To outsiders, Hollywood has always sounded like a dream: beautiful, exciting, a spectacle at every turn. Most importantly, the potential to see their names in lights, strewn across theatres worldwide for the public to flock to. While it feels like a pipe dream glowing in the far distance, a lot of the benefits are closer than they seem. For the last decade, film has been marked by the steady trickle of independent cinema into the mainstream.
While the casual film-goer may have not noticed this, if they headed out to a chain theatre for a viewing of Eighth Grade or Hereditary last year, even if they worked their way through a number of films nominated for an Oscar, they’ve been influenced by it. Slowly but not quietly, independent cinema is taking over the industry.
For the uninitiated, an independent film is a film produced outside of the major film studio system and distributed by independent entertainment companies. This means a lower budget than major studio films for both production and marketing, followed by a limited release if the film is capable of securing one at all. Often, independent films are screened at festivals where they have the potential to be scouted for distribution. If they aren’t picked up, the filmmakers and small studios behind them are left on their own.
With obstacles like that, it’s a wonder that independent films ever make it out of the system they were born within, let alone manage to grasp international attention and accolades from the industry. But when contrasted with films from the major studio system that have seen popularity over the last decade, there are clear benefits to independent films that have allowed them to hold their own against mainstream cinema.
Independent entertainment distributors have had a heavy hand in the rise of independent cinema that has taken place over the last 10 years. A24, one of the most recent companies (beginning only in 2012), is responsible for the distribution of a grand total of five films the following year. By the close of this decade, A24 has dominated popular cinema, bringing to light now-memorable names like Lady Bird, Moonlight and Room. Unlike other independent distributors in the past, A24 has made its own name for itself, symbolic of brilliant independent cinema.
Other distributors are following suit — Neon, for example, was founded only in 2017 and has already gained a lot of traction with titles like I, Tonya and Vox Lux.
Looking at the yearly lineups these companies have to offer, it’s clear why film-goers flock to movies with their names attached: variety. Free from major studios breathing down their necks throughout the entire film-making process, writers and directors have the ability to stick to their true and complete visions. There are no worries regarding making back a high budget or ensuring that the film can appeal to the widest audience possible. The only major concern is making sure the film-maker’s ideas fit within budgetary constraints.
Audiences, in turn, have responded well to the originality of independent cinema. A shining example of this is the Paranormal Activity franchise. After being picked up from a festival, the low-budget, one-camera bare bones film commanded worldwide attention in late 2009, paving the way for a fully-fledged franchise and inspiring a sub-genre — found footage movies — that have both come to mark the 2010s in film.
It’s not to say that independent cinema has completely taken center stage, though.
For 10 years and beyond, major studio systems have churned out films that become beloved with good reason. Unforgettable characters flit from sequel to sequel, bringing audiences along with them. Genre films calling on conventions find success due to the ones that came before it. Take for example, franchises like The Fast and Furious, well-known names like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and, of course, the inescapable popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Independent cinema’s rise to prominence only means are willing to seek out further variety and perspectives than the best that major studios have to offer. The 2010s saw a balance emerge between the two — more filmmakers than ever are capable of getting their visions out there and audiences are continuously receptive to them. As a whole, it’s been an incredible decade for independent film and it’s only looking up from here.