A relentlessly useful insider’s guide to independent film from a longtime practitioner.
So, why is it that in independent films—that is, films made outside the traditional studio system—the sets make Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets look like the Emerald City? That’s easy, writes Hope, the production power behind 21 Grams, American Splendor and other films made by his production company, Good Machine. The answer is that there’s no money to be had, and whatever money there is has to go into the movie itself and not, say, the marketing budget: “[S]o invariably productions are based in the ugly sections of town where the rents are cheap.” That insight alone casts new light on Ghost World, Wonderland and many other on-the-thin-dime films. Most of those films scarcely see the light of day, outside a few art houses, festivals and perhaps IFC, but when they do, it’s usually as much a surprise to the director as to everyone else. Take In the Bedroom, which, magisterial performances by Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek aside, made the jump to the big time mostly because the distributor put more money into it. “Usually, a film is worth the most when it first hits the marketplace,” notes Hope matter-of-factly, but such added money also increases a film’s shelf life. Part memoir and part textbook, the book offers a variety of insights, from the workflows involved in promoting a film via social media to the astonishingly complex politics of dealing with a nonprofit organization. Hope even has a few kind words for critics, such as this entry in the section that closes the book, “100 Opportunities for Making the American Independent Film Industry Better”: “Loss of job for newspaper based film critics reduces curatorial oversight which lessens word-of-mouth and want-to-see.”
Invaluable for film students, especially since, in assuming that its readers have some understanding of art, Hope can hit the topic of money hard.