Seeing as I am a recently graduated film student, it is only fitting that I put my newly found free time to good use by writing a screenplay. This is a standard cliche that all jobless young adults do once they have earned their degree in Production, and I figure now is as good a time as ever to get crackin’ on it. Alas, knowing full well that I have zero connections in the industry and a negative income, the production value of said film will be next to nothing if it ever is going to be produced, and would undoubtably be an independent film with next to no budget.
Now, I have done my fair share of indie-movie watching in order to master my knowledge on the subject, and I have come to the conclusion that there are 15 things that every indie film needs in order to be successful…
1. Americana Suburbs:
Seemingly every indie-movie takes place in Middle-America in a predominantly white suburb, with medium-income residents and virtually no unique features. The houses all tend to be carbon copies of one another on a very flat piece of land that almost resembles something out of Edward Scissor Hands.
2. Witty vernacular:
No indie movie would be successful without ingenious, quippy dialogue. Often, these intelligent one liners are delivered by characters you would not suspect of being able to craft such eloquent verbal puzzles (ie; children or young adults). Sure, their dialogue is extremely unrealistic, but it also makes these characters far more quirky than you, making them totally likable.
3. Lovable dorks
All great stories need a relatable protagonist– and in every indie film ever made, that role would fall on a quirky, geeky teenage boy. These characters are generally always shy around new people, but incredibly genuine and heartfelt to their small group of confidants. He will most definitely fall in love with a Zooey Deschanel type of ingenue who will pull him out of his shell and give him confidence to do things he’s never done before. Also, these characters are written as if they are the worlds biggest dweebs, however they are generally played by attractive, talented men in their late twenties.
4. Vague time periods
Most successful indie movies are very ambiguous as to when they take place, leaving the audience questioning “what the hell am I actually watching?” This takes an incredible design team who is able to completely turn the world of the film into a bizarre, questionable existence. Wes Anderson and his team have mastered the technique of keeping the time period of their films unknown by mixing bizarre retro props, costumes and set decorations with contemporary ones. When all of his characters neglect all modern technology, to carry around cassette players and type writers, I am constantly left wondering if this story is supposed to be a blast from the past, or if these are just the trendiest friggin people I’ve ever seen?
5. Lengthy road trips in dated vehicles
As with all coming of age tales, a road trip is most definitely inevitable. No indie film would be complete without a seemingly endless driving montage, where the gang is stuck in a shit wreck of a car, and the character sitting in the passenger seat either leans their head against the window pensively or casually hangs their hand out to snake it through the wind– of course with deep music playing.
6. Indulgent use of Wide Shots
Directors of independent films love the artsy look of a good wide shot. I’m not quite sure why, but without fail, you can guarantee that at some point, an important piece of the plot will take place while the subjects are virtually out of sight or far far far to one side of the frame. But after all, the rule of thirds is trendy… right?
7. Catchy alt-rock soundtrack
Garden State basically made it a mandatory practice to set aside a large chunk of the budget to get music rights for independent productions. Now, any film will pretty much be unsuccessful if the soundtrack isn’t complete with pensive, deep, and relevant-to-the-plot tunes.
8. Unexpected celebrity cameos
The draw of indie movies is that they are quirky, heartfelt, and can seemingly give you everything that big hollywood blockbusters can’t. However, a new trend has hit the independent scene and now they are casting A-list celebrities to make bizarre one-scene cameos just to prove “yeah, we had the budget for that but we still stayed true to our guns and made this film gritty and raw anyway.” One of the most notable celebrity cameos in an indie flick was Bill Murray as a zombie in Zombieland–definitely a crowd pleaser. And what about Mary Kate Olsen popping up in The Wackness as a drugged out, hippie (ie; herself)? But to me, the greatest of ALL celebrity cameos was none other than Method Man showing up out of NOWHERE in Garden State as a bellhop, and then AGAIN in The Wackness as a drug lord. Who would’ve thunk that such a “hard” rapper would have a soft spot for artsy films?
9. Go Green
Indie movies these days have all decided that a green world, is a better world… and no, I don’t mean environmentally green, I mean literally… green. Apparently color correction plays a huge role in whether or not your indie flick will make it big, and it seems that the greener your tones, the more accepting people are of your movie. Maybe its artsty? Maybe it’s off-beat? Who knows…. just make sure you shoot that sucker with a ton of green gels or edit the heck out of it in post-production and you’ll have a sure-to-be-hit on your hands.
10. Fonts drawn by children
As if the clever young protagonists, and beautiful driving montage scenes didn’t scream “Coming-of-Age-Tale” enough for you, indie movies like to beat you over the head with the fact that yes, these characters are merely-adolescents by having all of their fonts appear as if they were written by degenerate children. “DON’T YOU SEE QUIRKY WE ARE!?!?”
11. Blank stares = This part is important
Every actor knows that all indie characters are meant to be withdrawn, deep, over thinkers. In order to give a performance of a lifetime, they must do everything in their power to seem as emotionless as possible. Because we all know that the less you look like you care, the more talented you look. To do this, actors must simply stare into space. Yep. Just… stare. This will inevitably trick the audience into thinking that lack of emotion really means SO-MUCH-EMOTIONNNN, making this film “impeccably performed.”
12. Artsy time lapses
Sure, time lapses are used in many genres of filmmaking, but no other genre has utilized it as liberally as independents. To truly give the impression that a character is trapped in a bubble of their own emotion (totally raw, man), simply make every person around him/her move super-duper fast, showing the audience that even with such a small budget, you were able to pull off a totally artsy maneuver. “Look at that sick time lapse. They must be like, super talented film makers.”
13. Jumping into a pool fully clothed.
Artsy flicks love to put their protagonists in positions that most realistic humans never put themselves in, just to add to the uniqueness of it all. For some reason, one character in every indie movie MUST launch themselves into a body of water while they’re completely clothed… don’t ask me why? Somewhere between their witty dialogue and blank stares at nothing, someone will inevitably be goin’ for a swim– for bonus points, get some sick footage of them screaming underwater like a maniac just to show how introspective this person must be.
14. The greatest parents ever
Every witty, adolescent protagonist must have a pair of awesome parents to add to the humor of an indie film. Generally, these characters are solely there to embarrass the hell out of their child and inevitably push them away to some sort of rebellious stage. This will undoubtably lead the main character to some grand revelation where they will realize how rad their parents truly are, and come back home.
15. Jena Malone, Allison Janney, Chris Messina, and Ari Graynor
No indie movie is complete without one of these actors. Is there anything these people aren’t in? Malone, Janney, Messina and Graynor are collectively in basically every indie flick produced in the last 8 years. Pop in anything you can think of and BAM!- there’s one of them making a cameo as a yoga instructor or a grocery bagger. And you can bet your bottom dollar one of them will most likely end up sleeping with the protagonist just to shake things up a bit… well maybe not Allison Janney.
While these 15 cliches pretty frequently pop up in every indie movie ever, they don’t make them any less amazing or take away from the fact that independent films really are fantastic. So grab some friends, find a theatre that shows independent features, and see how many of these you can find in any given film. You can even make a drinking game out of it… 3, 2, 1 GO.