awards are about awarding films that retain the spirit to dare to be different, and still possess that passion and drive that inspires filmmakers to make their first film.

A spokesperson for Film Independent says that companies like Warner Independent are still independent because of the subject matters they choose and risks they take.

“They are willing to take a chance, they are willing to go with first time directors, go with non-celebrities, non-stars to star in their films and they’re willing to take risks like tough subject matter.”
Edward Porter, a film critic for The Sunday Times also thinks it has less to do with money, and more about the content.

“I suspect most filmmakers would say independence is control over the final cut, regardless of where the money is coming from,” says Porter.

Yet, according to Hodgkins, these subsidiary companies have merely learned a trick from the music industry. At the end of 1980s, record labels started buying indie labels, but keeping them under their original monikers since they featured allegiance they would lose otherwise. Hodgkins believes the same ideas are now at play in the film industry.

“They discovered the value of niche and niche is the term used in the film industry for art house,” says Hodgkins.

At the end of the day, no matter how noble the studios paint their intentions, it is merely a strategic business move.

“They will give certain degrees of autonomy, but then they will impose business structures over and above what is going on,” says Hodgkins.

Daniel Katz of the distribution company THINKFilm also questions whether films that come out of the Warner Independents of the world are what they say they are and goes back to the most basic definition that independent is “anything not financed by a major studio.”

Katz believes the studio funded indie film is not independent, but they are also not typical studio fare. They may feature Hollywood gloss and be backed by Hollywood money but films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, Sideways and other “indie” favourites are not usual mainstream fodder. They are something else. So, then the question remains: what are they?

Essentially these films could be labeled studio-funded independent, but in addition to being a contradiction of terms, it hardly rolls off the tongue. The answer is probably to coin another word altogether for independent. Hodgkins already dropped two possible options: niche and art house.

Art house refers to the sort of cinemas and art centres that show films that are not mainstream. This would include the true indies, the studio funded indies and foreign films and thus is perhaps too broad. On the other hand, maybe not. After all, the studio indie companies do release all those type of films.

Another possible option is specialist films, which as defined by Peter Buckingham of the UK Film Council are films that feature some or all of the following qualities: genre bending, complex, challenging subject matters and an innovative or unconventional storytelling style. Specialist films also include documentaries, classics and foreign.

This seems to be an accurate reflection of the films coming out the studio subsidiary companies and is almost a verbatim, albeit more succinct, reiteration of Warner Independent’s mission statement.

In this light, films that are truly independent are merely a sub-category of niche, specialist, or art house films. Again, the problem with each of these words is they are too broad and we still lack a proper term specifically for studio funded indie films.

Towell may have the answer: pick an arbitrary word to define the films coming out of these so-called indie companies. Therefore, from now on studio funded indie films are called banana films.