Sunday, 30 January 2011

Establishing the conventions of the Independent film as a Genre

Knowing the difficulty we would have in bringing together two contrasting genres, with the subgenre of rom-com not usually connected with the idea of an ‘indie’ film, we thought it would be important to understand the camera techniques and other features which help to define the conventions of this form of film.
I felt it was important to trace this idea of an ‘indie’ movie as its own identifiable genre back to it’s origins by observing the work of John Cassavetes.                                                                                                              
John Cassavetes- The Godfather of Independent film
"People have forgotten how to relate or respond; what I`m trying to do with my movies is build something audiences can respond to."
As an Oscar nominated Director, writer and actor John Cassavetes is best known as the pioneer of American independent film who tried to peel away from the dominating Hollywood film industry he worked in to try to create films that were closer to truth and reality.
What defined his films from the mainstream of Hollywood wasn’t just their low budget value, it was their use of improvisation and attempts to capture realism through adopting a Cinéma vérité style.  Unlike in hollywood films he wanted the audience to be aware of the presence of the camera through the combination of naturalistic camera movement and more abstract, less generic use of editing and camerawork that is prevalent in ‘truthful cinema’.
Here is a clip from the 1968 film Faces. starring Cassavetes' wife Gena Rowlands it was only the second film that he both directed and financed independently. The film was nominated for 3 Oscars which shows the filmmakers high regard within the film industry. 

A closer look at Cassavetes filming style:

After observing the filming techniques Cassavetes used in his films and understanding his ethos, that would go on to establish certain conventions for the independent film we felt more confident in applying this to our own ‘independent film’ opening. Lingering on shots was a technique I think could work well in establishing the lack of excitement and unglamorous lifestyle of our young protagonist when filming the bedroom sequence that will introduce his character. Also by subverting character roles with the protagonist being an unlikable nerd we are complying with Cassavetes ethos of not creating an idea which is completely generic.

As part of our research into independent film, I thought it might be worth taking inspiration from one of Mike Leigh’s film’s Happy-Go-Lucky. Although british, and a more modern filmmaker, Leigh uses similar methods and processes to Cassavetes such as producing a script through improvisation with the actors and it is this single visioned filmmaking that has lead to his films classification as ‘indie’ films even if sometimes they are financed by large film studios and achieve commercial success.
As the director of critical hits such as Vera Drake, his films are often referred to as gritty and dark, so it was refreshing to see him produce a film that was equally complex with 3 dimensional characters but had a positivity and light hearted tone that also fitted with that of a rom-com.

Speaking at the New York film festival in 2008 Mike Leigh expressed his reasons for holding shots for long periods of time such as the two shot at the end of Polly’s first driving lesson in the film, was because he wants the audience to be aware of the organic nature of the performances.  I would agree with him that by giving the performers space to breathe in this way allows the audience to understand each character. I think that ultimately in order to create an opening which is both absorbing for the audience and which fits the conventions set by our brief we will need to use many of the filming techniques established by directors like Cassavetes and Leigh and also think about the overall tone of the film that is influenced by it’s genre.

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