I have wondered exactly what constitutes an independent (indie) film, and how to know that a film is an indie.
Hard to tell just by watching a film. At the start we may see on screen the familiar theme of a well-known studio, such as Universal. Following that are shown one or more other companies. One would have to be knowledgeable of these companies to know if it is the telltale sign of an indie.
Let’s go to the horse’s mouth. Here is what the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) has to say about this:
An independent film is any motion picture produced with at least 51% financed from sources other than the U.S. major studios. A film that has been majority financed by companies and/or individuals that operate outside of the six major U.S. Studios. An Independent film typically has an independent company attached as a film financier, production company, foreign distribution sales agent, and/or domestic theatrical distributor. Independent films range from small alternative films to big-budget features such as “The Hunger Games” and “Million Dollar Baby”.
They also say that independent film production exceeds that of the major studios and creates more jobs than the majors.
Films you may never suspect are “Indies” include “La La Land” and “The Founder”. Indies make up approximately 75% total nominations for feature film categories for the 2017 Academy Awards.
Indies are often marketed and distributed by a major studio. In fact that is a major part of a major’s business plan.
What are the major film studios? They have changed over the years, but today there are six (the “Big 6”): 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Columbia Pictures.
Three examples of independent companies are Lionsgate/Summit (“La La Land”), The Weinstein Company (“Lion”), and A24 (“Moonlight”).
Some majors have indie units. For example, 20th Century Fox has Fox Searchlight Pictures, and Universal Pictures has Focus Features.
The concept of an independent film goes back to the early days when Thomas Edison headed a group of “major” studios that had a monopoly on film production. Other aspiring filmmakers were called “independent” and moved out to California to pursue their dreams.
Later as the studio system became entrenched, others were considered “independent”.
As the movie industry matured, those films produced outside of the “establishment” were “independent”. The outsiders become the establishment, and a new crop of independent film producers came into being. This cycle has continued over the years.
One of the best-known examples is United Artists:
The early studio system quickly became so powerful that some filmmakers sought independence. On February 5, 1919, four of the leading figures in the American film industry, Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith, formed United Artists, the first independent studio in America.
A well-known, financially successful, and/or a hit with the critics can be an indie film. Creatives I know personally are producing films (I am associated with some), which would certainly be “indie”. May be the next big hit!
Please add to this conversation in the Comments. Also, see the resources under Additional Information.