WEB EXCLUSIVE: Small movies, big vision

Ryan Houk

In addition to being a fetish model, my girlfriend is also a B-movie scream queen. And I — steadfast groupie that I am — often accompany her on promotional tours of fame and fortune. That’s how I arrived at the Indie Gathering film convention in Cleveland last weekend. There, I learned a few things that anyone with dreams of L.A. greatness ought to consider.

First of all, you can spot an indie filmmaker a mile away. Decked out in sneakers, jean shorts, fanboy (or girl) T-shirts and film memorabilia, they look their parts. Worse, if you mingle with them and you don’t know your stuff, they can smell it on you. And though they’d never call you out on it, you’d know they know. It’s like hanging out with a pretentious know-it-all who, along the way, forgot to be pretentious.

Not that there aren’t egos on the indie scene. All artists — rich or poor — have a habit of seeming self-absorbed. It comes with the creative doubt. But superiority on the independent level seems more from self-awareness and past achievement than from money or hierarchical power structures. This is mainly because hierarchical power structures are all but non-existent in the indie world.

That’s the second thing I learned from the festival. Everyone does everything. Actors are producers; screenwriters are directors of photography. Even if it’s not your official job, you’re likely to end up doing it on an indie set. For that reason alone, low-budget shoots make great training grounds.

In Hollywood, conversely, all but the most control-freakish people have well-defined positions, sometimes never even meeting some of the people they’re “working” with.

On an independent film, the cast and crew become a family. Sometimes they’re dysfunctional, but most families are. The point is: It’s not about screwing the next guy to get ahead. It’s about holding the next guy up because if he makes it, you all make it. There’s competition, sure, but it’s much more “Family Feud” than “Celebrity Deathmatch.”

Third — and most amazing of all — is what these artists do with what they have. Or what they don’t have, I should say. Let’s face it — I could’ve made War of the Worlds with a multimillion dollar budget. Could Spielberg have made it with $2,000? Could he have written it, scouted it, shot it, chopped it, scored it and marketed it, all while avoiding bankruptcy? These cats do, and the reason is two-fold. They’re determined, and they care about the fun more than themselves.

Lloyd Kaufman is president of Troma Entertainment, the longest running independent studio in history. He’s the Ani DiFranco of independent films, yet he still comes to modest hotel-lobby conventions in Ohio. He is friendly, personable and funny, and he remembered the name of everyone he met while he was there. But most impressive of all, he asked me to review his new book and talk to the university about bringing him here to speak. Was he promoting himself? You bet he was. But he was asking me — some college guy from small-town nowhere — to help him do it. And that’s what I’m talking about.

If you want to move to Hollywood, make movies and be famous, I say: More power to you and good luck. But when you get there, take a tip from our indie film friends and remember why you went in the first place. All the money in the world is no match for creativity, camaraderie and good old-fashioned love for what you do.

Ryan Houk is a junior English major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].