Did you know that the word “independent” as used by the media, Hollywood, and most filmmakers has actually nothing to do with the true definition of the word?  Did you know that the term “independent” is actually used by those people as a description for a new genre?

If there were any doubt in your mind, you can now rest easy.  Here’s proof.

Your “independent” film is eligible for consideration at the “Independent” Spirit Awards if your film cost less than $20 million.  That’s right.  TWENTY Million Dollars.  (I laughed out loud when I read that.  Literally.  Beyond LOL.)

If Film Independent had any real interest in celebrating the art of true independent filmmaking, they would limit the budget ceiling at $250,000 including post work.  A film made for anything greater than that amount should never be considered.  On that note, they should have a special prize for films made for less than $50,000.  (Currently the ‘no budget’ film category considers any film made for less than $500,000.)

Film Independent does not define “independent” solely on financial terms.  I bet you didn’t know that Film Independent considers a big-budget studio-made film an indie “if the subject matter is original and provocative.”

That means the word Independent is just like Comedy, Drama, or Thriller.  It’s now a genre.

[In terms of financing, Film Independent looks for “economy of means” and “percentage of financing from independent sources.”]

Uh huh.  I bet.

[The film needs to be American, which means it has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in at least two of the following categories: director, writer or producer.  For example, Saudi Arabia’s Oscar entry “Wadjda,” with a Spirit nomination for best first feature, is an American co-production, while the directors of Danish-British-Norwegian docu “The Act of Killing” are U.S. citizens.  Alternately, a film can be considered American if it is set primarily in the U.S. and at least 70% financed by U.S.-based companies.  Everything else is considered international.]

That seems okay to me.  Although, I’d open it up to the International market to be fair.

[To be eligible for the Film Independent “Independent” Spirit Awards, a film needs a commercial run in the calendar year or to have screened in one of these six designated festivals: Los Angeles Film Fest, New Directors/New Films, New York Fest, Sundance, Telluride or Toronto.]

[Nominations for the Spirit Awards are made by committees for three areas: American narrative films, international narratives and documentaries.  The committees include filmmakers (directors, producers, actors, etc.), film programmers and critics, past nominees and members of the board of directors.  The final awards are voted on by the entire Film Independent membership.  In 2013, there were 43 committee members looking at 325 entries.]

So there you have it.  The word “independent” as it relates to movies has been totally redefined.  It no longer means what it says in the dictionary.


  1. I agree with your point about opening up the Spirit Award eligibility to include international films and giving non-American films a fair shot at nominations and wins. It’s interesting how other countries are so welcoming to our films yet organizations that give out honors such as the Spirit Awards are not more open to allowing international films compete for a running in one or more categories.

    The “no-budget” category aside, budget caps still don’t always clearly define what is independent, given that there are some people who can secure a large sum of money from either their own personal funds or through a combination of that and financial support of those in their close networks who have the money to spare….to get a film, especially a debut from a first-time filmmaker, off of the ground. If a film is made for less than one million, with no-name talent and no studio connections or backing, that’s pretty much the basics of how I’d classify as an independent film….like, if it was made completely outside of the Hollywood system.

    While a budget cap at $250,000 does help to better define what is independent versus what isn’t considered independent, a cap at that level still leaves out many films that are indeed independently made. Having this in mind, it might be better to cap it at $500,000 or rather, a simple “Under $1 Million” budget so that these films can also get a shot at being considered for honors by their peers. I know a few folks who made their films for more than $250K but their budgets still came in well under $750K….and they didn’t cast big stars or make fancy stuff; one person I’m thinking of in particular utilized community resources, a small professional network and worked very hard for several months on end to pull off a film that still ended up costing more than $250K. The resulting film is worthy of some recognition (just IMHO) or at the very least wide distribution.

    For me personally, there’s no way in the world that I’d have anywhere near that kind of funds for a film budget, let alone the no-budget $50K category. My budgets are minuscule…. laughable even, yet I still don’t consider myself to be any more “independent” than those filmmakers who have managed to make their stuff within the $250K-$1 million range. I think we’re all in the same boat where being independent is concerned. It’s sad that the term “Independent” has been turned into a genre now by Hollywood and many film festivals that claim they celebrate and support independent filmmaking while making programming choices that reflect otherwise.

    Audiences are smarter than this though, or I’d like to think they are; It’s great that audiences have the power when all is said and done. However, even they have their own definitions of what constitutes an “Independent” film, so I guess we’re all (and may forever be) just swimming in this tricky sea where everybody’s trying to figure out where a film fits on the grand scale of independence.

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