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Bucking the System
What is outlined as independent film is film that bypasses the conventional film funding model, by which film studios invest large sums of money and take a significant amount of control over the property. The idea that film is an art form has been extended by this independent film world since the fewer restrictions can mean more artistic freedom. The world of commerce has always been at odds with the practice of an artist, and the importance of independent filmmaking really comes from the need for an independent voice that is further away from corporate perspectives and influence.
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Part of the independent filmmaking importance comes from a general lack of vision from the studio system. In the sixties and seventies auteur theory emerged, listing the director as the primary author of the film. This means that there is a certain amount of creative vision from them directly, and then the different creative departments interpret that in their own way. When a studio is involved in the film, they treat it solely as a commercial property, and therefore bring in a lot of input that is not directly orchestrated by the director's creative vision. This input is almost exclusively based on the marketability of the film, or the film's ability to command other markets, such as product placement or merchandising. This is antithetical to the assumed creative process of the auteur, and therefore compromises film as an art form. Independent filmmaking attempts to take that control back from the corporate system of needs and place it back with the artist, which will create more creatively minded films.
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Much of the social significant of art is its ability to challenge conventional institutions, systems of oppression, old modes of understanding, and so on. Corporate film is directly tied up in the conventional power infrastructure, especially that of large scale business and finance. These institutions are built on specific systems of economic, social, and cultural normality, and have a vested interest in maintaining those. If a filmmaker creates a challenging film project that really attempts to go after these institutions, it may run in direct contrast with the interests of the corporation that parents it. This undermines the direct social function of the film art piece, and therefore its effectiveness is immediately compromised. Another avenue of independent filmmaking importance is that it is fundamentally important for a society to have free points of view that can challenge its institutions in a public way.
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Often, studio films have budgets that are skewed in strange directions, not to mention the rights of the film do not directly go to the artists working on them. Marketing budgets often match a film's overall budget in general, and since those budgets are being calculated together there is not a focus simply on what needs to get the film made effectively. The independent film market is based around finding investors on a project by the producer independently. The film is then presented to possible distributors, often through film festivals, and then can be purchased from them for a certain amount. The money goes back to the investors with a profit for them, and then the rest goes to those who are in above the line positions in the film. This allows them to remain central and negotiate their own deals with the distributor.
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Source: Author's own experience.