What are the ‘Values’ for Indie Filmmaking?
When we think of ‘Values’ and Independent Film, I have seen Values that consistently show themselves in the financing and making of a Film.
The challenge is that not everybody is looking at the same cards at the same. I certainly am not. Since I work primarily as a Line Producer and Unit Production Manager, my focus is on the budget and the bottom line. But working with two former agents, turned Sales Agents turned producers, I gained a valuable view on the making of films in the today’s rough and ready marketplace. A wise executive producer would keep an eye on all these values but wise and experienced executive producers are rare these days. These values are not necessarily an “Either/Or” equation. It’s more of a recipe than a hard and fast numbers game.
First Value is Artistic Value
The First Value that comes to mind readily enough is the Artistic Value of a film. Now, the definition of “Artistic Value” can have a wide spectrum.
The first assessment of Artistic Value is the script itself. We read a story and love a story. Many filmmakers get a strong Artistic Value just when they read the story. Because in a feature film, the story is the key. The script’s sensibilities of period, place and relationship dynamics are a major attraction as well as how those elements are executed through Setting, Character Arcs and Dialogue. This Artistic Value is primarily Artistic attraction. We like or love the material.
For filmmakers who love movies as art and know film history, great movies are John Ford’s “The Searchers”, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Gladiator” by Ridley Scott or Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings.” These films will withstand the test of filmic time and appreciation. They are extremely well made by Hollywood and world production standards, earning a place in Hollywood history. The Artistic Value of a project is an important aspect for attracting acting, directing and other artistic talent (DP, Production Designer, etc.,) to the project.
Artistic ß————————-à Commercial
On the other end of the “Artistic Value” spectrum is a purely “commercial” criteria. The first attraction is a film’s money making prospects, pure and simple. That’s not to say that the film does not have Artistic merit. The “Fast and Furious” films are Universal Pictures most profitable franchise to date.
While the latter films are technical Hollywood production marvels, I don’t think that they have such enormous Artistic technical merit that they will become Hollywood classics.
However, while audiences will watch poorly crafted films somewhere, sometime, a global audience has become savvy and discerning in their ‘media meals’ simply because there is so much content – and so little time. Even ‘commercial’ focused films should have an Artistic Value which means that they honor the audience’s expectations. In any Artistic endeavor, the artist should give clear signals of intent. That simply means that you don’t create a trailer for a horror film – but deliver a horror comedy to the audience. They would feel cheated.
The commercial focused film requires that the audience’s expectations about the film’s genre and its intent is within their interest in the genre. If you are doing one of the “Fast and Furious” films, then the audience has expectations of spectacular car chases, derring-do, seemingly impossible stunts and a testosterone driven (pun intended) plot. If Justin Lin delivered an intimate park bench discussion between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel about their feelings while knitting, then the audience would probably hunt poor Justin down and run him over with a souped up Dodge Charger. Even commercial oriented films have parameters for their own Artistic Value.
Horror Films are a prime example of adhering to an Artistic Value. Though often made cheaply, these continuously profitable films have their own criteria for success. Audience expectations are an Artistic Value. One can see if the script is up to par, providing enough scary tone and plot to frighten audiences. Horror going audiences are savvy about plot, enjoying such nimble takes on the horror genre with “SAW”, “The Conjuring” and “The Purge.” These well-crafted fright films have been the mainstay of Jason Blum’s company called Blumhouse. His commercial focus on films like “Paranormal Activity” (2007) reinvigorated the genre. And Blum has done quite well for himself.