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Has Independent Film Jumped the Shark?

Has Independent Film Jumped the Shark?

In the Fall issue of Filmmaker Magazine, my latest Industry Beat column (print only) asks the question, “Has the Cinematic Water Cooler Run Dry?”–in other words, do indie films have cultural cache anymore? Can they get people talking on a large scale in the same way films like “sex, lies and videotape” and “The Blair Witch Project” once could?

Sure, these days, there remains the singular annual breakout: “Boyhood” (2014), “Fruitvale Station” (2013), “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012), but collectively, how many indie films does it take to reach the level of mainstream awareness as one episode of “Girls” or “True Detective”?

From the article: “Indie filmmakers have either lost touch with society, or the more fragmented and diverse entertainment industry has left them behind.”
As Ted Hope writes in his new book, “Hope for Film” (co-authored with me), about his final years making films, “I was still getting good movies made, although there was no denying they were being seen less, having less impact, and were less satisfying, as a result.”
James Schamus—formerly co-partners with Hope in Good Machine and then co-president of Focus Features, before he, too, left the business to pursue his screenwriting and academic careers—told me in a 2005 Variety article, “We often find the parochial American indie just doesn’t speak to the rest of the world,” he said. “And quite frankly, [it] doesn’t have much commercial context here in the States either.
And it’s not simply the ubiquity of digital media content that may have eroded the cultural relevancy of strong and innovative American-indie dramas, but the swiftness with which it proliferates. As Rene Bastian, producer of previous decade crossovers “L.I.E.” (2001) and “Transamerica” (2005), told me: “Films take a long time to make, then it takes time to build awareness for them, then it takes two hours of the audiences’ time to enjoy them, and then more time to digest and possibly discuss them,” he said. “It is now harder than ever before for a producer to predict what audiences will want to watch two years from now.”

Read more in the latest issue of Filmmaker.

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