Saturday, February 2, 2008

Indie-Archy, The Independent Film Hierarchy

One of the things I love most about Park City is witnessing up close the hierarchy of Independent Film. It's truly amazing how obviously stratified the world of Independent film is...and how elitist. The higher up on the food chain (financially speaking, for the most part, but sometimes creatively, too), the more self-aware are the players. And in a world where talent can seemingly spring from any well, where collaboration is a necessity and community is our greatest strength, it seems odd that there would be this kind of stratification.

But like any creative endeavor, filmmaking is often driven and overwhelmed by ego. And there's the rub. Everybody wants to be the prom king/queen. Everybody wants to be the next-big-thing. Everybody wants to waltz into any party without waiting in line. And, of course, none of this has lick to do with filmmaking.


I've broken it down the way I see it, using Park City and it's various annual visitors as a model for the hierarchical structure of Independent Film. But keep in mind this hierarchy only has meaning to those who subscribe to it - which is probably saying some unflattering things about myself. But I don't deny I have an ego. If not gigantic, plenty big enough to respond to the informal caste system I see at work. But I refuse to let it respond anymore than to let me observe and record. Here's what I got:

DREAMERS - The Main St. Wannabes - Some of these are people that have yet to make a film or may never make a film, but love being part of the scene. Others are new to filmmaking and just trying to learn what all the fuss is about. Some are more in love with the idea of being a filmmaker than they are with the process of making a film. Others are eager to learn all they can about their new passion. Many filmmakers started here. Many festival volunteers are still here. Few of these can get into any parties except the ones they create themselves or the ones anyone can get into. An intrepid few can sneak into all kinds of stuff. The ambitious ones look enviously at the Sundance filmmakers hoping they'll one day belong there...truly believing it will matter, somehow. Those types are latent elitists with nothing yet to be elitist about.

AMATEURS/NOVICES - The Condo Crowd YouTubers - They've actually made stuff, usually raw and unlit - rarely watchable. They tend to be completely untrained and often unskilled, with the best of their work perhaps having some unique visual style or is clever/funny. They show it to each other in condos, where they also have parties. They drink a lot. They may or may not be able to get into other parties, but as long as they have their condos, they're happy. They may secretly envy the Slamdance/Sundance filmmakers, but they try not to show it. And they love everybody.

UNDERGROUNDERS - Knock-off (name your dance) Festivalers - Their film is playing in one of the Sundance knock-off fests - which are usually far downscaled from Slamdance or Sundance. Their films are a mixed bag - from stuff worthy of any festival down to stuff that makes the YouTubers look Bergmanesque. They are often consistent filmmakers or work somewhere in the industry. They can get into parties here and there, but are not obsessed with it. They openly envy the Slamdance/Sundance filmmakers, but try to stay focused on making the most of being in any fest in Park City. They want to be elitist, but figure "what's the point?".

WORKING PROS - Didn't Get In Filmmakers - They tend to be people who work in the film industry in some way, but also make their own films - only their film didn't get into Sundance or Slamdance and they feel it is above the other festivals. Many of these types tend to have a bit of a chip on their shoulder and feel a bit on the outside even though they have enough connections to get into decent parties and hang out with plenty of peeps who are serious about filmmaking. They're snobby, but not elitist. Although they hate the Slamdance/Sundance filmmakers because the talentless motherfuckers took their spot.

THE CHOSEN (A). Sundance Insiders and (B). Slamdance Insiders - These are the folks who staff the fests, have a film in them, or have had films in them. They are also the legions of people who are part of the fests' extended families - including the Sundance Institute Labs crowd. They usually are the busy types, with much to do and/or much to see. They get invited to a wide array of parties and generally seem to enjoy the collegial atmosphere. Some elitism, but mostly just doing their thang. I separated the Sundancers from Slamdancers simply because the size and resouces of Sundance creates a whole other level of inside scene. There was a time when the Slamdance thang felt like a Sundance wannabe, but Dan Mirvish, among others, helped give the fest it's own vibe and energy. It's become an institution unto itself.

THE PLAYERS - IndieWood Regulars - Very elitist. They are denizens of the major production companies and boutique arms of the large studios. They are the buyers/sellers/deal-makers/creatives that work in the $2 to 20 million dollar range or they are companies that pick up low-budget films for astronomical prices - sometimes, it seems, just for the hell of it. They go to a lot of exclusive company and agency parties. They think their work is envied and it makes them feel special. But most of the time, it is just dreck glossed over with bigger-than-truly-indie budgets and name talent.

STARS AND SUPERSTARS - Hollywood Swag House Royalty - Uber-elitist. In fact, don't even try to go near 'em. Not worth the embarassment. They are the movers and shakers of mainstream Hollywood - actors, producers, directors, studio execs, etc., who love slumming in Park City because it makes them feel like they are truly valued (which they sometimes are) rather than just the disposable commodities that they also are. But in exchange for their commodification, they are often flown in and put up at the festival's expense (however, not the the case with "regular" filmmakers in the festival), they can waltz into every party and are given a ridiculous amount of freebies they don't need.

It's all a microcosm of the film industry itself, of course...not just independent film. And in this compressed environment, it plays out more dramatically than day-to-day life in Los Angeles, which is nicely distracted by people and events that don't give a flying fuck about the film business. My favorite industry folk move easily in and out of the various strata. Better yet, they don't even notice the stratification. They do what they do and let the chips fall where they may.

Nonetheless, if this, in the end, all sounds catty and cynical - ya got me. I'm writing it mostly as a goof...but as a cautionary goof with a not insignificant amount of truth to it. This shit does exist if you give it existence. The point is to recognize it for what it is - a meaningless and insubstantial bit of ego drama, played out by the typically insecure. It's the kind of stuff you tried to leave behind in high school. And recognition of it is important as you navigate your way through these waters, trying to make meaningful connections that will support your filmmaking life. The thing to keep in mind, to always hold in her head/heart, is that it is all about the film you make. The things and people you want will come to you when you are doing everything you can to create the most singular and accomplished films you can make. All else is just distraction....and, sometimes, entertainment.

1 comment:

  1. << The things and people you want will come to you when you are doing everything you can to create the most singular and accomplished films you can make. All else is just distraction....and, sometimes, entertainment. >>

    Amen to that.