Independent Film: A History

Words by Naomi Jeffreys

Missed a chance to read your University newspaper? Well, you can read all you should want to know about Independent Film this week.

We will be posting content from this weeks issue and some extra content, just for you!

Check out this Independent Film History below;

In order for us to fully comprehend the impact of Independent film, we have to trace its history. This has a most profound affect across the pond in America.

It began with Thomas Edison, in 1908, who formed a film production company called the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was considered ‘independent’, many filmmakers at the time didn’t join the trust because of this very reason.

As Independent film developed, Edison was marginally forgotten and now Hollywood moved in on the Independent film genre. At the beginning of the 1900s, the ‘major five’ and the ‘minor three’ production companies were formed. The major five consisted of: ‘Metro-Goldwyn Mayer’, ‘Paramount Pictures’, ’20th Century Fox’, ‘Warner Bros’ and’ RKO Pictures’. Whereas the minor three were: ‘United Artists’, ‘Columbia Pictures’ and ‘Universal Studios’.

Independent film had humble beginnings, labelling Hollywood, ‘New Hollywood’. In the late sixties / seventies, audiences were tired of the formulaic studio run films which so dominated the cinemas during the fifties. Audiences wanted films which had a tainted protagonist, who undergoes a journey, they wanted handheld cameras and on location shoots. And that is just what they got.

Young directors and struggling actors, which at one time might have been forgotten because of the major five, suddenly had their chance to make their mark on Hollywood.

Remember the line: “You talkin’ to me?” well, believe it or not, this film was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred a very young Robert De Niro, who shaped his early film career around those famous lines. This 1976 American psychological Indie film was both a commercial and critical success, nominated for numerous awards, and has since become a staple in the Indie genre.

Although the ‘New Hollywood’ genre was always associated with funding, or lack thereof, almost all of the best known indie films, such as ‘Taxi Driver’, received funding from major studios. In short, not only was this movement a creative process, but it was a process which reshaped the ways in which the major studios worked.

Indeed, it is because of young film makers, such as director Francis Ford Coppola (who started out in film by directing ‘The Rain People’) who fought against the studios, by funding his risky film himself, ‘Apocalypse Now’, rather than to compromise his creative vision with skeptical studio executives.

It is because of visionaries such as Coppola, Scorsese, and other young American directors, that saved the old studios from financial ruin, by providing them with a new formula for success.

Although the ‘New Hollywood’era was short, only lasting just over a decade, it clearly had an impact on the audiences who watched those ground breaking films, which have since become the formula for the Indie genre.

Perhaps it was the flawed protagonists, or the way we see them develop, or maybe it was the low budgets. But mainly it was the new, visionary directors who were finally able to make a name for themselves in a Hollywood which was stuck in the studio rut.

But I reckon it was the guts and passion which those directors and actors had. They put themselves and their vision and sometimes, their own money, on the line; to an audience who were used to formulaic, structured, studio run films. Who were unknowingly longing for films to really invest in, with characters that were as flawed as the audiences who watched them.

Either way, the Indie genre is a genre rich with history and is often misunderstood. I was given the opportunity to talk to the Directors of the Moet British Independent Film Awards, Johanna von Fishcher and Tessa Collinson and when asked about students’ reluctance to watch Independent film they said: “Students should go and see Indie cinema, there is a much wider scope available than in your local cinema”.

In short, as Students we are trying new things all the time, being away from home, cooking for ourselves and exploring who we are as people.  Independent films explore those same themes, themes of life and love, characters discovering who they are.


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