Independent Film is the Frontier of Original Storytelling

Think of the last five movies you’ve been to, now try your best to remember all of the trailers. Next, open a new tab in your browser and do a quick search for new movies coming out. How many of those movies are inspired by true events? How many are sequels? How many are reboots? How many of them are new branches of an already established brand? At my local theater, there are fifteen movies currently showing. Of those fifteen movies, only six of them are original scripts. I use the term “original” to mean they are not sequels, reboots, based on true events, and so on.

The recent trend for major studios is to only create big budget films on stories or characters that already exist the public conscience. Major studios are not willing to gamble on original storytelling when they know there are fan bases built into Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and other universes, stories, and characters. One of the most frustrating things about this trend is that it is paying off handsomely for the studios. They are raking in millions off of movies that only offer a new spin or a fresh take on characters and stories we already know. This safety net of big movie business means the only real source of original stories is independent filmmakers.

Most independent films don’t have the budget to be spending considerable amounts of money to acquire rights to stories or characters, so they’re forced to innovate and create. In addition to this creativity, a market of people getting tired of seeing the same old characters on the big screen is steadily growing. Independent filmmakers can tap into this market and give moviegoers what they want while still telling their original stories. In every industry, there comes a time when the big players are unable or unwilling to take the risk of innovation. This leaves a vacuum that can be filled by smaller, more agile entities. This is the current state of the movie industry.

By and large, major studios are not interested in original scripts. This means the market for original scripts is flooded with supply. In previous years, high-quality scripts would have been bought up by major studios and given the green light. These scripts are now floating around waiting for the right director to come along and turn the vision on the page into a cinematic experience. Independent filmmakers not only owe it to themselves to tell these original stories, but they owe it to the growing audience ready to enjoy them.

All of this is not to say the task of telling these original stories is easy. Budget constraints often make certain stories more difficult to tell, especially those that push the boundaries of imagination. But with the increasing accessibility to high-quality hardware and software, budget issues are slowly diminishing. Creative production can be applied to visually demanding scripts to find ingenious ways around what would traditionally require a multi-million dollar budget. These two factors combine to turn the jobs of director into producer into part filmmaker, part magician.

Some may think this rise of original storytelling may be far-fetched, but one only need to look at the new golden age of television to see what is possible. From the nineties all the way up through the early aughts, television was driven by the half hour, family-friendly sitcom (analogous to the reboot, sequel, etc.). Television studios were not willing to stray from the formula for fear of creating an expensive failure.

In that formula-driven TV market, smaller production outfits took chances on stories and scripts that wouldn’t get the time of day from major studios, shows like the Oz and The Wire. These stories were artfully told and satisfied a growing audience that desired intelligent, dramatic, original storytelling that strayed from the formula. These shows gave birth to the fantastic shows we have all been enjoying for the past 15 years.

The rebirth of an industry is what can happen through independent filmmaking. Indie producers and directors can step up and meet a healthy desire from audiences for films that break the mold and tell original, compelling stories. Market conditions are only going to become more favorable to indie filmmakers willing to take the risk. There are scripts, actors, and composers ready for a director to helm a project that gives rise to a new golden age of independent filmmaking.

This essay is from cinephile and film critic, Andrew Border

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