Sunday, September 25, 2011

CTFU: Super Mega Edition (Part Five) – Indie Films

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

And here we are again. If you want to know what this is all about, you can go back to Part One, even though in this case I don’t think it’s entirely important. I’m basically going through a file of brainstormed topics for the daily blog and discussing what I wrote, what I didn’t write, and what I was thinking when I brainstormed them.

The next topic was this:

[7. Indie Films

Recently watching “Fargo” and “Reservoir Dogs” (both of which I’d seen before) I was reminded of something that I always try to keep in mind, but sometimes forget. Sometimes the low budget is the way to go. I did touch upon this briefly back when we started the blog when I saw “Run Lola Run.” I always find myself torn between the popular and the underground, and all too often the underground wins out in my mind. Even if it’s not entirely accurate, which it may or may not be.]

This is a topic that I think I’ve spent a pretty big portion of my life discussing. One take on it is from my friend Adam. What we started calling indie films in the 1990s were once called b-movies, and didn’t really get the same respect as the indie films. I suppose that the argument against that would be that b-movies that are not always independent. Major studios make movies that are meant for direct to video markets, and other limited distribution channels.

*This is why I tend to wonder about my own thinking. It’s very easy to fall into the belief that the Hollywood machine is destroying movies, but the major studios don’t always get it wrong, and the independent filmmakers don’t always get it right. When I saw “Run, Lola, Run” it was because the storyline had always fascinated me, and I’d heard good things about the film. There were probably a dozen movies made around that time that I didn’t hear about that I might not be all that impressed with.

What I’ve realized is that I fall into a personality type, which might be called “the cult follower.” I’m interested in many things that are just a little on the outside of popular culture. I play RPGs and CCGs. I watch MST3K and other TV um… something abbreviated. I listen to underground and unsigned bands. I actually like “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” I like Anime. I like comic books. Of course, I don’t like the proliferation of comic book movies, but that a topic for another time.

The list could go on, but I won’t worry about it for now. I really don’t mind people who have popular tastes in movies, music, books, TV, or anything. What bothers me is the way things are made and the way things are received sometimes. I don’t fully understand why it is that it seems like everyone loved “Transformers,” everyone hated “Transformers 2,” but “Transformers 3” was still made and seems to have done well. And they will continue to be made until they are no longer making money. I get the business side of the movie business. Making money is necessary to keep making movies, and so you have to ride the moneymakers and bury those that aren’t. It’s just frustrating when such terrible movies get made just because there is still a fan base that hasn’t been fully alienated yet. Just look at the late 80s/early 90s “Batman” franchise. Someone, somewhere, clearly thought that writing a vapid movie centering on a popular character and then casting big name stars would be good enough, and that mentality produced some very shitty movies.

To me the solution is simpler than I think Hollywood is willing to realize. Have you ever heard someone say that you make all your money when buying a house at the time you buy it, not when you sell it? What they mean is that generally the housing market makes for a good investment, because the values tend to increase over time. But if you spend too much for the property, or if you get bogged down in a high interest mortgage that causes you to pay half the cost of the house in interest over the years, by the time you get around to selling the house, the appreciated value has been eaten up in the expenses. In that way, they suggest that you look for undervalued properties, in areas that are looking to increase in value in the future, and to pay attention to things like down payments and interest rate and so forth. In that way, you make all your money by not spending too much at purchase.

Why doesn’t Hollywood follow this wisdom? Let’s go back to the indie films I was discussing. Why was the film industry pushing them under the heading of “indie films” rather than “b-movies.” Simply because they realized something important from a business standpoint; they could sell movies to the moviegoers of that era that were made for incredibly cheap while making big budget blockbuster money. Sure they couldn’t ride that forever before people wanted to hear about those huge budgets again, but they could make a great return on investment for a little while at least.

Now, I’ve sort of painted myself in a corner here, when you consider that “Batman and Robin” made almost twice its budget and “Transformers 3” made over five times its budget. Who can argue with success like that? Except that Roger Corman never lost money on a movie and his movies sucked too.

The thing about “Batman and Robin” is that it got so close to the line, and by its reception, it was likely that another movie would simply lose money. Part of the equation that I discussed about buying a house is selling for more than you paid, but the other part of the equation is getting the right interest. This is not only a nice analogy, but a nice play on words. By the time “Batman Begins” rolled around, it was evident that there were still people who wanted to see Batman movies. The difference is that Hollywood had to promise that they weren’t just phoning it in anymore. How much money did they indirectly lose between 1997 and 2005 while they were waiting for the movie going audience to forget that they got lazy with a franchise that was still popular in other media that hadn’t screwed it up?

Why was Miramax so successful? Because Miramax made and distributed movies at lower budgets and most of them were good. They built a trust with their audience. They betrayed that trust when they were sold to Disney, but at least while they were independent they were respected.

Perhaps the reason I took so long to get to this is because I don’t really have an answer to any of this. Most of the time, I can’t even make my own writing consistently good. How can something as multiple-personality as a major studio, or even an independent studio, manage to consistently release good movies?

We’ve all heard stories about how good scripts get passed by because someone doesn’t have the vision to see how good it could be. Then we see something like “Transformers” that was entertaining, but mediocre at best, and we just have to wonder. We’ve also heard about how there were formulas, software, and any number of tools that took the creativity out of writing a film. As a writer, that’s a daunting idea. How do you write something inspired when inspiration seems to be frowned upon. And that’s where I think the indie films of the 1990s earned my respect.

I think the reason I try to keep the independent films of the 1990s in mind is because those movies came along at a point where many of the studio movies were lazy and uninspired. The independent films showed the audience that film wasn’t a dead art, and not all the good stories had already been told. Maybe it helped long term and maybe it didn’t. What I realized though is that I’m not stuck with whatever crap the movie industry wants to spoon feed us at those times that they get lazy. If I look hard enough, I will find movies, whether studio or independent, that are worth watching. And if I ever get into producing movies of my own, or of others, if I look at it with an eye for the movie to make its money at the time of purchase, maybe I could be successful, and hopefully those movies will be worth watching.

And so it goes that we managed to cover one topic for the day. And even with that, I feel like I’m going to have to heavily edit this one to get my point across. Or I’ll just leave it and sound like I don’t know what I’m talking about. See you next time.

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