Independent films are short or feature-length movies which are produced outside the major film studio system. Traditionally, this goes hand in hand with being produced and distributed by independent entertainment companies – however in recent decades, major studios have also sought to channel the creative power of independent producers by partnering with smaller groups to found ‘independent’ labels. Despite this muddying of the waters, there is still a distinctive gap between independent and studio films.
Often – though not unconditionally – independent films are made with considerably lower budgets than major studio films, meaning they require a higher level of ingenuity to deliver an end product which can capture the imaginations of a larger audience. This means independent films are often distinguishable by their content and style and the way in which the filmmakers’ personal artistic vision is realised. In contrast, due to the large amounts of money going into the production of a studio film, they are typically producer-driven, managing filmmakers more closely to limit the inclusion more sensitive or provocative material, for the sake of appealing to as broad an audience as possible, preserving a high return on investment.
Just how much the independent film market is worth is a matter of intense debate. Due to the amorphous nature of independent film, where thanks to advanced filming and editing technology becoming more accessible than ever before, and the rise of digital platforms which can enable them to sell their end-product, theoretically anyone can produce and distribute a film of their own indy film.
One of the ways we might try to define the size of the indy film market is by examining box office revenues. As of 2019, the global film industry was worth a total of $42.5 billion – with ticket revenues having grown consistently over the last decade. While exact figures for most of the world’s markets are extremely vague on the market share won by independent films, various publications in the US estimate that in the country’s domestic market, independents make up 10-13% of box office revenues. In this case, it could be estimated that the box office intake of indy films is around $4.8 billion.