Independent cinema refers to cinemas that are produced entirely outside the film studio. Independent entertainment companies produce and distribute these films. A key feature of these films is that they are different from other films since they display the vision of the filmmaker (Finch, 1973). In addition to this, the budget of producing this film is mainly low and the owners of these films provide it. The marketing of independent films is limited since the financiers do not have many funds to fund large marketing campaigns (Cagney, 1976). The Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino are two of the major independent film producers. The Coen brothers have produced successful films such as The Big Lebowski, Serious Man and True Grit. However, critics argue that their film No Country for Old Men should not be classified as independent an independent film since it is storyboarded and it contains characters that are marked with exaggeration. This essay focuses on the emergence, significance and impact of Hollywood independent films since 1980s.

Hollywood independent films emerged from 1980 due to several reasons. Most filmmakers wanted to produce their own films without receiving interference from outside controls. A film director known as Alan Rudlolf argued that independent films emerged since filmmakers wanted to produce exploitation films without outside parties bothering them. A key feature that led to the emergence of independent films is that producers with low financing wanted to produce their own films in the 1980s. Greg Araki, a producer in the 1980s was able to produce films with low budgets such as $ 5,000 per film. Most low budget films produced in this period only played in local art houses (Tzioumakis, 2006). In addition to this, filmmakers who produce independent films financed their own films. The Cohen brothers produced Blood simple in 1984 and neighbors and local business people mainly financed this film. Most independent films were produced outside the traditional Hollywood studio. Traditional Hollywood studios required the executives in a particular film go over all the pages of a script and command the director on what to do while making the film. In addition to this, the executives told the directors of a movie to produce it in accordance with the needs of the financiers. Spike Lee produced and directed his own film known as She’s Gotta Have it in 1986. In this film, he wrote the script and produced according to his vision. Most independent films were produced considering the vision of the director (Stiwell, 2002). Film directors in this era argued that it was necessary for them to produce what they loved and not produce what financiers of film executives claimed would sell more in the film industry. Filmmakers such as Steven Soderberg who produce claim that they would rather produce films that stick to their eccentric sensibilities than produce films that follow the tale of rags to riches. Due to this, independent filmmakers produce films that the viewers will connect with well. Roger Albert argued that the filmmakers directing these movies follow their own passionate vision rather than the vision defined by a committee.

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Five codes of Hollywood independent films

Hollywood independent films were guided by five main codes. These codes include cultural codes, artistic codes, narrative codes, cinematic codes and intertextual codes. The cultural codes in independent films describe the norms that are shared by people outside the domain of the film and they described how the filmmakers would convey their personal ideas to the public (Pool & Wright, 2011). The narrative codes were the textual conventions that determined how independent stories were told. Cinematic codes defined how independent filmmakers told their stories visually. They defined how the camera was set up during production and the formal attributes that determined the texture of the film, the mode and the tone that the director followed while producing the film. The artistic codes in independent films determined the art and music that were used while producing and directing these films. The Coens used 16 minutes while producing No Country for Old Men. The music composer in this film was Carter Burwell and he used standing metal bells and singing bowels after discovering that most musical instruments did not fit the general theme and mood of the film. Intertextual codes refer to the larger system of films that were similar or different from independent films. The cycle of violent films dealing with male camaraderie referred to the previous seminal films such as Scorsese’s Mean Streets. Modern independent films however use large budgets during production and the directors of these films sometimes seek assistance from big companies to produce their films. No Country for Old Men cost about 25 million dollars to produce. Both Miramax Films and Paramount’s classic based film division produced this film. Miramax produced pulp Fiction directed by Tarantino at a budget of about 8.5 million (Levy, 1999). Miramax bought the rights of this movie incurring a cost of about 11 million dollars. This proves that Hollywood independent films started receiving external financing during 1990s and 2000s.

Several significances of Hollywood independent cinemas exist. Independent films have the freedom of addressing issues that the society views as taboos and unmarketable. This makes film directors to film movies that they feel represent their own views and opinions without fearing skeptics from big production houses if they had opted to produce their films on these corporations (Field, 1942). In addition to this, stars acting independent films argue that scripts of independent films are unique and they enjoy acting them. When Bill Murray, a star in Get low was asked why he chose to feature in this movie, he argued that he decided to be in the movie since it offered him an opportunity of being part of a unique script and that it was well written than anything he had ever seen. In addition to this, cast who take part in independent films argue that these films allow them to interacting freely with the directors and thus they are able to enjoy the shooting of the films (Finch, 1973). Independent films are screened at local, national and international film festivals. Film festivals help films to earn revenues since it is easier to sell films in film circuits. In addition to this, during independent film festivals the viewers are able to see films produced from different countries with different cultures.

Hollywood independent cinemas have enabled filmmakers with good innovative skills to earn revenue due to the sales of their films. From the revenue they earn, the young filmmakers are able to pursue their dreams of producing more films or forming their own companies for producing films. Halloween cost about $325, 000 to produce. However, these films earned around 47 million dollars when it was released to the market. Friday the 13th cost around $700,000 million dollars to produce. When this film was released into the box office, it earned about 40 million dollars in United States only. Independent films in Hollywood also led to the strengthening of relationships between American directors and cast and the cast and directors from other countries (Everett, 2004). This is because it was common that in some independent films, the directors sought assistance from companies in other foreign countries. This helped in marketing the American films while at the same time bringing diversity on the films that were produced in this country. The blockbuster film Terminator 2 was produced in 1990. Independent producers produced this film. They opted to translate it into foreign languages and this helped in selling the culture of American filmmaking to the outside producers (Lecture Week 12). Independent films also enabled companies or directors with a dream of making big movies produce these movies even though these movies might have faced high risks. Some films faced risks like low public perception. This is because most people might not support the content or message passed in these films (Sitwell, 2002). Due to this, major production houses might refuse to produce these films as majority of them are money oriented and thus they only consider producing films that they feel will fetch high prices in the market. However, independent films allow the producers to pursue their dreams of producing this film since a filmmaker has the opportunity of producing his own film that matches his personality.

Hollywood independent films had several impacts

From 1980, many independent filmmakers rose and they received massive support from the public. Examples of these filmmakers include Spike Lee who produced films such as She’s Gotta Have It in 1986 and Girl in 1996. Other independent filmmakers include Brad Krevoy, Todd Haynes and John Sayles (Wescott, 1985). Since there were many independent filmmakers in the industry, entrepreneurs saw an opportunity of forming independent companies that would help these filmmakers pursue their vision of producing films that matched their own personality or beliefs. Miramax and New Line saw the significance of the market niche of independent cinema and decided to producing and distributing these films (Callow, 1976). Currently, Miramax is a worldwide television studio with a library of over 700 motion pictures sold to many countries all over the world. The growth of Miramax was mainly fuelled by the production and distribution of independent films such as Pulp Fiction, Sex Lies and Videotape, Cinema Paradiso and My Diary and Kill Bill (Wyatt, 1998). This shows how independent filmmakers created a big impact to the success of global cinema production companies.

Independent cinemas also led to the rise of festivals that aimed at promoting and marketing the efforts made by independent filmmakers. The Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival (RIFF) is an example of these festivals. The focus of this festival is to celebrate independent cinema in the heart of the film industry in America. This festival has red carpet events where fans are given an opportunity of viewing stars that feature in independent films. The 8th annual RIFF will take place in December 2012 and it will feature new independent films such as Bailout, Drop Out and When You Find Me. First Glance Film Festival was also established to promote independent films and independent filmmakers. It began in 1996 after the supporters of independent films realized that the success of independent films would only be felt if the mass public offered them support. This festival has succeeded in holding 25 festivals and showing over 1500 award-winning films.

Distribution strategies

Hollywood independent cinemas also led to alignment of different companies in order to produce certain films. The budget of Terminator 2 was high. This forced Hollywood to align itself with independent producers for it to share costs and financial risks that may have resulted from the sales of this movie. In 1992, Disney struck a deal with Merchant Ivory to help it produce independent films. The Coen brothers own the film No Country for Old Men. Both Miramax and Paramount Vintage showing how companies are aligning themselves in order to produce independent films produced this film. Independent cinemas have also created a big impact in the methods of distribution and marketing of most films (Everett, 2004). The revenues from box office and DVD sales have been declining in the recent past. This forced the independent companies to look for new ways of distributing their movies and they succeeded in adopting Video on Demand (VOD) distribution channel. IFC was one of the independent filmmakers who benefited from this distribution strategy and they decided to offer three distribution strategies for their films (Sherk, 2011). These strategies include IFC in theaters, Sundance selects and IFC midnight. Other filmmakers saw how IFC benefitted from their new distribution strategy and this motivated them to try new strategies. Mongolia Pictures decided to adopt the option of connecting with HDNet Movies and release their movies online to the public. This helped the company to increase its overall sales and revenues. Independent companies have also adopted the trend of advertising their movies through social networking sites. This was after they realized that a large section of their target market had accounts in social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Grafitti artist known as Bansky released a documentary known as Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010. He decided to abandon the traditional marketing campaigns and instead use social media to market this film. In the opening week of this film, it was able to earn about $166,000 on only eight screens. This motivated other filmmakers to consider adopting new marketing means to sell their films.


It is evident that the emergence, significance, and impact of Hollywood independent films was significant to the history of cinema. Hollywood films emerged since filmmakers wanted to produce films that matched their vision and passion. This is because films produced by commercial production companies had to follow the requirements of the financiers of these films or of the committee elected to direct these films. These films also emerged to enable filmmakers to produce low budget films. Hollywood independent films were significant since they helped filmmakers to address issues that were considered as social taboos while forming the theme of their films. In addition to this, they helped to create a good understanding between different countries since some independent films sought outside assistance from independent producers of foreign countries. The impact of Hollywood independent films is that it led to the rise of major film festivals that aimed at recognizing the efforts of independent producers. It also led to the establishment of new marketing and distribution channels of films.

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