What Is Independent Film? - Raindance


I am always asked what “Independent film” really is, and I have to say that the entire concept of an independent film is a totally strange one.

In fact, all art is independent; the mere act of labelling any art form as ‘independent’ is redundant. Independence is the only true state of art, and if cinema is an art form, then surely all films are independent. This is why we don’t talk about independent opera companies, or independent ballerinas. We don’t debate whether or not a museum or art gallery, a writer or sculptor is independent: we just assume that they are, and if they weren’t we’d soon ignore them.

It is only the corporate nature of filmmaking in America that has made independence seem unusual.

Hollywood has created this crazy situation where businessmen basically create the majority of films as a way to realize their multi-million dollar business deals – so much so that any film made outside of this nutty-dizzy factory has to call itself an “independent” film in order to be distinguished from the suits.

So we create this special category of art called “independent film”. The major film festivals and so-called cultural institutions can invite failed studio hacks in to give expensive lectures on the pros and cons of being independent. How ludicrous! Let’s never forget, the independent artists are not the oddballs in the history of art — the businessmen are.

Of course, in this age of social media, we need buzzwords. A buzzword is a buzzword, and corporate Hollywood America recognizes the value of this one, so independence has been turned into a mass-marketing trademark.

Once it gets in the hands of the ad men, the meaning seeps out of it, of course. Everybody is an independent – so long as it sells tickets. In Miramax’s definition of the concept, Tim Burton becomes indistinguishable from Shane Meadows.

Lots of people call Raindance for filmmaking advice, and a couple of weeks ago, I started to ask these people what an independent film was. Wow! Did I get a range of answers? Some said they were films made outside the studio system, others said it was a film made under a certain budget, one tried to convince me that Harry Potter was an independent film, others said it was any film made by an unknown director, others said it was a film aimed at film buffs. One sharpie said it was a film made with poor lighting and a shaky camera.

I tell everyone I meet that independent film is more about a state of mind or the state of your soul, than the state of your budget.

An independent film is any movie that uncompromisingly expresses a unique, personal vision.

And that is what Raindance is all about

I have put together this A-Z list of definitions in order to give you the buzz words used by artists who work in the film industry: the independent film industry.

Now get off the internet and get back to your screenplay. Perhaps I will see you at the Independent Filmmaker’s Ball.

Elliot Grove



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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