The Crimson White

The two biggest differences between studio and independent pictures

Adam Greene

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This summer I have had the privilege of interning at a film production company called Voltage Pictures in Los Angeles. Though it is a newer film company, it has already done well for itself with the independent smash hit, “The Hurt Locker,” along with other smaller-scale films.

One of the first lessons we interns learned from the company was the major difference between independently produced films and those produced via studios. I noticed everything they taught us aligned with the content of a book I recently read, “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit,” by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon — which I highly recommend for film majors.

From the lectures and aforementioned book I learned studio films, while having stronger funding, are much more difficult to complete. The big studios, such as Paramount, Lionsgate and Sony, care primarily about profit. The producers, executives and multiple other employees all have a say in whether a certain screenplay gets made into an actual film — or if they want to change anything in the story — and there are a thousand ways the process can go awry and lead to a cease of production.

The leading star could have a bad publicity occurrence, another writer that the studio hired to “fix” the script can inadvertently butcher it, or even actors or directors that were previously onboard may quit the project because it is taking too long to come to fruition.

Whatever the reason, studios can end a project during development just as quickly as they can buy a script, and they often do so. Because of this system, it has become nearly impossible for most scripts to actually develop into a film that stays true to the written work. After all, the studios care about money before all else, so if they don’t see profit in the future, they immediately halt development.

Contrastingly, independently produced films are driven more by the quality of the script and a desire to craft a well-made finished product. Since there is usually not a big-time studio throwing millions of dollars into the project, it is up to the team behind the movie to raise the funds in advance to shoot the film and see its production through to completion.

Independent features seem to be the more artistic of the two categories — their makers focus primarily on the underlying message and rhetorical strategies of a film, as opposed to obsessing over how much money their projects can make. Of course, no filmmaker is going to refuse the millions surely to flow in should his or her film become a mainstream hit, such as “Slumdog Millionare.” However, before the possible fame and money, he or she crafted the film out of artistic pursuit and the spirit of excellence in filmmaking.

In writing this, I am not trying to persuade you as the reader to credit indies more highly over studio films. Quite the contrary, I do not usually watch indies, favoring studio pictures instead. But the facts of production I have learned in this business speak for themselves, and there is no denying the main difference in studio pictures and independent pictures lies in the classic opposition of two agendas: profit versus artistry.

Matt Ford

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The two biggest differences between studio and independent pictures