Underground films

The myth of the “indie” film stands in the way of any real
resistance or alternative to the mainstream. Time for “indie” to
move out of the way.

Is your film an “indie” or an undie?

If you still believe that somehow you can find a distributor for your film, and that
they will give you a deal that you want, and that your film will perhaps be
accepted along with all the other mainstream films it resembles, - then your film
is probably an indie film.

If your film doesn't tick the boxes, and if it probably won't ever find a distributor,
and if you know that any independent distributor would destroy it as they do
most or all unsolicited material, and if you haven't adopted all the little stylistic
quirks of contemporary films – if you can't get a BBFC licence because you can't
afford it or for some other reason, if your film can't be shown in a cinema or on
TV, then it possibly could be called an underground film. Underground, not
because you are an 'underground' artist, but because your film has been buried.

What is called “indie” film, if it ever had a meaning, that meaning has been lost,
aside from a very broad one denoting all producers but the very biggest
Hollywood studios.

Yet when you read about “indie” films you get the impression it is
some sort of movement or community of radical, independent film
making that rejects the style and the rules and criteria for acceptance
of the mainstream, whereas it is anything but that. The opposite, in

This applies to the producers, the film-makers themselves, as well as to
independent distributors. Most of them, and most of that world, is strictly
mainstream. And it offers no more opportunity or open doors than the toughest
Hollywood offices. Some independent distributors actually say on their websites
“all unsolicited material will be destroyed” (yes “destroyed” not simply returned).

The notion of the so called “indie” world is a huge illusion designed to conceal
what any small film-makers actually experience – all the doors are well and truly
closed. And when you read between the lines of the endlessly available online
articles called something like “So, now you've made your masterpiece and you
think you'd like the world to see it” (as if you are a 5 year old with a mud pie)
advising what you can do to distribute your film, you can see that the actual
situation is a vice like grip, that you can do nothing about, and that even those
creatures who have 10,000 followers on social media, can't either (and you aren't
one of those).

The facts are these:
Distributors, whether they call themselves independent or not, don't want your
work, they won't even look at it. Go and read their websites, there are about 22 of
them. Unless you actually are in a personal/professional relationship with them
already you haven't got a chance. The point of it is that you are supposed to work
your way up, like a worm into a birds beak, learn the rules, learn to conform,
learn to make sub-Hollywood films (indie films).
Cinemas, independent ones, get all their films from distributors, and no matter
how big or “small” they are, they don't tolerate cinemas taking anything else, and
managements can't be bothered anyway, and are quite content with that
situation. They have no ambition to support small or even British films.
American distributors have always made sure that American films dominate
British cinemas and will do so as long as trade agreements allow them to do so.
If you try to hire a cinema to show your film, you will find immediately that they
charge precisely the amount that you would get if you sold out at £10 per ticket.
In other words you can show your film to your friends but as far as self
distribution goes, forget it.


Yes you can put your film on Vimeo and no-one will watch it, full stop. Unless
you spend your time on social media (or pay someone to do that for you, if you
are actually a film-maker and busy making films) no-one will see it or care about
it, and certainly not pay to see it.
You can't charge for it on YouTube unless you already meet their criteria for
views, number of subscribers etc, and you probably don't if you spend your time
making films, so forget that too.
And anyway, people don't like paying for what they expect to be free (anything on
Festivals are a racket. There are about 12,000 of them, and everyone gets a prize
(yes except you), as there is a category for almost everyone. You pay to be
considered for entry and they make their money that way – easy. The vastness of
the festivals world goes a long way to creating the illusion of there being some sort
of viable way of proceeding for independent film-makers. There isn't, unless you
think everyone paying to watch each others films and getting a teachers' ribbon to
pin on your poster counts as real. You are a star.

The general situation in the economy, is anyway that money doesn't
actually change hands at ground level. Most money goes either through the big
supermarkets, or the big online giants, Amazon, Airbnb, Netflix, and the rest of
them. We are all basically wage slaves, and that is how they want it – those giants
have cleverly turned a situation of one-time increasing independence, small
businesses and the like, into one of absolute dependence on huge monopolies.
As applied to film-making....In the case of film-makers, the relevant ones are
Amazon and Netflix, who have you by the throat.
They go to the biggest festivals and scoop up product there, and film-makers are
meant to be excited to get a lousy deal where you get a fraction of your budget
and they get your film for 10 years, its the last you'll hear of it as they don't
always even render accounts to show how many people have seen it, it may be
millions, you'll never know. There is a good reason for this -they don't want you
or any film-makers to know how much profit you are earning for them. Like any
large producer they buy cheap, or lets call it pay you low wages, as you are a
wage slave. Small film-makers are subsidising Netflix, who have the business
model of farming out production to small..farmers they can screw – just like the
supermarkets do to dairy farmers. It's brilliant, after all if they made films on
budgets as small as what they pay for them, they'd be arrested for paying below
minimum wages. Instead of that they use the fact that you get your friends and
family to work for nothing, or if you are a bigger player than that, they use your
ability to get personal loans or investors, and its your debt not theirs. And if
there's any profit to be made you're not the one making it. But you're happy
because you live to fight another day and make another “masterpiece,” as they
think you believe it to be, and you are happy, secure in the knowledge that
someone somewhere is watching your film on the glorious Netflix or Amazon.
You're a success.
And the point about Netflix and Amazon Prime is that you just can't beat them.
If people are paying £14 a month to watch anything they like, they aren't going to
pay £5 to watch your film on Vimeo.

So while there was maybe a moment some years ago when it seemed some doors
were opened, they are now firmly closed and you can forget it.

This is a golden age for small film-makers in terms of cameras and
editing programmes. You can do now on Premiere Pro, the same as what the
studios can do, and the same as what you would have to hire an editing suite in
Soho for £10,000 per week for in the 1970s. This also means that the film studios
have access to all you have too. THEY can buy cheap cameras for £800 and
throw them around in buckets if they want to, for one shot, and they can get a
team of compositors to make the sun shine out of an antelope's arse with
Christmas tree lights and Napoleonic army dancing in its rays, if they want to.
And it would cost you more than it would them, as a proportion of your budget.

But what are film-makers using this equipment for? Well mainly to
imitate Hollywood. Yes, right down to that swooshing noise that punctuates every
scene or transition and the endless dip to black, ad nauseam. And the travelling
camera shot, (that's almost every shot) and every acting and directing cliche that
goes with this tiny bag of tricks. Don't directors get tired of doing that stuff?
Apparently not. Apparently it makes them feel as if they have really arrived and
are nearly as good as they want to be. Now if you're reading this and know you
are guilty of those, well, try to imagine NOT using them. And if you don't use
them, well done! you are rare, can I be your friend?
So what does the word “indie film” denote? Is there any point having a
word with such positive connotations, that conjures up some sort of noble struggle
for originality and non-dependance on the existing apparatus of power, when all it
really refers to is ultra conformist, unoriginal and abject work that seeks nothing
other than than to imitate Hollywood on one level and then, if it's a British film,
to tick the huge and growing list of so called “issues” and correct attitudes that
reflect the almost totalitarian BFI strictures involved in even so much as the
slightest support, interest or involvement from them. This is not to mention any of
the other funding or grant or other support bodies who have exchanged vague and
bogus political statements and sentiments for anything to do with film-making.
The fact that bogus political posturing, (so forced that we can't tell if it is lip-
service or not) reflects nothing but the sheer power of the middle classes to make
everyone jump to their tune on pain of imprisonment or exclusion from society,
doesn't seem to have occurred to many film-makers – not that they have a duty to
be political but if they are going to go along with political statements then they
ought to give some thought as to whose power those politics reflect. Call me old
So, in Britain, anyone who can wriggle through the mesh of obedience that
protects funding for fundees is likely to do a nice line in fake bullshit, AS WELL
AS being a natural slave to contemporary styles and tricks of editing they get
from Hollywood. What a lovely mixture. So, how do we ever hope to see anything
different? Certainly not by pretending that the huge mass of films smugly called
“indie” represent any sort of achievement, originality, or boldness. Or that there
is some sort of process by which these non-existent outposts in the film-maker's
art can bring salvation to the huge swamp of conformity, when they couldn't even
if they wanted to – which they don't.
So, the first step towards something different is to realise that what we have is too
Anything that is different will have an even harder time getting through than the
mass of things that aren't. That is a given.

If there is any film-maker out there who has something, or intends to make
something, that doesn't simply reflect the dominant norms, in terms of style or
content, then I would like to hear from them.

Gregory Motton